The cost of healthy eating can be a little overwhelming to some, but it doesn't have to be expensive! Whilst that might be true for some people who really do live on very little money, most people would be surprised at how it doesn’t have to cost any more than ready made processed food – it just takes a little bit of preparation. Here are my top tips for Healthy Eating On A Budget.
It will take a little extra time and planning to eat healthily on a budget, but it's worth it. Too often, people use their budget as an excuse not to buy healthy food, when the reality is that junk food is just more convenient.
We actually spend less money now on food than we did when I was 100lbs overweight and unhealthy.
I started using these tips when I was a student and we still use them now as a family with a hungry toddler to feed and another baby on the way.
Some weeks it will cost a little more, if you need to stock up on herbs and spices and some weeks it will be much cheaper. You don't have to buy every trendy superfood to be healthy. These tips will help you to cut your shopping budget and feed you family nutritious, delicious and varied meals.
Healthy Eating On A Budget
Cook everything from scratch
This is the thing that has saved me the most money. Yes, it is going to take you a little longer, but it is really worth it. I used to buy low calorie ready meals because they were “healthy”, but they were costing me a fortune.
Sometimes I was just buying a pasta dish that was ready made. How easy is that to make yourself!
Making it myself not only saved me money, but made it a lot healthier than a ready made meal as it had no added salt and sugar. You don’t have to cook from scratch every day, most people don’t have time for that, so do some food preparation once a week or cook in bulk and freeze portions.
Prep some food once a week
Here is a video I made on what food I prep once a week - it saves me so much time and money. You don’t have to prepare everything, but having grains and beans cooked up, and some vegetables chopped will save you a lot of time in the week. It also allows you to cook up lots of stuff you bought cheaply/reduced.
In our fridge we usually have some salad, vegetable sticks, chopped veg ready for roasting, shredded chicken, cooked grains and cooked beans ready prepared. This means we can make a meal quickly, rather than ordering another takeaway.
Buy meat from a local butcher
This normally works out cheaper as you can buy meat in bigger packs and then freeze what you don’t need right away. It's also great to buy locally and support small independent businesses. You have a much bigger selection of cuts when you buy from a butcher too.
Buy a whole chicken and cut it up to keep in the fridge/freezer
This can then be added to a variety of meals throughout the week like this Healthy Chicken Korma below or our Slow Cooked BBQ Chicken. Don’t forget to use the carcass to make a chicken stock for soups too. Using up everything is a great way to save money.
Eat more vegetarian meals
Meat is expensive, no matter where you buy it from. So, try eating a few more vegetarian meals a week. Replace meat for beans and you will save quite a bit of money and you will definitely be getting enough protein.
When you do eat meat, bulk out dishes with beans and lentils
This way you don’t have to use as much meat. We add lentils to things like spaghetti bolognese, shepherds pie and curries and use less meat. If you can't imagine your family eating lentils, this is an easy way to sneak them in and they are so cheap too.
Buy fruit and vegetables from a local market
Not only is it great to buy locally as you are supporting your community and eating fresher food, it is usually much cheaper as well. My local market is about 25% cheaper than my supermarket for fruit and vegetables.
Also, try going later in the day when they are trying to get rid of their produce, as they will usually lower the price. If you can't use everything you bought straight away, then freeze it.
Save vegetable cuttings
When you are peeling vegetables, put the peelings in a bag in a freezer as and when you have them. Once the bag is full, you can make a vegetable stock with them. Nothing gets wasted!
Budget Healthy Eating
Eggs are cheap, tasty and healthy
We always buy free range, but they are still budget friendly and you can also do so much with eggs! This Courgette, Mint and Feta Fritatta is one of my favourite ways to eat eggs, along with our Eggs Baked in Mushrooms and Shakshuka.
Eating out of season can really push your budget over the edge, so be aware of what is in season for where you live. This is obviously different depending on where you live. I use this seasonal planner to check what is in season here in the UK. At the moment it is mostly green leafy vegetables, so that is what we are eating.
Plan your meals
I usually plan my meals once I have bought everything, not before. Once you have bought the things that were on offer/reduced, you know what ingredients you have to use and you can then plan all your meals around that.
Use food blogs, free supermarket magazines, Pinterest and recipe books (which you can pick up for free in the library) for meal inspiration.
Have oats for breakfast
It might not be the most interesting breakfast, but they are cheap (especially if you buy in bulk) and they are healthy. You can also add so many different things to make them more exciting.
Nut butter, seeds, frozen berries are all pretty cheap and add lots of flavour to oats. In the summer you can make overnight oats as an alternative.
Coupons are your friend
For those of you in the USA, you are so lucky when it comes to coupons, they seem to be in abundance. So use them! But, don’t buy things you don’t need just because you have a coupon for it. Even though coupons are a little harder to find over here in the UK, they are there if you find them.
Sign up to the mailing lists of expensive products that you like, as they occasionally send out coupons (but a lot of junk email too). Also check on their websites for coupons or offers.
Pick up the free magazines in supermarkets as they always have some decent coupons in them, as do the local papers if you get one of those through your door.
There are lots of online forums where people post the latest coupons that I find really handy. These forums also post supermarket glitches. I recently bought 10 bottles of fabric softener for 90% off as there was an error. If you are in the UK, I use the Money Saving Expert forum for all that.
Find out when your local supermarket reduces food
This is great for buying meat, which you can freeze in portions. If you know someone who works for a supermarket, ask them when they reduce items. Or, try going into the store at different times of the day to see if they are reducing items. In my local supermarket, they reduce things at 10am and then they mark what is left down a second time at around 8pm.
Know your herbs and spices
You can buy dried herbs and spices very cheaply in bulk, and they can really transform a dish on a budget. Just read up on what ones work well with what foods. I add chilli to a lot of cheap dishes to add more flavour.
You really can't get it wrong though, so start experimenting and find what you like. If you are anything like us, you buy fresh herbs for one recipe and the rest go to waste. So dried herbs save us money.
Use a slow cooker
You can make so many cheap and healthy dishes in one of these. All you have to do is throw it all in and leave it to cook. Not sure what to make? Order a copy of my book The Healthy Slow Cooker for over 100 recipe ideas. (AFF)
Using a slow cooker means you can use cheaper cuts of meat that would usually be quite tough. The low and slow cooking makes them nice and tender.
Make your own snacks
Snacking can be part of a healthy diet, but making your own can save a fortune. There are so many little snack packs out there that can really add up. So, use them as inspiration and make your own. Having a toddler means we can spend a fortune on snacks, so we try to make as many ourselves as we can.
Drink mostly water, rather than sugary squash and fizzy drinks
I have the occasional tea or coffee, but generally it is just water. Water doesn’t have to be boring – try adding fresh lemon or lime juice to jazz it up a bit, along with some fresh mint. You’ll be surprised how much you save by cutting out drinks from your shopping list.
Chicken is not your only protein source
Whilst there is a lot you can do with chicken breasts, they can be expensive. Other cheaper ways to get protein include beans, tuna, Greek yoghurt, eggs and nuts. Also – frozen chicken breasts or frozen fish normally work out cheaper. Try making our Tuna Fish Cakes.
Pick and choose your battles
If you are on a budget, you can’t do/buy everything that you want, so you have to make some sacrifices somewhere. For some, that might be organic foods. If you really can’t afford them, don’t buy them.
But, be aware that some foods have higher amounts of pesticides than others, so some organic foods (like strawberries and spinach) are worth buying organic if you can, and others are not. This is the dirty dozen. If you can’t buy organic, wash, scrub and peel stuff as much as you can.
Make your own bread
Flour is very cheap and with making your own bread, you can control what goes in it. When I make bread, I make 4 times as much dough and then portion it out and freeze the remaining dough in single loaf portions.
Grow your own fruit and vegetables if you can
This might be a bit expensive initially, but it can save you money in the future. If you don’t have a garden, there are still things you can grow in the house in containers, like herbs. You could also get involved in a community garden project or make friends with people who grow lots of things.
Cheap Healthy Meals
Buy a massive bag of potatoes
They can be used to bulk out loads of dishes, like soups and stews. They can be made into oven chips, mashed potatoes, roast etc too. Don't be scared to eat potatoes - they are good for you.
Looking for some potato recipe inspiration? Try this No mayo Potato Salad, Garlic and Rosemary Roasted Potatoes, Mediterranean Potato Salad, Garlic Potato Wedges, BBQ Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes, 10 Healthy Baked Potato Toppings.
Frozen fruit and vegetables are cheaper than fresh
It also hasn’t had lots of people touching it and it isn’t sitting in the shop for ages, it is frozen pretty soon after being picked. Frozen onion and garlic for example, is much cheaper than fresh, and you don’t have to chop it! It won’t go off either, so there is no waste.
Bags of frozen veg like peas, sweetcorn and spinach is great for throwing in to curry and stew.
Portion control is key
Most of us are eating way more than we should be, and that is where we could be saving money. Try to lower your portion sizes and save money and calories.
Instead of taking a big dish to the table for everyone to serve themselves (and eat seconds), portion it all up in the kitchen and then save some for leftovers to go in the freezer.
Don’t waste food
Plan what you are going to do with everything you buy. I cringe when I think of how much food we used to throw away. It is literally throwing money down the drain. A little bit of planning means this doesn’t have to happen.
If you see something in the fridge that is going to go off soon, either plan to use it that day, or freeze it. Take a look at 20 Ways To Waste Less Food.
Buy in bulk
I go to my local health store and I stock up on huge bags of beans and grains. I know this might not be an option for all of you if space is limited, but any extra space you have (like under a bed or in the garage) could be used to store them. You can even buy the smaller bulk bags.
If you really don’t have any room, perhaps you and some friends could buy the bulk items between you and split them – that way you are all saving money. I buy a variety of beans, couscous, bulgur wheat, quinoa, brown rice, lentils and many other things in bulk.
Look at the price per unit/measure (grams, oz, litres etc) rather than the actual price for the item
Sometimes, when you think you are getting a good deal (maybe it is on offer), it actually works out cheaper to buy something else when you look at it per 100g.
I don’t buy all my food from one shop, I buy different things from the places I know I can get them cheapest from. Try to walk to the shops though, so you don't end up spending lots of money on petrol. Carrying all the bags back is a bit of an arm workout.
Healthy Meals on a Budget
Cook in bulk and freeze in portions
If I am making something like a lasagne, any pasta dish, casserole, or actually pretty much anything, I always make double and then freeze the leftovers in individual portions. I then have cheap, healthy and convenient food in the freezer.
Doing this with soup is good too. I let soup cool and then put it in zip lock bags to go in the freezer, as it saves space. I usually spend an hour or so on a Sunday making up big batches of a couple of dishes to freeze for the week ahead.
If you have a large freezer, when things are on offer or reduced, buy them and freeze them
For example, if there are loads of bananas reduced because they are brown, I buy as many as I can, peel them, wrap them and then put them in the freezer and they are perfect for smoothies or snacks.
We are lucky that we have room for a freezer in our kitchen, but even if we didn't I would put it in the bedroom if I had to. They are the best things for eating on a budget.
Cut back on takeaway
How To Eat Healthy on a Budget
Eat out less often
This is where the majority of our budget went. Whether it was eating out at fast food places, ordering in, or going to far too many restaurants, we were spending a lot of money on food that we were not cooking.
We do still go out to restaurants occasionally now, but it is to nice places that we have been looking forward to going to, not just a spontaneous trip because we can’t be bothered to cook.
That is not a luxury we can afford, as we would much rather put that money to something else, like healthier food at home, or saving up for an amazing holiday. It’s all about priorities. Also, you have less control over what you are eating when you are out.
Why not try making some of your favourite restaurant meals at home? A lot of the big chin restaurants have their own recipe books so you can replicate their meals.
Take a look at your receipts for the food and see where you are spending your money. If you are buying lots of packaged foods for convenience, or getting a lot of coffees out, then cutting those out is a great place to start.
The common theme amongst these points is planning. It will take a little extra time, but it will save you money and you can eat healthy foods. I always say, if you have time to be on the internet, you have a little extra time to plan your food.
You can also find lots more tips in 100 Ways to be Healthier and Happier This Year.
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