Healthy Food on a Budget (Your Advice)

Your Advice - help answer readers' questionsWhen money gets tight, one place that many people try to save money is on food. The problem is that this often means sacrificing healthy food. Therefore when the food budget is tight, a question that is often asked is whether it is possible to eat health food and still stay within budget? That is the question I received from a reader:

I only have a budget of $300 a month to feed myself and my 17 year old son and 3 year old daughter. I find it hard to have enough to eat at the end of the month. Any pointers on how to eat healthy and stay on a budget that will last with so little money?

When money is tight and you need healthy food to make it through the month, what do you buy and prepare?

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15 Responses to Healthy Food on a Budget (Your Advice)

  1. Sara says:

    Potatoes and eggs are inexpensive and versatile. They can be prepared in a myriad of ways, and can be added to other dishes for added nutrition. Pasta goes a long way, too. I also like to buy chicken breasts in a larger amount, cook it up, and freeze what I don’t plan to use right away. That way I always have some protein that I can heat up.

  2. Ben says:

    This is the Zone diet done cheaply.

    One way is to find the cheapest sources of natural foods that are the most nutritious.

    Chicken and eggs are very cheap proteins. Canned wild salmon is VERY healthy and very cheap. Tuna is another choice. That covers healthy protein foods.

    Fats can come from oils bought in bulk. Olive oil is very healthy and can be used to cook chicken or eggs. Lard is very cheap and is a necessary source of animal fat. Fats are economical on a budget because they have lots of calories in a small serving. They are healthy because you can’t survive without adequate fat intake, and when you limit carbs (like a healthy diet does) you need to make up the extra calories with fat.

    Carbs should come from natural sources and exclude grains, which are not healthy at all. Natural brown rice is allowed, maybe limited potatoes, but no bread, pasta, etc.

    Stick to cheap fruits and vegetables (whatever is on sale, in season). Bananas are super cheap. Apples go on sale. Yams are very nutritious.

    This Zone diet covers all nutritional bases, fits a really tight budget, and gives you plenty of calories per day.

  3. Traciatim says:

    Less meat more fruits and veggies. Skip the convenience foods because their convenience is that they pay the company more for non-nutritional food. That makes you just more hungry later because your body needs fuel to run.

  4. Katherine says:

    Meats tend to be expensive. Experiment with substituting tofu or veggies in some of your meals that normally call for meat, if you confirm it will create a price savings. Obvious health benefits here too.

    The consensus seems to be that frozen vegetables/fruits retain the nutritous properties of their fresh counterparts. Buy non-exotic (cheaper) varieties in bulk, always always sticking to generic brands. Frozen stuff won’t spoil.

    Rice is a cheap and tasty filler that doesn’t spoil (though it’s not terribly nutritious).

    With your budget being so tight, don’t spend money on drinks. They are usually empty calories/sugar anyways. Tap water is free, and a healthier aleternative.

  5. Mama Sage says:

    Strive to be a savvy shopper. Know your prices and set your limits. It IS possible. Definitely.

    I fed a family of 7 with four of five kids big, big boys very cheaply. You have to build your stock of things a little at a time. We were military and with every move we had to start over. I got to be pretty good at it.

    I set my food budget and we lived within. Each payday I allowed myself $10 to build my stock. For instance…beans on sale. Okay so $10 will buy a lotta beans on sale. I’d bring home a case! Whatever stock money I didn’t use went into my stock envelope. That way if it was something more expensive like meat for instance, I could do it with however much I’d put in that envelope. I did it until we were stacking food in hallways or shoving canned goods under beds.

    I had my meal per pound limit at 1.99 until recently where I upped that to 2.49. I watch sales. I freezer stock with that $10 too.

    Once the larder is full, you find you shop only loss leaders (things put on a super sale to draw impulsive shoppers — which you cannot be — and you can keep it pretty well stocked.

    The next step is to be inventive. Libraries have unlimited resource for recipes. So does the internet. If you type in something like “feed my family cheap” a ton of links will pop up. And garage sales are super sources for recipe books to have on your shelf. No time to read? Put them in the bathroom. Everyone pauses there from time to time and reading the toothpaste tube gets pretty old.

    Be a scratch cook. Convenience costs bucks. Don’t do it. Learn to do it from scratch. Once you’ve had a scratch cake or home made bread you won’t want to use boxes. Time? yes. It does take time, but not all that much more than the convenience stuff. Like mac and cheese. How crazy is it to pay nearly a buck a box for something you can make for pennies?? Or scalloped potatoes. For what a box costs you can make enough to take to a family reunion if you do it from scratch.

    Make it your challenge to each week come up with another new frugal recipe and add a little stock to your cabinets and freezer.

    Even paper products are able to be had frugally if you watch those ads.

    Happy homemaking…
    ~~Mama Sage

  6. Ann says:

    Fill your pantry with dried goods and buy veggies fresh. Use water and spices for cooking, and make large batches of soups from dried beans, whole chicken, potatoes, and your veggies. Eat some, cool the rest, and freeze for later dinners. Use the dried pastas and rices in your pantry to supplement the soups.

    Spending $20 on a soup, pasta sauce, chili or chile today can make up to ten meals for your future. This month, you invest, and next month you can have extra monies for expanding your menus.

    I would also argue on the “healthy” merit of grains. A nice bowl of non-sugar cereal with fruit or carrot sticks is an excellent breakfast. Corn, wheat, rice, and rye are my preferred grains.

    Other long term plans: Grow a garden: Indoors is okay. Even just tomatoes can make a difference. Learn how to trim large pieces of meat (Like a pork tenderloin). Buying large, spending time to trim and parcel, and freezing meats secures food for later. This may require buying a vacuum sealer, depending on the risk of freezer burn. Divide your money into “Money for the next three months” and work on food storage. There is no need to buy food each day or even each week; that can get expensive.

    We have “Share” in our community. http://www.sharecolorado.com/, and use the “host site location” menu to see if they have it in your community. If not, maybe you can talk to your church about it.

    Lastly, If your daughter is under five, she may qualify for WIC. You can get things like PB, cheese, milk, dried beans, and cereal. If you are queazy about accepting government aid, discover how you can volunteer your time or make non-monetary donations.

  7. Mama Sage says:

    Oh yes! Ann is right. Share is great for someone wanting to get started with cheaper eating. Angel Food Ministries is a similar program.

  8. luv2shop says:

    It also helps if you learn to use coupons as they can bring some incredible savings and allow for some variety when budgets are tight. You have to learn the system and it takes some time, but can help reduce your costs. A good place to start for basic information is at grocery coupon guide

  9. viola says:

    Well, there is not much that I agree on with any of the comments that have been left on here. The meat intake, the Tuna fish (full of mercury), the FATS….WOW!!! To me most of it sounds awfully unbalanced as well as unhealthy.

    I work in english pound and $300 are roughly 150….I used to feed 2 adults and 3 children on 200 ($400). I do not know how it is in the US (assuming you are in America), but In the UK we have deals ‘buy1get1free’, ‘buy 3 pay for 2′ etc…and as times were hard and money was ‘tight’ in these days, I learned how to budget, how to cook… I learned how to make somehing nutritious out of nothing, without chemicals or additives. I learned how to ‘handle’ money and make it worth twice and sometimes three times as much. And I even had money left over at the end of the month.

    Now, years later, (where I don’t really need to budget anymore)I cook for myself, for my daughter and my grandaughter EVERY DAY (and we usually have an extra person on a regular basis every day ‘to feed’, as I have 5 children. We only use ORGANIC produce (NOTHING else in my cupboards)and have a Box delivery scheme every Tuesday of mixed vegetables, assorted salad (lettuce etc), a large fruit box with a variety of 5 different fruits, as well as dates, organic-free range eggs, sprouted seeds…This works out at about 40 ($80) for all of us for the whole week…

    I think after 30 years of having children, you get used to where to shop and finding deals as well as offers….and I also agree, MORE FRUIT AND VEGGIES, preferable raw energy!!!

  10. Israel says:

    i find it difficult to buy low cost healthy food.

  11. dare2baware says:

    It is just a matter of getting used to where to shop and to make something out of nothing which still has sufficient nutritional value….

    Are you a good cook?

  12. viola says:

    The above post is from me, I have used my other username by accident. SORRY!!!

  13. Jodi says:

    Is there a “scratch and dent” store near you? We have a local one and I usually pay about half of what a grocery store would cost. Some of the packages are ripped or missing (i.e. DiGiorno pizza for $1.89 without the box), and a few things are even expired (sour cream, cheese – all stay good well past the date), but if you can shop carefully, you can save a ton. They carry fresh fruits and veggies grown locally that are very reasonably priced, plus they put whatever is about to spoil on clearance. I’ve gotten peppers, cukes, etc. for $.10 each before. I either use them immediately or freeze (depending on the veggies) for future use.
    If you don’t have a store like this, Aldi’s works well for canned goods. I’ve tried the coupon route, but to be honest, I ended up buying more convenience foods because they were a “good deal”. Now I stick to scratch foods and only use coupons rarely when it’s an item I would buy anyway. Keep an eye on the local flyers for good deals and stock up – that’s probably the best way to save. Get a used cheap freezer if you have the room. If you don’t have a price book, get a copy of the Tightwad Gazette and learn how to make one. Garden, if you can. And if you can garden, freeze or can your excess.
    I eat healthily on the South Beach diet. Lots of fresh fruits and veggies, WHOLE grains, good fats, lean meats…it does cost a little bit more than white bread, instant foods, etc. but it’s worth it. I save money by not buying expensive “healthy” cereals, but by making my own granola and oatmeal from bulk rolled oats ($.49/lb) and by avoiding all the gimmicky “low-fat” health foods (many of which really do not help you lose weight!).

  14. Rachelle says:

    I only receive about 230.00 a month. I also use food stamps which help a lot. Have you tried food stamps?

  15. Mark says:

    Try shopping at a butcher for meat and farmers market for fruits and vegetables. The meat is normally cheaper and a better cut at the butcher. Really easy to get in bulk as well. Fruits and Vegetables in farmers markets tend to be a lot cheaper as well.

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