How to eat healthy on a budget

salad on table with pumpkins

Whether you’re saving to put your kids through college, or saving up for some much-needed R&R at a tropical all-inclusive resort, creating a monthly budget is step one in achieving your goals. It’s easy to overspend at the grocery store – especially if you go on an empty stomach, or prefer organic foods to conventional ones – so it’s important to make a plan of attack before ever leaving the house. The good news is that it’s possible to eat healthy without breaking the bank! Here’s how:

Plan your meals in advance
If you haven’t yet jumped on the meal planning train, you’re missing out on major cost savings. Buying produce in bulk lowers its per unit cost and allows you to take advantage of store sales, which often include big markdowns on family size packages of heart-healthy fruits, vegetables and lean cuts of meat. Creating a plan for how you’ll use those foods over the next seven days means that you can stretch three pounds of chicken breast throughout the week for use in your breakfasts (spinach and chicken egg white omelets), lunches (chicken, strawberry and spinach salads) and dinners (homemade chicken vegetable soup).

Here’s how to get started:

  • Review your calendar and pencil in times for shopping, prepping and cooking.
  • Scan your fridge and pantry, taking note of what items you have on hand already.
  • Peruse store circulars and print out online coupons.
  • Find recipes that incorporate your fridge/pantry stock as well as items that are currently on sale.
  • Plan what to do with your leftovers.
  • Type or write your plan.
  • Go shopping!
Open your calendar and pencil in times for shopping, prepping and cooking your food.Open your calendar and pencil in times for shopping, prepping and cooking your food.

Develop your green thumb
While shopping is convenient, there’s nothing like growing your own fruits and veggies. Even city dwellers can start a garden, using balcony space or containers. Growing your produce from scratch means you can be certain no pesticides were used – and it might also encourage you to eat more of the good stuff, as you’re less likely to toss the fruits of your labor than store-bought goods. It’s also cheaper than buying at the market, especially when it comes to herbs you can use to add flavor to your dishes. According to Southern Living Magazine, a pack of herbs costs $3-$6 while seeds cost $1-$2. Additionally, those packaged herbs will flavor one or two meals, while the herbs grown from seeds could last several years.

Here’s how to get started:

  • Get your hands on the Old Farmer’s Almanac to check your local frost dates.
  • Decide which seeds to plant.
  • Plant your seeds outdoors if the weather conditions permit, or indoors in a location that gets lots of sun.
  • Nourish your soil with organic matter – compost, shredded leaves or animal manure are three great options.
  • Make a plan for best utilizing the space you have.
  • Study up on best practices for maintaining your garden, to include soil, watering and crop rotation.

“Even city dwellers can start a garden.”

Be smart about buying organic
Unlike their conventional counterparts, organic foods contain little or no pesticides and food additives, which is why so many Americans are willing to shell out more cash for organically-grown goods. However, when you’re pinching pennies, it’s not always possible to spend the extra money. So, it’s wise to learn which items are worth the splurge and which are not. For example, fruits and veggies with thick skins – such as bananas and avocados – don’t need to be organic, as the outer layer protects the inner from chemicals.

Here are some foods you can buy conventional:

  • Bananas.
  • Avocados.
  • Pineapples.
  • Corn.
  • Peas (in the pod).
  • Onions.
  • Cabbage.
  • Mangoes.

From meal planning to growing your own vegetable garden to learning to shop smarter, it’s possible to eat healthy – and deliciously – on a budget. Enjoy!