It can be challenging to eat healthy on a budget. Labels like “superfood,” “organic,” “gluten-free,” and “non-GMO” alone can skyrocket the price of otherwise inexpensive health foods. In order to eat healthy meals on a budget, you need to have a plan in place. The following tips can help you improve your lifestyle and save money at the same time.
1. Plan Your Meals
Each Sunday, sit down and make a detailed plan of what your family will be eating for every meal over the next week. Incorporate healthy ideas that can last for a few meals, such as vegetable soups, stews, chilis, casseroles, and lasagnas (you can swap out the noodles for grilled eggplant and zucchini).
If you send leftovers to school with your kids for lunch or you bring leftovers to work, write that down too.
Meal planning not only keeps you on track with your budget, it also helps to reduce daily stresses by taking the guesswork out of dinner preparation every day.
2. Go Through Your Pantry and Fridge
You now have your meal plan in order; it’s time to go get the ingredients, right? Wrong.
Before you head out to the supermarket with your plan in hand, go through your pantry, fridge, and freezer to make sure you won’t come home with any duplicates of ingredients you already had.
Also, you may come across foods you forgot you had. If that happens, you should swap out meal ideas that require you to buy all the ingredients for meal ideas that incorporate ingredients you already have. Forgot about that bag of barley? Mushroom barley soup! Can’t remember when you bought those rice noodles? It’s time to make some stir-fry.
You can save money each week by planning around healthy ingredients you have at home.
3. Make a Grocery List
A detailed shopping list is one of the most effective tools for reducing your grocery bill. It’s also essential for anyone looking to change their lifestyle habits to eat healthy foods.
Shopping lists that serve as “guides” can be dangerous to your budget because they leave too much leeway. It’s too easy to get pulled in by enticing packaging, and once you allow yourself to wing it in the supermarket, you lose sight of the bigger picture—many small price tags add up to one big tab.
Go through your meal plan and write down the ingredients you’ll need to buy. Include obvious weekly grocery items such as milk, eggs, and bread. Don’t buy anything that isn’t on the list!
4. Shop for Local, Seasonal Produce
The healthiest (organic), most delicious, and least expensive produce is probably hanging out at your local farmer’s market. If possible, head out there twice a month. Going local will benefit your wallet, your body, and the environment.
If it isn’t possible for you to get to a farmer’s market, check to see which produce is currently in season in your area. Seasonal produce is a lot more affordable than produce that has been shipped from halfway across the world.
If you specifically want fruits and vegetables that are not in season, check out the frozen section. Frozen fruits and vegetables are often comparable in nutrition to the fresh ones because they have been picked and frozen right away. They’re also less expensive.
RELATED: Eat Seasonal Foods and Be Healthy
5. Incorporate Plant Proteins
Meatless Monday is certainly a good start, but it doesn’t mean you should be eating meat on all the other six days of the week.
Cut down on meat and increase your plant protein intake, and you’ll find that your health and your checkbook will both benefit.
Legumes—beans, lentils, peas, and peanuts—are excellent sources of protein, fiber, iron, folate, and many other important nutrients, and they’re inexpensive to boot. Whole grains such as brown rice, oats, and bulgur are also nutritious, budget-friendly foods with protein that you should be incorporating into your meals.
6. Stock Up on Your Favorite Ingredients When They’re on Sale
If you have space in your pantry and freezer, you may as well take advantage of sales and stock up on otherwise pricey products.
If you do this, just make sure not to fall into a wasteful food-collecting trap. The trick is to remember that you have these foods in store and to continue to plan meals around them until they are used up.
7. Eat Leftovers
It may seem obvious—so why is it that 38 million tons of food get thrown away every year in the US?
You can probably guess exactly how this happens. Leftover chili that should have been Monday’s lunch now becomes the garbage bin’s Thursday dinner. A bag of zucchini that got rotated to the bottom of the produce drawer is now a bag of mush.
You can save money by maximizing on all the ingredients and leftover foods in your fridge. Plan weekly meals strategically by using highly perishable foods at the beginning of the week. If you’re not a fan of eating the same thing two or three days out of the week, freeze leftovers and eat them next week instead.
8. Pack a Lunch
Bring a delicious and nutritious lunch to work with you so that you aren’t tempted by the vending machine across the hall. This will ensure that you don’t give in to a quick fix on an empty stomach and end up wasting money on unhealthy food.
Pack leftovers from last night’s dinner, and opt out of the group order-in.
9. Use a Food App
There are so many useful tools in the palm of your hand. You probably already use a few apps to organize other areas of your life; why not use a food app to keep your meal preparation in order?
Food apps are useful because they can help you through every step of the process: planning meals, making grocery lists, sticking to a budget, and prepping the food.
Some food apps track what you eat while others help you plan meals based on your dietary preferences. Look around to find the food apps most suitable for you!
It’s not as difficult as you may think to eat healthy food on a budget, and these tips can help you reach your lifestyle and budget goals.