One of the most common questions I get asked is how to shop for healthy groceries on a budget. It seems like a lot of people want to eat healthy but think it’s too expensive.
The truth is, while junky microwaveable dinners and drive-through menus might seem cheaper than buying healthy food at the grocery store, it’s actually possible (and easy) to shop for healthy groceries on a budget.
Here are the keys to shopping for healthy groceries on a budget.
Related: The Average Cost of Groceries
How to Buy Healthy Food For Cheap
1. Plan Ahead
You've probably heard the expression, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." This is particularly true when it comes to eating healthy on a budget.
Each weekend, sit down and plan out all of your meals for the upcoming week. I like to have all of my local grocery store catalogues with me so I can see what is on special that week and build my meal plans around that. For example, if chicken breasts are half price that week, I'll plan a few meals that use chicken breasts.
Planning ahead like this allows you to take advantage of store specials and stops you from having to impulse buy junk food.
Find meal planning difficult? Then check out $5 Meal Plan. For just $5 a month they'll send you a full weekly meal plan including shopping list, with all of the meals costing only a few dollars per person to make.
2. Cook From Scratch
I try to cook from scratch as much as possible - this helps save a ton of money.
My local bulk health food store sells healthy protein bites for $4 each. I've tried them and while they're certainly delicious, I can make at least a dozen for around $5. Making them from scratch myself saves me $43!
Likewise, it can be tempting to buy pre-chopped vegetables like butternut squash, onions, zucchini, etc., but you'll find that buying and chopping the vegetables yourself is substantially cheaper. My local grocery store sells a small bag of pre-chopped butternut squash for $4. For the same amount of money, I can buy two large butternut squashes which will yield me probably 10 times as much squash.
3. Eat Cheap, Healthy Snacks
Buying pre-packaged snacks can make a huge dent in your grocery budget. It might seem cheap - $4 here, $2 there, but before you know it, you've spent $40 that week on snacks.
4. Go Meat-Free a Few Times a Week
Meat can be expensive - in fact, it probably makes up a large portion of your grocery bill. Going meat-free a few times a week can add up to substantial savings. Check out my Pinterest board for lots of healthy meat-free meal ideas.
5. Eat Seasonally
Produce that is in season not only tastes better, it costs less, too. Obviously, what's in season will vary based on where you live, so do a quick google search to see what's currently in season and then try to plan your meals around these foods.
6. Make Cheap, Healthy Breakfasts
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day (it sounds like a cliche, but it's true.) Unfortunately, breakfast also seems to be the meal that people are most likely to skip or eat something unhealthy like a bacon, egg and cheese muffin and a frappe.
But it's actually very easy to eat a healthy breakfast on the cheap. Oatmeal is incredibly cheap and probably one of the healthiest breakfasts you can have. Top it with some fresh, seasonal fruit, a small drizzle of honey if you need some extra sweetness, and you've got yourself a healthy, cheap breakfast.
7. Clip Coupons
If you're in the United States then you're in luck when it comes to coupons - there are a ton. And while a lot of coupons tend to be for junk food, if you look carefully you'll come across a few gems. I regularly come across coupons for things like salsa, cheese, almond milk - these savings really add up over the course of a year.
8. Use Ibotta
Ibotta is another U.S. only app, but if you're in the United States and not using Ibotta then you need to start - it's one of the best ways to save money on healthy groceries!
If you're not familiar with Ibotta, it's a free app that gives you cash back on a huge variety of grocery store items. Unlike other apps which are always brand-specific, Ibotta often gives cash back on things like "any brand of milk" or "any cereal" meaning you don't have to buy an expensive brand to get cash back.
Ibotta also gives cash back on fresh produce, which is often impossible to find coupons for.
Click here to join Ibotta and you'll get a bonus $10 rebate.
9. Shop When Food is Reduced
Start taking notice of when your grocery store marks down certain items, and take advantage of that. For example, two of my local grocery stores will start marking down meat and bread at around 4:30pm on a Saturday, so I will often make a quick trip to see if there's anything I need.
10. Drink Water
Water is the healthiest thing you can drink, and it's also the cheapest.
Think about this: the average human body is around 60% water. Not soda. Not juice. Not wine.
Start drinking more water and less soft drinks, juice, flavored milk, alcohol etc. Your body and your wallet will thank you! Don't like the taste of water, or find it boring? Get one of these.
11. Use a Slow Cooker
If you don't have a slow cooker, I highly recommend investing in one now. It doesn't have to be expensive - I have this one, which I paid $25 for and have been using for years!
Slow cookers are a lifesaver when it comes to preparing healthy meals on a budget. You're able to utilize cheaper cuts of meat because a slow cooker does an amazing job at tenderizing them. Just throw everything into the slow cooker and you'll have a healthy meal ready for you at the end of the day.
12. Use Lots of Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices have the ability to transform a boring, flavorless meal into something amazing. One of my favorite cheap, healthy dishes that utilized the power of herbs and spices is mujadara. This meal is made of primarily lentils and and brown rice which by themselves, can be rather bland.
But the addition of a variety of herbs and spices makes this an incredibly flavorful dish that costs next to nothing to make.
13. Cook in Bulk and Freeze Half
Cooking in bulk and freezing half is a great way to take advantage of ingredients you've gotten on sale. It also ensures that you've always got a healthy meal on hand for the times that you don't have time (or don't feel like) cooking dinner.
14. Don't Waste Anything
I shudder to think of the food I used to waste when I was younger. I remember cleaning out my refrigerator every weekend and throwing out multiple grocery bags full of food that had gone bad - such a waste.
Meal planning can help to avoid wasting food, but I also suggest going through your refrigerator and pantry every couple of days and checking to see if there is anything that is nearing is expiration date. For example, if you see some bananas that are starting to go brown, chop them up and put them in the freezer or make some healthy banana muffins.
Or if you have multiple containers of leftovers that have been there for a couple of days, have a "leftovers night" for dinner that night.
15. Buy When Things Are Reduced and Freeze Them
Each week I go through my local grocery store catalogues and my Ibotta app, and make a note of what is currently on special.
If, for example, strawberries are super cheap that week, I'll buy a few punnets, wash and freeze them for later.
16. Don't be Loyal to Any Store
Although I have a few grocery stores that I prefer to shop at, I'm not loyal to any one store. Being loyal to one grocery store is going to cost you a lot of money.
Now, I certainly don't drive around the entire city for the best deals but I will go to two or max. three different stores if there are some worthwhile deals. You'll have to decide for yourself, but it can save $10 by purchasing my milk and meat at one store, and then another $10 buy purchasing my produce at a different store, that's worth if for me.
17. Buy Frozen Fruits & Vegetables
Believe it or not, frozen fruits and vegetables are usually just as healthy, if not healthier as fresh, but often cheaper. When fruits and vegetables are flash frozen very soon after being harvested, it locks in the vitamins and minerals. Additionally, frozen fruits and vegetables are usually picked at their peak ripeness, which is when the nutritional benefits are the greatest.
18. Bulk Up Your Meals With Cheap Ingredients
A great, cost-effective way to add bulk to your meals is buy using ingredients like potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, lentils, beans, chickpeas, etc.
Adding these ingredients to things like soups, stews, chili, etc., will make your meals go a lot further, be more filling, and add extra nutrients. The best part is, these sorts of ingredients cost next-to-nothing compared to meat.
19. Check Out Your Local Farmers Market
I regularly frequent my locals farmers market for fresh, budget-friendly fruits and vegetables. It's a great way to get to know the people who are growing your food, increase your mindfulness when it comes to eating, and save money in the process.
20. Grow Your Own Herbs
If you've shopped for herbs at any grocery store recently, you'll know how expensive they are. A small container of basil can cost $4 or more!
Growing your own herbs is fun and will save you a ton of money. It costs next to nothing to get started and your herb plants will very soon be producing more herbs than you can keep up with.
This Planters Choice Organic Herb Growing Kit allows you to easily grow basil, cilantro, chives and parsley, is 100% organic non-GMO, and has the best growing success rate on the market.