5 Ways to Eat Healthier on a Budget

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. We participate in other affiliate programs as well. For more details, please see our disclosure policy.

Looking to improve your family’s diet, but not sure how to pull it off on a budget? Consider these 5 ways to eat healthier on a budget.

5 Ways to Eat Healthier on a Budget | Life as Mom

Spaghetti Squash Jambalaya

One of the dilemmas about food — and there are many these days — is that the healthier food is also the more expensive food. The ingredients that carry the biggest health benefits and pack the most powerful nutrition are often  pricier than the cheap junk that supplies empty calories.

Eating healthier, however, is an investment in our futures and those of our children. Eating healthy food or not should not be a decision made along class or economic lines, but unfortunately it often is.

How can we eat healthier on a budget?

When we were in debt, I bought lots and LOTS of processed foods because they often went on sale and they often had coupons. Coupled with other deals a store had going on, I often got frozen stuffed bagels, tv dinners, and boxed cereal for FREE, at any one time storing 20 boxes of cereal in my cupboards.

To a couponer — or her kids who like junk food — that is called hitting the motherlode, my friends.

Even though I’d made many things cheap and homemade for years, the idea of getting something for FREE was appealing. That was certainly cheaper than the homemade stuff I was making and it helped us make ends meet. All the same, I didn’t want processed foods to be our future. We still ate a lot of rice and beans.

Once we got out of debt, I slowly started weaning us off processed items, and going back to the home cooking that we preferred anyway. I also started doing a lot of reading about the processed food industry. My research convinced me that homemade was the way to go. So much so that today we eat a mostly whole foods diet.

Oh, sure, I buy some packaged items — you can see over on my Grocery Geek posts — but I’m more careful about which packaged items, and I try to be mindful of buying many more “ingredients” than processed items.

Eating better on a budget is challenging, but it is totally worth the effort. Here are some things that help us buy those healthier items and still stay in the black:

5 Ways to Eat Healthier on a Budget | Life as Mom

1. Good sourcing

I live in Southern California. When I post my Grocery Geek report each week, folks comment that our prices are really amazing here. That is true. In general, groceries in California are not very expensive. It’s gas and property costs that are the killer.

But, I also tend to buy at stores that I know have the rock-bottom prices for the items I need. I pick and choose, shopping for certain things where I know I’ll get the best pricing and/or best quality for my money. I’ve completely eliminated some stores because they are just not worth the effort for the little value they offer me.

While I used to get a weekly produce box brimming full of organic fruits and vegetables, I currently opt for purchasing my produce at the grocery store or Costco where I get to choose which fruits and vegetables we eat each week, rather than taking the luck of the draw.

The opportunities and sources vary from region to region. You have to do a little homework to see where you can get the best deals.

Where can you get the best prices where you live?

2. Scratch cooking

If you’ve got the know-how and the motivation, cooking from scratch will save you a lot of money. A loaf of whole grain artisan bread costs about $4 a loaf. I can make it for about $1 at home. When I can find pickling cucumbers at a decent price, making homemade pickles is worth it to me because we love the taste, and picky Mom here loves that there is no food coloring or weird additives in the brine. That makes cents.

What can you make yourself instead of buying?

3. Buying and cooking in bulk

Bulk pricing is often, but not always, more economical than buying things by the piece. I often buy big cases of different food items, like grains and flours, via Amazon’s Subscribe & Save. I buy large packages of cheese and meat at Costco. When I see a great sale or a clearance basket full of my favorite healthier items, I stock up.

Through creative stockpiling I can save money on the items we buy the most frequently. Plus, we don’t run out which would prompt me to go to the store on a whim.

Likewise, when I cook lots of food at one time and freeze it, I maximize my grocery savings as well as my time. If the freezer is stocked, we eat at home, and we eat well.

What can you buy or make lots at one time and save some extra coin?

5 Ways to Eat Healthier on a Budget | Life as Mom

4. Enjoying what’s cheap

When we were first trying to get out of debt, a friend asked what I did about expensive fruit. We lived in Kansas City at the time where perhaps fresh produce was more precious. She said, “What about cherries? Aren’t you buying them even though they are $6 a pound?”

The simple answer was: No. There are plenty of cheaper things to enjoy.

When something is seasonal and on sale, we eat our fill. When it’s the season, but not cheap, we eat it as a rare treat. Each season’s experience is a little different from the next.

What’s plentiful and inexpensive this week? Enjoy that.

5. Avoiding waste

Studies report that Americans waste an average of 25% of their food. If you find yourself chucking leftovers or wily lettuce and other produce on a regular basis, this means that you could save up to 25% of your spending, just by using up what you have! That savings will allow you to buy the more expensive, but healthier items as well as cut your bills down.

Plan more effective menus, try a pantry challenge, repurpose leftovers, or find creative ways to use up your CSA box so that your trash can is emptier, but your pocketbook is fuller.

How can you waste less?

Every family is going to have a somewhat different interpretation of what “eating healthy” means, but these strategies will help your family reach your eating goals, no matter how you define it.

How do YOU eat healthier on a budget?

5 Ways to Eat Healthier on a Budget | Life as Mom

5 Ways to Eat Healthier on a Budget | Life as MomThis post is part of a larger series on how to improve your family’s diet. 

Originally published April 10, 2014. Updated September 24, 2016.

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

Subscribe to Good Cheap Eats
Read Newer Post
Read Older Post


  1. Jenni says

    I also do many of the things you do. I live in rural Northern California, so we travel to the city once a month to stock up at costco and target. What eats my budget is the over priced produce and milk that I have to buy weekly in our small town. (Over $5 for milk). We have been drinking more water and we have started a garden this year. I’m exited to work on it and see how God provides through it.

    • Great attitude. I love it!

    • Stacey Smith says

      Something that really helped me when we lived in a rural community was buying milk at Costco and freezing it.
      I purchased 5-7 gallons at a time and poured a little of each into a pitcher to leave room for expansion in the freezer. I pulled them out as needed and thawed in the sink over night. It was a life saver for our budget.

  2. Cherie says

    Great list 🙂

    I would add one more

    Make your own take-out and treats . . .

    There are times when it’s an effort of will to avoid the call it in way of making dinner because time is so pressed and difficult – that’s easily avoided with a few ”instant meals’ in your pantry or freezer [for us, it’s frozen meatloaf or meatballs, or pasta]

    But there are just as many times when I just really have a craving for x, y or z. This is where I’ve really saved some money by learning to make many of those items at home – or at least something close enough to satisfy the craving kwim? For our household it’s pizza, chinese food and sweets. I’ve learned to make just enough items quickly and easily that I am not drawn to the phone or the car by some mad craving. Not that we don’t go out, we do, or use takeout, cause we do that too at times – but we’ve cut it down by a significant amount by having those alternatives available!

    • Excellent suggestion. I have a list of quick meals that can take the place of take-out. Not as fun necessarily, but they do the job.

  3. I am doing a series written by Laine on 50 ways to pay of your home with one income.


    She was an incredible writer and I am sad she no longer writes.

    • That is disappointing. I don’t think I’d ever heard of her. It’s possible that they just forgot to renew their domain name.

  4. LeesaB says

    Curious, I’ve seen you mention that you use subscribe & save frequently for food items, but I haven’t seen this reported in the Grocery Geek series (which granted, I have only read since you re-started it). Does this go into your grocery budget?

    • Great question! I forgot to post that last week. But, I only started doing grocery items in the fall when I wasn’t posting GG and I ordered a lot during those months. The supply has lasted quite some time and is only now starting to dwindle. The things I get on a monthly rotation are things like paper products and toiletries that aren’t part of our groceries so I haven’t had new items to post until this month.

      • LeesaB says

        That makes sense. I’m a big tea fiend, and have several other items on S&S that are specifically to stock at work for days when leftovers aren’t available, so a month rarely goes by without me getting some sort of food item. Thanks for answering!

  5. Lynn m. says

    Farmers markets when it is season helps. The is one we go to that has a local organic farm and I can get two huge reusable shopping bags of vegetables for about twenty bucks. It’s picked the day before the market so it lasts longer. We also garden. Even b if all someone can do is a pot with herbs or baby lettuce that’s a few less things to buy.

    S and s saves the day for us. I hate three target near us and I have. Health issues so it is so much easier to have some of it delivered at a great price. I’ve gotten almond flour for 5 bucks a bag organic tea for two bucks or less kind bars or lara bars for 30 cents and so much more. They sometimes have coupons too

    • I wish farmer’s markets were a good deal in my area! They are much more expensive than the grocery store, unfortunately.

  6. Pat says

    Hello Jessica!
    It’s been a very crazy summer for me but we are now getting back into a regular routine.
    I basically shop at Aldi’s and Sam’s. If there is a killer sale for meat, fruit or veggies I will stop at other stores.
    I do cook mostly from scratch and usually make my own sauces, spice blends, broth and treats. That is especially important for my husband with diabetes and high blood pressure.
    I batch cook alot and it really saves time and money having meats and veggies at the ready for dinner and I have gotten pretty good at using up leftovers if the bottomless pit teenager doesn’t finish them off.
    I can make your breadsticks but I buy the bagels and sandwich skinnys my husband eats most days.
    We do support a local produce stand and get good prices on fruits and veggies. We also have a garden and grow alot of stuff and I should have a huge crop of strawberries next year!
    Thanks for all you do!!

  7. Jennifer says

    Your spaghetti squash jambalaya is one of our absolute favorites.
    We are in the Midwest and groceries tend to be less expensive here, as long as you stick to seasonal produce. We shop st a couple of different stores, haunt their weekly ads, and keep an eye out for marked down items too. Sometimes that means the meal plan has to change at the last minute, but it’s worth it.
    We’ve also learned the value of inexpensive mains with fun toppings. Beans tostadas have popped up a lot this summer. Fish tacos too, but the garden is still popping out tomatoes and peppers for gorgeous bowls of salsa and pico de gallo.

    • I’ve got beans cooking for tostadas right now. Sounds like you’ve got some great strategies for keeping your grocery budget down. Nicely done, Jennifer!

Share Your Thoughts