Whenever talk turns to eating healthy, one of the common arguments against it is that it’s too expensive. Well, it can be. If you buy nothing but organic foods or “convenience” produce like pre-cut apples or carrots, and bagged salads, you’re going to pay a lot of money. You’ll also pay more for “fat free,” “sugar free” or “gluten free” foods. (Many of which aren’t any better for you than the regular varieties. In some cases, they’re worse.) But you don’t have to pay a fortune to eat healthy. You can change your eating habits and there many very healthy foods are inexpensive, some as cheap as under a dollar.
The main key to eating healthy without overspending is to limit waste. When you start eating fresh foods, it’s tempting to buy too much. If you don’t eat it all before it goes bad, it’s wasted. You need to figure out how much you can and will realistically eat and buy accordingly. It may mean making more trips to the store to replenish your supplies, but that’s better than wasting money.
Another key to eating healthy on a budget is to eat what’s in season. On the East coast, for example, strawberries are in season in the early spring. They’re least expensive then because the transportation costs are so much lower. Apples are in season in the fall. If you want these items out of season you can get them, but you’ll pay a lot more because they’re trucked in from California or South America. If you want to eat healthy and spend less money, you need to learn what’s in season and when, and eat accordingly. If you have to have those items out of season, you’ll do best to opt for canned or frozen alternatives. With those two keys in mind, here’s a list of many healthy foods that won’t break the bank.
They get a bad rap, but they are the cheapest source of protein, as well as being the source of many hard to find vitamins and minerals. Skip the egg substitutes and buy the real things.
Whole wheat costs a bit more than white, but is better for you.
Beans and Lentils
Dried beans are the best value, but canned aren’t budget busters, either.
It’s a great, healthy compliment to almost every meal.
Opt for the lower sodium varieties, or buy soup mixes and add your own veggies and meat.
As noted above, anything that’s in season will be your least expensive option.
Again, buy what is in season.
Opt for unseasoned, low sodium varieties when possible.
Buy the kind canned in its own juice, not canned in syrup.
Again, opt for the sauce-free varieties.
Stick with plain fruit and skip anything that is sugared or frozen in syrup.
Don’t get anything that is pre-cut or pre-bagged. Slice and wash your own fruits and veggies. You pay extra for all that packaging and preparation.
Canned tuna, salmon and the like are cheaper than the fresh varieties and can be used in dishes such as salads and casseroles where flavor and freshness aren’t as important.
I’m not talking about Spam, but rather canned chopped ham, chicken, or turkey. Get the lower sodium varieties and use in soups and casseroles were fresh meat is not as important.
Another food that gets a bad rap, but which is a great source of protein. Opt for natural or lower sugar varieties for more nutrition.
Buy the unpopped kernels and air pop it.
They seem expensive, but the nutritional bang for the buck can’t be beat. You don’t need many to fill you up, either, as they are a filling food.
You can do so many things with potatoes and they are inexpensive. Opt for sweet potatoes over white potatoes for even more nutrition.
Oats / Oatmeal
Skip the prepackaged oatmeal and opt for the old-fashioned oats.
The little cups with the cool flavors aren’t as cost effective as the larger tubs of plain yogurt. Add your own fruit for flavor.
Skim milk is better for you than whole. Most stores offer a store brand or value brand.
You can almost always find at least one brand on sale or BOGO.
Great for sauces and soups, as well as toppings on tacos and salads.
Chicken tends to be cheaper than red meat, and breasts tend to be cheaper than other parts. If you need meat, opt for chicken breasts.
Don’t buy the little boxes, buy the big tub and package them yourself for lunches and snacks.
Almost free from your tap and the best thing you can drink, plus it can save you a small fortune if you are addicted to soft drinks and make the switch.
Not the sugared, flavored kind. Opt for green or black teas sold in bulk.
For further savings, shop at farmers’ markets where produce is often cheaper than at supermarkets. You don’t have to eat only organics to eat healthy. It’s great if you can, but for many people their budgets don’t stretch that far. If your choice is eating non-organic produce or some processed food item, the produce is still better for you. The trick to eating healthy on a budget is to eat “real” foods, not stuff that claims to be healthy but is really more processed and chemical laden than the regular version.
(Photo courtesy of merfam)