How to Make Healthy Meals on a Budget

Food prices are rising around the world. And not just meat prices - even fruit and vegetable costs can also stretch and break a family's budget.

Grocery shopping costs can be decreased in a number of ways, many of which result in healthier meals for the family.

Watching flyers for sales on grocery items, buying in bulk, and cutting coupons can help a little, plus you can get the kids involved in hunting and clipping coupons for those products you actually use.

But the best way to reduce your grocery bill and eat healthily, is to plan your meals and snacks. Include plenty of in-season fruit and vegetables, and then shop to your list.

Produce bought in bulk, prepped and ready to cook 2 week's worth of meals!
Produce bought in bulk, prepped and ready to cook 2 week's worth of meals! | Source
A french-style fish soup, packed with vegetables!
A french-style fish soup, packed with vegetables! | Source

Stretch meat and fish dishes

Adding loads of healthy vegetables to meat and fish dishes is not only tasty, you can make dinner much cheaper!

You can hide vegetables from picky eaters by pureeing, processing or grating them, or chopping them finely.

  • Finely processed cauliflower resembles minced meat when cooked in dishes like Mexican chili or bolognaise sauce.
  • In addition to the pasta, cream sauce and meat sauce layers in lasagne, add layers of grilled sweet potato, zucchini, eggplant and mushrooms.
  • Add a variety of vegetables to Mexican chili - corn, green beans, peas, grated zucchini, grated carrots, finely chopped cabbage, in addition to a variety of beans works well.
  • Add grated or finely chopped daikon radish to a dish with stock - it can soak up flavors wonderfully, is high in fiber and low in calories! You can even add it to Thai style dishes for a fresh taste.
  • When making shashliks, make vegetables the main ingredient - chunks of zucchini, eggplant, capsicum, mushrooms and even pineapple are delicious grilled or baked.
  • Include vegetables and greens in Indian curries and Thai dishes - there is no rule that these should contain only (or mostly) meat!

You could also plan a vegetarian meal once or twice a week, to cut down on meat expenses. A vegetable filled quiche or pie is quick to prepare, healthy and delicious!

Roasted autumn and winter vegetables - great for snacks too!
Roasted autumn and winter vegetables - great for snacks too! | Source

Cook in season

Learning what fruits and vegetables are in season in your area can also reduce the grocery bill.

Plus locally grown in-season produce is fresher and healthier for you, and is better for the environment - fewer fuel miles (and dollars) are in your meals!

Each area will have its own local in-season produce calendar - watch the prices of produce, and note where the fruits and vegetables are shipped from. Alternatively, ask your local government - many can provide a leaflet about seasonal produce.

Seasonal produce

Summer
Fall
Winter
Spring
beans (green)
apples
cabbage
asparagus
berries
berries
carrots
cauliflower
carrots
cabbage
cauliflower
cucumbers
celery
carrots
kale
kale
cherries
cauliflower
leeks
lettuce
courgettes (zucchini)
kale
lemons
lemons
cucumbers
lemons
onions
rhubarb
grapes
plums
parsnips
spinach
lettuce
potatoes
radish (including daikon)
sweet peas
melons
pumpkin (squash)
 
 
peaches
peppers (bell and chilli)
 
 
peas
radish
 
 
peppers (bell and chilli)
sweet corn
 
 
spinach
tomatoes
 
 
sweet peas
 
 
 
tomatoes
 
 
 
Homegrown herbs for a tomato and vegetable pie with a parmesan-olive crust.
Homegrown herbs for a tomato and vegetable pie with a parmesan-olive crust. | Source

My balcony garden has provided me with fresh salad greens, greens for stir-frying, chili peppers, edible flowers, herbs, peas, beans, snow peas and an unexpectedly huge crop of tomatoes.

The fresh produce (without counting the ripening tomato crop), has already repaid the investment costs in soil, pots and seeds in one season. Plus I still have seeds, earth and pots I can use in the next season.

Grow your own produce

A vegetable garden can help reduce grocery bills. Even in a small space, you can grow a surprising amount of produce - fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices.

Growing a variety of flowers in addition to the productive garden, helps keep plants healthy and encourages beneficial insects to visit. This helps with pollination, and increases the harvest from your garden.

Tip: Only grow food that you know your family will eat, so that the fruits and vegetables are not wasted.

Learn to preserve

When growing your own fruit and vegetables, you will experience an over-abundance of ripe produce sooner or later.

Knowing how to preserve foods means you can use them at a later time, without resorting to the grocery stores.

  • Freezing - you can blanch many vegetables in hot water, then freeze them. Also de-stone fruits such as cooking plums, and freeze them in sturdy freezer bags.
  • Pre-made and frozen meals - freeze uneaten portions of dishes to use as a quick meal instead of take-away! Alternatively, cook large batches of a meal after buying ingredients in bulk.
  • Canning and bottling - cook and store fruits and vegetables in glass jars, make your own pickled onions or cucumbers, or fruits in syrups. You can even bottle the extra juice from cooking down fruits to make jam as a 'juice concentrate' and use it like cordial.
  • Drying and dehydrating - hang and dry herbs for use in winter, dry cut tomatoes in a low oven, store dried beans, peas and corn and re-hydrate before using. You can even dry your own fruit and make fruit leathers.

Orange vanilla syrup from left-over orange zest.
Orange vanilla syrup from left-over orange zest. | Source

Use and save leftovers

Instead of over-eating, freeze left-over portions for quick meals when you have no time to cook. Don't forget to label your freezer packages and include the date - many dishes look similar when frozen!

Tips for using scraps, normally thrown away

  • You can make a delicious orange syrup from the zest of juiced oranges - don't just throw away the rind!
  • Juiced lemon rinds can be used as a scrubbing pad with a little bicarbonate of soda, perfect for cleaning sinks or other metal surfaces.
  • Or you can candy fine strips of lemon rind to use in cakes or as a sweet snack, rich in vitamin C and fiber.
  • Save any chicken carcases after a roast and freeze until you have enough to make your own stock. Add the washed peel from carrots, parsnips, the tops from celery and fennel, and even peeled ginger rind to the frozen tub. When you have enough, tip everything into a large pot, fill with water and cook for several hours to get a fantastic stock!

Look at left-over foods with a creative eye - search for ways they can be used!

Make your own staples

Does your family use a pile of tortillas? Mine does! But at about €4 per packet of 8 tortillas, we can rarely afford to buy them. It's so much cheaper to make my own tortillas, with flour, water and salt.

In some countries, it's cheaper to make your own bread than buying it from the shops. Or making your own tomato puree or sauce. Or even to make your own jams, syrups and marmalade.

Compare the prices for your common pre-made grocery items, and how much it would cost to make your own. If there is a large difference, then go with the cheaper option!

Making my own fruit buns for Easter.
Making my own fruit buns for Easter. | Source

Avoid packaged and junk meals and snacks

Prepared meals and packaged foods often cost a lot more than cooking the equivalent from scratch. Junk food is also quite expensive, and terrible for health. It's best to avoid having either in your grocery shop!

Healthy and cheap snacks

  • fruits - bananas, apples, pears - anything that is in season.
  • dried fruits - great when your favorite fruits are not in season, or for a school snack.
  • home-made low-sugar muffins or cookies.
  • water instead of soda or cordial.
  • a handful of vegetable sticks (red bell pepper, cucumber, carrots) with a scoop of peanut butter.
  • baked sweet potato and pumpkin squares, delicious even when cold.
  • salads - make a large batch of potato salad, tomato salad, fruit salad or other salads that don't include vegetables or fruits that wilt, and snack on them from the refrigerator.

Use non-stick pans

A good quality non-stick pan can reduce the amount of oil or fat used when cooking - much healthier and saves money!

Tip: Make sure you always clean non-stick pans with a non-scratch cloth.

Heating olive oil to a high heat in a non-stick pan can ruin the non-stick surface - I found this out the hard way!

Using a large tub to store collected water and save on water bills.
Using a large tub to store collected water and save on water bills. | Source

Trim other areas of the family budget

If you reduce costs in other areas of the family budget, you'll have a bit more room to maneuver in the grocery aisles.

  • Don't buy disposables. Use reusable cloths for cleaning, washable plates, cutlery and glasses, a re-usable lunch box, reusable shower caps, etc.
  • Make your own cleaning products. Vinegar, bicarbonate of soda, lemons, soap and borax are typically much cheaper than commercial cleaning products, and work just as well. Kids love mixing concoctions, and will have fun making their own cleaning products.
  • Reduce bills and household costs. Replace blown light globes with energy saving, long lived LED globes that uses a tiny fraction of the electricity. Collect the cold water as you wait for warm water to run through to the faucet, and use it on the garden. Repair torn clothes or use as cleaning rags instead of throwing them away. There are many more ways you can reduce household costs!
  • Cut down on family text message costs. Many modern cellphones can access the internet as part of their payment plans. Use email, or use a private twitter account to send messages between family members.

Make it a competition!

With older children, you can include them in the meal planning. It's a great way to teach them the skills they need, later in their lives (budgeting, cooking, planning, saving, etc.)

By making it a competition, many children will be more enthusiastic. See who can:

  • create the healthiest and most inexpensive meals
  • save the most in other areas of the household budget
  • grow the best produce
  • make the best jams or tortillas
  • and more ...

How do you save on grocery bills?

There are many other ways to save - what are your tips?

Let us know in the comments below!

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Comments 9 comments

Sturgeonl profile image

Sturgeonl 4 years ago

Some really terrific ideas and suggestions for maximizing the food bill. I appreciate the chart that lists fresh foods in season. Voted up and useful.


barbergirl28 profile image

barbergirl28 4 years ago from Hemet, Ca

Great advice. I have to say, I have really been slacking on making a grocery list lately and that has lead to a lot of impulse buying. Better planning always helps with the budget!


HawaiiHeart profile image

HawaiiHeart 4 years ago from Hawaii

Great tips - growing my own produce is a goal of mine. I tried it once but failed, but I really want to try again.


Thelma Alberts profile image

Thelma Alberts 4 years ago from Germany

A lot of great tips here. I usually buy vegetables and fruits during summer time. Strawberries for winter cakes or so. Fruits and vegetables that are on season and preserved them by freezing them for wintertime. Voted up and useful. Thanks for sharing.


nifwlseirff profile image

nifwlseirff 4 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany Author

Thanks Thelma! I wish I had a larger freezer, then I'd be able to take advantage of fruits on special. Are there any fruits / vegetables you'd recommend *not* freezing, instead perhaps preserving another way?


alphajuno profile image

alphajuno 4 years ago from League City, TX

Thanks for the great ideas and tips. We have a "dollar store" nearby and some of the things we normally eat can be found for a dollar. They even have bread for a dollar that usually costs twice that or more in a regular store.


renegadetory profile image

renegadetory 3 years ago from Ottawa, Ontario

Excellent suggestions here, many that I employ myself in my never ending quest to save money on our grocery bill. We add lots of veggies to everything and my husband and I only eat meat 2-3 times a week and when we eat meat, it's a small portion.

When it comes to cleaning you can't go wrong with baking soda and vinegar, cheap and very effective!

Great hub, Voted up!


nifwlseirff profile image

nifwlseirff 3 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany Author

Alphajuno - Bread for a dollar - I can't imagine that! and Germany is much cheaper than where I came from (Australia). Glad you found the tips useful!


nifwlseirff profile image

nifwlseirff 3 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany Author

Renegadetory - Thank you! Bicarb and vinegar are cleaning staples in my house - so much cheaper than the harsher cleaners.

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