How many times has someone told you you can’t eat healthy on a budget?
I know I’ve certainly heard it once or twice.
The reality is…it can be. If you’re drinking cold-pressed juices every day and eating buddha bowls sprinkled with spirulina—costs can add up quickly, derailing your budget.
The thing is, that’s not what healthy eating has to be. You can thrive on a diet of dry goods and frozen foods, without breaking the bank. All it takes is a bit of knowledge, creativity, and patience.
Here’s my top tips for how to eat healthy on a budget.
I’m sure I’m not the first person to tell you to eat your vegetables.
If you want to save money on your weekly produce haul and eat healthy on a budget, the best thing you can do is buy what’s in season. As much as I love strawberries, I would never spend $7 on them in the middle of the winter. I just…can’t
When produce is in season, there’s a higher supply of it, which translates to lower prices for you, making it easier to stick to your budget. You’ll often see huge markdowns on produce when it’s in season because there just so much of it to sell.
You can still have a bit of variety in your diet, just maybe not pomegranates-in-the-springtime kind of variety.
What’s in season will depend on where you are in the world, but here’s a quick general list of what to buy, when:
- Spring – Avocado, strawberries, asparagus, collards, rhubarb, mango, pineapple, carrots, artichokes
- Summer – Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, plums, peaches, tomatoes, cucumber, zucchini, broccoli, nectarines, green beans, kale
- Fall – Cranberries, grapes, pears, mushrooms, swiss chard, figs, garlic, cauliflower, ginger, pomegranate
- Winter – Chestnuts, radicchio, radishes, oranges, lemons, leeks, grapefruit
Things like apples, bananas, carrots, and potatoes are usually available year-round. They’re also super cheap and versatile, so I consider them a staple when eating healthy on a budget.
There’s also some pretty sweet health benefits to eating seasonally. Seasonal food is picked at its peak of freshness, when its nutrient content is at its highest. More nutrients equals healthier food which equals a healthier you.
We love a healthier you (and a healthier budget).
If you’re lucky enough to have access to a farmers market, then go.
There’s a common misconception that farmers markets are more expensive, and they certainly can be. The trick is to be an educated consumer and know what to buy at the market so you can stick to your budget when trying to eat healthy.
For a few weeks in the summer, I can buy organic celery bigger than my torso at $4 a bunch. I can also get massive amounts of kale for a mere $3. Not to mention, its healthier, better for the environment, and a whole lot tastier.
Scope our your local market and see what kinds of produce they offer, Chances are in the summertime, you can score some sweet deals on some pretty amazing produce.
Maybe I’m just a vegetable geek (I definitely am), but there’s nothing better than when I can get a box of local, juicy tomatoes at a fraction of the cost of the grocery store.
Plus since it’s the farmers market, you’re only going to be able to eat seasonally. It’s like killing two birds with one stone.
And in some places there are farmer’s markets year round. If you’re lucky enough to be in one of those places (as we in Vancouver happen to be) you can get all kinds of winter greens and root veggies to add a little fresh kick to your veggie plate.
Grocery shopping for me is an all-day event. While I do have some hacks to make grocery shopping a bit easier, I still enjoy spending hours of my Sunday bopping around to different grocery stores and markets to get the best deals.
While shopping at multiple stores certainly takes some time, it can save you a boatload of money. All you have to do is figure out what stores have the best deals on the things you buy and shop accordingly.
I know I can get the cheapest avocadoes at Whole Foods, the best price on dandelion greens at Kins (a local Vancouver area place much frequented by the Moola team), and coconut water is most affordable at Costco.
Again, not the most convenient option, but certainly worth the hassle if you want to eat healthy on a budget.
Do some research for yourself and find out the best places to get all your favorite products. I usually stick to visiting three or four stores on any one day, just to make it more manageable. You can also spread your shopping out throughout the week if that’s more your style.
Of course if you’re someone who absolutely hates food shopping, or only has access to one store in your town, then this may not be the best option for you.
However, if wandering the aisles of grocery stores sounds like a fun way to spend a Saturday night, then make sure you’re at least saving some money along the way and sticking to your budget.
Use the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen list to eat organic
There’s a lot of debate as to whether or not organic food is healthier.
That’s a discussion for another day.
If you are trying to eat healthy on a budget and you want organic, you can save yourself some money by shopping according to the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen list. These are lists that the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases annually to educate consumers on pesticide levels in their produce.
The Dirty Dozen outlines produce containing the highest amount of pesticides. These are fruits and vegetables that would be best to eat organic. Top of the list every year? Strawberries. Our beloved strawberries.
On the flip side, the Clean Fifteen is a list of 15 fruits and vegetables that contain the least amount of pesticides. These can be bought conventionally, without exposing you to massive amounts of pesticides.
They’re really good guides to use if you want all the benefits of eating organic without having to spend $12 on a bag of carrots. Just get your Dirty Dozen produce organic and your Clean Fifteen produce conventional so you can stick to your food budget.
Buy in bulk
Costco is hands-down my favorite store to do my grocery shopping.
Buying in bulk gives you access to high quality, super healthy food at an insanely low price. I’m talking hemp hearts, chia seeds, sprouted bread, and even Beyond Burgers at a fraction of the price as a regular grocery store.
It really is heaven.
Buying in large quantities does mean you’ll have to really love what you’re getting because you’re going to have to eat a lot of it. But if you stick to getting your dry goods and frozen food in bulk, then you won’t have to worry about eating all of it before it goes bad.
You’ll have to pay for an annual membership, but it’s only about $60 a year and it more than pays for itself. You can also split a membership with a friend to cut your annual fee in half. That way, you can also split the things you buy too.
Buy in bulk bins
I had never seen a bulk bin before coming to Canada and I’m a little upset that I was missing out for so long.
Bulk bins are a great way to get dry goods and spices super cheap. Everything is priced by weight, usually 100g, and it’s often a lot less expensive than if you were to buy the same product in different packaging. This can really help you stick to your budget when eating healthy.
The other nice thing is that you only have to buy as much as you need. Need dried ginger for a recipe but don’t want to buy a massive thing of dried ginger? Buy it in a bulk bin for $0.30 and save yourself from having a bottle of a spice you’ll never use.
This will help cut down on food waste and save you a few extra bucks in the process.
I like to get my oats in bulk bins when they’re on sale for $0.15/100g. Yes, that’s 1 kg of oats for $1.50.
Who said it was hard to eat healthy on a budget?
Say no to superfoods
Trust me, I love superfoods. I mean, what’s not to love about spirulina and chaga smoothies, right?
What makes a food a superfood is it’s nutritional profile. They usually have an abnormally high concentration of one or more micronutrients in a very small serving size.
For example, ¼ cup of goji berries contains:
- 150% RDI of Vitamin A
- 84% RDI of Copper
- 75% RDI of Selenium
- 42% RDI of Iron
And that’s not even all of it.
While superfoods are fun and exciting and sometimes delicious, they can also be crazy expensive. You definitely pay a premium for these products, and companies will try to convince you that superfoods are the answer to all your health woes.
The thing is though, they are absolutely not a necessary part of a healthy diet. I can bet most of your grandparents didn’t grow up eating chlorella, acacia powder, and raw cacao and they’re doing okay.
The point is, you don’t need to eat uber trendy Instagram food to be healthy. Good old fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein is more than enough to be your happiest, healthiest self. Luck for you, you can get all of that cheap and eat healthy on a budget
Most supplements too
It’s easy to get sucked into the allure of supplements. They’re often touted as the end all be all cure to every one of your health woes.
The things is, supplements are exactly that: a way to supplement a healthy diet. If you are in good general health and eating a balanced diet, then there doesn’t seem to be a huge benefit to taking a supplement, like a multivitamin.
It could just be expensive pee.
Now if you’re deficient in a specific vitamin or mineral, then the therapeutic use of supplements short or long term would be ideal.
The takeaway? Talk to your doctor and get a proper blood test done before spending large amounts of money on unnecessary supplements.
Of course, if you do decide that you’d like a bit more supplements in your life, check out Brandless. They offer generic brand supplements at a fraction of the cost of your local drug store.
A 3-month supply of multis for $15? You really can’t beat that.
Grow your own herbs
Here’s how buying herbs usually goes for me.
I find a recipe calling for 3 sprigs of thyme. I go to the store and spend $3 on a pack of thyme. I use 10% of the thyme package and then forget about it in the fridge until it goes bad and I’m forced to throw it away.
If you’re like me, then it may be wise to start your own little herb garden. Herbs are super low maintenance and can be grown indoors on your windowsill. Even those with not so green thumbs can have some success with an herb garden.
Choose the herbs you use the most like basil, mint, or cilantro to grow. You can get starter plants for a couple bucks from Home Depot in the summer time, or you can buy a pack of seeds.
Then when you only need a few sprigs of thyme, you can just cut some off your plant instead of going to the store. It’s cheaper, easier, and a whole lot faster.
Plus, how cute do herbs look in the kitchen?
And if you’re certain you can’t keep an herb garden alive, try putting the herbs you buy in a cup of water, stem side down. This will keep them alive for longer and give you more time to use up what you have.
There’s nothing wrong with frozen
Here’s a fun fact: frozen fruits and vegetables are just as, if not more, nutritious than their fresh counterparts.
Weird, right? Here’s how it works.
Most fresh produce in the grocery stores today comes from places like Mexico, South America, and California. It usually has to travel quite a ways before it reaches your local grocery store, so to make sure your produce doesn’t spoil along the way, it’s picked way earlier than it should be.
Now your oranges haven’t had the chance to reach their full nutritional potential.
Frozen produce on the other hand, is picked as soon as it’s ripe (that’s also when it’s most nutritious). It’s then flash frozen, which preserves all the nutrients in the food.
This literally makes for a healthier raspberry.
The best part is, frozen fruits and vegetables are usually cheaper than if you were to buy the same produce when it’s fresh. Plus you don’t have to worry about eating them before they go bad – they’ll keep in the freezer forever.
Stock up on an assortment of frozen fruits and veggies when they go on sale so you always have something healthy on hand to throw together. It’ll make eating healthy on a budget much easier.
Stick to whole foods
The idea that healthy food is more expensive than unhealthy food can usually be chalked up to luxury items like almond milk yogurt, bean pastas, and plant-based burgers.
If you’re buying a lot of healthier alternatives to processed foods, then the cost can add up really quickly. And while it may be tempting to try that $10 cashew cheese, it can certainly make your grocery bill staggering.
Stick to the staples like dried beans, rice, oats, fruits, and vegetables. It may not make for the most exciting food, but it will keep your food costs a lot lower so you can eat healthy on a budget.
Shop for staples online
Don’t want to pay for a Costco membership? No problem. These days, you can get bulk items online at a decent price. Here are a few to check out if you’re into the online grocery game:
- Amazon: An online shopping list just isn’t complete without Amazon. Since purchasing Whole Foods in 2017, Amazon has greatly expanded their offerings of grocery items. You can shop for everyday grocery items through Amazon Pantry and save 15% on your grocery bill. And the more items you add to your cart, the more saving you get and the easier it is to stick to your budget and eat healthy. Neat, right?
- Boxed: Boxed has been touted as the millennial alternative to Costco. They offer sweet savings on bulk buys delivered right to your door; no membership required.
- Thrive Market: If you want to stock up on healthy products at a fraction of the cost of the grocery store, check out Thrive Market. This is a great option if you’re dying to try that new pasta alternative, but you don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on it.
There’s a reason why online shopping is so popular, and it’s not just the convenience.
It’s entirely possible to eat healthy on a budget
Remember to stick to the staples, buy in bulk, and don’t get caught up in thinking you need fancy food to be healthy.
If you would like to splurge on a supplement or two (maca anyone?), be sure to go online first to find the best prices.
And of course, you can also check out Moola for bonuses and savings on grocery gift cards that can help make your dollar go farther.
Make 2020 the year you become your healthiest, most budget conscious self yet!
Hey you, have you downloaded Moola yet?
About the Author
Kelly is a lifestyle blogger, marketing maven, and Certified Holistic Nutritionist. She enjoys eating salads, reading wellness websites, and creating content that helps you save money with gift cards. Read all her content and don’t ask her what her favorite smoothie is, because she can’t decide.