In a world where choosing fresh, healthy options is often less convenient and more expensive, it can be hard to pivot towards healthier eating habits, especially if you have a tight budget. But if you’ve looked at your grocery bill lately, you may be well aware that the price of food is going up — and quickly — making eating fresh, healthy foods an even costlier endeavor than before.
Denice Taylor, a registered dietitian nutritionist on the staff at Texas Health Arlington, is right alongside you and knows what a struggle it can be to put a healthy meal on the table without breaking the bank, especially during an already turbulent couple of years.
“Many of us know tips and tricks to save money at the grocery store, but now in 2022 we need to put these tips into real action,” Taylor says. “With planning, knowledge and a little extra effort, you can eat healthy, filling meals while staying within budget.”
Plan, then Stick
Chances are you already know heading into the grocery store without a plan can be a costly mistake. While planning ahead does take time, the small bit of time you spend before walking through those sliding doors can have a big payoff when you end up only grabbing exactly what you need.
Taylor suggests setting aside some time before you do your usual weekly grocery run to plan your meals for the week. It could help to print out a calendar, or jot down mealtimes every day of the week, plus any extenuating circumstances, such as providing the team snack this week or hosting the in-laws. You can even get some inspiration for meals by taking a look through the grocery flyers to see what’s on sale at the moment.
Make sure to also do a check of your fridge or pantry for any ingredients you already have that you can use in the upcoming week. Creating meals from what you have, or not accidentally buying double, can be an easy way to lower your grocery bill.
To make sure you’re building healthy meals, think of your meal by what’s going on the plate. Organize each plate by including a protein (plant or lean animal), carbohydrate (starchy or non-starchy will depend on your unique health needs), and plenty of veggies. It can help to mentally divide out your plate using the Plate Method: half the plate is dedicated to vegetables, while the other half gets split between a lean protein source and a carb.
It can also be helpful to build out a series of meals that share common ingredients, so you’re not wasting anything. For instance, a rotisserie chicken, already cooked ground turkey, or a big batch of oven-roasted vegetables can be used in several different dishes throughout the week while lessening your time cooking. Taylor notes dried beans, peas and lentils are also very affordable while being powerhouses for taste, fiber and essential vitamins and minerals.
Beyond stretching ingredients, think of ways you can stretch a meal. Search online for delicious healthy recipes like soups and casseroles that are budget-friendly and easy meals to freeze for later. For example, you can make a large batch of soup (like the one Taylor provided below) that can last throughout the week, or if you only plan on eating it once or twice, freeze any leftovers for quick, “free” meals down the road.
Once you jot down your grocery list based on what you’ll be making throughout the week, stick to the list. While this is easier said than done, having a list in hand will help reduce impulse buys.
As a good rule of thumb, try to shop the outer edge of the store first. This is where stores typically place whole foods and will make you more likely to fill your cart with them first. Another trick, set your sights high or low in the aisles because the more expensive items are typically located right at eye level on a shelf. You’ll find your best bargains on those top or bottom shelves.
Don’t Be Afraid of Generic or Coupons
Brand loyalty is a driving force for many big retailers but most stores offer generic, in-house brands of many food items. While you may think they’re lower quality, all food manufacturers have to follow standards to provide safe food. The generic brands may be the same quality as other national brands, without the name brand price tag.
While the days of physically clipping coupons are long gone, coupons still exist in digital form or through grocery store rewards programs. With your grocery list already filled out, you can easily search for coupons online ahead of time. Once more, if you can’t find a coupon for that can of corn on your list, but you find one for a can of peas your family still loves, consider making the swap.
Rethink Your Protein Sources
Some of the most delicious foods have come from humble beginnings. For instance, did you know brisket was long considered a budget cut of meat? Now, brisket and Texas are almost synonymous — and the price tag reflects that.
Taylor notes that when trying to stick to a budget, protein sources can be the most expensive part of your grocery bill. Take advantage of what’s on sale at the time and compare price per pound. Look for chuck steak, pork top sirloin steak, whole chicken, or ground meat or poultry that you can incorporate into your recipes.
“This may even be a time in which you choose to cut back on meat and choose less expensive sources of protein, such as plant proteins,” Taylor adds. “Plant proteins are a great way to still get protein and fiber in your diet without added fat. Do some research on plants that are high in protein, and you’ll be shocked to see some rival how much protein is provided in animal sources.”
Speaking of plants, Taylor notes that frozen or canned veggies are just as nutritious as fresh because they’re often picked within the peak of their growing season. Buy fresh if it’s in season, a good price and you plan to use it right away, but canned and frozen veggies are often cheaper options that are “always in season” and ready to go when you are.
These are challenging times for many, and it seems like every day you may be looking for more ways to stretch a dollar. But there are many ways to eat healthy foods even on a tight budget. You may need to take some time to plan ahead, look for deals and make some compromises when it comes to brand names or ingredients, but prioritizing your health now costs you less down the road.
Looking for Healthy Recipe Inspiration? Check out the websites below: