How many times have you declared, “I’m going to start eating better!” only to realize a week later that it can be kind of hard to just jump into?
Healthy habits are so necessary for all of us, but so hard to keep! It can seem especially difficult when you’re on a budget.
As someone who has been cutting her grocery spending in the name of debt payoff for almost a year now, I can tell you there are some very easy methods and tips to eating healthy on a budget.
The first method is by far the “hardest,” but I promise, it’s really not that hard! If you plan your meals before you head to the grocery store, you’ll be safer from impulse purchases. (Taking a list along helps!)
You can also plan meals around what’s on sale that week, which is a big cash saver. If you look online or at your grocery store flyer and see that chicken, peppers, and oatmeal are on sale, you can plan on oatmeal breakfasts and a stir-fry dinner that week!
Meal planning is also helpful for saving you time. If you know what you’re going to make for dinner Monday when you get home from work, you won’t waste time deliberating in your kitchen or be tempted by fast food on the way home.
Cooking your own food is much healthier than buying meals out, too. Restaurants and fast food joints use a ton of salt, butter, and oil in their foods. By cooking your own (planned) meals, you can control how much of those things goes into your food and into your body. You can also save money by cutting back on buying these fats at the grocery store.
Stick to the Outside of the Store
When you’re armed and ready with your weekly meal plan and list of necessary ingredients, head to the store! Grocery stores have a method to their madness.
Produce, meats, and perishable items are on the outskirts of the store, while the processed and packaged foods are in the middle aisles. Stick to the perimeter of the store and you’ll choose healthier foods by default.
Start at the produce section and try to do the bulk of your shopping there. In-season vegetables are much cheaper than out-of-season ones, so stock up on those first.
There’s a mindset here in the USA that a proper meal consists of a meat, a starch, and a vegetable. Shake off that dusty old rule – a meal can be complete with just vegetables!
Talk about healthy, too. If you make an all veggie stir-fry with broccoli, snow peas, carrots, and mushrooms, you’ll be crushing your nutritional intake.
Broccoli has a ton of protein in it, mushrooms have Vitamin D, carrots rock the Vitamin K, and snow peas have protein and Vitamin C.
Try things like spaghetti squash instead of pasta as your base next time you want to do Italian, or an oven-roasted veggie medley.
Buy in Bulk
Not every meal can be a vegetable bonanza. For other needs, buy in bulk.
Things like rice, lentils, or beans of any variety are available in bulk. They will take care of your meal needs for weeks! Brown rice is always better than white rice, nutritionally speaking. Get crazy with your bean selection – black, kidney, or white are my top choices.
Bulk food like this is cheap, healthy, and versatile. You can do Mexican night with rice and beans, or add some rice to that stir-fry we were talking about. You can make bean soup, or lentil soup, or bean AND lentil soup. The possibilities are endless! Mix it up.
Lose the Dairy
Another healthy choice to make is to lower your dairy intake. Dairy is also usually found on the perimeter of the store.
I made the switch from regular milk from a cow to almond milk a few years ago, and I’m never going back. Other great, healthy options are soy and coconut milk.
If you cut out dairy milk, you’ll save yourself from a higher fat intake, but you can retain your calcium intake with a non-dairy substitute.
I know in my grocery store, the non-dairy milks can be more expensive than dairy. Go online to the manufacturer’s website for a coupon before you hit the store.
If you don’t want to make the complete switch or can’t afford it, try switching weeks with your milk. One week get the dairy milk, one week get the non-dairy milk. It’s a compromise that’s frugal, delicious either way, and healthy!
I also know some people who follow a “weekday vegetarian” diet, where they only buy meat on the weekends. It’s a very healthy lifestyle and saves them a lot of money over the course of time.
Meat is usually one of the most expensive items at the grocery store. Cutting back on it saves you cash. I personally don’t buy meat at all, and it was one of the biggest things to help drop my grocery store spending.
If you want to be more flexible with your meals, you can try having “Meatless Mondays” as a start.
Overall, my biggest advice to those who want to eat healthy on a budget is to be flexible and get creative. From making all vegetable meals to making bulk meals at the beginning of the week, and working your way through the leftovers, there are a million little things to do to cut your grocery spending.
Keep your receipts and watch as the total falls over time. You’ll get savvier the more you incorporate these habits, so start now and save today!
How do you save money while eating healthy? Do you make eating healthy a priority even when you’re in debt?