Healthy Eating on a Budget

Healthy Eating On A Budget

I have heard many people say that healthy eating is impossible on a limited budget. The truth is that budget meals can be the healthiest meals of all. Here's how to eat right, without breaking the bank.

You might not want to or think you have the time to, but you will need to devote a little more time to food preparation. Healthy eating on a budget relies more on whole unprocessed foods and the things that really drive up your grocery bills are convenience foods. It was a gradual process for my family, but we eventually cut out the "heat and eat" foods.

We snack on baby carrots, which are relatively cheap. My grocer has weekly specials. On certain weeks, you get a free bag of baby carrots. Taking advantage of the weekly specials like this is another trick to healthy eating on a budget.

Blocks of cheese are less expensive per ounce than sliced. Healthy eating on a budget requires you to look at the cost per ounce, pound or the unit price. Often you save money by buying more. Just check out the cost per ounce, pound, or unit and comparison shop. You can usually find these costs on the sticker located just under the item on the shelf.

Speaking of shelves, to save some money when grocery shopping, look up and down. More costly items are at eye level to grab your attention. I used to think this only applied to wine, but it really applies to everything in a grocery store. Companies do pay more for that eye level, attention grabbing shelf, so look up and down to save some money on similar products.

Another healthy eating on a budget rule is that purchasing in bulk saves money as long as you know the item is non-perishable and will be eaten before it goes bad. So, it's okay to buy the larger quantity if you're not going to waste it. Follow that guideline when buying dried beans, rice, pastas, etc.

Making budget meals may mean that you need to change where you shop. Take the time to visit the different supermarkets in your area. Many stores are increasing their profits by offering affordable organic and gourmet items. This makes healthy eating on a budget so much easier! Trader Joe's is an excellent store that offers organic, natural, and gourmet foods at a low price.

winter: acorn squash, broccoli, and oranges

spring: berries, asparagus, bananas, plums

summer: grapes, lettuce, tomatoes, plums, avocados, zucchini, peaches, and melons

fall: apples, oranges, pumpkins, broccoli, melons

year round: potatoes, carrots, celery

When you are buying produce, you will find that the items that are in season cost less than those that are not. Here to the right is a quick rundown of seasonal produce:

If you are open to change, you can stick with the fruits and vegetables that are currently in season to save money.

Another great option for buying fresh produce that's in season is to buy local. You almost always save money and there's a lot of options for buying your produce this way. You can check out your local farmer's markets or purchase a portion of a local farmer's crops, which is called a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). In a CSA you make a financial commitment to a farm and in return receive a weekly basket or box of produce. It's generally not a big commitment and the produce is unbelievably fresh! Most farms host tours, so it's a great way to teach our kids and stay connected to where our food comes from. For more info on a CSA in your area, check out Local Harvest.

You're going to pay extra for convenience when you purchase food. Conversely, you're going to pay extra in time for non-convenience food items. One of the complaints that I hear from people about healthy eating on a budget has to do with the price of chicken. It is true that boneless skinless chicken breasts cost more. But, you could buy regular breasts and remove the skin yourself. It's a relatively simple thing to do, it just takes more time. You can even save more money by buying whole chickens and cutting them up. If you're concerned about the fatty thighs and drumsticks, then toss them in some water and use as a base for soup and you can skim the fat off of later. Again, it is the convenience foods that cost more.

You can spend less money on real food and make nourishing budget meals by cutting out some of the non-essentials. Instead of buying bottled water, buy a home purifier. Instead of drinking sodas, drink water. Instead of using paper napkins and towels, use cloth. You may have a little more laundry, but you'll save money and reduce your family's impact on the environment.

Where does most of our food budget go? On meat and in the trash. Sounds strange, but hear me out... we spend a good portion of our food budget on meat and we waste money by not eating leftovers and tossing them out. So, it makes sense in order to save some money on our food bill to cut out some meat and use up those leftovers. Just check out some of the ideas below and let your imagination flow:

  • Host a baked potato night with all the toppings
  • Eat beans, rice, and salsa
  • Have some plain quesadillas with cheese or dress up with leftover meats and bbq sauce - kids love this!
  • Leftover pork chops and rice? Cut up the chops, add an egg or two, with some frozen veggies and the rice and you have stir fried rice.
  • Leftover meat such as chicken or tri-tip? We love to cut up tri-tip with some refried beans and veggies for tacos or burritos the next night.
  • How about grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup?
  • Leftover mashed potatoes no one wants? Toss into a non-stick pan and make some potato pancakes. They're an excellent side dish kids love.
  • Make a simple potato soup of onions, milk, potatoes, and salt and pepper.
  • A lot of different leftovers, but not enough of one thing to feed everyone? Have a mix-n-match night of leftovers and let everyone choose what they want.
  • Learn to love lentils. They are super easy to make, taste absolutely wonderful, and are really cheap!

The ideas for limiting meat from your food bill and using up leftovers are as limitless as your imagination!

Healthy eating on a budget is possible, just as long as you are willing to make a few painless changes and have some imagination.

For more great budget meal ideas, check out Recipes for Budget Meals.

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