It’s always possible to eat healthy even on the tightest budget.
You don’t have to sacrifice your health just because you are on a tight budget. To eat healthy and cheap is easier than you might think. Because you are on a tight budget you can’t really afford to waste money on junk food. And by planning carefully you can have healthy meals on the table every day.
If your food budget is low, you have to be really savvy with your budget in order to put three healthy meals on the table, every day of the month. You need to plan carefully, look for sales and learn how to get the most nutrition for less money. It’s a lot of work but it will definitely be worth your efforts.
Convenience foods may seem a cheaper and easier option, but in the long run it will cost you double. First you pay the grocery bill, and later you pay the medical bill.
But with a good plan and strategic grocery shopping you can eat healthy and spend less.
HOW TO EAT HEALTHY ON A TIGHT BUDGET
Define your food budget
Everything starts with a budget. Contrary to what you might’ve read, you shouldn’t look at how much you’ve been spending in the last few months and plan with that amount. You need to decide how much of your income you can or want to spend on food.
Whether you have a really low income or you are trying to pay off debt or save, chances are you are spending more money on food than you should be.
Most expensive food is junk food, it costs you money and health.
Second most expensive food is the food that ends up in the garbage.
Once you define your monthly food budget, the next step is to calculate how much you can spend on food in a week.
When you know your weekly budget, following all the advice written down in this post, you will create a grocery list for the whole week.
With recipes in one hand and store catalogs in other plan out meals for the whole week. In the beginning this will take some time. Lots of tweaking and calculation. But with practice you will become quicker and better at combining sales with recipes.
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Become a sale expert
To eat healthy on a budget you should really master sales hunting.
Plan your meals around food that is cheapest that week.
Follow your discount stores promotions. Once a week every store publishes a catalog with deals and specials. Use those catalogs to plan your meals around discounted foods.
Most stores now have apps with coupons. You can download apps for stores you most frequently visit. Some of those apps allow you to set an alert for items, so you can get notified when something is on sale.
You can sign up for cash-back sites like Rakuten (fka Ebates) that gives you back the percentage of what you spent.
Sometimes you will find a good discount, say 50% or more, on products with long shelf life. If that is something you often buy and you are in a possibility to buy it, you should stock up.
But never buy anything if you don’t have a plan for it in the near future.
If you have a farmer’s market near, visit it just before closing. Often the seller might give you a really good discount. And if you don’t mind bruised or “ugly” produce the discount can be even bigger.
Check which stores offer price-matching. To save you trips from store to store, chasing sales. While shopping on sales you often have to visit multiple stores, so it’s a good time saver when a store you shop at will price-match other items as well. Just bring the catalog with a lower price and show it to the cashier.
Buy generic brands
In essence there is no big difference between generic brand products and name brand products. Generic brand products are made from the same ingredients and are often the same quality as the name brand products.
When it comes to food production, there are standards that manufacturers must follow. Whether they are producing for their own brand or store brand the rules are the same. Food must be safe to consume.
How good it is you can’t know until you try. Read the label carefully and if ingredients are acceptable to you buy it once. If you end up liking it, great, if not you didn’t lose much.
Buy in bulk
In bulk buying staples and products you regularly use is the best way to get the most for your money.
Dry food with a long shelf-life is significantly cheaper when bought in bulk. You can buy food like wholegrains, pulses, nuts, dried fruit, spices, coffee, pasta.
Never buy more than you can eat before it expires.
Sometimes a low price can be just too tempting, even if you were not planning to buy that product.
When that happens ask yourself two questions:
Can I eat it before it goes bad?
Will I really use it?
Look at price per weight
Never trust your eyes when shopping for food. Price tags are often misleading. Package sizes also.
As always you need to read the fine print and look for the price per weight. That is the only indicator of how much something costs.
If a product is offered in several sizes, always buy the one with the lowest price per weight.
Pre-packed veggies and fruits sometimes will cost less than loose but sometimes not.
Producers and stores are constantly switching things up in an attempt to make you spend more. So you always have to be on the lookout.
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Stop buying junk food
When you are on a tight budget and you want to eat healthy, you should avoid buying all junk food (convenience food, snacks, candy…). There are two reasons for this exclusiveness.
First, junk food is ruining your health. There is not one nutrient inside. It makes you feel sick and tired. And it damages your body in the long run.
Second, it is too expensive. Seriously, convenience food, snacks and other unhealthy products cost more than healthy staples.
You can buy a week’s worth of whole grains for a price of just one candy bar.
Cut it out completely for the sake of your health and balance.
Instead make your own healthy snacks. Like roasted chickpeas and air popped popcorn.
Produce is always cheapest when it’s in season. But not only that, produce grown in its season is most nutritious and flavorful.
When you find a great deal, stock up on it and freeze. In the summer when fresh produce of all kinds is everywhere, prices are really low.
Buy large quantities of produce you like. Then cut up, divide in portions and freeze. If you’re adventurous you can even try canning or pickling.
Peppers, corn, green beans, peas, sweet potatoes are all cheap in season, so stock up on those.
Sweet potatoes will hold in your pantry for up to 8 months.
Tomatoes are great food to stock up on. You can make your own tomato sauce, or just cut up and freeze. Frozen tomatoes will melt in your soups and stews giving them great flavor and all the nutrients.
Grow your own food
If you have a possibility you should definitely consider growing your own food.
Even if you just have a balcony. You can build beds from discarded planks, fill up with soil, make your own compost from food scraps and seeds are cheap.
It’s not too hard to grow produce like:
- Spring onions
Buy cheap, nutritious food
You can definitely eat healthy on a very low budget. All you have to do is spend most of your budget on cheap, nutritious food. Plan your meals around these items.
When they’re on sale stock up like you’re preparing for the doomsday.
These are your staples, and the remainder of the budget you can spend on getting a bit of variety into your meals.
The cheapest, most nutritious foods are:
- Pulses: beans, lentils, chickpeas
- Whole grains: brown rice, oat, quinoa
- Sweet potatoes
- Dark green vegetables: kale, broccoli
Pulses and whole grains are nutrient powerhouses. Fill up half of your plate with them. They will keep you full for a long time and are really good for you.
Eat dark green vegetables at least every second day.
Meat is expensive and frankly it’s not necessary to eat it every day. Legumes and eggs are great sources of protein and much cheaper options. Peanut is a legume and it’s rich in protein, quinoa is a grain also rich in protein. When you look beyond meat, you will find lots of cheap and healthy protein sources.
You can use same recipes just replace meat with beans and chicken with chickpeas
Plan your meals
In the beginning this process will seem long and tedious. But believe me, after a few weeks you will do this with minimal effort.
First you need to know how much food, you and everyone in your household, need. To do this I recommend checking dietary guidelines for appropriate gender and age group. There you will find out how many portions of each macronutrient you need for optimal health. Add up all those numbers together to know exactly how much proteins, carbohydrates and fats your family will need every day.
Look for recipes that don’t require too many ingredients but cover all three macronutrients. Plan your meals around the above mentioned cheap, nutritious foods.
Look through catalogs to find the cheapest products that week.
When you know how much food you need in a day, what recipes you will be making and which products you’ll buy. It’s time to calculate how much you need to buy, and what will be the cost of it.
If the cost is within your budget, good for you. If not, try to change it up or find cheaper options. Sometimes one product with a regular price is cheaper than another product on sale.
It will all be much easier once you find a few meals that are affordable, nutritious and you and your family like to eat. That way the planning phase will go much faster because you’ll be able to quicker spot and seize good sales opportunities.
If you like indian or mexican food, check for their recipes. Those cuisines rely on pulses and whole grains, with occasional meat. Meals are affordable, nutritious and full of flavor.
For more inspiration you can check out Leanne Brown’s cookbook Good and Cheap. It’s a free cookbook full of recipes that are affordable and healthy. You can download it here.
Do you have some thrifty tips to eat healthy on a tight budget?