Eating healthy with a tight budget can be very challenging. Throw in the fact that everyone is ridiculously busy these days, and that can make matters even worse. If you are looking for some tips to keep your budget in check and still eat healthily, please continue reading.
I hear so many people talking about how much money they spend eating out, and it makes me cringe. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the average American household spends $3,008 per year eating out.
That works out to be about $250 per month, which in my eyes is a lot of money. I know people who spend a lot more than that too. Plus eating out is not very healthy, so it’s kind of a double whammy. You could buy a lot of groceries with all of that money, but you need to know how to make those dollars stretch.
I don’t know about you, but I just feel better when I am eating healthy. When I slip into eating more and more junk food, I feel lethargic and generally not as good as when I am eating healthier, better food.
To start eating healthy with a budget, you need a plan, and that is the focus of this article, sharing some of the tips that we use in our family to help you keep more dollars in your pocket and still eat healthy food.
It’s hard to go to the store and try to figure out what to eat. I’ve been there and done that. You need to have a plan beforehand. A plan of action is a must, in my opinion. Yes, planning can be time-consuming and tedious, but it’s so worth it. You can spend less time in the grocery store and come out with healthy options and more money in your pocket.
Planning meals is time-consuming and challenging, just ask my wife. She is the master at planning healthy, low-cost meals. Each week she puts together a schedule with a meal for dinner each night. Then when she buys groceries, she knows exactly what to buy and has a plan of attack.
For example, a couple of pounds of ground turkey and some taco seasoning, voila, enough food to feed a family of four for a couple of meals. Yes, we made the switch from ground beef to ground turkey and have never looked back.
Buy stuff when it’s on sale
Bargain shopping is where it’s at. Here is an example of something we do in our family. We buy protein powder from Costco when it’s on sale, a 6-pound bag runs about $30 on sale. There are 77 servings in one container, so that works out to be less than 40 cents per serving. One scoop is one serving, and that is 25 grams of protein.
Each morning I make a green smoothie before I go to work. I drink part of the smoothie before I go to work and I take the rest in a travel mug.
So many people spend a lot of money on smoothies. You can spend $5 or $6 or more on smoothies, so why not make one yourself and save some money.
I put 1 cup of almond milk, 1 scoop of protein powder (that I got on sale at Costco), 1 banana, and several handfuls of spinach into my blender, top it off with a little bit of water, and there you have it. That doesn’t cost me anywhere near $5 or $6, more like less than $1 and it is super healthy.
Buy in bulk
We buy spinach in bulk as well, and it’s about $3 for a bag at Costco. Put the spinach in the freezer, and it lasts a long time. We use the frozen spinach for smoothies only, so it works out really well. We typically buy 2-3 bags per week and will keep one bag in the fridge for salads and freeze it when it starts to turn bad. We always have at least one bag of spinach in the freezer.
Another thing my wife is the queen of is buying grapes when they are on sale. Our kids love grapes, and when we find a reasonable price, she will buy a lot of them and freeze them. This makes of a great refreshing snack. Grapes can last a long time in the freezer, although in our house, they don’t make it very long before someone eats them.
Cook larger portions for leftovers
As I mentioned earlier with the taco meat, we definitely try to cook in bulk, which means we have meals for a couple of days. Here are a couple more examples.
We recently bought an Instant Pot and use it all the time. We buy chicken breasts in bulk, cut them up, add some taco seasoning and water, and within about 20 minutes, we have a bunch of tasty, juicy chicken to eat off of for a couple of days.
Another one of our favorite strategies is to buy hot, fully cooked rotisserie chickens. You can get these at most grocery stores, or warehouse type stores. I shred them up, throw away the bones, and keep the meat in the fridge. Then we have freshly cooked chicken meat that usually lasts us for an entire week.
We use the chicken to make quesadillas, chicken sandwiches, or just heat it up and have chicken. My wife will use any leftovers to make a chicken and rice dish in the oven. Or we will have a chicken, rice and broccoli dish.
So, these are some examples of ways to buy in bulk, cook in bulk, and have inexpensive meals and leftovers for days to come.
Take leftovers for lunch
One thing I love to do for lunch is to take the leftover meats we eat, whether it’s chicken, taco meat, etc. and package that up for lunch. I add rice, whatever meat I have left over, add a little bit of shredded cheese and stick it in the microwave. This makes for a delicious and healthy lunch the next day.
There are so many uses for leftover meat (chicken, ground turkey, hamburger, etc.) and one of my favorites is to combine it with rice and a little bit of cheese, for an instant meal.
Buy fresh produce
I know this is a tough one for a couple of reasons. Fresh produce doesn’t always last very long, so you have to eat it pretty quickly. This can mean going to the grocery store, or farmers market a couple of times during the week.
Since we feed a family of four, we usually make a few trips to the grocery store each week, and a big reason why is fresh produce. We don’t buy anything exotic, pretty basic stuff that is pretty inexpensive. Cucumbers, carrots, bananas, whatever apples are on sale, just inexpensive things like that.
For snacks at work, I take cucumbers and carrots, a cheap and easy way to get some veggies in my diet.
That is why it’s essential for us to look at what is on sale each week and plan accordingly. There is definitely seasonality to this as well, during certain times of the year produce is more expensive, when there is an abundance, it will be cheaper.
Here are some options for inexpensive produce:
- Plant your own garden
If you are so inclined, growing your own fruits and veggies is an inexpensive way to eat healthily. Some people will so far as to have a greenhouse which allows them to have fresh produce year round. We have tried growing a garden, but with the climate and dirt in our area, it’s kind of challenging, so we keep an eye out for sales.
- Shop at the farmers market
In our area, there are farmers markets pretty much year round, but I know this isn’t true for everyone, depending on the climate. We also have a produce market that has really inexpensive fruits and vegetables all year long. We can pick up some great deals no matter what time of year it is.
Don’t be too picky
If you are trying to save money, you may have to get what you can get. Of course, if you are not going to eat it, don’t buy it just to throw it away. This gives you a chance to try something new, if there is a fruit on sale that you are not familiar with, give it a shot. The point here is to be open and budget-conscious if you want to eat healthy with a tight budget.
Cut junk food
Junk food is not only bad for you, but it can be expensive. You can buy a cucumber for 33 cents, or you can buy a small bag of potato chips for $1.50. Does a cucumber taste as good as a bag of chips? Probably not, but you get my point, it’s all about making healthy choices. The cucumber is denser and contains more water, so you are going to feel more full, and it’s just plain better for you.
So cut the expensive junk food and make healthier choices and you are well on your way.
Eating healthy with a tight budget is not always the easiest thing to do. I hope this article has shed some light on how my family attacks eating healthy.
For us it basically it boils down to planning meals, cooking our own food in bulk. We use whatever is leftover and get creative when making lunches and future dinners.
We buy food in bulk and freeze what we can and also to make a couple of trips to the grocery store each week. You don’t have to go to the store if you plan ahead continually, but for us, it’s pretty convenient.
If you are struggling with eating healthy and you have a tight budget, I hope this has inspired you.