How can I eat healthy on a budget?

When money is tight and time is short, it may seem difficult to maintain a healthy diet. But mealtime doesn't have to be costly when you're trying to eat right. With planning, meals can be convenient, healthy and inexpensive. Consider these ways to save money and still maintain a healthy diet:
  • Search online for easy one-pot recipes: Many recipe Web sites offer nutrition information and grocery lists for their meals. You can find dinner options that can last for more than one night.
  • Use coupons: Clipping coupons or printing them from Web sites can save you 10 percent to 15 percent on your grocery bill. Also consider joining your supermarket's shopper's club for price specials.
  • Follow portions for protein: You can still keep your costs low when shopping in the meat section. Remember a three-ounce portion of cooked meat, fish or poultry is the size of a deck of cards.
  • Make a meatless meal: Beans are an excellent source of protein and an inexpensive way to create a healthy meal.
  • Think outside the crisper: Frozen or canned fruits and vegetables will last longer than fresh versions from the produce department and are equally nutritious.
  • Don't throw money away: Keep leftovers safe by refrigerating them quickly. Use before they go bad and you can stretch one meal into several.
Marisa Moore
Nutrition & Dietetics
With a little forethought and planning, eating healthy on a budget can be a reality.
  • Start by taking inventory and plan your meals based on what you already have on hand. It’s estimated that a family of four throws away an average of $500 a year in spoiled food -- $500! 
  • Use a shopping list to avoid bringing home extra items and staying too long in the store. Research shows that the longer you’re in the supermarket, the more money you spend. Get in and get out.
  • Use coupons and the supermarket’s weekly circulars to save while shopping.
  • Cook at home whenever possible. It costs more to dine out.
  • Use less meat. Prepare more meatless meals and stick to small portions of meat to save money and to keep meals healthy. 
  • Buy store brands -- especially for organics and staples like cereal and rice.
  • Shop for produce in season, when it’s cheapest. Stock plenty of frozen fruits and vegetables when they are on sale.
Ms. Ashley Koff, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
Here are some tips for cutting costs on your food budget without cutting down the health benefits:

1. Make it at home:

The food we make at home is made to order to our taste buds; we don't add stabilizers to make it stay fresh on a shelf for days or years; we have better control over the portion sizes; we can extend the use of ingredients into several different recipes.

2. Preparation saves time and money:
  • A stocked freezer -- Once or twice a month load up on frozen vegetables, sources of protein like burgers and sausages and nuts and seeds, and fruits like berries
  • A stocked cupboard -- grains, beans, oils and your own "pieces of flair" such as spices and sauces that can turn any plain food into a made-to-order favorite dish.
  • Defrost on your way out the door -- if you think you're coming home for dinner grab a frozen veggie and protein and put them in separate bowls in the fridge so they are defrosted and ready to go when you get home.
  • Overcook -- not the food, but the quantity. Make all the chicken sausages at once. That way you have some for breakfast the next day as well as the ones that went into your soup or added a kick and some protein to your pasta sauce.
  • Undereat -- if you love what you made, save some for tomorrow.
3. Share the burden and the wealth:
  • Buy in bulk and split the quantity of things that will go bad before you use them up with a neighbor
  • Team up with friends to have each one make a dish and then meet to exchange and bring containers
  • Cut and swap coupons -- your discards could be a friend's greatest deal.
4. Learn to cook:
  • Classes teach time-saving tips
  • Classes teach you to make better tasting and more creative options which results in happier, satisfied bellies.
  • Classes often include the cost of a meal or more… take advantage of learning and getting your money's worth.
  • Team learn -- share a class with friends; hire a chef to teach you all versus just you solo.
5. It's OK to order take out. It saves money and improves health to modify your order with what you have at home:
  • Add a bag or two of frozen broccoli to the container when you bring it home and heat it up.
  • Order a plain large pizza and top it at home with slices of chicken sausage, sun-dried tomatoes or tomato slices, frozen (defrosted) peppers, and some spices -- briefly reheat.
  • Rice it up! -- Since a portion size is your fist you are assured of having at least a leftover serving per person.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Fresh is nice, but it’s not always necessary if money is tight. Watch this video to learn which foods RealAge's Dr. Mike Roizen says you can buy on ice or in a can to eat healthy on the cheap.
Toby Smithson
Nutrition & Dietetics

Frozen, canned, and dried foods can contain as many or sometimes even more nutrients than fresh foods. Additional preservatives or sweeteners may be added to these foods during packaging, so choose foods with labels stating “no added salt”, “no added sugar”, or “in its own juice/syrup”. Often canned foods are less expensive than fresh. Another way to cut costs is to buy foods in bulk. Foods such as dried beans, brown rice, or whole grain pastas are usually less expensive, available in large quantities, and can provide bulk to salads, sautéed veggies, or other meat and protein-based entrees.


Kirsi Bhasin
Nutrition & Dietetics
Here are my top 4 tips to buying healthy for less:

1. Have some flexibility with your shopping list where it counts. It’s good to keep to a list to make sure you don’t end up buying on an impulse and only notice how it adds up at check out. Keep a list on what you definitely need and want but be flexible around items where prices fluctuate. For example fruits, poultry and seafood can have great deals and be easy on your pocketbook.

2. Buying organic is great but can have an impact on your pocketbook.  There are some fruits and veggies that do not need to be organic to be healthy because of their thick outer skin or peel and the minimal use of pesticides used on them. The following fruits and vegetables are great picks:
  • Fruits: cantaloupe, watermelon, mango, kiwi, bananas
  • Veggies: onion, avocado, corn, cabbage, asparagus
3. Buying online can help keep you in check on how much you are really spending and can help you stay within budget. You can also avoid the uncomfortable situation of tossing the extra “too expensive” stuff off to the side when it tallies up to too much at the cash register. There are some great sites like even where you can buy food items. There is the added delivery charge but sometimes these retailers offer good deals on shipping and handling. For example at freshdirect they’ll take 2 bucks off your bill if there is a delivery already in your area. On amazon you can get free delivery if you have amazon prime membership or order purchases $25 and up on selected items.

4. Go for basic brands. They can be just as good as the premium more expensive brands on basic items like oatmeal or salt. Insider tip: in some cases the big brands may even manufacture the same stuff for the lesser known or store brands. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.