Healthy Eating on a Budget

Do you feel like eating healthy is too expensive? You’re not alone! Many of us think of ramen or Hamburger Helper when we want to save money. How can you serve nutritious meals when you’re pinching pennies?

First of all, shop the perimeter of the store. Processed foods may seem cheap, but the dollars to nutrition ratio is not good. Instead, go with fresh or frozen produce and economical meats. Read on for details of the items to choose.

Cheap vegetables

If you buy vegetables whole, you can get plenty of vitamins and minerals for a dollar or two per pound all year round. Here are the cheapest vegetables:

Every added step in preparation costs you more. Pre-cut vegetables, for example, are higher priced than whole veggies. If you buy them with a sauce or some other fancy fixings, they’ll usually be less nutritious as well as more expensive.

On the other hand, you can stock up on frozen vegetables if you catch a sale. They’re usually just about as healthy as fresh veggies. Canned vegetables are usually not a great choice, but canned beans and tomatoes are the exceptions. Both are inexpensive and often go on sale.

All the veggies we’ve mentioned here are good sources of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Cheap fruits

Fruit is typically more expensive than vegetables, and some fruits (cherries and raspberries, we’re looking at you) can be downright pricey. These fruits, however, are usually inexpensive all year:

  • Grapes
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Oranges

Frozen fruits often go on sale when their fresh counterparts are plentiful. That is, when it’s strawberry season, you can often stock up on frozen berries at a good price.

Cheap meats

As a rule, whole chickens, turkeys, and hams are the cheapest meats you can get — but only if you can cut them up, prepare them, and eat them. 

Roast a turkey, slice it, make a soup with a carcass, and package up what you’ve made and store it in the freezer. Make sure to use it up in good time, and you will spend less than $2.00 per pound. The same is true for a whole ham or a whole chicken.

However, if you don’t have the cooking skills to make good use of large pieces of meat, this strategy won’t work for you.

If you need to buy meat in smaller portions, go with these money-saving options:

  • chicken legs
  • chicken thighs
  • ground beef
  • pork chops
  • ground turkey

You can also save by using meat as a condiment instead of in large portions. Add ham to lentil soup, ground beef to pasta sauce, or stew meat to lots of veggies for bargain meals.

For even more savings, use beans and nuts for some of your protein needs.

Dairy products

Powdered milk is cheaper than fresh milk. Other than that, cheaper dairy products don’t necessarily lead to economical healthy eating. The cheapest options for cheese, yogurt, and such may be stuffed with sugar and oil to keep the cost down. 

Read the labels and choose the items that give you more calcium and protein for the price. That may be items on sale. You can also find coupons and discounts on dairy products. When you do find a good price, stock up. Cheese and butter will be fine in your freezer, and so will baked goods made with dairy products you found on sale. 

Cheap whole grains

White bread is cheap, but it also has very little nutritional value. What’s more, it can often be found disguised as whole grains. Words like “made with whole grains,” “wheat bread,” or “multigrain” can be used to suggest that the food is whole grain, but often it isn’t.

Check the fiber. If a serving of that “wheat bread” has less than 3 grams of fiber, it is not whole grain. The first ingredient should be a whole grain. Don’t be deceived.

These are inexpensive whole grains:

  • oats
  • whole wheat bread or cereal
  • popcorn

There are plenty of other whole grains, from quinoa to rye, but they are likely to cost more. As always, more processing usually means higher cost and less nutritional value. Compare a bag of popcorn kernels with Ultimate Theater Flavor ready-popped corn and you’ll see.

You can keep whole-grain foods for a long time in the freezer, so take advantage of sales. 

Make these items the backbone of your grocery list and you’ll get the most nutritional bang for your food bucks.