Eating Healthy on a Budget: Your Go-To Guide

Have you tried eating healthy but became discouraged when you saw your grocery bill add up? While navigating the maze of healthy food choices can be daunting, it’s entirely possible with a few smart strategies. “One common misconception is that a healthy diet is an expensive diet,” says Emily LaVertu, MS, LD, RDN, clinical registered dietician, Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center. “With a little strategy at the grocery store, focusing on legumes, local produce, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables, and whole foods instead of processed foods, eating well can be both affordable and delicious.”

Here are a few suggestions from Emily about how you can make choices that nourish your body without breaking the bank.

1. Plan Your Meals and Stick to The List

One of the first steps to eating healthy on a budget is meal planning. By planning your meals for the week ahead, you can buy only what you need, reducing impulse buys and minimizing waste. Draft a shopping list based on your meal plan and resist the temptation to stray from it. This ensures you have all the ingredients necessary for your healthy meals while keeping your spending in check. Don’t forget to look for generic brands which typically have the same nutritional value at a fraction of the cost. And don’t shop hungry!

2. Use Staple Foods

Cooking and preparing meals with staple items (those essential ingredients you keep in your pantry) can often be more affordable and allow you more creativity. Items such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and legumes, canned tunas, and oats are not only packed with essential nutrients but are also more affordable in the long run compared to processed foods. Buying staple items in bulk can save money and provide the basis for nutritious and delicious meals. For example, a bag of brown rice or quinoa can serve as the foundation for multiple dishes throughout the week.

3. Cook at Home

Cooking at home is a healthier alternative to eating out and much more economical. It gives you full control over what goes into your meals, allowing you to avoid unhealthy additives and excess sodium or sugar. Plus, homemade meals can often be stretched further by repurposing leftovers into new dishes!

4. Look for Seasonal and Local Produce

Purchasing fruits and vegetables that are in season and locally sourced is a great way to save money while eating fresh. Seasonal produce is often priced lower due to the abundance of the crop, and it’s at its peak in both flavor and nutrition. Your local farm stand may also have discounted produce items that may be bruised or odd shaped that still have all the beneficial nutrients while saving you a few dollars! Additionally, local farmers' markets can offer competitive prices compared to grocery stores and support your community in the process.

5. Opt for Canned or Frozen Fruits and Vegetables

While fresh produce is often touted as the gold standard for healthy eating, canned vegetables can be an excellent, budget-friendly alternative. They're picked and canned or frozen at the peak of freshness, ensuring they retain their nutrients. Additionally, canned or frozen vegetables and fruits have a much longer shelf life than fresh produce. They can be a convenient option for adding nutrients to meals, especially on busy days or when fresh produce isn't available. Look for options with no added salt or sugar and remember to drain and rinse them to remove any excess sodium.

6. Shop the Sales

Grocery stores and retailers often use weekly flyers advertising sale items. Many stores will have a rotation of seasonal fruits, vegetables, and meats with reduced prices. By shopping with a sale flyer in hand, you can save money and time when trying to meal plan. For example: If lentils, lean ground beef, salad kits, and crushed tomatoes are on sale this week, you may consider making a lentil and beef bolognaise served with whole wheat pasta and a side salad—an easy high fiber dinner.

7. Replace some Meat Meals with Plant-Based Protein

Meat can be one of the more expensive items on your grocery bill. Reducing meat consumption and opting for plant-based protein sources such as beans, lentils, tofu, and chickpeas can save you money and add variety to your diet. These protein-packed alternatives are often cheaper, heart-healthy, and environmentally friendly.


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