While gas prices have dropped in the past few months, the savings have been offset by price increases at the grocery store. If you have a tight budget, planning meals and grocery shopping is a challenge. And when you're trying to eat healthier, it can be even more of a challenge.
Before I dive in to the tips to eat healthy on a budget, I would like to introduce a slight mind shift. There's no doubt that healthy groceries are more expensive, when you simply look at 'filling up your belly'. Vegetables and meat are more expensive than a box of macaroni and cheese. However, a lot of people get adequate calories. In fact, many get too many calories. What is missing is good nutrition. When you start to compare the cost of groceries based on nutrition, healthy foods are a steal. You will also need to consume less food. There are also other intangibles of good nutrition: you'll be sick less often, spend less money on medication, and simply feel better.
Here are 12 tips to eating healthier on a budget:
1. Don't buy cauliflower. Or asparagus. While I have now seen heads of cauliflower for as low as $4, they were selling for as much as $9 per head in January. And Asparagus approached the double digits per pound. There's a lot of other options that are more affordable; pick them instead.
2. Meal plan. When you plan your meals and purchase groceries accordingly, you will waste less, and therefore buy less. It does take some time, but will save you a lot of money. Search for budget friendly, healthy recipes online for inspiration. And, every week or so do an inventory of your fridge and plan to your meals around the food you already have. If you notice foods going off, use them right away or freeze them.
3. Don't buy edible food products. Chips, cookies, ice cream... the list goes on. If you're trying to eat healthily, your cart is probably not filled up with processed foods and treats anyway. But, it's worth a mention! Theses foods add to your food bill but not to your nutrition. Enjoy a treat here and there but be sensible.
4. Don't buy pre-portioned convenience foods. Foods that save you time are going to cost more. Chop your own vegetables and do not purchase single serving size foods.
5. Shop at discount stores. Some grocery stores are more expensive than others. Get to know the shops in your area and choose the ones that are more budget friendly. You will likely miss out on some conveniences such as having your groceries bagged for you, but you will save money.
6. Stick to your list. Plan your meals around foods that are on sale (check the flyers!), but then stick to your list. You'll save on impulse buys. The one exception is if you see a staple food on sale that you know you will eventually consume before it goes off, then go for it.
7. When foods are in season, buy lots and preserve them for later. Try canning your foods, or simply chop up veggies when they're in season and store in the freezer.
8. Eat lots of beans, legumes, whole grains, and root veggies. There are plenty of whole, real foods that are less expensive. Dried or canned beans, brown rice, sweet potatoes, quinoa, lentils are all great options. Not only are whole grains less expensive, but they are less processed, and healthier than most wraps, bread and crackers.
9. Cook from scratch. Pre-made foods are more expensive, and less healthy. Ditto for restaurant dining. If you're cooking for a small number, you can still cook a bigger portion and save the leftovers, or store them in the freezer.
10. Don't shop with your kids. Shopping with kids can magically increase your grocery bill. Either stick to your guns (and your list) or try to schedule your grocery shop alone.
11. If you can, buy in bulk. The up front cost is more, but you'll save money in the long run providing you don't waste the food. There are even options to buy a large portion of a cow which is more economical than buying packaged meat at the grocery store. If the upfront cost is out of your budget, perhaps you could join forces with a few friends to split the cost and the goods.
12. Grow what you can. Even if you're not up for turning your front or backyard into a garden, you can save money by growing your own herbs. It's convenient to always have fresh, tasty herbs on hand!
I hope these tips help you to feed your family, and yourself, healthier options while still sticking to your grocery budget. If you have any other suggestions for healthy eating on a budget, I'd love to hear them!
Tanja Shaw is a health and fitness coach, Rotarian, passionate entrepreneur, mom, runner, and owner of Ascend Fitness Inc. and host of the Fit & Vibrant You Podcast. Tanja and her team of expert fitness coaches inspire and coach others to become stronger, more confident and energetic versions of themselves. Visit Tanja at http://www.ascendfitnesscoaching.com andhttp://www.tanjashaw.com.