Here is how I eat healthy on a tight budget and how you can too!
Healthy food was one of the things that helped me to recover my health. Food laid the foundation for my body to recover from multiple chronic health problems. Because of this, healthy food is a priority for me. Even so, I am on a budget and I don’t need to spend very much.
The Cheapest Most Nutritious Foods
I choose the foods that I buy very carefully. I want my food to help me balance my hormones, maintain a healthy weight, and fight off diseases. I have some pretty high standards.
The most nutritious foods have some things in common:
- Nutritious foods are full of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidants.
- Nutritious foods are low in harmful synthetic chemicals.
- Nutritious foods don’t have fake vitamins or processed ingredients.
There are many foods that meet these criteria and are super healthy, but some have a really big price tag. I want to share with you how I cover my nutritional bases and still stay within a tight budget. The foods I talk about below are some of the most nutrient dense foods that don’t cost too much.
Here are my favorite tips on how to save money on groceries (without coupons!). These are the things I do to keep my family nourished and healthy, but also stay within my budget.
1. DOn’t buy Too Many Organic Fruits and Vegetables
I definitely don’t buy all my fruits and vegetables organic. The Environmental Working Group has a list of the cleanest fruits and vegetables-those that have very little pesticide residues on them. These fruits and veggies are pretty safe to buy even if they are not organic. I take full advantage of this for my budget’s sake. I often buy these things and don’t worry if they are organic or not.
One thing to keep in mind though is that 3 of the things on the safe list-sweet corn, papaya, and summer squash have been genetically modified.
This doesn’t mean that the sweet corn, papaya, and summer squash in your local grocery store is genetically modified-just that it could be. So, those might be something you would want to be either non gmo or organic. (Organic certification also means that they are non gmo.) I personally don’t buy much of any of these things so I don’t worry about it.
I try to choose organic if the fruit or vegetable is on the Environmental Working Groups dirty dozen. The dirty dozen is a list of the fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residues.
However, I do buy non organic produce. (There are some weeks when I really need to save money on groceries.)
Here are a few ways that I minimize pesticide residues on my produce and keep my grocery spending low:
- I buy cheap fruit. I wrote a whole article about how I do that.
- I buy organically if it doesn’t cost much more. For example, potatoes are on the dirty dozen list and they are usually cheap per pound even if I buy organic. So, I often buy organic.
- I soak my produce in apple cider vinegar and water and wash well. This helps to remove pesticides.
- I buy lots of frozen vegetables because they are inexpensive and you can find veggies low in pesticide residues like broccoli, cauliflower, and peas. Also, many organic frozen veggies are inexpensive.
2. Eat Cheap Starches
This is one trick I use to save a ton of money on groceries without having to use coupons- I buy a lot of cheap starches. I make sure that my meals are balanced– I don’t go crazy eating starches. But, we do eat cheap healthy starches to keep our grocery budget low. We eat a lot of healthy white rice, potatoes, popcorn, sweet potatoes, kabocha squash, peas, butter beans and applesauce.
We use these cheap starches as side dishes for our meals. I make sure that we have adequate protein at every meal, but I don’t serve huge portions of protein. I serve 3-5 ounces of high quality meat or a couple of eggs per person per meal. And then I serve vegetables and cheap starches to fill in for the rest of the meal. This makes our grocery bill much lower.
3. eat unconventional snacks
I don’t keep junk food in the house. So, whenever my kids are ready for a snack, I serve them something like peas with butter, butterbeans with butter, applesauce or popcorn. If they are really hungry and need extra protein, they eat a cheese stick and a piece of healthy toast.
They are happy because they are used to it, and because they know my heart is to keep them healthy and happy. Even if they occasionally wish we had premade snacks like other people, they know that I choose healthy food for them because I love them.
I save a ton of money by not buying “snack foods” and I know we are healthier for it.
4. Make your own snack bars, muffins etc.
If you would rather serve more conventional snacks, but still want to eat clean on a budget, consider making your own snacks.
You can make your own healthy bars, cracker, etc. for a small fraction of what it costs to buy snacks at the grocery store.
The queen of homemade snacks (in my opinion) is Katie from Kitchen Stewardship. Her comprehensive snack book has tons of really healthy snacks that are kid approved.
Katie also teaches kids how to make their own snacks. My girls have enjoyed learning cooking techniques from Katie. She is a good teacher and she makes things easy to understand. You can check out her snack making lessons here.
5. Consider ditching milk
I save money on dairy a few different ways. The first one might shock you: I never buy milk. There are a couple of reasons for this. The main reason is that the more I researched the more I realized that conventional dairy had a lot of problems. In fact, Jordan Rubin named it one of the most unhealthy foods that you can consume.
(Jordan Rubin’s book explains his near death experience and the answers he found to recover from his Chron’s disease. Healthy food was a big part of his recovery.)
I remember reading Jordan Rubin’s book and thinking that if milk was that unhealthy than why was I spending so much money on it! Not all milk is bad, but the healthy kind was unavailable to me. (I basically would have had to raise a cow and milk it myself!)
Also, I discovered that many people with chronic illnesses or even hormonal problems get much better if they cut out dairy (or at least minimize it).
I am not saying that no one should eat dairy. If you aren’t sensitive to dairy, than raw milk or full fat pasteurized non homogenized milk (from grass fed animals) can help you reverse cavities and keep your bones strong.
But since I wasn’t able to source this type of milk for my girls (I am currently dairy free), I decided to forgo milk altogether.
I decided instead that I would buy grass fed butter, and a little cheese. That way my family would be getting the benefits from dairy, and not the drawbacks. I buy Kerrygold butter because it is grass fed. It is a dark yellow color because it is significantly richer in fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins than conventional butter.
I buy conventional cheese-we don’t eat a whole lot of it and so I haven’t worried about buying organic.
6. buy cheap eggs
The healthiest eggs come from chickens that are free range. I am not against buying these type of eggs if you can find a good farmer. If the chickens are truly raised in the right way, the yolks of these eggs will be a deep orange color and are so good for you.
However if you are on a budget, you can be like me and buy the cheapest eggs in the grocery store! Conventional eggs still have a lot of nutrients and protein but they are dirt cheap. Also, I wouldn’t worry about buying the more expensive eggs that the grocery store carries because they aren’t that much better.
I know this because I have done a little egg experiment. This is what I did-I bought all different kinds of eggs-cheap eggs, organic eggs, free range eggs, and cage free eggs. We cracked each of the different kinds and they all looked the same! None of them had the deep orange yolks that you can find if you buy from a good local farmer.
Moral of the story-find a local farmer or just buy cheap eggs (you will still get a healthy dose of protein and nutrients even if they aren’t perfect!)
If you eat eggs instead of meat, you can make some really cheap meals.
7. Eat Cheaper Meats
One of the quickest ways to cut food costs is to buy cheaper meat. However, since you are reading this, I know you want to know how to eat healthy on a tight budget. Which means you want clean healthy meats and not bologna!
I definitely prioritize healthy meat in my diet. I think high quality protein is important for detox and a healthy immune system. It also helps me to keep my blood sugar stable. I also think that meat can vary greatly in its quality. There is a big difference in grass fed beef and conventional beef.
So, I buy the cheapest grass fed beef I can find. For me, that means I buy ground beef from my local farmer. You may be able to buy half of a cow from a local farmer and get a really good price per pound. (And then you would have a variety of beef cuts.)
I also often buy boneless skinless chicken breasts because there is less of a chance of the meat having unwanted toxins. (Toxins are often stored in the fat.)
8. Keep a list of dirt cheap healthy Food
Here is a list of foods that are usually the cheapest healthy things you can buy in the grocery store. These are the things you will want to eat when you are poor or you want to save money for something else. These items are really cheap all the time (no coupons needed!)
If you buy and eat these items, you could easily spend less than $100 a week for a family of four. Especially if you eat more beans for your protein (like in these meals).
Here are some of the best foods to buy when you are broke:
- Spaghetti Squash
- Butternut Squash
- Acorn Squash
- Sweet Potatoes
- Peanut Butter
- Dried beans
- Chicken breast
- Canned Alaskan Salmon
If you want a more complete list, you can download my Cheap Clean Eating Grocery List.
If you want more inspiration on how to eat healthy on a tight budget, check out some of my other posts-