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Eating Well on a Budget: 6 Tips for Affordable, Healthy Meals

Eating Well on a Budget: 6 Tips for Affordable, Healthy Meals

Eating Well on a Budget: 6 Tips for Affordable, Healthy Meals

If you’ve ever tried to stick to a new healthy diet, tight budget, or both, you know it can be challenging. Still, eating well on a budget is possible and likely much easier than you imagine. Making affordable, healthy meals can become second nature with practice.

There are many techniques and resources to help you and your family eat delicious, healthy foods without breaking the bank. Here are six tips to get you started.

1. Plan for Affordable, Healthy Meals

Having a plan and a shopping list when you enter the grocery store can help you eat healthier and stick to your budget.

“Preparation is a must,” said Josefina Ibarra, RDN/LDN, Clinical Dietitian at Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County. “I see meal planning as the key to success for eating healthy and staying on a budget. It provides you with a good meal, allows you to eat something healthy, and prevents the additional expense of eating out.”

When making a meal plan, consider your schedule along with your tastes. On days you have more time, prepare extra portions to freeze. On busy days, you’ll have a healthy, prepared meal that only needs to be reheated.

You can also make repurposing leftovers part of the plan, stretching your food dollars without eating the same meal each day. For example, use leftover baked chicken to make soup or tacos the next day.

As you plan, add to a shopping list on a notepad or your phone. Having a list makes you less likely to make impulse buys or need to return to the store for forgotten items. You can also add to your list throughout the week if you use up a staple in your pantry, such as peanut butter.

2. Boost Nutrition and Lower Costs with Seasonal Produce

The prices of fresh fruits and vegetables vary throughout the year based on each food’s growing season. Lower how much you spend on fresh produce by choosing items that are in season. In-season fruits and vegetables cost less because they are more plentiful.

In the spring, look for foods such as:

  • Asparagus
  • Kale
  • Kiwifruit
  • Mushrooms
  • Spinach

Summer fruits and vegetables include:

  • Cherries
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
  • Plums
  • Zucchini

Fall often brings lower prices on the following:

  • Cauliflower
  • Cranberries
  • Parsnips
  • Pears
  • Sweet potatoes

Winter fruits and vegetables include:

  • Brussels sprouts
  • Grapefruit
  • Leeks
  • Oranges
  • Winter squash, such as acorn or butternut squash

3. Choose Canned and Frozen Fruits and Vegetables

Save on healthy fruits and vegetables year-round with canned or frozen fruits and vegetables. These options have the same vitamins and minerals found in fresh produce.

Choose canned and frozen fruits and vegetables without added salt, sugar, or sauces. Too much of these additives can contribute to or worsen many chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. For canned fruits and vegetables, also look for produce packed in water to save calories while getting the health benefits of fresh produce.

Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables last longer than fresh, helping you minimize waste. If you have room in your freezer or pantry, you can also stock up on these items when they're on sale. Doing so helps stretch your budget while making it easier to plan future healthy meals.

If you have little ones, you can also use canned, fresh, or frozen fruits and vegetables to make your own baby food, which can be less expensive than pre-made baby foods. Plus, it allows your baby to avoid the added salt and sugars in many processed foods.

4. Try Canned and Plant-Based Proteins for Affordable, Healthy Meals

“I promote plant-based protein, lean meats, and fish for protein choices,” Ibarra said. “So, I recommend canned or dried beans, lentils, eggs, tuna, and sardines.”

Lean meats are an excellent source of protein but may quickly increase the cost of groceries. Make lean meats go further by adding kidney or black beans to recipes that call for ground meat, such as burgers. Ibarra also recommends adding plant-based proteins to your grocery list, such as canned or dried beans, lentils, nuts, and peas. Additional healthy, high-protein, lower-cost options, include canned fish or eggs.

Choose canned beans, fish, and nut butter with low or no added salt or sugar to keep meals heart-healthy. Consider buying staples such as dry beans or nuts in bulk to save money.

5. Compare Unit Prices

The unit price is how much a food item costs per ounce, pound, or serving.

“You need to keep nutrition labels in mind when buying groceries, but that isn’t the only useful information available,” Ibarra said. “If you’re on a budget, choose foods based on unit price.”

Even if a product has a lower price than all the other options on the shelf, it may cost more per unit than a similar item. So, you get less while paying more. In many stores, the unit price is listed on the shelf label along with the cost of the item. If the unit price isn’t listed, use the calculator on your phone to figure it out.

To determine the unit price, divide the total cost of an item by how much you get. For example, if a 16-ounce box of whole wheat spaghetti costs $2.99, get the unit price by dividing 2.99 by 16. In this case, the unit price is about $0.19 per ounce.

Compare unit prices on similar items to ensure you get the best deal. Store brands frequently have a lower unit price than similar brand-name items. Bulk items often have a lower unit price, too.

6. Ask for Support When You Need It

Planning, shopping for, and cooking affordable, healthy meals can be challenging, but it’s worth the effort. Additionally, many resources are available to help you learn new ways to cook delicious, healthy meals while staying within your family’s budget. Consider taking a cooking or nutrition class. If you have a chronic health condition, a clinical dietitian can help you create a customized meal plan and teach you how different foods may affect your health.

“Food nourishes your body, mind, and soul,” Ibarra said. “It’s culture, it’s history, and it’s awesome. If you aren’t sure where to start, I’m always happy to share affordable, nutrient-dense, easy recipes.”

Want to learn more ways to eat well on a budget or a more personal nutrition assessment? Talk with a Registered Dietician at Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County.