Many of us welcome the New Year with the best intentions of eating healthier AND saving money. Which makes sense because December is one of those months where there is plenty of sweets and spending. While we can all spend less on material goods come January, what I often hear from friends and family is that while they understand the basics of eating healthy, they don’t have the budget for it. The reality is mealtime doesn’t have to be complicated or costly! There are a few tricks and tips I follow when it comes to eating healthy without breaking the bank. And lucky for all of us I’ve polled a few of my blogging friends to get their tips for eating healthy on a budget too!
FIRST: MEAL PLANNING
Plan a weekly menu. “Meal planning has been a HUGE thing for me and my family. It saves us money and time, since I’m (usually) not scrambling to come up with meal ideas during the week or making last minute trips to the store. Take a look at your pantry or fridge before you start shopping so you don’t purchase something you already have. I also document our weekly meal plans on the blog, so check them out for inspiration!” – Courtney of Sweet Tooth Sweet Life
Make a shopping list. “And be sure you stick to the list! A list saves time and money (and sanity) while grocery shopping. Planning your menu ahead of time and making a grocery list that goes with it help to keep you focused on what you need at the supermarket, rather than what you want (or are drawn to thanks to displays and promos). You can find my Menu Plan Monday posts on my blog every week!”- Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN of Nutritoulicious
Factor in food waste. “One of the biggest things I do to save money is to make sure that I don’t waste the food that I buy. I do this by meal planning, and then prepping a lot of my food once I get home from the grocery store. Nationwide, 50% of all produce is wasted, because this is one of the easiest things to neglect and let go bad. I try to prep a lot of my produce to make it easier and more convenient to eat for snacking and also for the meals we will be making that week.” Natalie Monson, RD, CD of Super Healthy Kids
SECOND: GROCERY SHOPPING
Buy in bulk. “Buy products in a larger quantity when you find a product at a great price that your family loves and will use often. For example, we go through a lot of low-sodium canned beans and no-added salt diced tomatoes so when I find a major sale on them, I stock my pantry with a bunch of each of these items since I use them in cooking [like in this tasty roasted red pepper hummus]. It makes cooking easier having a well-stocked pantry and saves a lot of money compared to buying these items full priced.” Amanda Hernandez, MA, RD of The Nutritionist Reviews
Learn more about expiration dates. “Trust your sense of smell and taste more than an expiration date. Many people toss food the moment the “Best By” or “Use By” date on a product passes, but this can lead to unnecessary waste (which increases your food expenses!). “Expiration” dates are not required by law, and refer only to quality and freshness, not safety, so you’re not more likely to get sick from food who’s Best By date was a few days back. In fact, some products may last well beyond their expiration date, provided they’ve been stored properly: a carton of yogurt may still be fresh a few weeks beyond it’s Best By date, and a can of green beans may last several *years* more. Learning more about expiration dates and what they really mean can help you reduce food waste and save big bucks.” Amelia Winslow, Nutritionist of Eating Made Easy
Shop store brand items. “Being in the food and nutrition business for quite a while I’ve had several behind the scenes visits to manufacturing companies – and often times one large company will make the same product but put different labels on the container to sell for several different brands. These generic or off brand items are the same as the name brand but often just have a different label. And remember, lower price doesn’t necessarily mean lower in nutrition.” Kristy Hegner, MPH, RDN of Chocolate Slopes
Consider products that are ALWAYS in-season. “When I think budget-friendly, my mind immediately goes to rice! Rice is something I always find at a reasonable price at the grocery store. Even brown rice is easy on the wallet and can be used in a variety of budget-friendly meals. I love this One Dish Italian Chicken and Rice Bake — chicken thighs are also very budget friendly and hold up well with the extended cook time of this recipe. Best part is, you only dirty one dish.” Rachel Gurk of Rachel Cooks
Shop seasonally, especially for produce. “If you compare prices of produce items when they are in-season vs. out of season you’ll notice the increase in price. So trying sticking to purchasing foods that are in-season. And if you are really craving strawberries in December, check the frozen foods section for a great deal!” Lindsay Livingston, RD of The Lean Green Bean
THIRD: EATING AT HOME
Factor in leftovers: “Leftovers can be a lifesaver when you have those 5pm hungry moments after a long day. Prepare a large batch of favorite recipes on your day off and freeze in individual containers. You can then use them throughout the week and save on the takeout temptation. “ From yours truly, Katie Serbinski, MS, RD of Mom to Mom Nutrition
Make your meals stretch. “To save money while maxing on health, I like to use “meals with legs,” meaning they can be stretched or repurposed. I also think the way meals are served can cut down on waste. I like Meatless Mexican Bowl for a money-saving meal. I serve it dinner-bar style, where the kids can make their own combinations. Beans and rice are nutritious and cheap! I can freeze the leftover beans and use for another week. The fact that I serve it dinner-bar style slashes waste because the kids are making the bowl themselves and only using the components they like to eat.” Jill Castle, MS, RD, LDN of Just the Right Byte
With a little know-how and planning, you can enjoy nutritious foods while sticking to a tight budget. Mealtime doesn’t have to be complicated; by sticking the basics of healthy eating and shopping for nutrient-dense foods, you can ensure you are providing you and your family the very best foods to eat, all while keeping your budget in check!