Eating healthy does not need to be expensive. People often view expense as a barrier to eating a whole-foods diet. The truth is that a diet made up of vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and quality proteins can be comparable in cost, or even cheaper, than a less healthy diet of mostly processed food or junk food. Read on for 12 ways to save money eating healthy.
1. Buy Whole Food Items
Processed food and convenience items are more expensive. For instance, a container of old-fashioned oats is cheaper per serving than buying packs of instant oatmeal.
Skip convenience items like pre-cut fruits and vegetables or shredded cheese. Buy the item whole and cut it or shred it yourself.
Instead of buying a boxed rice mix to use for a side dish, cook a batch of rice or quinoa you have in your pantry and season it using herbs and spices you have in your pantry. The dish will be cheaper and healthier since you won’t have the excess salt or preservatives often found in seasoning packages.
2. Skip Packaged Snacks and Junk Food
Junk food like packaged cookies, soda, and chips are pricey and offer no nutritional value.
Instead of buying packaged baked goods, bake your own muffins or cookies using healthier ingredients such as almond or coconut flour. This will help reduce your grocery bill and reduce your consumption of unhealthy oils, white flour, and excess sugar.
Packaged snacks can also be expensive. Energy bars can be $2+ per bar. Make your own dried fruit and nut bars or granola bars, using whole food ingredients, for snacks you can take on the go.
3. Buy in Bulk
Buying items in bulk from warehouse stores, or the bulk sections of grocery stores, reduces the cost per portion of many foods. Pantry items, freezer items, and fresh items that you can later freezer can save you money if you buy them in bulk.
Also, you don’t need to be feeding a large family to benefit from buying in bulk. I’m only feeding one or two people when I grocery shop, but I still have items that I always try to buy at warehouse stores. Here are some items that I save money on by buying in bulk:
- Frozen organic berries
- Nut butters and raw nuts
- Frozen seafood (salmon, shrimp, scallops, tilapia)
- Blocks of quality cheese (I shred and freeze what I don’t eat and use it for casseroles or pizza)
- Quinoa and brown rice
- Protein powder for smoothies
- Organic coffee
- Avocado, olive, or coconut oil
- Almond flour
4. Cook More
Eating out gets expensive fast. You can almost always make food at home that’s cheaper and healthier. When you cook, you decide what’s going into the meal, therefore you avoid the excess fat, sodium, and sugar often found in restaurant food.
Save eating out for dishes that you wouldn’t typically make at home, like sushi for example.
Also, packing your lunch for work rather than grabbing takeout or fast food during the day will almost definitely be healthier and cheaper.
5. Meal Plan
Meal planning is hands down one of the most effective ways to reduce the cost of eating healthy. If you plan at least some of your meals ahead of time, you know exactly what food you need for the week and avoid buying too much and later throwing it out because it went bad. You’re also less likely to impulsively buy takeout if you already have a plan for what you are having for dinner or lunch.
6. Make a Grocery List
Don’t go to the grocery store without a list of what you plan to buy. If you don’t, you increase the chance of impulse purchases, which are often times junk food or other unhealthy options. It also ensures that you buy everything that you need for your planned meals. This prevents additional trips to the store that can lead to unnecessary purchases and spending more money on groceries.
7. Use Your Leftovers
Eating your leftovers reduces food waste and saves you money because you end up eating all the groceries that you buy. Turn leftovers into a new meal or freeze portions that you know you won’t be able to eat this week. That way, you can use them for lunch or dinner in a later week.
8. Stock Up During Sales
When there’s a good sale on healthy items that you typically buy or more expensive items, like grass-fed meat, stock up and buy several containers, cans, or pounds of it. This works best for pantry items or things that can be frozen since the items will keep for a while until you’re ready to use them. The exception would be fresh produce that doesn’t freeze well, like lettuce. For these type of items, only buy what you can eat in a week.
9. Buy Produce in Season
Local produce that’s in season is generally the cheapest. It’s also going to be fresher and probably tastier than produce that’s sold when it’s not in season. For example, buying locally grown blueberries in July is going to taste much better, and be cheaper, than buying blueberries in January that have been shipped in from another part of the world.
10. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
A CSA farm share is one of the best ways to receive high-quality vegetables and fruit at a reduced price.
When you join a CSA, you pay a local farm upfront for the entire growing season. In exchange, you receive weekly or bi-weekly freshly picked produce from that farm. My CSA provides weekly shares from early-May to mid-November. Some CSAs also offer the opportunity to buy other items from local vendors such as eggs, bread, meat, etc.
Although the price may be a bit more than produce in the grocery store, it’s generally cheaper than a farmer’s market, and the quality is better than what you would find in the store.
11. Eat Less Meat
Quality meat and seafood can be the most expensive protein sources. Eggs, beans, tempeh/tofu, nuts and seeds, and even some grains, like quinoa, are good vegetarian proteins sources that are generally cheaper.
When you do decide to eat meat, buy tougher cuts since these tend to be cheaper. Tougher cuts of meat can become very tender if you braise them or cook them in a slow cooker.
12. Grow Your Own Food
Growing your own herbs, fruits, and vegetables will provide you with the freshest produce possible. Seeds and basic gardening equipment are pretty inexpensive. You can even start a vegetable garden if you live in an apartment or don’t have a yard. A small balcony is enough space for some pots to start growing vegetables in.
It is completely possible to save money when eating healthy. In fact, consistently eating a healthy diet goes hand in hand with saving money. Strategies that save money, like meal planning and cooking more, are also some of the most effective strategies for maintaining a healthy diet.