5 Healthy Eating on a Budget Tips You’ll Actually Use
If you’ve walked into a supermarket lately, you’ve likely wondered if healthy eating on a budget is even possible. Has sticker shock ever been this bad? At least within the last ninety years, I’m going to guess that it hasn’t been. Still, even when you have a limit to the amount you can spend on food (who doesn’t?), it’s still possible to focus on nutrition without breaking the bank.
Healthy Eating on a Budget: How I Mastered It
I’m fortunate. I’m comfortably retired and don’t have any dependents. Because of that, the everyday struggles with employment and making sure kids are cared for aren’t among my current budgetary concerns. I’m not saying that to brag – I know how very lucky I am. I’m saying that to declare my bias right up front.
That said, I’m not swimming in money either. As a retiree, I’m still limited to how much I can spend. With the way prices suddenly spiked on pretty much every shelf – in every store, not just supermarkets – much of the wiggle room I’d previously enjoyed is gone. It’s all going into the essentials, and I can only hope that the world will balance out soon.
To help calm my nerves and avoid waking up in the middle of the night in a panic about my finances, I’ve cracked down on my budget and have figured out how I can keep up healthy eating on a budget.
The Strategy is Everything for Healthy Eating on a Budget
I’ve turned my grocery shopping into a kind of game for myself, where I need to hit certain targets. I’ve needed to scrap certain things that I used to buy all the time, and I’ve had to take a look outside my typical shopping locations for the best prices, but it’s surprisingly worth it – and not nearly as time consuming as I’d expected it to be.
My Top 5 Tips for Healthy Eating on a Budget
Here are my top 5 tips for healthy eating on a budget. They’re real tips and don’t include obvious “coupon clipping” and “watch for sales” type recommendations. Yes, those help, but you likely know those ones. Instead, here’s how I have truly honed my scrimping skills without sacrificing nutrition or flavor.
1 – Buy Big and Cook Big
Since I’m only cooking for Peter and me on a typical day, it means that I’d never be able to benefit from the savings of buying in quantity in a single meal. If you’re a family of four, that’s not the case. For us, it is. Still, that hasn’t stopped me from making big purchases. If there’s a big sale – particularly on an expensive item like meat, fish or poultry, or anything dairy – I plan a recipe around it and place it in my cart. Once it’s home, I cook a big meal.
That provides Peter and I with dinner and leftovers for lunch the next day…as well as frozen portions that we can reheat for ready-made nutritious meals another day in the future. Not only does that let me benefit from a better per-pound price, but it also means that with one cooking session, I’ve prepared several meals, saving me lots of time.
2 – Check My Fridge and Cupboards at Least Weekly
One of my most expensive habits used to be the amount of food I was throwing out. Give it a try. Use a tally for a week and add up the food that would have been edible if you’d only had it in time or if you hadn’t scraped it off your plate because you felt too lazy to pack it up for lunch the next day. It’s shocking. It’s shocking. Especially with how much food costs right now. So, the day before I will grocery shop, I do a complete fridge inventory to make sure there isn’t anything hidden in there that I’d forgotten about. Whatever it is will become a priority for use in an upcoming meal so that it isn’t wasted. This habit also lets me know what I already have so I won’t accidentally buy another one while I’m at the store the next day.
3 – Fridge Stocking Skills
There’s an art to your fridge for healthy eating on a budget. It goes like this. If it wilts or spoils quickly, it’s at the front in the middle. If it keeps, it can go in a drawer or farther to the back. Place those short-lived items like spinach right in your eyeline. Force yourself to see them when you open the fridge to cook your meals. Like my last tip, this will help you to make sure you’ve eaten foods before they go bad, and you have to throw them out.
4 – Focus on Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables
Whether you shop at a farmers market or at a grocery store for your fruits and vegetables, focus on what’s in season. They’re usually cheaper, more local, more nutritious, and tastier. If you find a great deal, get lots of it and freeze portions of it. Freezing will hold onto the vast majority of the nutrients, so fill that chest freezer right up! Plus, a mostly full freezer holds onto its temperature better, won’t need to run as often, and will save on your electricity bill!
Bonus freezer tip: go through it monthly so that nothing gets lost at the bottom until it’s a freezer-burned mystery that ends up being thrown away in the long run. Plus, you’ll inevitably run into a meal you’ve already prepared, so you can enjoy a surprise day off cooking!
5 – Know When a Deal Isn’t a Deal
This was the hardest lesson for me to learn while focusing on healthy eating on a budget. I love shopping sales. I have been known to brag about what a discount I got on this or that ingredient. That said, it’s only a deal if it’s something I actually want, like, and can eat before it has spoiled. Yes, it’s technically cheaper for me to buy a gallon of milk instead of a carton in terms of the price per quart – especially when there’s a sale! – but we just don’t drink that much and don’t like the consistency of frozen/thawed milk, so it’s better to simply buy a smaller carton when we need it. The price per quart is higher, but the total we spend is less.