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Healthy Eating on a Budget

We are fortunate to have so many people in this day and age on the healthy eating bandwagon. There’s a lot of online support for “clean eating” and recommendations for the best organic, grass-fed, non-GMO, pasture-raised, local meat, dairy, and produce. But, man! Have you tried to grocery shop that way?? Talk about sticker shock! Let me share a few tips and tricks to eat healthy AND save money.

Healthy eating on a budget... it can be done!

Meal Plan 

You knew it started here, right?! 🙂 Healthy eating, especially for a family, is much easier if you plan ahead. I try to consider three things when meal planning: sales, schedules, and preferences. Even if you aren’t cooking every single meal, side, and snack from scratch, meal planning and making a grocery list can be helpful. 

Make your meal plans based on sales in your local grocery store flyer (I get several mailed to me, but you can also find them online) to maximize your budget. This way you can make pork loin when it’s super cheap, and grilled chicken when it isn’t.

Also, consider your schedule. If it’s a soccer practice night, don’t plan to make a chicken dinner that takes 45 minutes in the oven. Make sliders, breakfast for dinner, or take the night off from cooking and reheat leftovers instead.

Lastly, think about your family’s preferences. There is definitely something to be said about being an adventurous eater and an experimental cook. That is me all the way! But you DO want your family to actually eat what you cook — and not to throw everything out. So limit the number of new, fancy ingredients/recipes you make every week so as to not generate excess waste. It’s not healthy if you don’t eat it!

Eat in Season

I think most of us consider fruits and vegetables as the core of healthy eating. You can maximize your budget by choosing in-season produce. In-season produce tastes better and has higher nutrition because of its freshness. Lower shipping costs = savings to the grocery store AND you! You can find in-season produce at the farmer’s market, but many times our grocery stores are just as good. Many even have Tennessee-grown produce too! You can check out this guide to find out what is in-season now!

Eating in-season not possible? Consider frozen fruits and vegetables. Frozen foods are picked, processed, and frozen at peak freshness so their nutrition can’t be beat! You can even freeze your own—I like to freeze corn I’ve cut off the cob and berries I’ve picked to enjoy year round.

Minimize Waste

Did you know that approximately 40% of food produced for human consumption in America is wasted each year? Ugh. That’s a staggering statistic . . . and relevant to YOU healthy eaters because if you’re throwing away the pricey healthy food you buy, that is not good for your budget! (I am talking to me, too. Because it can be tough to stay on top of things like fresh produce, leftovers, and the number of bottles of soy sauce in your pantry.) I try to stay on top of food waste through re-purposing ingredients, eating leftovers, and keeping my fridge and pantry organized. Also, be realistic about what you will actually eat. Not going to eat that kale that looks so pretty at the store and that you’ve heard is “so healthy”? Don’t buy it!

Try to re-purpose ingredients so things don’t go to waste. For instance, last week I bought a head of broccoli for a chicken and broccoli alfredo pasta bake. The recipe called for two cups of broccoli, so I used about half in the pasta and chopped up the other half to roast for a veggie side dish another night. 

Eating leftovers isn’t always the most glamorous task, but . . . just do it! It will save you money, I promise. Eat them for lunch, repurpose them into soup or a frittata, or freeze excess for a busy day. (But label it so you aren’t diving into a container of mystery. One time, I sent my husband to work with a tupperware of frozen mashed bananas because I thought it was soup. #whoops!)

Keeping your fridge and pantry organized can be tough, but—once again—you’ll save money if you know what you have. Then you can actually eat it! Spices and condiments can be a real problem for many people—especially if you’re grocery shopping on the fly or need to pick up ingredients for one recipe. To prevent that, I keep lists of spices I have/need on my phone and update as necessary. I have a friend who takes pictures of her pantry as reminders of what she has on hand. Whatever works!

Eat at Home

Eating out is fun, but eating out on the regular is not so good on the budget. Most of what you eat at home is going to be healthier for you than what you can buy at a restaurant too!  If it’s the experience you’re looking for, look at your finances to see what is doable. Then work to create that restaurant experience at home through new recipes, ingredients, or kitchen tools. I know nights come around that cooking at home feels daunting. But if you’re trying to save money and eat better? It must be done!

Some easy dinner ideas I personally use on a regular basis include:

  • Quesadillas: flour tortillas, grated cheese, leftover chicken, canned black beans. Dip in salsa! Serve with fruit or a pre-made salad.
  • Breakfast for dinner: scrambled eggs, fruit, toast (or pancakes/waffles if you have more time).
  • Peanut butter ramen: boil one package of ramen noodles (sans packaging) per person. Steam a bag of frozen stir fry veggies or broccoli. Whisk together this sauce (per person): 1 tablespoon natural peanut butter, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, 1/2 teaspoon lime juice, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, a sprinkle of crushed red pepper. Toss noodles with sauce, then stir in veggies. You can also add a little water if it’s too thick, as well as some cooked chicken or shrimp.

Overall, eating healthy and having a budget can be incompatible. Through planning, dedication, and creativity, healthy eating doesn’t have to be as difficult (or as pricey) as you think!

What are your tips for eating healthy on a budget?

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