Healthy Lifestyle

Trying To Eat Healthy on a Budget? It Can Be Done

Published: March 9, 2022

Planning meals that are healthy and nutritious can seem like a daunting task. If you have a limited budget, it can be even more intimidating.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), many individuals and families don’t meet daily recommendations in the major food groups of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy.

These tips can help your household stick to a budget while enjoying healthy meals.


At Home

Before hitting your local grocery store, it’s important to take stock of what you have at home and make a plan for what you need.

  • Prepare a weekly meal plan around grocery store flyers. This is important to consider so you know exactly what you’re making during the week and are less likely to wander the grocery store, adding unnecessary items to your cart.
  • If you’re looking for meal ideas, MyPlate has great recipe guides that allow you to choose the cost of a meal and pick between the type of cuisine, food group, cooking method, type of dish and nutrient type.
  • Consider meals with ingredients that overlap, and make extra for each meal to take to lunch the next day. Plan your meals around fruits and vegetables that are in season and therefore available at a lower cost. Before shopping, check out a seasonal produce list provided by the USDA’s SNAP-Ed Connection.
  • Check your pantry, fridge and cabinets. By seeing what products you already have, you’ll be less likely to buy the same item at the store. Going a step further, check out your fridge two times a week to see what items are about to expire. If you have veggies that are wilting, now is a great time to toss them into a soup or add them to spaghetti sauce. Also be sure to check what leftovers you have and freeze them for later. Bonus tip: If you have bananas that look ready to be thrown out, toss them into a baggie to freeze so you can later make yummy smoothies or banana bread.
  • Identify foods that you can make at home. Some foods, such as Jell-O or pudding, are more cost-effective to make at home instead of buying premade.
  • Keep a running grocery list of items you need. This will cut down on excess trips to the store that can lead to buying unnecessary items.


At the Grocery Store

Now that you’ve made your meal plan and taken inventory of foods you have at home, it’s time to shop!

  • Check out the frozen fruits and vegetable aisle. These foods are often on sale, so you can stock your freezer at a lower cost with foods that are just as nutritious as fresh produce. Frozen vegetables need minimal prep and are a great way to get extra vegetables into a meal, and frozen fruits make a tasty treat on hot summer days.
  • Canned fruits and vegetables are another low-cost option that still provide just as much nutrition as fresh produce. Choose fruits that are in 100% fruit juice and vegetables advertised as “salt-free,” “sodium-free,” “very low sodium” and “low sodium.” Beware of products that are identified as “unsalted,” “no salt added,” “reduced sodium” or “lower sodium,” as they may still be high in sodium. Check the nutrition facts label if you’re unsure.
  • Brown rice, whole-grain pasta and oatmeal are budget-friendly grain options that are easy to make and provide great sources of fiber.
  • To help lower meat costs, if you’re able, stock up on big ticket meat items when they’re on sale and place them in the freezer. Look for leaner cuts of meat such as chicken and ground beef. If an item is frozen, the night before you want to cook it, pull it from your freezer and place it in your refrigerator to avoid foodborne illnesses. To help lower costs further, opt for meat substitutes during the week – including beans, peas and lentils. Another option is to look for canned meats, but be sure to look for “low sodium” or “no salt added” options.
  • Don’t forget about the eggs! Eggs are often the unsung heroes of kitchens. They are inexpensive, versatile and a great source of protein.
  • When it comes to dairy options, low-fat or fat-free milk may be available at a lower cost, and it provides fewer calories but the same amount of protein. When choosing cream cheese or sour cream, look for “light,” “reduced fat,” and “low fat” options.
  • Consider limiting sugary drinks and instead using water flavor enhancers that are available in many varieties and at a lower cost.
  • When available, look for store brand items instead of name brand. These items often have the same nutritional values and come from the same manufacturer but are often offered at a lower cost.
  • If you’re able, consider keeping a log book of prices of food items from the different stores. This allows you to compare prices between places you frequently shop to find the best deal.

When you’re on a budget, planning meals for your family that are inexpensive but nutritious can be difficult. But with a good plan, you can ease that stress and stay within budget.

Methodist Nutrition Services intern Kelsey Messerschmidt contributed to this article.

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About the Author

Teresa Garvin, PhD, MS, RDN, LMNT, LD, is the chief clinical dietitian at Methodist Jennie Edmundson Hospital.

“I’m inspired each day by my patients,” she said. “Their choices to improve their diets and eating habits have a direct impact on their health.”

See more articles from Teresa Garvin, PhD, MS, RDN, LMNT, LD
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