It's a common believe that you have to break the bank in order to eat a diet that is healthy and nutrient dense. However, that doesn't have to be the case. In fact, the cost of not-so-healthy eating can add up to more over the long haul. Fast food, convenience meals and snacks can stack up pretty quick and become very expensive. Not to mention the ramifications that have on your long-term health and healthcare costs associated with the disease that accompanies these convenience foods. Do you remember the documentary, "Super Size Me", back in 2004?
In my personal experience,I’ve found that eating healthy can actually save you money in the long run, especially if you stick to a few key principles when shopping for, selecting, and preparing your food. I've compiled 14 of them here for you.
1. Stick to seasonal produce Seasonal fruits and vegetables are often fresher, more flavorful, and more affordable than foods that are produced out of season. This is because these seasonal ingredients are harvested at peak ripeness and not transported nearly as far, minimizing the amount of time it takes to travel from the farm to your grocery store shelf.
There are plenty of online guides that detail which fruits and vegetables are in season near you. You can also get a good idea of which foods are in season by visiting your local farmers market to check out what’s available.
2. Buy generic Many grocery stores offer products in both generic and name-brand varieties. Opting for generic brands instead of name brands is a simple way to save money without compromising on quality.
Generic brand foods are usually comparable to name-brand versions in terms of safety, quality, and nutritional value. However, it’s always a good idea to compare the list of ingredients and nutrition labels on your favorite branded products with those of generic versions before you purchase them to ensure the generic version doesn't have any added ingredients you don't want to consume.
3. Practice meal planning Planning out your meals in advance is a smart way to save both time and money. Try creating a weekly meal plan, drafting a shopping list, and setting aside a specific time to prep your meals for the next week. I love to do this every Sunday afternoon.
One of my favorite methods for meal planning is to find a few recipes that use a similar set of ingredients to rotate between during the week. I like to focus on a few ingredients with a shorter shelf life, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, and switch between various whole grains such as quinoa and brown rice, legumes, spices, and seasonings for each meal.
This can help streamline your shopping list while also adding plenty of diversity to your diet, as each day you’re enjoying ingredients in new and interesting ways.
Not sure how to get into the meal prep groove? Check out my meal prep guide. 4. Cook at home Cooking your own food at home instead of dining at restaurants or purchasing prepackaged meals is one of the easiest and most effective ways to eat healthy on a budget. In fact, a single meal at a restaurant typically costs much more than purchasing the ingredients you need to prepare your own food at home. Plus, with additional fees like delivery fees, service charges, and tips, the cost of dining out or ordering takeout can quickly add up.
Preparing your own food also gives you complete control of what you’re putting on your plate. This makes it easier to include more fresh, whole foods in your diet. It also helps decrease your intake of added sugar, salt, and artificial ingredients.
5. Eat more plant-based proteins Plant-based proteins like quinoa, beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, and tempeh are often much cheaper than animal proteins like meat, fish, and poultry. Plus, these foods are rich in protein, fiber, and a variety of other essential vitamins and minerals. They’re also easy to incorporate into recipes like casseroles, soups, salads, and stir-fries.
Keep in mind that eating more plant-based proteins doesn’t mean you need to become a full-fledged vegan or cut out animal products from your diet altogether.
If you eat meat now and want to start eating more plant-based protein, consider swapping plant-based proteins into your diet just a few times per week. This will help you save some money and reduce your consumption of meat. A flexitarian diet like this encourages eating mostly plant-based but also allows you to eat animal-based foods here and there. 6. Check for deals Most grocery stores offer weekly deals and discounts, which are typically either advertised online or distributed in flyers. Checking whether coupons are available for your favorite products before you go shopping is an excellent way to save some money. I personally love the Flipp app for my grocery shopping deals and like stocking up on shelf-stable essentials whenever they’re on sale. These include rice, beans, spices, frozen foods, and canned vegetables.
7. Purchase frozen fruits and veggies If you have a hard time using up all your fresh fruits and veggies before they start to go bad, consider getting some frozen produce. It’s an excellent alternative. Frozen fruits and veggies offer the same valuable nutrients as fresh varieties but have a much longer shelf life to help you cut back on food waste.
I like keeping plenty of frozen fruit on hand to toss into smoothies or mix into my Greek yogurt and oatmeal. Frozen veggies also make a great addition to stir-fries or can be baked, sautéed, or roasted for a simple side dish. 8. Save your scraps Many parts of meat and produce are typically discarded when you’re cooking healthy meals at home. However, there are lots of interesting and creative ways you can use your food scraps instead of just tossing them out. This can help save some extra money on grocery shopping.
Save stems and stalks of vegetables to make soup stock, freeze leftover herbs, or cut stale bread into cubes and bake them in the oven to make your own homemade croutons. 9. Practice proper food storage Storing food properly can extend its shelf life, making your meals last longer to reduce food waste and shrink your shopping bill.
Try lining your produce drawers with paper towels to absorb extra moisture and keep your fruits and veggies from going bad.
You should also store shelf-stable ingredients, such as pasta, rice, and cereal, in an airtight container and place them in a cool, dry place to maximize their shelf life. You should also keep dairy products in the main part of your fridge instead of the door, and freeze raw meat or poultry if you don’t plan on using it within a few days.
For example, experts advise keeping fresh poultry or ground beef in the fridge at 40°F (4°C) or below for no longer than 2 days. Make sure to keep raw meat separate from other foods (2).
10. Buy in bulk You can buy certain foods in bulk at a lower price, making it even easier to eat healthy on a budget. Shelf-stable options like grains, nuts, seeds, and dried legumes are particularly great foods to stock up on and buy in bulk.
Be sure to steer clear of buying foods in bulk that have a shorter shelf life, including fresh produce, prepared meals, eggs, meats and dairy products.
11. Start an herb garden Fresh herbs are perfect for boosting the flavor of your favorite healthy meals at home, but they can also be pretty pricey. Fortunately, growing your own herbs at home can be an easy, fun, and money-saving hobby.
It’s also very easy, even if you don’t have a green thumb — all you need is some soil, seeds, and a sunny spot by your window or in your yard. There are lots of indoor gardening possibilities to consider.
If you live in an apartment with limited sunlight, consider trying an indoor hydroponic garden. These are equipped with LED lights for a foolproof way to grow herbs at home.
12. Shop smarter Incorporating money-saving habits into your grocery shopping routine is a great way to cut costs while eating healthy.
Write a list ahead of time. To get started, write down what you need before you head to the store. When you’re there, stick to the items on your list.
Shop on the perimeter of the grocery store. This can make it easier to skip items like processed foods and snacks, which are typically more expensive and less nutritious.
Shop when you’re calm, on a full stomach. You should also avoid going to the store when you’re hungry or stressed, as it could fuel your food cravings and lead to unhealthy shopping selections.
13. Eat leftovers Instead of tossing out your leftovers, try saving them for a simple meal the next day. Not only can this save you some time, but bringing your leftovers to work or school instead of buying lunch can also help save money.
I like doubling my portion sizes when I’m cooking dinner and then storing half to eat for lunch the next day.
14. Try a grocery delivery service Many online grocery services have popped up in recent years, delivering discounted food products directly to your door. Some services even offer produce with minor cosmetic imperfections at a lower price. In addition to helping you add more fruits and veggies to your diet, these services can help you save money and make it easier to stick to your meal plan if you buy only what you need. This can also be a useful option if you don’t live near a grocery store or have limited access to fresh food in your community.
The bottom line Although many people believe that eating healthy can be expensive, this isn’t necessarily true. In fact, following a healthy, well-rounded diet can actually save you money—as well as your health—in the long run. Try practicing a few of the tips outlined above, which can make it easier than ever to eat healthy without breaking the bank.