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.
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:
1. Good sourcing
I live in Southern California. Having lived in the midwest for a time, I know that our prices are really amazing here. 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?
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.
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?
This post is part of a larger series on how to improve your family’s diet.
Originally published April 10, 2014. Updated September 24, 2016.