11 Tips for Eating Healthy on a Budget

How to plan and shop for meals that are healthy and budget-friendly

It’s a common misconception that eating healthy has to be expensive. With some smart strategies and planning, eating healthy on a budget is achievable.

Looking for ways to make healthy meal choices for your family and save money at the same time? Here are some tips for eating healthy on a budget.

1. Plan your weekly meals

Meal planning can be one of the best ways to create nutritious, budget-friendly meals, even around busy schedules and rushed weeknight dinners. It takes the guesswork and decision- making out of the cooking process and helps avoid food waste since you’ll be planning your meals before you head to the grocery store.

Try creating a “grocery game plan” and sticking to it when you shop. To save money, see which healthy options you already have in your pantry or fridge that could be used throughout the week. With careful planning, you can avoid overspending during your next grocery shopping trip.

2. Shop sales

Shopping sale items is one way to save on your grocery bill. To take this to the next level,  consider planning your weekly meals around what’s on sale. Instead of deciding what you’ll eat and then looking for the best price, try taking a look at weekly store ads and planning some healthy meals accordingly.

3. Buy in bulk

Do you have the storage space to hold larger quantities of food? Buying in bulk may help you save money in the long run. Dried beans, rice, quinoa and granola are often sold in the bulk section of grocery stores. Check out wholesale clubs, too—they can be a great place to find healthy foods in bulk. Stock up, and save some extra cash.

4. Shop the local farmers market

If you have a farmers market nearby, take some time to check it out. Sure, some items may be expensive—but in-season produce can be a steal! For further savings, try visiting the market right before closing time to see whether any vendors are discounting their inventory to sell it before the end of the day.  

5. Prepare meals ahead of time

Cooking every single night can become tedious and time-consuming. The solution: Meal prep! Prepare your meals in advance and store them in individual containers in the fridge. This can be a fun weekend activity.

Try making a big batch of a hearty meal that freezes well—like lentil soup, lasagna or enchiladas—and freeze leftover portions for lunches and dinners. Having a meal ready and prepared will help you avoid eating out or making impulsive dining decisions. If you have extra time, chop up your veggies—you may be more likely to reach for them if they’re already in snackable sizes!

Need inspiration? There’s a whole culture around “meal prep”—just check out 1 of the nearly 10 million #mealprep tags on Instagram®, or browse websites like Budget Bytes, which has an entire section of budget-friendly meal prep recipes.

6. Embrace leftovers and “nextovers”

There’s nothing wrong with leftovers. In fact, they can save you a lot of money. When you cook, consider making more food than you need and saving the leftovers. For convenience, portion out the leftovers into individual storage containers so you can easily select and reheat them for a quick and easy meal. Mark leftovers by name and date with a piece of masking tape and a permanent marker.

Worried you’ll get tired of eating the same thing over and over again? Embrace the concept of “nextovers,” in which one meal turns into something different. For example, turn leftover veggie stir-fry into filling for burritos. Have leftover meatballs from spaghetti night? Make meatball subs for lunch. With a little creativity and a few extra ingredients, one round of cooking can become something entirely different.

7. Shop the store brand

Just because it’s a name brand doesn’t always mean it’s higher-quality. In fact, you might find that some generic brands are just as good—maybe better than—the more expensive name brands. Try out different brands and compare!

8. Shop cheaper protein options

If you pay attention to weekly ads, you might find some good sales on meat. In general, tougher cuts of meat may be cheaper. Whole chicken, pork shoulder and chicken thighs can be inexpensive options. Once home, embrace your slow-cooker—tough cuts of meat can become tender through the slow-cooking process.

9. Eat before you shop

Shopping when hungry is a great way to accidentally buy more food than you need. So, avoid heading to the store on an empty stomach, or you might end up making impulsive purchases out of hunger!

10. Plant a garden

Have you ever considered growing your own produce? Seeds can be fairly inexpensive, and gardening is a great way to get outside, enjoy fresh air and relieve stress.

No room for a garden? Start small—a windowsill herb garden can be a great way to add flavor to your meals (and it’s cheaper than buying expensive grocery store herbs).

11. Focus on balance, not frugality

Eating healthy on a budget doesn’t mean you have to skip the foods you love. If you opt for some pricier items (like seafood or sun-dried tomatoes), you can balance them out on your plate with less expensive ones. For example, add brown rice as a side for your salmon, or mix sun-dried tomatoes with orzo and veggies for a simple pasta salad.

More Tips for Healthy, Budget-Friendly Eating

Learning how to eat healthy on a budget is a process. But with the right guidance and a little practice, you can buy and prepare food that’s both good for you and easy on your wallet. For more inspiration, explore other ways to save money on groceries, and learn how to make the most of your produce with these zero-waste vegetable recipes.

We hope you found this helpful. Our content is not intended to provide legal, investment or financial advice or to indicate that a particular Capital One product or service is available or right for you. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional.

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