Eating healthy might take a little more work, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. You can find ingredients that are healthy, such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and lean protein and dairy, and make healthy meals at home. Don’t forget to make a plan and stick to it at the grocery store. It can also help to make ingredients yourself, such as yogurt and broths/stocks.
EditFinding Deals on Healthy Groceries
Pick what’s in season. When fruits and vegetables are in season, they tend to cost less. Often, grocery stores will run sales on what’s in season because they know customers expect certain fruits and veggies at certain times of the year. As an added bonus, when things are in season, they taste better.
In fall, look for produce like pumpkins, winter squash, cabbage, and apples.
In the winter, opt for winter squash, cabbage, and other root vegetables.
Springtime is great for produce like beets, leafy greens, spring onions, and asparagus.
Summer is a good time for watermelon, corn, and berries, just to name a few. You’ll likely notice the cheapest produce prices in summer. Also, because produce is cheaper this time of year, you can buy extra and freeze it or can it yourself.
Check the prices on frozen and canned. While you may prefer fresh fruits and vegetables, you can often save money by opting for frozen or canned instead. These options have the same health benefits, though be sure to pick ones that don’t have added sugar or salt.
Check your proteins, too. Frozen chicken may be cheaper than fresh, and canned salmon and tuna is likely cheaper than fresh fish.
Check out the weekly deals. Most grocery stores run weekly specials, which you can learn about through their weekly ads. When something is on sale, that’s the time to stock up on it. Most protein can be frozen and saved for later, for instance, so if your store is running a sale on boneless, skinless chicken breasts, buy some to use and save for later.
Compare prices every time. You probably already know to check for the lowest prices on the items you’re buying. However, you may get stuck in a rut buying a certain brand and assuming it’s the cheapest when prices change all the time. Check each time you buy.
Look up and down, as grocery stores tend to put the most expensive items at eye level.
Keep an eye on store brands, as they tend to be cheaper.
Buy in bulk. While buying in bulk can come with a higher price upfront, it’ll be cheaper overall. For instance, buying a large can of quick oatmeal is much cheaper than buying a box of the instant packets. Add some fresh fruit to create your own flavors.
You can also buy some items in bulk bins at health food stores. Often these stores will have items like grains, beans, pastas, nuts, granolas, flours, and sugars. You can get just what you need, taking advantage of the cheaper prices without having to buy more than you need.
Use coupons. Take advantage of coupons when you come across them. However, only use them for the foods you already buy. If you’re buying something you don’t normally buy, you’re just spending extra money that must come from somewhere else.
You can find coupons online, as well as in the newspaper. You can also use a variety of coupon apps to save money.
Apply for SNAP or WIC. If you are low-income, you might qualify for SNAP or WIC. SNAP is the contemporary version of food stamps, and you get your assistance on a debit-type card. WIC is only for women with low income who have young children. Pregnant women also qualify. It’s also more restrictive about what you can buy, but it can still help you afford healthy food.
Visit your local SNAP office to apply in person, or you can apply online in many states. Check if you can apply online in your state at https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/apply.
To apply for WIC, contact your local WIC office.
Find a farmer’s market or local farms. Sometimes, you can find cheaper produce at the farmer’s market, though you must hunt for deals. Also, driving out to local farms to pick your own produce can make it cheaper, as well. Be ready to use what you buy, though, as farm-fresh produce doesn’t tend to last as long as grocery market produce, which is bred and treated to last longer. However, you’ll make up for it in flavor.
Some farmer’s markets even accept SNAP.
EditFocusing on Cheaper Healthy Ingredients
Choose cheaper ingredients. Not all healthy ingredients are expensive. In fact, many healthy ingredients are cheap. Take each category of food you need to buy, and figure out options in each one.
For instance, in whole grains, you can try oatmeal, brown rice, bulgur, popcorn, and whole-wheat bread and pasta.
For vegetables, pick ones like cabbage, leafy greens (like mustard greens, kale, or even broccoli), squash, carrots, and celery.
In fruit, go for cheaper options, such as oranges, apples, and bananas.
In the dairy section, reach for milk and plain yogurt in large containers.
Make your proteins last longer. Keep in mind that you probably need less protein than you think in your diet. Making your proteins last across several meals will help both your budget and your diet. For instance, if you make a chicken one night, use the leftovers the next night to make a chicken soup. The night after that, use some of the chicken in tacos.
Adult women under 30 only need 5 1/2 ounce-equivalents each day, while women over 30 only need 5 ounce-equivalents. Adult men under 30 need 6 1/2, while if you’re 30 to 50, you need 6 ounce-equivalents and 5 1/2 if you’re over 50.
An “ounce-equivalent” is one ounce (28 grams) of meat (3 ounces of meat is about the size of a deck of cards).
Go vegetarian. While you don’t need to completely cut animal protein out of your diet, opting for plant-based protein sometimes can help cut costs. Try focusing meals around these vegetarian options, such as having beans and rice one night instead of chili.
Some vegetarian equivalents to an ounce of meat include an egg, 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) of beans, peas, or lentils, 1/2 an ounce (14 grams) of nuts or seeds, a tablespoon (15 milliliters) of peanut butter, or 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) of hummus.
Read labels. While you need to compare prices on foods, you should also compare labels for items you’re buying, particularly if you’re buying prepacked food of any kind. For instance, if you must have a box of macaroni and cheese, it’s best to pick the healthiest one you can find.
Look for foods low in sugar and sodium. You should be eating about 2,300 milligrams (1 teaspoon) of salt per day. Also, check for lower trans and saturated fat. Even the healthier fats should only be 20 to 30 percent of what you eat.
Keep serving sizes to 400 calories or less. Also, check to see how many vitamins and minerals the food has.
EditMaking Meal Plans
Decide on your dinners for the week. Making a meal plan will help you to only buy what you need and therefore stay under budget. If you don’t already have healthy recipes you love, find some you like online or ask your friends for recommendations.
One site you can try is the USDA’s What’s Cooking website (https://whatscooking.fns.usda.gov/). It has healthy recipes that you can use to plan meals.
Don’t forget to plan around your schedule. Opt for leftovers or quick meals on nights you’re going to be busy.
Stick with what you know. You may think that eating healthy means you need to try out a bunch of new trendy health foods. While these trendy foods may be healthy, that doesn’t mean they’re the only healthy foods. Stick to simpler ingredients that you know, even something as simple as a roasted chicken with vegetables and brown rice. You’ll be more likely to keep eating healthy, and you’ll save money at the same time.
Create your shopping list. Once you’ve planned out your meals, create a list of the items you’ll need. Sticking to a list (and not buying extras) can help you stay on budget, so you can afford healthier food.
Plan ahead when you eat out. Meal planning isn’t just for eating at home. It can help to make a plan before you go to a restaurant. Look over the menu if it’s available online, and compare calorie counts. Many restaurants have the calorie counts available, but you can also use online calorie counters or websites.
Consider choosing a healthy appetizer to save money. It will also keep the portion small.
Opt for dishes with lean proteins paired with whole grains and lots of veggies.
Choose veggies or fruit over fries, onion rings, or mashed potatoes.
Ask for a take-out box when you get your food. Split it in half before you start eating, and put half in the box to take home. Splitting it up helps you control your portion and stretch your money.
EditMaking Food at Home
Grow what you can. Often, having a small garden or even a few potted plants can be a cheap way to get in the veggies you need. Try growing a tomato plant, for instance, or even just a few herbs on your window sill.
Create your own snacks. You can buy pre-made snacks at the store that are a bit healthier than your average chips, such as veggie chips or fruit cups. However, they tend to be expensive, so making your own at home is a more affordable alternative.
For example, try making kale chips. Wash and dry kale thoroughly. Chop or tear the leaves into large pieces. Toss them in olive oil, or spray them with cooking spray, and then spread them out on a large baking sheet in a single layer. Sprinkle salt and pepper on top and any other seasoning you want. Bake them at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 Celsius) until crispy (about 15 minutes).
You can also make yourself individual cups of fruits and veggies. For instance, cut up oranges, apples, and grapefruit, and toss them with a tiny bit of honey. Spoon them into small reusable containers so you can grab them any time. You can do the same with veggies. Cut them into bite-sized pieces, and put them in reusable bags. Spoon out (homemade) hummus into individual containers to go with them.
Boil up your own stocks and broths. Stocks and broths are a great way to start out soups, but buying them in cans or cartons can get expensive. Plus, they’re often loaded with extra sodium. Making your own at home results in better quality, and it’s cheaper, too.
You can even make a stock with your scraps. Save the bits of vegetables you have leftover, such as onion skins, the ends of carrots, and the tops of celery. When you eat a chicken, save the bones and the bits of meat. Freeze them in a bag until you have enough. When you do, throw them in a pot and cover them with water. Boil them (covered on low heat) for six to eight hours or until you have a stock with a flavor you like. Strain it, and your stock is ready.
Once you have your stock, you can portion it out in small containers and freeze it.
Branch out into making other foods. Lots of foods besides snacks and broths can be made cheaper at home. For instance, if you eat yogurt often, making your own yogurt might be a good option. For bread, consider investing in a bread machine, so you can make your own bread with the push of a button.
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