Piggybank with produce

Healthy eating habits are nothing new, but anyone who’s made avocado toast knows that eating healthy on a budget can be challenging. You know to swap out starchy foods for whole grains and to reach for protein and fiber-rich foods in lieu of sugary and processed fare, yet organic food and specialty ingredients can add up quickly on a grocery bill.

Don’t fret. You don’t have to sacrifice healthy foods at the altar of fiscal fitness. In fact, eating healthy on a budget is not only possible, but is completely manageable and won’t derail whatever dietary lifestyle you’re following.

Let us show you how to plan a healthy menu, complete with all the important food groups, without breaking your budget.

Whole grains

Whole grains like brown rice, barley, quinoa, and sorghum are at the top of the list for health-conscious consumers. They’re chock-full of antioxidants that even elude some of our favorite fruits and vegetables. But this nutritional premium comes with a price: Bread and pasta that is made from alternative flours (almond, coconut, chickpea) and whole wheat flour can be more expensive than those that star traditional white flour.

Here’s how you balance the scale. Barley, brown rice, and whole-wheat pasta are the most budget-friendly whole grains, so make those your pantry staples. Head to the bulk aisle to purchase quinoa, farro, and wild rice. Why? These ingredients tend to be pricier when pre-packaged.

Pro tip: Store all whole grains in airtight containers and use within 6 months — otherwise they could go bad, and you’d be out the money used to stock your pantry with this healthy goodness.

Legumes

Beans, peas, and lentils shine when it comes to protein, fiber, and good fats — that’s why they are such beloved foods of the Mediterranean diet.

Legumes can cost at least three times less than steak, pork, and chicken. You can save even more if you buy dried versions since they cost three times less than their canned counterparts. (For those of you doing the math, that means dried legumes can cost up to nine times less than steak, pork, and chicken!)

You need to soak dried legumes, so two words for you: meal plan. Just a little planning ahead can help you save time and money on future dinners. Cook a big batch of beans or chickpeas, for example, and then freeze the extras for salads, soups, veggie burgers, dips, and slow cooker meals.

Pro tip: Does your recipe call for beans but no time to soak them? Skip that requirement by using a pressure cooker to cook your dried legumes.

Fruits and vegetables

Going vegetarian or vegan? Addicted to your morning green juice? You probably already know that the best deals are for in-season fruits and vegetables, but making savvy selections can help you save even more.

Rule No. 1: Buy sturdier, long lasting fruits and vegetables to minimize food (and money) waste. Take berries, for instance. Raspberries are delicate and prone to mold, while blueberries are sturdy little guys with longer shelf life. Likewise, broccoli can last a week in the fridge, compared to asparagus, which can go bad after two days.

Rule No. 2: Skip pre-packaged and pre-sliced produce. You’re paying extra for someone else’s sweet potato chopping. What’s more, whole vegetables last longer.

Rule No. 3: Frozen fruits and vegetables are your wallet’s best buds. Packed at the peak of ripeness, frozen produce is great to toss into smoothies, stew in the slow cooker, or add to soup and pasta.

Meat

These days, it can seem like protein is king. But just because Paleo and Keto recipes showcase meat, doesn’t mean your bank account has to suffer. All you have to do is swap ingredients here and there. Dinner won’t change drastically if you replace boneless chicken breasts with drumsticks or a whole rotisserie chicken, both of which typically cost half the price.

Another grocery list swap: Choose affordable ground beef over costly steak to make lettuce wraps.

Pro tip: Use leftover chicken and chicken bones to make delicious broth that can be used in soups and other recipes.

Seafood

You may love Chilean sea bass, but it’s the Tesla of grocery store fish. Opt for cod or tilapia, which are both delicious, affordable white fish alternatives. You can also save by asking your fishmonger for “trim pieces” when making chowders and stews.

Dairy and eggs

Good news: Unless you live on Planet Dwyane Wade, a gallon of milk costs around $3, not $20. But you can save by buying milk at drugstores, which often price it less than the grocery stores simply to get you in the door.

Buying cheese in blocks, instead of shredded cheese is also a way to reduce your supermarket spending. Stock up when it’s on sale, then wrap it in parchment paper and foil and freeze for up to 2 months.

Or, you can just follow the real food program, the Whole30, which cuts out dairy altogether.

Love hard-boiled eggs? Cage-free eggs are your financial middle-of-the-road alternative between ultra-cheap battery-cage eggs and pricey organic, pasture-raised varieties.

Healthy staples

Let’s face it, cooking is virtually impossible — and boring — without olive oil and spices. To spend less on these pantry staples, use coupons and stock up on sales and BOGO deals, but make sure to store these items properly. Otherwise, they’ll spoil prematurely. Unopened EVOO and spices can be stored for up to two years in a dark, cool place.

Pro tip: Watch out for store-bought spice mixes. Not only can they be more costly than ones you create yourself, they can also contain a lot (read: A LOT) of salt.

Food is expensive. The average family of four spends more than $200 each week on groceries. But eating out is even more expensive — and its prices are on the rise.  The cost of dining at a full-service restaurant is up 2.7% year over year, more than 1% higher than the rate of inflation.

You can fight back against high food costs by eating at your kitchen table. Meal planning, smart grocery shopping, and making home-cooked meals not only helps you save money, but calories, too, helping you truly eat healthy for less.

Discussion questions:

  • What’s your healthy eating on a budget life hack?
  • What are your top money-saving strategies at the supermarket?
  • What’s the one thing you always splurge on at the grocery store?
  • Have you changed how you eat to reduce your spending on food?