13 Healthy Food Swaps That Save You Money

Updated: Feb. 09, 2017

The intent to eat healthy food: check. The budget to eat healthy food: not so much. We know that eating a balanced diet can get pricey, so try these easy food swaps. Most of these shifts take just seconds!

Gloria Tebelman/RD.com, Istock/jfmdesign

Swap name brands for store brands

Private-label brands cut out the middleman—there’s no exchange of money to place the product on the shelf, which lowers costs for you. A half-gallon of store-branded organic milk at ShopRite, for instance, runs $3.89, up to 35 percent less than similar name-brand products. Same goes with online grocers: A half-gallon of Just FreshDirect organic milk is $3.99, while a similar name brand milk costs up to $5.49. Even better? Many private-label products are simply repackaged name-brand ones.  Here are other price traps to watch out for at the grocery store.

Gloria Tebelman/RD.com, Istock/Floortje

Swap meat-containing meals for vegetarian ones

Going meatless for a meal or two a week can save big bucks, especially when you’re feeding a whole family. Opting for eggs as a meal’s protein instead of ground beef, for example, saves $.15 per ounce, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Go ahead and give a vegetarian dinner recipe a try. Or check out these recipes with eggs that aren’t for breakfast.

Gloria Tebelman/RD.com, Istock/Dimitrios Stefanidis

Swap some pricey produce for lower-cost fruits and veggies

Watermelon, bananas, and carrots all cost less than 30 cents per cup, while apples and onions fall below 45 cents per cup, found a report by the USDA. On the other hand, broccoli runs 72 cents per cup, while strawberries are 80 cents per cup.

Gloria Tebelman/RD.com, Istock/Jose Miguel Barcelo

Swap spinach for carrot leaves

Make use of the whole plant—sauté the tops of carrots, beets, and radish, as well as broccoli stems and leaves. “They are delicious and edible,” notes Sharon Palmer, RDN, a dietitian in Los Angeles and author of Plant-Powered for Life.

Gloria Tebelman/RD.com, Istock/Ljupco

Swap typical supermarket shops for Trader Joe’s and Aldi

One of the ways these stores cut costs is by having a limited stock. Aldi offers about 1,300 products, while Trader Joe’s has about 3,000 products—versus the 30,000 or so carried by a typical grocery store. At Aldi, a five-ounce container of organic spinach costs up to $1 less than at standard grocers, and the price of gourmet cheese is about 40 percent lower, per Kiplinger.com. Both chains are owned by the same parent company: Trader Joe’s is run by Aldi Nord, while U.S. Aldi stores are overseen by Aldi Sud.  Here are other habits that smart money savers recommend.

Gloria Tebelman/RD.com, Istock/Zoran Kolundzija

Swap whole packages for salad bar eats

Shopping for just a few olives or a sliver of avocado? “Often times, if you need just a few hard-boiled eggs or a cup or broccoli for a specific recipe, it’s less expensive to grab from the salad bar versus purchasing a larger quantity that may or may not get eaten or thrown away,” says Robin Plotkin, RDN, a culinary dietitian in Dallas, Texas. “This is also a great way to try new foods without breaking the bank—take one or two pieces of something, try it out. If you like it, go back and purchase a larger quantity.”

Gloria Tebelman/RD.com, Istock/pepifoto

Swap some fresh produce for wilting

You don’t always have to head right to the store when you want to make a quick meal—make use of produce that’s seen better days. While you wouldn’t want to eat raw greens that are wilted, they work perfectly well in a sautéed dish, a pasta recipe, or even a pesto. Have bruised bananas on hand? Make banana bread, or peel, freeze, and process into “ice cream.”

Gloria Tebelman/RD.com, Istock/nesneJkraM

Swap some long-expiration food with quick-expire eats

If you’re buying tonight’s groceries, shop for must-go, pre-cut produce—which may be discounted because it needs to sell quickly. “I often find pre-cut fruits and vegetables at half price or even less,” says Shannon Garcia, MDS, RD, blogger at KISS in the Kitchen. “Also, check the fresh meat and poultry section for clearance cuts, then keep them in the freezer until you’re ready to use.” Try these storage tricks to make food last longer.

Gloria Tebelman/RD.com, Istock/Darcyblack

Swap fresh corn for canned

A cup of canned corn costs 51 cents, versus $1.81 for fresh, according to the USDA report. Choose the no-salt-added version when you can. Similarly, opting for canned tomatoes saves you a tiny bit: A cup of canned costs 50 cents, while fresh is 52 cents.

Gloria Tebelman/RD.com, Istock/LiliGraphie

On the other hand, swap canned carrots for fresh

Going canned or frozen won’t save you money on every veggie, so compare costs. A cup of fresh carrots costs 23 cents, while the frozen type is 48 cents and the canned version is 52 cents, per the USDA report. Here are some surprising health benefits of carrots.

Gloria Tebelman/RD.com, Istock/karandaev

Swap whole spice containers for spice bins

For spices you’re not going to use every day, buy just what you need. “Forget paying $3 for each of six spices in that Indian dish you want to try,” says Stacey Mattinson, RDN, owner of Elevate Nutrition Consulting in Austin, Texas. “Buy from the bulk section and easily drop your spice tab down to 50 cents or less.”

Gloria Tebelman/RD.com, Istock/

Swap K-Cups for a reusable container

A Newman’s Own Special Blend Medium Roast Coffee K-cup is 69 cents on Amazon.com (when you purchase an 80-pack). On the other hand, buy a reusable coffee filter ($14.99 for one that’s compatible with the Keurig 2.0) and a comparable amount of coffee grounds ($33.99 for 30 ounces), and that’s a savings of 8 cents per cup of coffee. The price will go down the longer you use the filter.

Gloria Tebelman/RD.com, Istock/cometary

Swap pre-portioned eats for larger containers

Then portion your own. A 16-ounce container of Justin’s All-Natural Classic Peanut Butter is 44 cents per ounce on FreshDirect.com, while the pre-portioned squeeze packs sell for 52 cents an ounce.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest