Eating Healthy on a Budget

How healthy are you eating? Most people wish they could be eating better and saving money doing it. Unfortunately, the demands of modern life can make maintaining a healthy and cost-effective diet seem more of a hardship then a benefit. But just being a little more mindful of habits in the grocery store and kitchen can make preparing healthy foods on a budget an easy part of your life.

Plan ahead

Time crunch can be the worst enemy of health- and budget-conscious consumption. To avoid falling prey to greasy fast food and “convenience” meals, get in the habit of planning ahead. Mapping out meals for the week is a great way to start controlling what goes in them and how much they cost.

Know the nutritional needs of you and your family, and how they fit with the contents of your pantry. Browsing recipes can inspire ideas for how you can use what you already have on hand. If your food budget is very strict, consider breaking it down further. Plan for how much can be spent in each category for proteins, vegetables, grains, etc., and make sure all nutritional bases are covered.

To save time on weekday cooking, prepare large batch meals, such as stews or casseroles, which can be eaten throughout the week. These kinds of dishes are also good ways to use up odds and ends of leftover ingredients. Or put together a variety of “freezer meals” that you only need to throw in the Crock Pot or oven for an easy dinner.

Shop smart

Shopping lists should include only products you need and can realistically use before they go bad. Be honest—correct evaluation of your household supplies and consumption will help keep food waste and grocery bills to a minimum. Splashy advertising and impulse buys are typical hazards of the shopping experience. A thoughtful and well-constructed list makes avoiding these easier. Some shoppers even organize lists according to the layout of the store for the most efficient (and budget-friendly) trips possible.

Try to buy produce in-season. In-season fruits and vegetables tend to be cheaper and more flavorful. Keep an eye out at the grocery or even try to find a produce stand or farmers’ market nearby. These places tend to have local, high-quality produce for good prices. If fresh produce isn’t available for a reasonable price, frozen or canned may be a good option, but avoid any unsavory additives. Sometimes eating healthier just involves taking the extra few seconds to read the ingredients on the label.

Buy in bulk and be creative. You can get good deals when you buy more of a product at once, but that doesn’t mean your family has to eat the same grilled chicken and mashed potatoes every night. Buy staples in large quantities, especially things like dried beans or whole grains with a long shelf life. Buying lots of basic, unprepared ingredients keeps the cost down and the nutritional value up, as these usually have fewer additives and preservatives. Find new ways to combine them and use them with fresh and seasonal ingredients to keep the menu lively.

Tap into a network

There are many additional resources for eating healthy and saving money. Internet blogs and message boards provide a wealth of recipes, tips and tricks for making the most of your wallet and kitchen every day. Local publications often contain valuable coupons, advertisements for sales and notices for classes in areas such as cooking or budget management. If you have a particularly savvy group of friends and neighbors, you could even organize to split the cost or bulk grocery purchasing or swap servings of extra large batch meals.

Integrating healthy eating into your life and budget is a process, but it doesn’t have to be a pain. Putting the extra effort into regularly planning and crafting meals may seem daunting at first. Soon though, you and your family will be reaping the rewards—your body and pocketbook will thank you!