How to Eat Healthy Food on a Budget

There’s a dirty rumor going around that healthy food costs more. While specialty items and organic produce certainly tend to add up fast, you don’t need to spend a million bucks to eat like it. Here are some great tips to get you started.

DIY Convenience Foods

One of the best things you can do to save money is to find ways to skip on convenience foods. I’m not going to suggest that you make all your own crackers (even though that’s a great idea and a lot of fun!) but I am going to suggest that you find ways to do more prep with less effort.

For example:

  • When you find a good deal on meat, buy as much as you can afford. Then, instead of cooking just what you need for one meal, cook all of it and freeze what you don’t need in dinner-sized portions. This is especially great for ground beef and chicken breasts (diced and seasoned!).
  • Rice is a healthy, filling staple that also freezes well. When you’re making a big pot of rice, make as much as you can and freeze what you don’t use. Pro tip: instead of cooking your rice in plain water, try cooking it with something interesting: chicken, beef, or vegetable broth; butter; or add in a whole tomato or garlic cloves.
  • Boiled eggs make a fantastic convenience food. Make a whole dozen of them at once and keep them (in the shells) in a bowl in your fridge for a grab-and-go snack or to add to salads and other dishes.
  • Instead of buying bagged salad, buy the lettuce and other ingredients separately. Prep everything all at once, keep it sealed in an airtight container, and you’ll have more salad for way less money.

Add Bulk Without Yucky Fillers

One of the keys to saving money on groceries is to find the foods that are filling, nutritious, and relatively inexpensive. Rice, discussed above, is a classic go-to. I’ll also suggest quinoa (which you make basically the same way you make rice and can also freeze). Both of these grains are great when added to all kinds of things — eggs, salads, “bowls,” and of course as stand-alone sides.

How about potatoes? Roast a pan of them (tossed in olive oil, salt, and maybe some garlic powder) and then use them to your other meals. They go well with eggs at breakfast, as a side with dinner, and even as a snack (maybe dipped into a little bowl of greek yogurt + your favorite hot sauce, another cheap/easy/delicious “convenience food” you can make in about 3 seconds).

Another surprisingly great way to add bulk to some dishes? Grated vegetables. There are tons of ways to stretch your meat using grated vegetables; here are just a few ideas for you:

  • Grate some carrots into your spaghetti sauce to cut back on the amount of meat you need.
  • Add some grated zucchini to the ground beef you use to make hamburgers. It stretches the meat further while keeping your burgers nice and juicy.
  • Add squash and/or peppers to your tacos, fajitas, and quesadillas (another way to use up that frozen chicken in the freezer).

Consider Memberships

Wholesale memberships like Costco, when used appropriately, can lead to tremendous cost savings. The savings you’d get on bread flour alone (my favorite example) would cover the cost of your membership, and that’s before any other savings you’d pick up all year.

If your community has a local co-ops, take a look at what membership will give you. Many co-ops support local farmers and merchants, which means you’ll have direct access to cheaper in-season produce. Many co-ops will also let you make bulk orders at prices slightly above wholesale.

Thrive Market is another online retailer that gets a lot of buzz for offering great prices on healthy and organic foods shipped right to you. There’s a membership fee for Thrive, but many members say it’s absolutely worth it.

Take It Online

In addition to the deals you’ll find on Amazon, there are bulk distributors like Azure Standard that allow you to pre-buy online and then pick up at their scheduled “drops.” If you have the freezer space and are dedicated to working through your bulk purchases, these can be fantastic ways to save a ton of money on food.

Surprisingly enough, you can save a lot of money (and time) by ordering your groceries online and picking them at your store. You might pay a little bit more for the food you do buy, but you’ll avoid all the impulse hits to your wallet from browsing the aisles.

Natural Flavors Are Your Friends

There are a few things you can do to bring all kinds of flavor to your food without tacking on extra calories (and expense) with sauces and other condiments.

The first is to rely on spices and seasonings. Garlic and onions are fairly inexpensive and bring tons of great flavor to even the most basic dishes. Spices and herbs can truly become the star of the show, eliminating the need for heavy sauces for flavor.

Save tons money on spices by buying them in the packets you’ll often find in the international aisles of typical grocery stores, or even look for international markets and pick up spices at jaw-droppingly low prices.

The other thing you can do to enhance the flavors of your food and make them more enjoyable while being better for you is to cut your taste for salt and sugar. The standard American diet is loaded with sugar and salt, which admittedly taste good but aren’t good for health and will often override the wonderful natural flavors you can find in fresh, healthy food. When you can learn to appreciate the taste of a real strawberry without sugar on it, or of green beans lightly sauteed in oil and lemon juice, it’s like your food comes to life and you don’t need the unhealthy (and more expensive) stuff to feel satisfied.

Final Thoughts on Good Food on a Budget

Ultimately there are many ways you can boost your health, increase savings, and even save time by being just a bit more mindful about what you’re buying and eating. A little bit of pre-planning, an extra minute or two of bulk food prep here and there, and a strategic approach to your food choices within your budget will have you eating like royalty without spending like one.

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