Recently, one of my former clients reached out to ask if I had any tips for eating healthy on a budget, as they were moving out of town to work and save up money for grad school. With the ever-rising cost of food, especially in the last year or two, I figured others would also benefit from this info, so I will happily share my tips with all of you.
#1: Plan Your Meals for the Week
Dedicate one day each week to planning out your meals for the week and buy only the ingredients you need. Planning ahead has several benefits for both your health and your budget.
When you plan ahead, you don’t need to stress about what to make for your meals at the end of a long day.
It allows you to buy only the ingredients you need, avoiding food waste and saving money.
Planning ahead and having the ingredients on hand also prevents you from having to go to the grocery store to pick up extra items (since we all know that when we go to the grocery store to pick up one or two things, we leave with much more).
Planning allows you to use recipes with common ingredients. Using the same ingredients for multiple meals doesn’t mean they all have to taste the same. This is the approach I take with my nutrition plans! Consistent, but not boring! Using different herbs and spices can turn common ingredients into meals with completely different flavours. For example, you could cook one whole chicken and use it for several different dishes throughout the week, such as chicken and veggie stir fry one night and chicken fajitas another night.
You can also stretch meals by making dishes that freeze well. This is another approach I use with my nutrition plans. Healthy chilis and soups, for example, freeze well and can be made in huge portions. You’ll also spend less time in the kitchen by making a ton of food at once.
#2: Shop With a List
Once you’ve planned your meals for the week, create a shopping list with the ingredients you need. Having a list makes shopping easier and faster, which helps you reduce impulse buys and prevents you from having to make extra trips to the store for forgotten ingredients.
When shopping, stick to your list and try to shop the perimeter (the outer edges) of the store first. This is where whole foods are generally placed and will make you more likely to fill your cart with them first.
The middle of the store often contains the most processed foods. When shopping in these aisles, shift your gaze to bottom or top of the shelves, rather than straight ahead. The most expensive items are typically placed at eye level. Sneaky, sneaky!
#3: Buy Frozen or Canned
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, frozen and canned options can be healthy alternatives to fresh produce. They last longer and often cost less. This also allows you to enjoy your favourites even when they aren’t in season.
When choosing canned options, be sure to check the labels. When it comes to fruit, it’s best to select those that come in water, not syrup. You may also want to skip frozen options that have added butter or cream sauces.
#4: Cook at Home
Eating out is very expensive, especially if it’s something you do often. This also applies to beverages, such as coffee, fancy lattes, iced coffees, and the like. Prepping your meals, snacks, and drinks at home is a much cheaper alternative.
By cooking for yourself, you also gain the benefit of knowing exactly what ingredients are in your meals and can choose healthy and nutrient dense ingredients and avoid the added oils, sauces, and sugars that usually come in fast food and drinks.
When you cook large meals at home, you’ll always have a healthy meal available, without any additional effort or cost.
It can be helpful to designate 1-2 days per week as your meal prep days, where you make the majority of your meals for the week and freeze or refrigerate them until needed. This does take a bit of time and planning, but overall saves a lot of time in the kitchen (and in the grocery store!)
#5. Buy Generic Brands
Most stores offer generic brands for nearly any product they sell.
All food manufacturers are required to follow safety standards for their products, so the generic brands are often the same quality as more expensive brands, just less expensive. Sometimes the ingredients are even identical. It’s a good idea to compare labels and choose the generic brand whenever possible.
#6. Buy Cheaper Cuts of Meat
Getting enough protein in your diet is so important, but fresh meat and fish can be costly. Thankfully, you can get many cuts of meat that cost a lot less. Look for chuck steak, pork shoulder, stewing beef, whole chicken, or ground beef or poultry. These are so versatile and are great to use in burritos, casseroles, soups, chilis, stews and stir fries.
It may also be helpful to buy a large and inexpensive cut of meat to use in several different meals during the week. Think back to the whole chicken example and all the different meal options. You could also use ground meat to make a huge batch of chili. Even tougher cuts of meat such as stewing beef can be made ultra-tender by cooking low and slow in a crockpot.
#7: Don’t Forget About Eggs and Other Low-Cost Protein Sources
Eggs are pretty much the least expensive whole-food source of complete protein you can get. Again, eggs are so versatile and go way beyond breakfast. Hard-boiled eggs make a great high protein snack to eat throughout the week, and frittatas or veggie-packed breakfast casseroles make for a great meal any time of the day. Beans and legumes are also good sources of protein with a low price tag.
#8: Shop and Eat in Season.
When food is in season, the abundance of it usually drives down prices, making it less expensive during that timeframe. (In-season produce is also fresher and yummier!) Seasonal produce will vary region to region, but you can research what’s in season in your area and plan your recipes accordingly.
#9: Buy in Bulk
It's often much cheaper to buy larger quantities upfront — rice, oats, dried beans and lentils, quinoa, etc. will last a very long time so they’re great options to buy in bulk. Many frozen foods like berries, vegetables, fish, chicken, etc., are substantially cheaper purchased in bulk. Again, keep your eye out for added sugars or sauces and try to steer clear of those.
#10: Price Match
Find a grocery store that allows for price matching and make that your go-to. You can use free smartphone apps such as Flipp to quickly and easily find the lowest price for the items on your shopping list, save them, and price match them at checkout. This can save a ton of money.
Yours in health,