Practicing healthy eating habits is challenging for many Americans. When you add the restrictions of a budget to that task, if often gets even harder. It seems like unhealthy foods are always the cheapest and most convenient. It’s hard to make good choices while shopping that don’t break the bank.
Luckily, with a little planning, knowledge, and involvement in your local community, eating healthy on a budget gets a whole lot easier. Healthy meal planning can be fun, achievable, and affordable if you know how to do it properly. Let’s take a look at some tips and tricks to get you started.
Make a Plan
Planning is perhaps the most important part of eating healthy on a budget and something that is often overlooked. Knowing how much you can afford to spend on food each month is essential to creating a household budget.
Practices like going out to eat, undervaluing your work, and not having a plan for saving are money traps that can impact your financial and physical health, so be sure to prioritize budgeting and knowing where you money is going each month.
It becomes easier to find the motivation to eat better food when your health is at stake. According to experts at Bradley University, “The widespread availability of convenience and fast foods, typically high in saturated fat, calories, salt and sugar is likely a major contributor to the obesity epidemic.”
Thankfully, healthy food doesn’t have to be expensive — especially if you make a meal plan ahead of time. Try to plan out lunches and dinner for the week in advance. Start small and then explore new foods and recipes as you practice and get into a routine.
Use $5 Meal Plan to eat delicious meal on the cheap! It's what my wife and I do!
Incorporating plans for breakfast and snacks, too, is ideal. If you can incorporate the same ingredients (like rice, condiments, and veggies, for example) into several different meals, you’re doing even better. That way, you have fewer things to buy and can keep your food bill lower.
When you plan meals ahead of time, you’re much less likely to be stuck out doing errands, realize you have nothing ready to eat at home, and grab lunch out at a restaurant. Before you know it, that type of thing is happening all the time, and your food budget is out the window. A little forward thinking goes a long way.
Localize Your Cooking & Shopping
Eating local food that’s in season is a great way to save money. Visit your local farmers market and look for organic food to base your meals around. Farmers will, of course, only be selling produce that is in season — therefore goods at their freshest.
Local produce will likely be cheaper than if you bought it at a grocery store or co-op, and it’s often healthier, too. When you do go to the grocery store, shop your way around the perimeter where the fresh veggies, fruits, and meats are and avoid the center aisles with prepackaged and prepared foods that likely won’t be good for your health or your bank account.
When eating locally, you might encounter things at the farmers market that you’re unfamiliar with. This gives you the opportunity to talk to a vendor, ask them about what they’re selling, and maybe learn a new recipe or two to go home with.
Getting involved in your local food scene can often earn you discounted food and produce. If you’re able, volunteer a few hours of your time each month at the local co-op in exchange for extra discounts when you shop there. You can also try volunteering on a local farm. Farmers often send volunteers home with armloads of fresh produce in exchange for a bit of help weeding or harvesting.
There’s no healthier or cheaper way to eat, though, than growing your own food. Seeds are much cheaper than buying produce every week of the year, and if you have the time and skills, growing some of your own veggies can be a satisfying and fulfilling way to achieve your healthy eating goals on a budget. Community gardens are a great place to start, as they offer a support system and a social aspect as well.
Eating healthy on a budget doesn’t have to be a chore or something that seems impossible. In fact, it can be a fun and fulfilling challenge that you can get creative with. With a focus on planning, knowledge, using whole foods, and getting involved in your local food scene, you’ll be able to meet your budget and health goals in no time.
Lettie Stratton is a writer and urban farmer in Boise, ID. A Vermont native, she is a lover of travel, tea, bicycles, plants, cooperative board games, and the outdoors. She’s still waiting for a letter from Hogwarts.
Josh founded Money Buffalo in 2015 to help people get out of debt and make smart financial decisions. He is currently a full-time personal finance writer with work featured in Forbes Advisor, Fox Business, and Credible.