Healthy eating has a reputation for being expensive—and it feels even more difficult to fill your plate on a budget when food prices rise and supply gets spotty. But with a few simple swaps and strategies, you can eat nutritious whole foods on a daily basis while saving money and time. Try these strategies to help you feel good about what you eat—and what you spend.
When it comes to grocery shopping, fruits and veggies are high on the priority list. Unfortunately, they are also the first thing that you buy that will spoil. To avoid wasting money, store produce appropriately and only buy fresh what you will be eating within the next few days. You can also easily freeze fruits and vegetables—for most, just wash, slice, and place in a single layer on a sheet tray. Put the tray in the freezer. Transfer the frozen goods to an airtight container for long term storage.
Wait? First, what’s a “whole food” (besides a hipster grocery chain)? Whole foods are simply fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, or protein in their whole forms. It may sound expensive, but really, whole foods are extremely cost-effective. For example, a 14-ounce package of chicken tenders can cost $6 or more. But you can buy a whole chicken that’s between 3 to 4 pounds for $6 to $8, and even counting the loss for the bones, you’re still getting more meat for your money. (Plus, you can use the bones to make a base for homemade soup—who wouldn’t love that?) Dry beans, rice, lentils, and grains are all cheaper than their canned, precooked frozen, or shelf-stable counterparts.
If you’re worried about fresh produce going bad, have some canned and frozen ingredients on hand to save you time and money—they’re perfectly good options. Canning and freezing happen very immediately after harvest, so they’re preserved at peak ripeness, and they keep for months longer than fresh. You can use frozen fruits to make a smoothie or frozen vegetables as part of lunch or dinner, or use canned foods in soups and stews.
What to look out for: sauces and sodium. When buying canned foods such as beans, just check to make sure they are low sodium. You can give them a good rinse before prepping to wash off some of the salt. And when buying frozen, avoid frozen bags of produce with syrups or sauces to skip added sugar, salt, and fat.
Pro-tip: choose frozen produce that only lists the fruit or veggie as the single ingredient. If you want to have a few frozen meals on hand for times when you don’t feel like cooking, look for frozen meals with organic or GMO-free ingredients, at least one serving of vegetables, and at least 10 grams of protein (so you’ll feel satisfied).
Shopping for local produce can have significant cost-saving benefits. Check out your local area for community support agriculture (CSA)—some even offer seasonal or annual subscriptions, give vouchers, and accept EBT. To find places to buy locally-raised food, check out this nationwide directory of CSA programs, or visit Local Harvest or Eat Wild.
Eating out is expensive, and sometimes the healthy options at restaurants are even more expensive. You can save yourself tons of money and time by packing your lunches and prepping dinners at home. Save leftovers for another meal (for example, dinner’s leftovers can become lunch the next day).
When you have on-the-go, filling, and tasty snacks within reach at any given time, you’re way less likely to need to stop at the drive-thru or pick up something while between meetings, errands, or appointments. Check out our article, The simple formula to make snack time healthier, for filling, simple snack ideas.
Turn weekly meal prep into an event with your family or with friends near and far. Turning a chore into an event can make all the difference. To start, involve 4-5 friends and create a game plan of what you’re going to make and what ingredients you need. If you’re meal prepping in person, have everyone bring over a set amount of ingredients, give everyone a recipe to focus on, and start chopping!
Healthy competition can go a long way when it comes to eating more fruits and veggies. Start a family competition or friend challenge around who can eat the recommended cups of vegetables and fruits per day to keep one another accountable. Raise the stakes by having a prize at the end. (Sweet prize idea: How about a promise to cook dinner for the winner, or a one-month subscription to a produce delivery service?)
Ever wander into your kitchen at the end of the day and feel completely overwhelmed wondering what to cook, how to cook it and how long it will take? It’s in these moments that it’s easy to call for take out or go out to eat because the thought of preparing food is another series of decisions after an already long day of decision making. One trick to reduce decision fatigue: Set one day per week as menu planning day. Spend 30 minutes mapping out simple, healthy meals that you enjoy. This makes grocery shopping even easier and takes out some of the guesswork. Another idea is to make the same meal every week. For example, you could have homemade healthy tacos every Tuesday—your own Taco Tuesday. See below for some quick and nutritious recipes to add into your recipe repertoire.
Spinach and Egg Scramble - Less than 5 fresh ingredients! Recipe via EatingWell
Overnight OatsRecipe via Simply Oatmeal
Egg Muffins Recipe via Well Plated
Pumpkin Pie Green SmoothieRecipe via Minimalist Baker
Banana and Egg PancakesRecipe via The Kitchn
Stuffed Sweet Potato with Black BeansRecipe via EatingWell
Crunchy Cashew Cabbage Salad With Toasted Sesame DressingRecipe via Marisa Moore, RD
Cobb SaladRecipe from Skinny Ms.
Homemade Burrito BowlsRecipe via Forks over Knives
Tuna-White Bean Salad Recipe from Chelsea’s Messy Apron
Chicken Enchilada Stuffed Spaghetti SquashRecipe from Eating Well.
Turkey ChiliRecipe from SkinnyTaste
Mediterranean Spaghetti Squash BowlsRecipe from Cookie and Kate
Lentil SoupRecipe from Minimalist Baker
Pork Chop Skillet with Pears and Red Onions Recipe from Delish
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