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How to Eat Healthy for Cheap

A dad and his son make food

Healthy meals can often feel unattainable when you’re on a budget, especially with the current cost of groceries. While things like packaged vegan snacks and lean cuts of meat certainly are expensive, there are many ways that you can prepare healthy meals without breaking the bank. After all, a cheap diet doesn’t have to be a bad diet.

Here are some of our best tips to help you eat healthy on a budget, with advice from registered dietician nutritionist Frances Largeman-Roth and registered dietician Jen Scheinman.

Plan Your Meals

Someone fills out a meal plan

Planning your meals is one of the best ways to save money on your groceries, according to Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a nutrition expert, mom of three, and author of the upcoming Everyday Snack Tray (Revell, November 2023).

“When you go to the grocery store with a set menu and grocery list, you’re less likely to pick up unnecessary items that might drive your grocery bill up or spend money on takeout that is typically less healthy than cooking at home,” she said.

By planning your meals in advance, you can stick to your list and avoid unnecessary purchases. Largeman-Roth recommends doing a little meal and snack prep when you have the time, whether that’s on the weekend or early in the morning. It’s fine to leave some wiggle room for a few meals to account for changes in your schedule. This can also help you avoid wasting food.

Cook at Home

Two friends eatin together
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com

“With so many prepared meals readily available it can be tempting to save time by taking advantage of this convenience, but it comes at a cost,” said Jen Scheinman, RD & Nutrition Affairs Manager of Timeline Nutrition. “There’s a substantial markup on these meals so cooking from scratch is a much better option in terms of both cost savings and better nutrition.”

Learning how to cook simple, healthy meals at home will usually be cheaper and healthier than eating out. You can control the ingredients and portion sizes, and you can also save money by buying ingredients in bulk to use multiple times.

Eating healthy at home doesn’t mean you’re stuck with boring, tasteless meals. You can make healthier versions of your favorite restaurant dishes that are still cheaper than eating out. Even if every dinner isn’t necessarily “healthy,” you’ll know exactly what is going into your body.

Buy in Bulk

Someone buys rice in bulk

Purchasing items like grains, nuts, and dried fruits in bulk can save you money in the long run because you will often pay less per ounce than purchasing smaller amounts. Look for bulk food sections in your local grocery store or check out online retailers.

Buying healthy food in bulk when you have the opportunity to do so can also be helpful for people who live in a food desert or don’t have easy access to fresh, healthy food, explains Scheinman.

Costco and Sam’s Club are two popular warehouse stores that sell items in bulk. These places can help you save a lot of money on many items, including healthy food and even appliances to help you make that food.

If you are only shopping for one or two people, buying in bulk might not actually help. You don’t want to end up buying too much produce or fresh food at once and have it go bad before you can eat it. Buying in bulk is usually the most effective for families.

Vtopmart Cereal Storage Container Set

Perfect for storing your bulk meals.

Look For Sales

Coupons at a grocery store
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com

Check the weekly ads and promotions at your local grocery store to find out which healthy foods are on sale. You can also take advantage of coupons and cashback offers to save even more money. When you find a sale on healthy foods that you use frequently, you can stock up and save money in the long run.

“Sales are also a great time to stock up on more expensive items like fish or meat to keep in your freezer,” Scheinman said.

Don’t forget to look into store rewards programs. Many stores offer exclusive coupons and sales for members, and the programs are often free. Ask a cashier about any rewards programs on your next shopping trip.

Stock Up on Affordable Foods

A woman shops in the grocery store

There are many foods that are healthy and affordable if you know what to look for. Largeman-Roth suggests stocking up on products like grains, pasta, and canned beans, which will last a long time in your pantry and can round out any meal.

Largeman-Roth also advises not to underestimate the importance of high-quality snacks that keep you full throughout the day.

“My latest go-to snack staple is Kemps® Smooth Cottage Cheese, which is a new cottage cheese blended with real fruit, combining the high protein and nutritional value of traditional cottage cheese with the flavor and texture of yogurt,” she said. “Perfect for kids and adults!”

Having tasty, filling snacks that keep you full will help you from mindlessly snacking during the day and will save you money on those extra snacks.

Buy Frozen Food

A man grocery shops

Frozen fruits and vegetables are often cheaper than fresh produce, and they are just as nutritious, says Largeman-Roth. They are also convenient since they can be stored for longer periods, reducing food waste. The average American household wastes about 250 pounds of food each year—that’s a lot of money! Buying frozen food will keep things fresh for longer and help you avoid throwing anything out.

“I love keeping frozen veggies stocked in my freezer,” Scheinman agreed. “This way, there is no chance of them spoiling, and they are cut, prepped, and cooked so all you need to do is reheat them.”

The same goes for frozen meat, including chicken, pork, and fish. As long as you’re avoiding breaded meats, you can get essentially the same product in the frozen section as you can in the meat section for much cheaper. To thaw meat before cooking, simply place it in a covered bowl in your refrigerator overnight.

Ziploc Two Gallon Food Storage Freezer Bags

Great for portioning out frozen food.

Freeze Your Leftovers

Frozen food in the freezer

Your freezer is one of your best resources when it comes to eating healthy on a budget. It can help reduce food waste, as you can save and use any excess food for future meals. This can help you save money by not having to throw away food that might go bad before you can use it up.

“Nearly everything can be frozen, like bread, tortillas, meats, and more,” Largeman-Roth explained. “Make sure to store pantry items properly in air-tight containers to maximize freshness.”

Additionally, freezing leftovers can be a time-saver, as you can simply reheat them for a quick and easy meal later on, which can be especially helpful on busy weeknights when you don’t have a lot of time to cook.

Rubbermaid 10-Piece Food Storage Containers with Lids

Top-rated freezer-safe food containers.

Use Cheaper Protein Sources

Rice, beans, and lentils
Lyudmila Zavyalova/Shutterstock.com

Protein is essential for a healthy diet, but it can be expensive. Some of the most expensive protein sources include red meat, seafood, and some cuts of poultry. However, there are plenty of cheaper protein sources that are just as nutritious, including lentils and canned fish like tuna and salmon.

Scheinman recommends every household has plenty of beans in the pantry, as these are great protein sources full of fiber and healthy carbohydrates. All of these options are often lower in cost and can be bought in bulk, making them an excellent choice for anyone looking to eat healthy on a budget.

Plant-based protein sources like tofu and tempeh can also be a great way to get your protein while also incorporating more vegetarian meals into your diet and saving some money.

Iberia Dry Lentils, 12 Ounce

Lentils are super versatile and super good for you.

Use Generic Brands

A couple grocery shops together

Using generic brands can help you eat cheap and healthy foods by reducing the cost of your grocery bill without sacrificing quality. Many generic brands offer the same quality and nutrition as their brand-name counterparts, but at a lower cost.

When shopping for generic brands, make sure to read the labels to ensure you’re getting a product that meets your nutritional needs. However, in many cases, generic brands can offer a great value while still providing the nutrients you need to support a healthy diet.

In conclusion, eating healthy on a budget is possible with a little planning and effort. By using these tips and tricks, you can save money while still maintaining a nutritious and balanced diet.

Anne Taylor Anne Taylor
Anne Taylor is a writer with a BA in Journalism and a passion for storytelling. Her work has been published on a variety of websites including Mental Floss and Well + Good, and she recently published her first novel, What it Takes to Lose. When she's not writing, Anne loves to travel (19 countries and counting), spend time outside, and play with her dog, Pepper. Read Full Bio »
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