11 Smart Ways to Eat Healthy on a Super Tight Budget
There's a common misconception that eating healthy food has to be expensive. It doesn't. Avoid spending your entire paycheck at Whole Foods and try out these tricks to eat healthy foods for less instead.
Go for frozen vegetables
Fresh vegetables can be expensive, but frozen vegetables can actually give you more bang for your buck. Not only are they cheaper, but frozen veggies contain comparable vitamins and minerals when compared to fresh veggies. “Skip frozen vegetables that include a sauce or seasoning,” says Pam Nisevich Bede, MS, RD, a dietitian for Abbott’s EAS Sports Nutrition. “Often, you’re paying extra for salt and cheaply made sauces.”
Eat oats for breakfast
When it comes to eating healthy on a budget, oats are a go-to for a quick breakfast or even in baking. “Oats are also a great source of beta-glucan, which is a fiber known to reduce cholesterol and improve cardiovascular health,” says Bede. “I often buy oats in bulk from the farmer’s market. They’re high quality and inexpensive.” Many supermarkets also offer oats in bulk. Here are 14 cheap, healthy meals you can make in 20 minutes or less.
Buy nuts in bulk
Nuts are another healthy food that can be purchased for much less if you buy them in bigger quantities. “Skip overly oiled and salted nuts, and instead buy nuts from the bulk section,” says Bede. “Nuts are a great source of heart-healthy fats and essential vitamins and minerals. Buy them whole and chop or prep on the fly for baking needs. Buying in bulk saves you much more money versus buying a few ounces at a time from the baking aisle.”
Produce is not always the cheapest thing in the supermarket, but buying what’s in season makes it a great option for eating healthy on a budget. “In the summer, you can find watermelon, berries, and corn for a fraction of the cost of apples and kale,” says Natalie Rizzo, RD. Because those grow best in the summer, there’s an abundance of them, and they can sell them for cheaper.” These are the 19 pantry food staples healthy people always stock.
Many snacks, whole-grain cereals, and even organics are available under the store brand. “These foods are held to the same national standards of major brand name products, which means that, nutritionally, they are equivalent in quality,” says Maya Rams Murthy, RD. “Don’t pay more for pretty packaging.”
Opt for ugly produce
Often if a piece of produce has a cosmetic deformity, the store won’t even put it out for sale, but it’s okay to eat healthy foods that aren’t beautiful. “If you ask the grocer about the ugly produce, they may be willing to sell it at a fraction of the cost,” says Rizzo. “And there’s nothing wrong with it, other than the fact that it looks different.” You can also sign up for Imperfect Produce, a delivery service that offers “ugly” produce at an affordable price. These are the 14 foods parts you shouldn’t throw out.
Beans are one of the best healthy foods to eat for cheap. “Both dried and canned beans are extremely inexpensive,” says Rizzo. “For less than $1, you can get a can of beans, which serves up to 15 grams of protein for less than 300 calories.” Beans are rich in iron and are one of the best sources of plant-based protein.
Look for sales
It might take some extra work, but keep your eye out for special sales and coupons that give discounts on healthy foods. “Supermarket have different weekly specials, and sometimes those prices are much lower than their competitors,” says Rizzo. “I suggest looking for sale signs in the store and buying the brands that are on sale.” Here are 10 surprising ways to save money on groceries.
Plan those meals
Even a few minutes of planning your meals ahead for the upcoming week can save you a lot of money at the grocery store. “By making a list and sticking to it, you will buy only what you need instead of what looks good at the moment,” says Murthy. “Incorporate using dinner leftovers for lunch the next day in your grocery list as well to cut down on the bill as well as food wastage.”
Don’t always go organic
Buying organic food can help you avoid unwanted pesticides, but with certain produce you don’t need to spend the extra money because of the peel, such as with bananas or avocados. “Follow the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list, and buy only those foods organic,” says Murthy. “Also, if you’re into local farmers’ markets, chat up the actual farmer about their methods: Many farms are organic, even if they can’t legally claim it—it’s expensive to become certified organic.”
Grab the bulk grains
Foods like brown rice, quinoa, and popcorn kernels are whole foods that are often available in the bulk section of your favorite grocery store. “Single-ingredient whole grains are high in B vitamins, fiber, and other heart-healthy nutrients,” says Murthy. “Since they only have one ingredient and they are minimally processed, they are cheaper than foods like sugary, flavored oatmeal packets, or instant microwaveable popcorn.” Next, check out these 40 ways to save at the grocery store.
- Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture: "Nutritional comparison of fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables. Part 1. Vitamins C and B and phenolic compounds."
- Pamela Nisevich Bede, MS, RD, Dietitian, Abbott.
- Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, Sports Dietitian, Nutrition a la Natalie.
- Maya Rams Murthy, MPH, RD, Dietitian.
- Environmental Working Group: "EWGs 2019 shopper's guide to pesticides in produce."