Transitioning into a healthier diet can intimidate many people due to the belief that it is more expensive and time-consuming. And though healthy food does cost more than junk food, you don't need to have an insane budget to be able to eat healthily. What you do need though is a plan!
There are many ways to save on whole foods and avoid the trap of buying packaged superfoods that can cost an arm and a leg.
Today our in house nutritionist guides you through the process of prioritizing healthy food while also minimizing costs.
Eating healthy on a budget tips and tricks
You need a plan. Do not attempt to go grocery shopping without a list and some sort of meal plan for the week. I guarantee you will buy more than you need and end up overspending. It’s the same thing as going grocery shopping when you’re hungry. Jus don’t do it.
I like to make a rough meal plan every Sunday and create my grocery list in accordance. This saves me time, effort, and money because I already know what my week is going to look like and I can buy all of the necessary ingredients in one or two trips.
Pick a day to sit down and plan out your meals as well as grocery items, then choose one or two days to hit the shops!
Stick to simple meals
Do complicated recipes with 15+ ingredients intimidate you? Yes, us too!
A meal does not have to be super elaborate or involve half a grocery list of ingredients to be tasty. You can make simple meals with just a few staple ingredients in a short amount of time, using a simple formula of non-starchy vegetables + animal protein or grains/legumes + healthy fats.
You don’t need to be buying the latest superfoods, instead focus on whole foods. Some of the cheapest whole foods that are packed with nutrition include broccoli, spinach, onions, russet potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, cabbage, squash, quinoa, brown rice, oats, beans, lentils, bananas, oranges, apples, eggs, and canned fish.
To add flavor keep some staple spices like Himalayan salt, pepper, curry powder, garlic powder, cayenne, and cinnamon.
For sauces, you can use tahini, olive oil, avocado oil, lemon juice, miso paste, apple cider vinegar, or coconut aminos to create easy dressings!Some of our favourite simple go to meals include burritos or burrito bowls, macro bowls, omelettes, and curries!
Check for sales, online flyers, coupons, etc before you go so you know what deals are on. Also shop at different stores if you can depending on what you need. For instance, ethnic markets are great stops for things like tahini, legumes, grains, spices, nuts and seeds in bulk, and some fruits and veggies, as they are almost always cheaper. You may want to check out the bulk section or places like Costco for regular items to stock up on. Just make sure you come up with a schedule and a list to make sure you get everything you need and avoid multiple trips. Smaller stores and farmer's markets are better options for fresh produce and more frequent stops.
Use what you have
We are willing to bet that you have multiple meal options staring at you in the face in your cupboards even when you think you have nothing to eat!
A lot of the time we don’t even realize that we have certain items so we buy double or triple, only to realize old food has expired and we never used it. If you don’t have an organized pantry or fridge, take an afternoon to sort through it and make it easy to navigate, that way you know what you already have before you hit the store and use up any leftovers before buying more.
We dare you to go through your cupboards and make a meal out of what you find!
There are so many store-made sauces, dips, treats, desserts, appetizers, etc that you could just make yourself. Not only does this put you in control of the ingredients but you also end up saving money. Make your own simple dressing with olive oil, lemon juice, and tahini or blend up some chickpeas to make homemade hummus. Gather some uncomplicated recipes that you like and you could end up saving quite a lot.
Use the freezer
The freezer is your friend! If you end up buying too much of something, stick it in the freezer for later use. Made too much of a meal? Store it in the freezer for another time to make a quick meal.
You can also buy frozen vegetables and fruits (great idea during the winter when we have less fresh options) as they are picked at the peak of ripeness and retain their nutrient status until you eat them. I love going crazy with picking and buying local berries in the summer and freezing them for the wintertime.
If you are eating animal protein every day, this can create a significant increase in your budget.
First of all, in our opinion animal products should always be bought organic/wild/pasture-raised/grass-fed and yes this is going to be more expensive but it's an investment in your health.
By cutting back on your meat consumption and increasing plant-based foods you will be significantly cutting back on your expenses, promoting your health, and supporting the environment.
Start with one veggie meal per week and then increase if you are feeling resistant or overwhelmed. You can find many simple and easy vegetarian or vegan recipes online, so it's time to start experimenting in the kitchen!
Pre-cut vegetables and fruits are a huge money stealer. Is it really that difficult to slice your own food? Buying the whole food will be significantly cheaper, believe us. It might take up a bit more time but hey if that’s the price you gotta pay, can you spare an extra 5 minutes?
Imperfect produce or nearly expired
This is my favourite tip!
Many grocery stores will have shelves specifically designated for imperfect produce (basically produce that have imperfections that disqualify them from being sold at full price) or nearly expired fruits and vegetables. Sometimes you need to ask an employee because they can sometimes be behind closed doors. If you're there on a good day you can find boxes of fruits and vegetables for as little as 99 cents. It’s worth asking about!
Stick to your grocery list
We all know what happens when we go to the grocery store hungry or when we show up without a list. Disaster. So make sure you have your grocery list with you at all times and avoid the urge to venture off with unnecessary purchases that can add up quickly. If you tend to forget your list at home, create it on your phone so you always have it with you!
Cook at home
Eating out is more expensive than eating in, and many times you can't really be sure of all of the ingredients landing in your meal and portions tend to be exaggerated. By making home-cooked meals the majority of the time you are making a commitment to your health while also saving a lot of money.
This is becoming increasingly popular and common with the hectic lifestyle we all lead nowadays. Online shopping is convenient, you don’t have to move or get dressed, and all of your items get delivered straight to you. This can save you a lot of time which equals money. You can’t buy back time so this is an awesome option for those with busy lifestyles. Most stores now offer online shopping and delivery.
Create and prep large batches of cooked foods like rice, legumes, beans, meat, veggies…. to assemble into quick meals throughout the week. You can also increase your portions to make several meals for the week. For example, if you are cooking a stir fry for two you can double or triple the recipe so that you have leftovers for the next day. This will save you so much time and money and prevent you from having to make a new meal every day.
Stay away from the splurge zones
You know what we're talking about. When you get to the till and you get pulled into all directions and your kids start tugging on your sleeve, eyeing the candy and chocolate bars. It may be difficult to avoid them entirely but divert your attention away from these areas and focus on what you are buying. Avoid showing up to the store hungry so that you don’t get tempted by these products which are just junk and have no place in a healthy diet. These also add up on your bill, especially if you cave every time!
Pay in cash
Allocate a certain amount of money towards your grocery shopping each week. Then bring enough cash to cover it. This will help avoid unnecessary added expenses like the “splurge zone” mentioned above and keep you on track to buying what you actually need every week. It will also be easier to track your spending and stick to your budget because you can only use what you have allotted to the weekly budget.
Look up what is in season in your area so that you can plan out your meals accordingly. Another great way to do this is by checking out farmer’s markets to find out what is available in your city at the current time. This will ensure optimal nutrition, quality, taste, and keep costs down.
Your body also loves eating in this pattern as it adapts to the seasons and will have different needs and preferences throughout the year. For instance, who really loves salads in the wintertime? We don’t know about you but we crave soups, stews, and grounding and comforting meals in the winter months, but cold foods? Not so much.
Reuse and avoid waste
Use as much as you can in the kitchen and avoid wasting food. That could mean using extra food for leftovers, animal bones for bone broth, or leftover almond meal for baking.
When cooking pumpkin you can roast the pumpkin seeds for a healthy snack, use lemon zest for baking, coffee grounds as a natural exfoliant, citrus peels to de-stink your garbage, celery tops, carrot peels, and other veggies in a stock, apple peels for healthy chips, or vinegar as a cleaning agent.
These are just some ideas but there are many more ways to use up your food. Google is your best friend when it comes to finding ideas to use up leftovers and leftover foods!
Visit the Farmers market at the end of the day
Farmer's markets are fantastic for many reasons; they provide local and seasonal produce and can also be cheaper. Especially if you hang out at the end of the market you can score some great deals, develop relationships with the farmers, and even take home some complimentary items!
Not to mention you get to support local farmers and small businesses in your community. Win-win.
Laurence Annez is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Health Coach, specializing in PCOS and women's hormones. She also holds a degree in Creative Writing and has extensive experience writing on health and wellness topics. Laurence's mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to take control of their own health and reach their ultimate health goals.