It might seem like eating healthy and being wallet conscious can’t coexist. Is it really possible to eat nutritiously on a budget?
If you’re not careful when you shop, it is easy to make food budget mistakes and watch those bills add up. But eating healthy on a budget is totally doable, with a little bit of planning and know-how. We’ve got a few quick hacks to help you save your money at the store, without resorting to extreme couponing.
1. Come to the market with a plan
Lots of food at the store is colorful and appealing, but it’s not always budget-friendly. Take that $10 bag of cherries, or (eek!) the $20 Hawaiian macadamia nuts, for instance.
Plan out meals for the week in advance, so you’ll know ahead of time what you need to buy. Grabbing a couple of splurges at the store is just fine, but if you stick to your list as much as possible, you shouldn’t end up blowing your budget.
2. Go big on bulk-sized items (if you have the space)
Buying single-sized packages (think one granola bar, or a 2-ounce bag of nuts) at a convenience store isn’t always a wallet-friendly way to shop. Convenience stores aren’t just expensive — relying on them too much can lead to fewer fruits and veggies in your diet. Instead, if you have the space and budget, head to the bulk section of your local supermarket.
Foods like nuts, dried fruit, cereal, protein bars, oatmeal, and meat are particularly well-suited for buying in bulk. Divide up big packages of perishables like produce and poultry into individual containers and freeze them for later. Use the serving size on the package as a guide to divvy up each food, so you won’t accidentally eat more than you expected.
3. Buy produce in season
If you’ve ever wondered why the blueberries you buy in the dead of winter seem to empty your wallet, it’s because they’re in peak season in the summer. Produce bought in season (when it’s at its peak and sometimes locally available) is not only more economical, but it also tastes better and is higher in nutrients.
To save money, give yourself a primer on local produce. Use this guide from the USDA to pick produce that’s in season, more flavorful, and easier on your wallet.
4. Check the freezer section
We’ve been told so many times to “shop the perimeter of the supermarket,” but some of the interior aisles have value, too. The frozen food section offers a ton of nutrient-dense goodies, like fruits and veggie, just chillin’ out.
Frozen produce is immediately frozen after picking to lock in the nutrients. Broccoli, corn, spinach, peas, and other veggies from the freezer are just as nutritious, and sometimes even more so, than fresh.
As a bonus, getting chill with your produce is usually much cheaper than buying it fresh. And if you really can’t live without your blueberries in the winter, this is a good way to get them.
5. Can it!
Some foods aren’t always the best choice (we’re looking at you, syrupy canned peaches), but other canned produce is low-cost and actually pretty nutritious. A 2014 study showed that canned fruits and vegetables are on-par health-wise with fresh and frozen, but cheaper per serving.
For less than a few bucks, you can pick up some canned plant-based protein, like beans for taco night or canned tomatoes for Italian night. The best part is that these cans will keep for months, so even if you end up going out for Taco Tuesday (guilty!), your beans will be waiting the next time you want to cook at home.
If you do buy your beans, tomatoes, or whatever else in a can, check the label. Some of these foods can have lots of added salt. Look for lower- or no-salt varieties.
6. Hold onto overripe produce
Brown bananas and mushy avocados might not look pretty, but don’t trash them too quickly.
Overripe fruit makes a great addition to smoothies or baked goods (or even face masks). If you don’t want to use it right away, peel the fruit, store it in an airtight container, and freeze it until you’re ready. The same goes for wilted lettuce or soft veggies. Add them to a stir-fry or soup, or prep and freeze for later.
7. Make a shopping list
We’ve all been there. You go to the grocery store without a list and come home with a head of kale, a few apples, a box of cereal, a tub of hummus, a can of black beans, and a carton of ice cream. You get home to realize kale, apples, and beans don’t make the best combo, so you immediately order takeout.
Before you head out to the store, survey your cabinets for pantry staples. If you’ve got taco shells and salsa on hand, add some taco fixings to your list and don’t stray from there.
8. Skip the bottled water
Though it might seem like the water you get in those attractively packaged bottles is cleaner than tap, that isn’t necessarily true. A small, older 2000 study showed bottled water is no cleaner or tastier than tap.
There are alternatives to tap water that don’t come in a bottle. The first option is a filtering pitcher to get any impurities out of your tap water. The second, easier option is to use a reusable water bottle.
9. Don’t go all organic
You can find almost everything in an organic variety these days (yes, organic Gatorade exists). A 2014 research review showed that organic produce may have slightly more nutrients and fewer pesticides than the conventional variety, but it also comes with a 50 percent higher price tag.
Any produce, even the conventional kind, is nutritious. And eating whatever kind of fruits and vegetables you can afford is much better than eating none (just be sure to give them a good rinse before diving in). As for organic packaged goods, some products are more worth it than others.
10. Swap the name brands
Name brands aren’t always better. Flip a store-brand package over and you’ll find the ingredients are often exactly the same as the name brand, and these products usually cost a few bucks less. The same goes for some common pantry staples like oats, rice, and beans.
Go with the cheapest option and buy yourself a fancy latte with the money you saved. You deserve it.
Being on a budget shouldn’t stop you from buying everything on your grocery list. A few simple strategies could save you an impressive amount of money at the supermarket.
Come prepared, and consider frozen and canned foods, as well as store brands. Also, remember that food doesn’t always have to look pretty to taste good and be good for you.