Preparing healthy meals every week on a tight budget can seem daunting, but it can definitely be done–and done deliciously well! Try these 20 tips from our coach team to help you keep costs down and get more nutritional bang for your buck.
Create a weekly meal plan. Pick a day to plan your meals and snacks for the upcoming week and make a grocery list. Planning ahead means you won’t get stuck buying something “cheap” (i.e. fast food) at the last minute that’s “rich” in calories but low in nutrition. And having healthy snacks on hand (i.e. nuts, seeds, fruit, pre-cut veggies, hard boiled eggs, plain yogurt, hummus, etc.) helps you skip the vending machines at work (and the drive through on your way home).
Stick to your list. Once you’ve planned your healthy meals and made a grocery list, stay focused when you’re at the store. Consider leaving your spouse and kids at home to avoid “special requests.” (Here’s a sample shopping list from the ADA.)
Don’t shop on empty. If you go to the grocery store hungry, you’re more likely to give in to instant gratification cravings. Always have a healthy snack before you make the trip.
Set a weekly food budget. Figure out what you can afford each week. If necessary, use the calculator on your phone to add up the prices while you shop to keep yourself honest. (Find more budget-related tips here.)
Start at the store’s perimeter. You’ll be more likely to fill your cart with whole foods (i.e. fruits, veggies, meat, fish, eggs, yogurt, etc.). While they might seem more expensive than processed foods, they are far more nutritious and will keep you feeling full longer.
Do your prep at home. Many foods are more affordable in their less processed form. For example, a block of cheese is cheaper than shredded cheese and dried beans are cheaper than canned. (They also have less packaging, which is better for the environment too!)
Shop the sales – Stock up on staples when they go on sale. This includes buying fresh, in-season produce (such as berries and tomatoes) and freezing it.
Jettison the junk. Soda, crackers, cookies, flavored coffee beverages, prepackaged meals and other processed foods are not cheap! Cutting down on the amount of money you spend on them benefits both your wallet and your health.
Switch to generic or store brands – Most grocery stores offer generic or their own brands for nearly any product. Check the ingredients–they are often identical to the brand name version, but significantly more affordable.
Sometimes bulk is better. Buying some foods in bulk quantities (such as nuts, seeds, grains, etc.) can save you a lot of money. Websites like Boxed and Jet offer bulk orders at wholesale prices without the commitment of a membership.
Clip coupons. Coupons are a great way to save money. Keep them in your car so you don’t forget them and be sure to use them for healthy (and not processed) foods. 😉
Consider frozen vs fresh. Buying some frozen produce reduces the chances that your food will spoil before you have a chance to eat it. It’s also helpful when you haven’t had a chance to shop for the coming week. (Grocery Outlet often has great deals on frozen organic fruits and veggies.)
Keep a clean fridge. Check expiration dates and keep things organized to reduce food waste. Try writing the expiration date for more perishable foods (i.e. dairy and meat) in large print on the package as a reminder.
Make more meals at home. Cooking at home is much cheaper than eating out. This includes packing your own lunch and bringing it to work.
Cook larger batches. Making extra meals and freezing the leftovers can save you time and money. (Slow cooker recipes are perfect for this!)
Grow your own. Tomatoes, lettuce, kale and carrots are all great choices for a small garden. Short on space? Put plants in containers on a sunny balcony or doorstep.
Shop online. The prices on certain healthy foods are often better online. Check out Amazon.com. Vitacost.com and Thrivemarket.com.
Stop by farmers markets at the end of the day. Odds are you’ll find some good deals when sellers are packing up their produce and wanting to lighten their load.
Buy more beans. Beans mixed with whole grains make a complete protein (and are cheaper than meat). Beans can also help you make your meat go father. (Mix black beans with ground turkey to make southwestern-style turkey burgers or make a three-bean veggie chili with black, pinto and kidney beans.)
Choose less expensive cuts of meat. Chicken thighs are a more economical (and often more tasty) choice than chicken breasts. And marinated skirt steak is the perfect ingredient for tacos or fajitas. Roasting a whole chicken at home is another good choice. (You can even use the bones to make soup or bone broth, which you can freeze for later.)