Everything you need to know to eat healthily, even when money is tight
There is a huge debate amongst economists about whether healthy eating is too expensive for people on a budget or whether it is something that can be done on any budget.
One leading expert on the subject said "People generally believe that ‘healthy’ equals ‘expensive" but this is often wrong. What is marketed to us as healthy and what is actually healthy don't always overlap.
There are thousands of ways that you can save money and still eat healthily - from growing your own food to eating ugly veg and even cooking in bulk.
Eating healthily can be cheaper than eating junk food if you're smart about it. You'll learn how to do that in this guide.
In this article, we are going to show you how to get the most out of your money and eat healthily in the process.
Tips For Cooking Healthy On a Budget
This guide will ask you to reassess how you shop for food. Most of us don't realize it, but every time we go shopping we fall into the marketing traps the grocery store has laid out for us.
Being aware of how grocery stores arrange themselves will help you to start saving money immediately. When you know that they put the most expensive items at eye level, you will start looking down. When you start looking at the price per gram, you'll stop buying smaller and more expensive items.
In this section, we are going to share 10 more money-saving tips with you, to help you cook healthily without breaking the bank.
Plan Your Meals Ahead
Planning your purchases can save you money in every area of your life - not just when buying food. But, today we're talking about food and making a weekly menu before you even set foot into the grocery store.
Planning what you are going to cook in advance means that you will only have to make one trip to the grocery store each week (which saves money on fuel as well), that you will be throwing away less food, and that you can get the most out of your money.
When putting together your weekly menu, check the website of your local grocery stores. See what items they have on sale, can you plan your menu around these items and save yourself even more money?
Planning your meals in advance means that you can also create ways to use up the food that you already have on hand. You can make sure nothing goes to waste. When you throw away food, you're really throwing away money.
There are so many different ways that the grocery stores try to squeeze money out of us. The good news for you is that below you will find a mini-guide to what tricks to avoid and where you can save the most money.
Don’t buy pre-chopped fresh goods
Gram for gram, buying fresh pre-chopped goods is a huge waste of money. You should either buy the whole item or buy frozen pre-chopped goods. If you are looking for fresh herbs then in the long run it will be much cheaper to purchase a little plant to harvest than to constantly buy it fresh.
Buy Whole Grains in Bulk
Rice, pasta, lentils, dried beans, and oats can all be brought in bulk. The bigger size you buy them in, the better deal you will get.
They won't go off if stored correctly and they are something all of us use regularly.
Buy Seasonal Food
You may have noticed that for 49 weeks of the year Strawberries are incredibly expensive. However, the three weeks they are in season, they are practically giving them away. Use this to your advantage, buy seasonal items and you will get them for a great price.
Don’t buy huge quantities of spices
When spices are ground they have a shelf life of less than a year. Most whole spices have a maximum shelf life of 1-2 years. While buying bigger quantities of spices can seem like a good idea, it's only worth it if you're going to be able to use them up before they lose their flavor.
In this case, buying small will save you money.
Opt for Store Brands
Most of us have been told at least once in our lives that store brands are not as good as named brands. Well, we have some news for you, according to many, many studies, this just isn't true. The only difference with most store brands is the packaging. Some store brands are actually better than the named brands.
Look For Store Deals
Plan your meals around the deals in the store. You should also stock up if you see any essential long-lasting items on sale.
Buy Frozen Seafood & Vegetables
Frozen food will be the best friend of anyone shopping on a budget. Not only does it last longer, but it is also far cheaper - especially if you're buying frozen fish.
Buy Cheap Cuts of Meat
Cuts of meat are cheap because they are unpopular, not because they are unhealthy or of poor quality.
Swap out your ground beef for ground turkey. The turkey has 10% less fat and will be at least half the price. Opt for chuck steak or pork top steak instead of sirloin. Your mouth won't notice the difference, but your wallet will.
Don't shop when you're hungry
If you shop when you are hungry, you are more likely to leave the store with things you don't need. Save yourself the trouble and have a banana before you head to the store.
Familiarize Yourself With The Dirty Dozen List
I know it sounds like we're talking about a Wild West B movie, but stick with us.
The Dirty Dozen is a list of 12 ingredients that Americans should be cautious of buying released by The Environmental Working Group. Why? Because when they tested these ingredients, they routinely found harmful levels of pesticide residue.
They release a new list every year, and some ingredients like Strawberries and Peaches are repeat offenders every year. Pesticides are used to keep bugs and predators away from the produce.
The Dirty Dozen are as follows:
- Kale/Collard/Mustard greens
- Bell and hot peppers
It is worth noting that not all of these ingredients that you find in the grocery store will be covered in these toxic chemicals. Particularly if you shop at a local farmer's market. But, the results of The Environmental Working Group's study saw worrying chemical levels multiple times when testing these ingredients.
Many of these ingredients are easy to grow at home. If you see something on this list that you don't think you can live without. Then why not grow it at home and freeze it to use throughout the year.
You don't want to go to the effort of buying fruit and vegetables that may actually make you ill because they haven't been washed properly.
Here is a list of 15 clean alternatives :
- Sweet Corn
- Frozen sweet peas
Keep Food Waste to a Minimum
We have mentioned a few times already that a great way to save money when you are cooking is to keep your food waste to a minimum. Throwing away unused food is the equivalent of throwing away your money.
By preventing food waste you are making sure that you are getting the most out of your money.
Here are two tips for preventing food waste that has changed the way we shop.
With Proper Food Storage
You can seriously extend the shelf life of your food by storing it properly.
Did you know that eggs will last longer (and taste better) if you don't keep them in the fridge? Many vegetables also last longer when they are kept at room temperature. Another thing to bear in mind is that if you keep potatoes and onions in the dark they are more likely to sprout roots.
A good way to work out the correct way to store an item of food is to look at how they are stored in the grocery store. The longer they can keep their fresh produce looking good the more likely they are to sell it - so these guys are the experts.
Look For Ways To Use Everything
There are a near-infinite amount of ways that food waste can be reused.
We aren't suggesting that you eat everything including the peelings, bones, and cut-offs. Instead, think outside the box. You don't need to buy stock cubes when you can use vegetable peelings to make perfectly good stock. If you're a keen gardener, use your food waste instead of store-bought compost.
Have Meatless Days During The Week
Going meatless will be great for your wallet, the planet, and your gut. As Americans, we eat far too much meat - on average we eat 10 pounds of meat a day. Going meatless for at least one day a week can improve our physical and financial health.
Meat is normally high in saturated fat and eating too much meat can raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of developing heart disease. It is also worth noting that it is more than possible to get enough protein in your diet without eating meat. The same goes for Iron, Omega 3, and Vitamin B12.
Going meatless for just one day a week can lead to significant improvements in your health and can save you over $100 a year. We have a list of 5 delicious meatless meals at the end of the guide.
You might want to consider going to the Meatless Monday website to learn more.
Cook Big Batches
We know that buying food in bulk can save you a lot of money, but what you may not know is that cooking in bulk can save you money too. These two systems go hand in hand.
Cooking in bulk is also a great way to keep your healthy eating on track. If you know that you have a pre-prepared healthy meal waiting for you in the fridge you won't feel so tempted to order that takeout.
It's also a great time saver if you have a big family or are just a busy person.
Batch cooking prevents any of your food from going to waste. By planning your meals in advance and only buying fresh what you need, while buying long-life ingredients in bulk - you can greatly reduce the money you are spending and the food you are wasting.
There are many books and cooking courses devoted to batch cooking. But, we understand you're on a budget. So, instead of buying a book or an online course why not make the most of the glut of free recipes online - here is a collection of batch cooking recipes from the BBC to get you started.
If you live alone, then batch cooking could cut your food bill down by up to 75%. You have probably found that lots of your fresh food go off before you have a chance to get round to them. By batch cooking and freezing the meals, you will cut down on a lot of wasted food and wasted money.
Freeze Any Leftovers
This goes hand in hand with batch cooking, but it can work for you even if batch cooking is something you're not interested in.
If you are someone who doesn't enjoy cooking then may want to consider batch cooking and freezing the servings that you don't eat that night. That way you will cut cooking out of your day 4-6 days a week.
You can also use this tip to reduce waste and save money even if you aren't batch cooking. It will be particularly useful if you live on your own.
As we have mentioned before, it is hard to prevent food waste when you are cooking for one. Most food comes in packages designed for at least four. So, what can you do to prevent ¾ of your meal from going in the bin?
Well, you can cook the meal for four, then you can freeze the servings that you don't eat. You will have three meals ready for you. You can eat them in the next week or keep them for longer if you like to vary up your meals.
If you are not cooking for one, then you may only have half a serving or a few items of the meal leftover. These are still worth freezing, as someone will eat them eventually. Some people even make Sunday evening leftover evening. Where they aim to eat the leftovers from the week instead of making something new.
Bake Your Own Bread
Have you ever looked at the ingredient list of store-bought bread? Well, if you want to be frightened, feel free. The average shop loaf is full of sugar and highly processed. Things you want to avoid when you're trying to eat well.
To avoid both the bad ingredients and the costs of buying bread, why not make your own. Most people see this as an expensive hobby, but making your own bread is a great way to save money. You don't even need a breadmaker or other specialized equipment to do it.
Make Your Own Healthier Granola
We have used granola as an example in this title, but you should apply the theory to any type of food that you love.
Let's say that you love granola and that you buy it ready-made. This can cost anywhere between $7-$12+ per box. You aren't able to control what goes in it and it's probably full of sugar.
Now, if you were to make your own granola using ingredients that you had brought in bulk. Then you would be able to make ten times more granola for the same price. You would only have to include ingredients you like and you would be able to make sure that it is healthy - i.e. you could cut out all the sugar and replace it with honey.
This way, you don't have to cut granola out of your life, you can save yourself a lot of money, and you can make your favorite snack more healthy.
This trick can be applied to anything you love but is too expensive or not good for you.
The internet is full of easy recipes that will allow you to recreate your favorite food items without the price tag or the saturated fat.
For example, you will find hundreds of healthy takes on fast-food restaurants like Taco Bell and In & Out online.
If you make them at home with better ingredients, you can still enjoy your favorite foods. We want to make our diets smarter, not harder.
Shop Online (On Some Occasions)
We believe that there are two major benefits to shopping online.
Firstly, when you shop online it is much easier to only buy the things that you need.
Stores make sure that we have to walk past all their junk food and deals before we get to the healthy stuff. They want us to leave with more items than we planned to. When you shop online, you can type everything you need into the search bar and avoid the temptation of deals.
When you shop online you are less likely to leave with a basket full of items that you don't need.
Secondly, if you know where to shop, you will be able to find many healthy food items 50% cheaper than they are priced in the grocery stores. And the items are usually of a higher quality when brought from these shops.
Grocery stores are all-purpose shops that try to stock as wide a variety of items as they can. If they know that an item is niche but will sell, then they are likely to stock the most expensive version of it that they can. This way they can turn a bigger profit.
You will find that there are many more specialized shops online that will be able to sell you these harder to find items at a much better price. For example, if you are looking for matcha tea then you are better off shopping online with a tea specialist, rather than paying extortionate prices for it at your local grocery store. You may also wanna check out how to make boba tea at home.
Superfoods are foods that have been proven to be packed full of health benefits. Throughout the last decade, dozens of Superfoods have been discovered.
Many of these Superfoods have been used holistically for many thousands of years.
The main issue with Superfoods is, once they are discovered to be Superfood they become trendy and their prices shoot up. We have seen this happen with Superfoods like chia seeds and Turmeric.
In this section, we are going to talk you through 15 of the cheapest Superfoods. These foods will allow you to reap their health benefits without bankrupting yourself.
Lentils are high in Calcium, Iron, Potassium, and Folate. They also contain 12g of protein per serving.
Lentils have long been used as a low-cost meat substitute thanks to their high protein levels.
Women should consider eating lentils multiple times a week as they are a great source of iron and can help to fight anemia.
Oats are considered complex carbohydrates, this means that the body can break them down and use them as a source of energy without causing spikes in blood sugar levels.
Oats contain a fiber called Beta-Glucan which has been proven to make us feel more full after eating it. It can be used to help curb food cravings.
Kale is one of the most nutrient-dense foods in the world. It contains Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Vitamin C, Vitamin B1, B3, B12, Manganese, Calcium, Potassium, and Magnesium.
Kale also contains acids that help our bodies to lower cholesterol.
We all know that oranges are an amazing source of Vitamin C, but did you also know that oranges are full of fiber?
They also make it easier for your body to absorb iron and contain ingredients key to collagen production which help our wounds to heal.
Apples contain a soluble fiber that has been linked to lowering the risk of heart disease. They have also been linked with aiding weight loss and lowering the risk of developing type 2 Diabetes.
Maybe, an apple a day really does keep the Doctor away. Check out how to make superfood juice with apples.
Bananas are famous for their potassium count, but they are also full of fiber, Vitamin b6, and Vitamin C.
They contain minerals essential for healthy gums and blood sugar regulation.
Bananas are a great source of 'resistant starch' and studies have shown that resistant starch can help improve the body's insulin sensitivity.
Almonds are a great source of Vitamin E, Magnesium, and Manganese. They are also high in antioxidants.
25-38% of people with Type 2 Diabetes are Magnesium deficient and it is believed that Magnesium is essential for regulating blood sugar levels effectively. The mineral also helps to boost Insulin resistance.
Eggs have a bad reputation in the world of healthy eating, but they are actually a type of Superfood.
Eggs are an easy source of Vitamin D, B6, B12 and Zinc, Iron, and Copper. The yolk of an egg is also a great source of healthy fats and they are full of protein.
While carrots can't actually help you see in the dark (that was a rumor started by the Allies in WW2 to hide their radar system) they are full of ingredients that are great for your eyesight.
They are chocked full of Vitamin A and beta-carotene, as well as, calcium and Vitamin K.
Cabbage is fairly similar to Kale, it is a very nutrient-dense resource. It contains Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Vitamin C, Vitamin B1, B3, B12, Manganese, Calcium, Potassium, and Magnesium.
Cabbage is also full of antioxidants that have been shown to reduce inflammation and help sufferers of arthritis.
Sweet potatoes are a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth. They are also high in Vitamin A and Vitamin C. They also have more than 50% of the RDA of Copper and Potassium.
If you have digestive issues then you might want to start eating more sweet potatoes - they are full of soluble fibers that can speed up your digestive process.
Peanuts are high in protein and healthy fats. Protein is essential for muscle repair and healthy fats can reduce your chances of developing blood clots and other heart issues. They are also high in fiber and Vitamin E.
Brown rice is one of the easiest whole grains to include in your diet. Eating whole grains can reduce your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes by up to 32%.
Brown rice is also rich in fiber and magnesium - these elements work together to protect our hearts and lower our cholesterol.
Beetroot is full of fibers that support your gut. They promote the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut, which will help to prevent upset stomachs and can ease symptoms of bowel problems like IBS. These fibers also reduce the risk of constipation.
Beetroots are high in potassium, folate, Vitamin A, and Vitamin C.
There is a wide range of beans available on the market and each of them brings different health benefits to the table. Most beans come from the same family as Lentils and have a lot of similar benefits to them.
Kidney, Green, String, and Pinto beans are all great sources of fiber.
5 Cheap Healthy Ideas To Try
Before we leave you, we have gathered a collection of healthy meals that you can make for a great price.
A lot of people are wary of recipes that call themselves healthy. They think they will be flavorless and boring. These recipes are far from that.
- Oats (½ a cup)
- Peanut Butter (2 Tbsp.)
- Almond Milk (½ a cup)
- Maple Syrup (1 Tbsp.)
- Chia Seeds (¾ Tbsp.)
- Topping - the fruit of your choice (we recommend bananas)
This recipe is so simple and easy to put together, it's perfect for anyone who has hectic mornings - find it here.
Japanese Katsu Tofu Curry
For the sauce
- 2 tbsp. sunflower oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced
- 15g fresh root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon medium curry powder
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ½ teaspoon ground star anise or Chinese five-spice
- 15g plain flour
- 275ml vegetable stock (made with ½ cube)
- 2 teaspoon tomato purée
- 1 teaspoon soft light brown sugar
- flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the tofu
- 280g extra-firm tofu, well-drained
- 2 tbsp. cornflour
- 40g panko breadcrumbs or dry white breadcrumbs
- 25g coconut yogurt
- 6 tbsp. sunflower or groundnut oil
If you are looking for healthy food with a big flavor then you don't need to look any further. This Katsu Tofu Curry is not only delicious but it's incredibly filling.
Korean Radish salad
- 5 cups Korean radish
- 2 stalks scallions
- 1 - 2 tbsps. Korean red pepper flakes
- ⅔ tbsps. sugar
- 1½ tsps. rice wine vinegar
- 1½ tsps. fish sauce
- 1½ tsps. salt
- 1 teaspoon garlic
You will find our foolproof guide to making Korean Radish here.
- 6 pcs large eggs
- 1 tbsp. white vinegar
- 1 tbsp. salt
- ½ cup soy sauce
- ½ cup water
- ⅓ cup honey or oligo syrup, or corn syrup, or sugar
- ¼ pc onion medium-sized, diced
- 1 pc green onion diced
- 3 pcs garlic cloves minced 1 pc red chili pepper diced
- 1 pc green chili pepper diced
- 1 tbsp. sesame seeds toasted
These stuffed eggs went viral on Tik Tok earlier this year and we know exactly why… they're delicious. Check out our full recipe here.
- 2 teaspoon rapeseed oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1 red pepper, cut into chunks
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 teaspoon mild chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 400g can chopped tomatoes
- 400g can black beans
- 1 teaspoon vegetable bouillon powder
- 1 small avocado
- handful chopped coriander
- 1 lime, juiced
- ½ red chili
We're ending this list with a bang. This Mexican-style bean soup will leave you feeling full and completely satisfied with the delicious meal you have just consumed.
Cooking healthily on a budget is completely possible if you are smart about it.
Planning in advance, searching for deals, and buying in bulk are easy ways to save money on your food bill.
With the advice above, you'll be able to spend more money on the things you love and less on food. What are you waiting for? It's time to change the way you shop.
Cooking for a whole family with a limited budget is quite a challenge, and that is why it would be best to look at the information here where we can garner some kitchen tips. Thank you for sharing here as well the importance of keeping the meals healthy despite the budget. I also agree with you that it will be smarter to plan the weekly menu at least ahead of time!