Is it possible to eat healthy on a budget?
A low grocery budget and quality foods often seem at odds with one another. People who live on convenience foods often argue that it's cheaper to get frozen lasagnas, pizzas, and french fries than fresh fruits and veggies, lean meats, and dairy products that fill them up.
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Now, I'm not a dietary expert. Heck, I'm not much of an expert on anything - other than maybe rocking some awesome colored hair - but we have a fairly limited grocery budget (we stay under $90 each week for our family of seven) and still manage to eat a mostly balanced diet. Could we do better? Always! But over the last nine years of menu planning and frugal shopping habits I've learned a few tricks for eating well on a budget.
8 tips for eating healthy on a budget
1. Keep your meals simple
Meals don't need to be elaborate to be healthy or tasty. Save the more elaborate meals for fun occasions, date nights, or celebrations. Keep a basic stock of staple ingredients on hand that you can use to make a multitude of dishes so there aren't boxes and cans with 3/4 of the item remaining until you can think of a new way to use it up. There is nothing wrong with a side of steamed or fresh veggies rather than a 20-ingredient pasta dish. Keep it simple!
2. Don't make meat a main course
This is one of the simplest ways to cut your budget but still eat good food. Rather than making a full chicken breast for each person, cook a couple chicken breasts and portion out a section for everyone. We can usually make two chicken breasts work for the seven of us (kids ages 3-9) depending on what else we are having. By mixing meat in with other foods like rice, noodles, and veggies (think stir fry!) you can make your meat go a lot further.
3. Cook from scratch
I used to never cook from scratch. Cookie dough was about the only thing I knew how to make that wasn't from a box or can. But as we added to our family I realized in order to feed us on a budget I had to learn to make foods by hand. It sparked a love for cooking in me and I try to make a huge portion of our foods from scratch now. Some of my favorites are refried beans, enchilada sauce, pizza sauce, and banana bread. I can control the ingredients and it saves a huge amount of money compared to buying premade from the store.
4. Buy in season
Micah's absolute favorite fruit is watermelon but it would be downright ridiculous to go buy one in the middle of winter in the frozen north. Instead we buy them as frequently as we can during the summer to enjoy them at their peak of both flavor and price. In the same way it makes significantly more sense to buy oranges during the winter when they drop as low as $0.50/lb!
And along with buying in season is growing in season! I've never been successful with a garden (I have dreams though) but if you have a green thumb you should absolutely be growing some food for your family. Even just one or two types of foods could really help keep your budget in check during harvest season and longer if you can preserve your bounty.
6. Shop sales
I love the Flipp app for keeping track of all the local ads. I can browse through each store's sale ad, click the items I want to buy or am interested in buying, and they get added to my shopping list. Once I've got my items picked out I go through and narrow down what I actually need and can fit in the budget. Front page prices are usually the best deals because those are the prices that draw people in. Prices further into the ad are less likely to be good deals so make sure you know what a good "buy" price is for items.
While I love shopping at Sam's Club and Costco because of our family size, I also know that regular grocery stores frequently have better prices, especially on produce, when they have sales. I'd rather go to a couple stores and get a good price than buy in bulk at the club and spend $0.50 or more per pound!
Another great choice for scoring healthy food at a great price is to use programs like Azure Standard and Zaycon Fresh. Both companies offer purchasing large amounts of food (and other items from Azure) that are delivered to a drop site on a specific day in your area. My mother in law has used Azure for items like honey, baking soda, and sea salt. All their products are organic and non-GMO. Zaycon Fresh is the same idea but only for meat and seafood.
We got our first shipment in March and I'm really impressed with the quality. We did need to prep the meat for the freezer because it comes in ten-pound bags but there was actually very little to trim off the breasts. You can sign up for Zaycon here and get notified of their frequent sales. I've got an order of chicken coming in June that we scored for $0.99/lb!
7. Shop at Aldi
Oh man, I love me some Aldi. I've been shopping at Aldi for years but only a few times each year when we'd go visit family. Our town didn't have one! Our metro area got it's first Aldi a few months ago but it's about a 20 minute drive in the opposite direction from our normal shopping trips so we are trying to limit trips to once each month. It's hard though because of the phenomenal prices- mainly on produce!
For instance, at the time I'm writing this Aldi has avocados for $0.69 each, mangoes for $0.59 each, and 6oz packages of blackberries for $0.79. Um, what? That's incredible. I do sometimes notice that produce from Aldi doesn't last quite as long but I've also had romaine hearts that last close to two weeks and apples just as long. Point is to keep an eye on what you're buying and use it up if it starts looking a little sad. But for these prices, I'm totally cool with buying lots and stuffing our faces with good stuff!
8. Downsize portions
It's no surprise that our society has an issue with portion sizes. Think about how much money we as country could save if we were eating appropriate sized portions!
"But Katie, four ounces of meat simply isn't enough for me!"
I get it. I love food and I want to keep stuffing my face... all the time. But when I eat like that I train my body to think it always needs that much. It's why getting back on track after a vacation or holiday break is so hard! It will take time, consistency, and determination but training your body to eat appropriate sized meals will not only be good for your wallet but good for your health as well!
If meal planning and eating well on a budget is important to you, come join my FREE Facebook group - Meal Planning with Katie. Each week we discuss our meal plans, get new ideas, and I share my tips and tricks for getting awesome homemade food on the meal each week. Plus I show you exactly what I'm buying with our $90 for 7 people grocery budget each week!
What tips do you have for eating healthy on a budget? Share them in the comments :D