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How to Eat Healthy on a Budget

Updated on September 1, 2012

It's possible to eat healthy on a budget. Many people mistakenly think that in order to eat a healthy diet they need to purchase organic produce, expensive packaged foods that are labeled 'all natural' or expensive meats labeled as hormone free. This is simply not true. And if you're on a budget, you don't have to be relegated to purchasing white bread, crackers, and Hawaiian Punch. There are many ways to eat healthy, satisfying, and tasty foods without breaking your budget. It all starts with going for the unprocessed versions of your favorite foods and buying in bulk. By following the advice shown below, you might find that you're actually spending less on groceries than you did while following a less healthy diet. Give it a try and see how you can eat healthy on a budget.

Eat Healthy on a Budget With Unprocessed Foods

It's always less expensive to purchase unprocessed versions of your favorite foods rather than buying the overly processed products that fill the supermarket. And it just happens that these unprocessed counterparts are also healthier. They contain less sodium and sugar and no artificial flavors or colors. They're also less refined meaning that if you eat whole oatmeal rather than those processed oatmeal packets, you'll get more of the health benefits from that food because you get the whole grain.

You may be thinking to yourself that you don't have time to prepare unprocessed foods and that you buy processed foods because they save significant time. I believe that this is a fallacy that can be quickly overcome if you give it a try. Cooking unprocessed versions of your favorite foods takes very little time and effort if planned well and will help you eat healthier too. Below are some of my favorites:

Food
Unprocessed Substitute
Cost per Serving
Preparation
Microwaveable Popcorn
Buy whole kernal popcorn rather than the microwaveable version or chips.
$.80 per 100 calorie bag vs. $.18 per serving for dry
It takes only a few minutes to pop popcorn in a pan on the stovetop
Meat or Canned Beans and Lentils
Use dried beans and lentils instead of meat or their canned counterparts.
$2.99 - $5.99 per pound of meat vs. $1.25/pound for dried beans
Prepare beans in bulk and freeze individual servings for later use.
Boxed or Microwaveable Brown Rice
Purchase large bags of dried brown rice instead of the boxed or microwaveable versions.
$.39 per serving for boxed vs. $.17 per serving for dry
Prepare brown rice in bulk and freeze individual servings for later use.
Oatmeal Packets
Purchase bulk containers of whole, unprocessed oatmeal instead of the single packets.
$.41 for 1 packet vs. $.16 per for whole oats
Whole oats can be prepared in the microwave in a few minutes.
Source: Grocery prices from Safeway.com

Save Money on Healthy Foods by Buying in Bulk

Buying healthy, unprocessed foods in bulk can save a significant amount of money. So why don't more people do it? I think it could be that they're concerned about eating the food before it goes bad or perhaps they feel they can't afford the initial outlay of money to buy large bulk containers. Although you will put more money into the purchase up-front, these bulk purchases will pay off over time with a lower cost per serving. If you freeze what you won't use right away, you should be able to use it up before it goes bad.

The price comparisons shown above are typical grocery store prices. If you shop around, you should be able to purchase the unprocessed versions in bulk for an even lower price per serving.

One of my favorite places to shop in bulk is Costco, however BJ's and Sam's Club would have similar deals. At Costco, you can purchase bulk spices such as cinnamon (perfect for your oatmeal), salt, pepper, garlic powder, and more. Raw nuts, which are so expensive to purchase at the grocery store, are also a great deal at Costco. I like to purchase large bags of walnuts and almonds for snacking. Keep them fresh by storing them in the refrigerator. Eggs and liquid egg substitutes can also be purchased at a steep discount to grocery store prices at Costco. So can bread. I recently purchased two loaves of 100% whole wheat bread for $4.19. You can freeze one and put the other in the refrigerator to keep them fresh. This compares to about $4.50 per loaf at my grocery store.

The only thing I wouldn't recommend purchasing at Costco is meats. I've found that I can get a better deal on meat if I purchase it on sale at the grocery store. When I find a good deal, I stock up and freeze the meats until I need them. Or, I prepare it and freeze the cooked meats until I'm ready to eat them. Another option for meats is to purchase in bulk directly from a local farmer. I've never tried this but have heard of people who shared a side of beef with a friend and kept it in their freezer, saving a lot of money.

Other Ideas for Eating Healthy on a Budget

If you have more time and are motivated, there are additional things you can do to eat healthy on a budget. Specifically, growing your own vegetables and raising your own chickens are things that will save dramatically on your grocery bill.

A vegetable garden, or even just a container garden for tomatoes, can save significant dollars on your grocery bill. Recent tomato prices at my grocery store were $2.99 a pound. Purchasing one tomato plant from the nursery for the same price will yield pounds and pounds of juicy tomatoes.

Recently, I've been hearing about quite a few people keeping hens in their backyards. At first I thought it was a crazy coincidence but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it makes sense. An egg-laying hen will cost only $8-$15 and a few of these will produce ample eggs for your family year-round. They don't take up much space either.

Money Saving Recipe Ideas

Oatmeal: Add boiling water to 1/2 cup of whole oats. Stir and let sit for a minute. Add brown sugar, cinnamon, raisins, and chopped walnuts to taste.

Brown Rice: Cook brown rice according to directions on package adding one or two chicken flavored bouillon cubes to the cooking water. Season with dried or fresh tarragon.

Black Beans: Cook black beans according to package directions. When finished stir in salsa for a spicy and healthy treat.

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    • funmontrealgirl profile image

      funmontrealgirl 

      6 years ago from Montreal

      The brown rice and large containers of oatmeal are smart and two things I do. I love maple syrup with my plain oatmeal. Cheaper here in Canada than the US I am guessing.

    • BlissfulWriter profile image

      BlissfulWriter 

      7 years ago

      Yes, I found that I spend a lot on food (because I am a health nut). I buy organic fruits and vegetables when I find them, which tends to be more expensive.

      I was looking for cans of beans and olives. I found that those healthier ones without chemical presevatives in jars are more expensive than those that with chemical presevatives and stabilizers in cans. Needless to say, I ended up buying the former.

      I do agree that you can not just look at the "health claims" on the labels of packaged foods, and be fooled into purchasing expensive "well-advertised" products. Look at the ingredients and sugar content labels instead. I tend not to buy foodstuff in boxes much anyways. I mostly pick out individual food items in the produce section.

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