Ideas for healthy eating on a budget

I got a message from a member concerned about how to eat healthy on a very tight budget.

I would love to hear ideas from members who have managed to do it.

The first thing I do each week is to plan the meals for the entire week and shop accordingly. Of course I watch the specials in the papers and see what is on sale at a particular time. I always write up the menus and check the cabinets and see what is on hand and write out the grocery list for the things we will need for the week. I rarely use convenience food and often shop at a large store like Sam;s to get large packages of a particular food that can be used several times. I try always to have leftovers on hand to make for lunchs, snacks or second meals. We don’t all alwyas eat at the same time, so leftovers are very prized at our house. And some leftovers are used to make a different meal entirely. I love to get fresh if possible, but sometimes the frozen vegetables are just as good and at a much cheaper price. Some frozen fruits are this way also. When buying meats for lunchs I try to buy something that can be used in various ways. For example, a precooked large turkey breast from Sam’s can be sliced and put into a sandwich, a low carb pita, or low carb tortilla. Or it can be cubed to toss onto a salad, or cut into sticks for finger food along with sticks of cheese that can be eaten on a drive to work or across town for a meeting when there isn’t time to stop for lunch At another time when whole chickens go on sale, is the perfect time to get a couple to roast at one time. One can be eaten at one meal and one can be deboned and chopped for a casserole on another day. The whole point in planning ahead is to watch how much money you spend and try to not have to keep going back to the store for this and that. The more trips you make, the more impulse buying a person will do. In our house, whoever is tired of something in particular, has the chance to offer or propose a different food. With eveyone’s input, we actually have some great meals and are able to cut corners on more expensive options. The staples at our house are eggs, peanut butter, yogurt, vegetables in various forms and some fruits, cheeses and meats in various forms. And ground flax seed is a constant in the diets for all of us. I buy one loaf of 12 grain bread about every 3 or 4 weeks. I bake sugar free sweets that are definitely low carb friendly and also make my own recipe for “granola” bars. All of us get things we like to eat and still stay within our special diet range. But the big thing we do is plan and try never to impulse buy. unless it is something that we can immediately see letting us get several meals out of it., and it has to be a good deal or on sale. This is the way we manage things for us. Maybe someone else has a better way to do things. I would love to see how others manage.

With 6 kids? I decided to plant a few veggies around my yard to help a bit.
Trips to local farmers markets toward the end of the day provides some slightly bruised, still useable veggies and fruit:) Buy one get one free on meat at local grocery stores help.
Also, Check online for a possible local “food Coop” Here is one:
It is a great help for us.

This is not exactly comment related, but I’ve had a problem with this for a while, now. Everyone talks about how obese USA citizens are, how obesity is rising, etc. Yet, look at the prices of things! A loaf of regular, white bread is 89 cents; yet, a loaf of high fiber bread with half the slices is $3 something! Hamburger and mac n cheese are inexpensive, yet fresh vegetables and fruits are so much more expensive! If there’s going to be a real change in the obesity levels, someone HAS to do something about changing this!

I was chatting with a friend about this not too long ago. It is very true and very unfortunate that it is so cheap to eat junk.

Still I see several very good ideas in this topic that can help deal with the high prices of healthy food items.

There have been lots of great tips posted. I do a combination of bulk buying and cooking, usually refered to on online sites as once a month cooking (oamc), investment cooking etc. Check out for a lot of ideas.

If you haven’t heard of OAMC before, it’s basically cooking 2 or more weeks worth of meals at a time, packaging and freezing them. I use software on my computer called “Mastercook”. It helps me to buy exactly what I need, no more, no less. Sometimes I’ll cook several weeks worth of meals up on a weekend (about 16 recipes, done in bulk), or I’ll do a triple or quadruple batch of two or more meals per week. That way the freezer always has a variety.

The savings come from buying sale items in bulk, in buying exactly what you need (rather than food going bad in the fridge), and portion control. You’re less apt to order take out or eat store bought frozen entrees (usually high in salt and/or fat), you have portion control, and you’re eating home cooking.

On nights that we heat up an entree from the freezer, we cook up some converted long grain rice or whole grain pasta, or baby potatoes, throw together a quick tossed salad, and voila, dinner is ready.

I also use the slowcooker at least once a week. Cheap cuts of meat cook up incredibly tender and delicious using a slow cooker. It’s also the best way, in my opinion, of cooking beans, soups and stews. I’ve posted a few recipes on my blog for the slowcooker.

Here’s a link to some good ideas for eating low carb on a budget:

In addition to what’s already been posted:

  • I buy dry beans rather than canned: the same dollar will get me either one pound of beans-with-water, or one pound of dry beans that will cook up to four or five pounds.
  • I have multiple supermarkets within walking or bicycling distance; this and Internet-based specials flyers make it easy to compare prices, and purchase at whichever store has the best specials.
  • Supermarkets in the "bad neighborhoods" have gotten a bad rap for no/poor fruits and veggies and inflated prices, but those that cater to specific ethnic groups may have unusual cuts of meat at very good prices; also, you can cut around the bad parts of veggies and use the good parts, and pay a lot less.
  • Whole birds can be used multiple times: after the meat has been carved off the carcass, the carcass can be stewed in water to get off the last pieces of meat, veggies added, and you have what is sometimes called "Brunswick Stew".
  • Buy what is seasonal; it is usually cheaper. If it is something that freezes well, buy extra and freeze it for when it's out of season.
  • Portion control. Weigh everything. Measure everything. It sounds stingy, but if the money isn't there to overconsume, paying attention to portions can make the same amount of food last longer.

I joined a food co-op and bulk buy staples once a month. Also, occasionally I will come across a co-op and will buy an 1/8 of beef straight from the farmer and they generally supply sausage, chickens and eggs too. It is expensive initially, but then you spend less during the month, and if you are picky, you can find organic grass fed beef for less than supermarket prices. It also lasts a long time in the freezer. I buy bread for the family on a weekly basis, unless I have time to make it, and pick up whatever is cheapest at the supermarket. So our menus are generally dictated by which vegetables and fruits are on sale!

Yesterday was the first time I ever did grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s. Granted that it’s not a chain that has stores everywhere, but I wanted to highly recommend them for procuring healthier food at a more affordable price than in all supermarket chains I’ve been in.

I so love TJ’s – they rock! Still have to pay attention to the ingredients list, and most of the time their produce is overpriced (I can go to the Stop & Shop next door and get the same thing for a third less… which is still about 15%-30% more than it costs at the Farmer’s Market), but I love their attitude and I love the interesting things they sell :slight_smile:

I’m also a big fan of Trader Joe’s…especially for healthy canned stuff to keep in the cupboard(their produce is epensive.) I don’t live near one but have my Mom pick stuff up for me whenever she comes down to see my daughter. They also have great prices on natural soap, coffee, and wine. There have been a lot of great ideas posted here and the only other thing I can add is to check out Amazon for bulk grocery items. I buy stuff like healthy, low processed, Kashi granola bars and nuts and save a ton of money. Plus, it’s so easy to get it delvered to your house. I save gas money and more importantly, as a single mom…I can save a little time and a little heavy lifting to and from the car :slight_smile: They also have good deals on other expensive household items like laundry detergent (although do some price comparisons so you know what a good deal is becuase sometimes they aren’t cheaper).

These are great tips! I will look into that software!

Trader Joe’s FTW!

Fiarly priced dry goods like dry roasted Almonds. I recommend “Bananas Flattened” and their other dried fruits.

You should check out the article I wrote for eating healthy in college. There is a section on eating healthy on a budget. It’s on the website.

I agree with what everyone else wrote, and I’ll add a few things.

Drinks tend to be expensive, and they’re not really necessary. Cokes, tea, coffee, bottled water, milk, juice, drink mixes, and so on are pretty expensive, and cutting down on these things can leave a bigger chunk of the budget for healthy foods.

Learning to cook can really cut down on expenses, too. I can make my own beans or spaghetti sauce for a third of the price that it would cost to buy the canned versions, and when I cook it myself I can control how much carbs and salt are in them. Learning to make things from scratch can seem intimidating, but after you’ve done it a few times, it seems really easy.

New recipes are easy to find on the Internet, or you can check cookbooks out of the library.

i definetly agreed with you… it s hard on me with four kids n single deaf mom

Well, I do a bunch of things, but I have LOTS of cheap laborers :slight_smile:

I have a HUGE garden, 108 plants this year, next year it will be 144. I can or freeze everything out that garden.

I have planted three apple trees this year, later on in the year I will plant 2 pear, 2 peach and a cherry (we have wild cherry trees for pollination around so I do not need two).

I started raising chickens last year with one chicken, she is now giving us eggs and this past spring I bought a dozen more chickens but it will be next year before they lay eggs.

I have plans to use half of the chicken coop to grow chickens for the freezer, but will wait until next year to start that.

We have been talking about raising a pig or calf for more meat, but I still have to think hard about that as I believe it will not be cost effective for us.

As for shopping, my wife does that, with all the kids she really isn’t that organized to plan meals out and buy food for that, but I do know she has some sort of system worked out as we generally have food in the house :slight_smile: I would love to help her plan meals out and even help cook them as we live off of my salary and it really helps to have a budget for food.

I make a menu out each Sat am before shopping and only buy what is on the list. I also have a family garden (great compact way with very few weeds that we eat out of all summer long (just finished the leaf lettuce and spinach-- yummo) Cherry tomatoes and peas will be ready next week. Living in the Northeast we have such a short growing season - that the rest of the year I buy produce from a wholesaler outlet or frozen veggies. Meat of the week is what is on sale.

Our produce wholesaler is the back shipping dock of the regional restuarant supplier- they sell the overstock to the public-- We are never gtd the same items each week- and some can be sad, but I spend 1/2 of what I would spend at the grocery store.

I also shop at the bread outlet, around here it is Freihofer, and you can get the $3 bread for $.79 or my fav English muffins for $1.

I spend between $20 and $40 per week for my groceries (and really can’t afford that because I live on SSI, but I pay for it with student loans. I’m in debt up to my eyeballs over food right now until the semester checks come out in August and I get a little breathing space again.)

I eat vegan so my meals are centered around beans, which I buy dried, in bulk (meaning from bins, not meaning pounds and pounds at a time) and cook in my pressure cooker. I make my own dark rye bread because it costs half as much as any packaged bread and all the packaged bread I’ve seen is crap anyway, filled with corn syrup and caramel coloring to hide the insipidly not-whole grains. I also buy whole grains from the bulk bins (brown rice, millet, quinoa, etc.) and I get spices from bulk bins instead of those worthless, stale $3 jars off the shelf. So I can still afford to make an awesome curry with twelve different spices in it because my spices are cheap and I can buy as needed, even if I only need two pinches.

I get my fruits and veggies from a variety of sources. I get some staples frozen because that represents the optimization between the dual factors of cost and nutrition. I go by the co-op almost daily and only buy what’s in the 75% off discount section of the produce cooler. This time of year I go by the farmer’s market right around closing time because people mark stuff down that they don’t want to have to carry back home. Later this year I will be getting stuff out of the community garden - I couldn’t afford a plot so I traded work for produce. In a few months I’ll be cruising the neighborhoods on my bicycle with a backpack looking for the neighbors with fruit trees and signs saying to pick what you want. I get apples, apricots, plums, pears in the neighborhood that way.

When the semester starts again, I put a little money on a food card I can use over there. I hit the salad bar and am able to load up on veggies for not too much money that way. If you’re near a good-priced salad bar, consider that option to see if it works for you. It’s the cheapest way for me to get a wide variety of fruits and veggies, though a bit more expensive by the pound than just getting veggies (though then I can’t afford a big variety. There’s the trade off.)

I have found that fresh produce is the budget-breaker for my diet and that’s where I have to get most clever in finding things. I have found that if you’re willing to eat what the retailer was going to throw away because it wasn’t as pretty anymore, you can get amazing deals. I’m willing to cut out a bad spot or two in exchange for cheap prices.