7 ways to eat healthy on a budget

Money in piggy bank and purchases on table

Feeding your family without breaking the bank can be a challenge, but is possible, according to Erica Fleming, a registered dietitian at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

“While prices have increased dramatically, you can still eat healthy on a budget,” Erica says. “However, you may need to plan more and make different food choices.”

Here are Erica’s best tips for to help you save money and still enjoy healthy, delicious food:

1. Plan ahead

First, make a shopping list—and vow to stick to it! Then shop your pantry to see what you already have on hand. You may not need to purchase as much as you think you do.

2. Shop the sales

Check to see if any of your local grocery stores are running any sales on the items you need, so you can plan which stores to visit. Most stores offer weekly deals on a variety of products, and with a little forethought, you can even plan your meals around them. A sale might even inspire you to try a new dish.

3. Eat pricey foods less often

Some foods tend to cost more than others, so you may need to reduce the frequency with which you eat them. For example, dried beans and legumes are much cheaper than animal protein, and they’re very nutritious, too. You can still eat meat, if you wish, but eating it less often might save you a little extra money.

4. Stroll down the frozen food aisle

Fresh fruits and vegetables are usually considered the healthiest options. But frozen foods can be just as nutritious and more affordable, especially if access to fresh items is limited. Plus, you can use a portion of frozen veggies in a dish and put the remainder back in the freezer for the future, so you don’t have to buy more.

5. Skip the convenience foods

Convenience foods are helpful for anyone with a hectic schedule. But you’re definitely paying for the convenience, as they tend to cost more per serving. Instead of buying pre-chopped fruits, pre-packed steamable bags of vegetables, and bags of shredded cheese, buy the whole versions and prepare them at home. Same goes for meat. It’s usually cheaper to buy a whole chicken instead of a selection of pre-cut parts. You can also save money by preparing dried beans rather than buying the canned or making rice from scratch rather than using the heat-and-eat version.

Creative food storage ideas from BlueCross nutritionists.

6. Eat seasonally

Make it a practice to eat foods that are in season—and priced accordingly. Shop by what’s in season in Tennessee, and you might even discover some new favorites. During the spring, you can load up on seasonal items like asparagus, cauliflower, collard greens, and strawberries, while looking forward to the tomatoes, cucumbers, peaches, and watermelons of summer and the winter squash, pumpkins and apples of autumn. Don’t forget about your local farmers’ markets as a good source for produce.

7. Snack before you shop

There’s a good reason that your mom always said, “Don’t go shopping when you’re hungry.” You’re more likely to buy more than you need. And, it’s a lot easier to give in to an impulse purchase, even if the price isn’t right. So, before you head to the grocery store, eat a snack so you won’t break your resolve—or your budget. Chewing gum while you shop keeps your mouth occupied and might also help you resist the urge to toss those cookies and chips into your cart.

Other tips that may help you

Erica Fleming: A few more shopping strategies that might help you stick to your budget:

  • Buy generic or store-branded products whenever you can. They always cost less, and the ingredients are very similar to the branded versions.
  • Buy misshaped produce. It might look funny, but it will taste great—and it sometimes costs less.
  • Do some math. Figure out the unit price of an item to make sure you’re getting the best deal.
  • Use apps that offer cash back or discounts at grocery stories and other retailers.

“When you put your mind to it, you can save money and eat healthy,” says Erica. “All it requires is a little advance planning and a willingness to try new things.”

More from Erica Fleming on WellTuned.

Jennifer Larson

Jennifer Larson is Nashville-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years of experience. She specializes in health care and family issues.

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Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.