How to eat healthy on a budget

Eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive. With some smart strategies and planning, there are ways to make healthy food choices and save money at the same time. Here are some tips for healthy eating on a budget.

Key takeaways

  • Maximize your food budget by creating a weekly meal plan, including recipes that stretch leftovers.
  • Make a shopping list based on your meal plan and what’s on sale.
  • Buying nutritious foods in bulk as well as healthy frozen or canned items you can keep on hand is another way to eat healthy on a budget.
  • You could also consider growing your own produce and herbs.

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1. Make a weekly meal plan

Making a meal plan can help you avoid overspending during your next grocery shopping trip while also helping you eat healthy all week. Avoiding impulse buys keeps extra cash in your wallet. And a plan in hand might help take that fast food fix off the table on those rushed weeknights. 

And planning your meals before you head to the grocery store can take the guesswork out of the cooking process and help reduce food waste. To save even more money, see which healthy options you already have in your pantry or fridge that could be used throughout the week.

2. Shop grocery store sales and use coupons

Shopping sale items is another way to save on your grocery bill. Supermarkets and grocery stores often begin in-store promotions in the middle of the week, so keep an eye out for sales on foods you frequently buy. 

You could also 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. 

Grocery ads sometimes have coupons you can cut out or show at checkout, or e-coupons you can “clip” and keep on a mobile phone or grocery store app. Plus, store loyalty programs sometimes offer other ways to save on groceries, with special prices just for members, or opportunities to earn points you can redeem for store credit. 

And don’t forget to check the back of your grocery store receipt—there might be more coupons there. But just because you have a coupon for something doesn’t mean you should buy it.

3. Make a shopping list

Once you’ve checked out what’s on sale and created your meal plan, put everything you’ll need on your shopping list. When you go to the grocery store, be sure to stick to the list. This can help you avoid picking up impulse buys and unhealthy options.

A person in a grocery store looks at items on a shelf, while a baby sits in a shopping cart nearby.

4. Buy in bulk

Do you have the storage space to hold larger quantities of food? If so, buying in bulk may help you save money in the long run. Dried beans, rice, granola, quinoa and whole grains are often sold in the bulk section of grocery stores. 

Check out wholesale clubs, too—they can be a great place to find nutritious foods in bulk. Look for extra-large containers of ingredients you might use a lot, like nuts or grains. Then stock up and save yourself some extra cash in the long run.

5. Consider frozen and canned food

Healthy frozen and canned foods can be a cost-effective way to store food at home that doesn’t spoil quickly. It’s also a way to infuse your meal plan with a variety of out-of-season or exotic fruits, vegetables and meats that you may not normally find fresh in your area. 

To keep it healthy, try to find options that skip added sugars, hydrogenated oils and excess salt or fat.

6. 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 as—or maybe even better than—the more expensive name brands. 

Staple items, like rice and olive oil, plus things like cereal and condiments, are all good options to substitute a store brand and start saving money. Try out different brands and compare.

7. Shop the local farmers market

If you have a farmers market nearby, take some time to check it out. Sure, some food choices may be expensive, but in-season produce can be more of a bargain.

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.  

8. Shop online

Some grocery retailers allow you to shop online and either get items delivered or pick them up. On the plus side, this can help you curb in-store impulse buys. You can also check your cabinets or refrigerator as you shop, which can help avoid duplicates. But online grocery shopping can sometimes come with a minimum purchase amount or certain fees, like a delivery charge. 

So, consider whether you actually need the minimum purchase amount and decide if the delivery fee is worth it. If not, you can sometimes pick the items up yourself to save money on delivery.

9. 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 could 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.

A person holds vegetables in plastic bags on a countertop.

10. 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? Embrace the concept of nextovers, where 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. Chop up leftover chicken for a casserole or stir leftover steak and veggies into a stew.

With a little creativity and a few extra ingredients, one round of cooking can become something entirely different.

11. Shop cheaper protein options

If you pay attention to weekly ads, you might find some good sales on meat. But in general, tougher cuts of meat may be cheaper regardless of sales. Whole chicken, pork shoulder and chicken thighs can turn into inexpensive, healthy meals.

Once home, embrace your slow cooker—tough cuts of meat can become tender through the slow-cooking process. And don’t forget plant-based protein like lentils, beans and nut butters that can be low cost as well.

12. Eat before you shop

Shopping when hungry is a great way to impulsively buy more food than you need because of hunger. So try to avoid heading to the store on an empty stomach. Eat before you go, or throw some snacks in your bag or pocket as you head out the door in case you get hungry en route.

13. Grow a garden of fresh produce

Have you ever considered growing your own fresh fruits and vegetables? 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.

14. 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.

Healthy, budget-friendly eating in a nutshell

Learning how to eat healthy on a budget can be 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.

And learn more about how you can earn extra cash back on groceries with Savor and SavorOne from Capital One.

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