Eating Healthy on a Budget

Eating is a basic human need, yet for many it is often surrounded by mystery, mystique and confusion – differentiating healthy from non-healthy is often a difficult task.  This, coupled with the challenge of eating healthy while on a budget, intensifies the issue to epidemic proportions.  Searching out the proper way to eat, while also saving on costs, can be an overwhelming task.  Below, I outline the best ways to eat well on a budget, and I hope this will aid in your mission!

Before beginning, I want to point out that these are general guidelines.   As the director of fitness and wellness at the American Institute of Healthcare & Fitness, we assess patients with a full day comprehensive wellness exam, and part of their day is spent with a nutritionist.  Family history, lifestyle, blood work results and genetic risk factors all come into play when designing an eating plan, and should be an important factor and consideration for you as well.  That being said, there are important guidelines out there that everyone can benefit from, while improving not only health, but quality of life as well.

First of all, planning is essential. Before going the store, plan ahead for how you will maneuver the grocery aisles by bringing along a list of all the foods you need to support your lifestyle.  This will prevent you from buying on impulse by sticking to the list you made ahead of time.  You can even get grocery lists for your phone now that you can save and use to compare prices of certain products in competing stores.  This also makes putting your list together a snap. Most meals should consist of protein, carbohydrates and good fats.  Eggs, fish, chicken, turkey, beef, cottage cheese and protein powders are great sources of protein.  For carbohydrates eat your veggies, some fruit and limit or completely eliminate your starchy carbohydrates.  Don’t forget to get your good fats from fish, olive oil, almonds, avocado’s, etc.

Also keep in mind, you can buy tons of great food in bulk that can be stored in your pantry or freezer. Tuna, Nuts, Olive Oil, Beans, and other healthy items can be bought in bulk to save money and can go right into your pantry.  Frozen chicken breasts, turkey breast, lean beef, fish, etc can go into your freeze, saving you a ton of money and preparing for months ahead.  A full pantry & freezer loaded with the essentials – healthy items – is a must.  Buying generic also helps cut costs: Shop for VALUE!  Brand loyalties are a thing of the past as many store brand items are just as good as the highly marketed name brand foods, just less expensive.  This goes for some of your nutritional supplements as well.

Nothing can ruin your budget faster than being so hungry that the drive through lures you in.  Once your blood sugar drops, so does your will power.  Items such as homemade trail mix with nuts and seeds and other foods will help with this.  One great way to prepare snacks for the week is planning ahead at the beginning of the week.  Cook up a batch of food in the beginning of the week and the divide it into zip lock bags.  When you are getting ready to leave the house you simply grab a zip lock bag or two and you have all your meals for the day.  The crock pot is also an incredible tool for those wanting to eat healthy on a budget and save time.  Simply put chicken in the crock pot in the morning and then when you get home at night add some veggies and you have a meal.  Take the left overs and use them for meals later in the week by using the zip lock bag trick.

Eating well doesn’t have to be a mystery if you pay close attention and plan effectivelyEating well on a budget is just a matter of paying attention to what you are buying and where you are buying it.  Trade the cookies, chips, ice cream and fast food for  fresh fish, eggs, meat and veggies and you will save money but also enhance your health so you will not only look better but feel better which in turn will enhance every area of your life including your incomeThe better you eat the more healthy, energetic and vibrant you will become which is sure to affect your income in a positive way!

John Rowley, Director of Fitness & Wellness at The American Institute of Healthcare & Fitness (

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Published or updated April 27, 2012.


  1. Good tips with the snacks. When I make dinner I usually make bigger portions so that I can save some for lunch the next day. But I never thought of actually portioning snacks for the week. And I definitely take advantage of my crock pot whenever I can.
    .-= Derek´s last blog ..5 Ways Saving Money is Like Losing Weight =-.

    • Some food naturally lends itself for making extra. We take advantage of cooking more whenever we can.

    • I most often cook for just one.When using the crock pot I pick out foods that I like that I won’t tire of quickly. I always make enough to freeze into individual portions.

      • That’s cool. When I was single I didn’t take advantage of cooking extra for multiple meals. I also didn’t eat as well.

  2. Good ideas. I like my garden veggies the best. I find it very hard to go to the store and pay 4 bucks a pound for rubbery veggies and fruit that has been picked days ago.

  3. That’s really interesting! I like your tip on freezing items. One thing you might find interesting: How much money can you save if you cook instead of going to a restaurant once per week? According to this article, you can save over $700 per year, and (if you invested that amount every year into your retirement fund) over $200,000 by retirement. Isn’t that crazy?

  4. I always load up on Sundays and buy everything for the week and look for deals and see where I can buy healthy things like chicken to use for multiple meals.
    .-= Craig´s last blog ..Interview about BudgetPulse with Mr. CC =-.

  5. People always say that it’s more expensive to buy healthy, but I just do not agree. Prior to eating healthy, I would buy junk food, packaged food, and soda ON TOP OF the meat, veggies and fruit. Now I only buy the meat, veggies and fruit – I buy a bit more of those foods, but there is no packaging, so my bill is actually smaller. A $1 bag of beans stretches to 3 meals – how far does that $7 pizza stretch?

    • So true! And I believe when you try to eat healthy it may cost a little more at times for food but in the long run you save on health expenses.

  6. I love this! I am a nutrition junkie. 🙂 I don’t really eat meat, and the other day I went to buy organic chicken and I was like HOLY CRAP it was so expensive!!
    .-= Mrs. Money´s last blog ..Is Being Frugal Always Being Different? =-.

  7. I agree that planning is key. In my family we try to map out healthy meals for the week so we can plan ahead. Unfortunately with my father in law in the hospital right now our schedule has gotten thrown all out of whack and our dinners haven’t been as healthy as they should be.
    .-= Saving Money Today´s last blog ..Trade Baby Sitting Services to Save Money =-.

    • Sorry to hear about your father-in-law.

      Mapping out meals before you go shopping can really help keep you on track both in your budget and in staying healthy!

  8. Organic is so expensive. My blog features an article about this couple that spent $900 a month eating organic. They would buy organic BEER, organic seafood, and even organic BBQ ribs.
    .-= moneyhoneysf´s last blog ..Where Are the Women on Wall Street? =-.

    • It is expensive but I think it’s worth it in many cases. We just saw the film Food, Inc. and it’s shocking what happens in the food industry.

      Personally, I love many of the organic beers that are out there! Much better than the big name brands you see in most stores.

      A family can get out of hand spending on anything. It would be interesting to see what the couple you read about would spend if they didn’t buy organic.

  9. Shopping at the local farmers market has saved me a ton with produce costs. Also, I’ve noticed whenever at the grocery store you really only need to shop the perimeter of the store… all the junk is in the middle.
    .-= Ryan @ Planting Dollars´s last blog ..The Part Time Job Search =-.

    • I think once it gets a little warmer here we’ll visit some farmer’s markets. With the farmer’s market you are getting fresh food that didn’t have to travel a thousand miles to get there. It’s still rich in nutrients.

      That’s one thing I’m jealous of people in Manhattan for – there’s an awesome, huge farmer’s market in Union Square!

      The more expensive items in the grocery are also at eye level. The cheaper stuff is at the bottom and sometimes up top.

  10. These are some great ideas! I do avoid cooking more than the portion I want to eat at dinner because then I might overeat if I think it is delicious. One way I save is by shopping at all of the stores in my area and only buying the items in the meat section that are on sale. I then break up the chicken, beef, etc into portion sizes, keep one in the fridge and put the rest in the freezer. Every Sunday night, I take out the meat for the week and then I have fresh veggies. I can’t wait to find a farmers market once the weather gets a little bit warmer.

  11. Great ideas! Thanks for posting. My site is if you want some more ideas too.

  12. Learning to cook and love beans and other pulses is a great way to save money and eat well. I suggest looking into Mexican cooking on this score. Yum yum! 🙂

  13. I really need to learn to cook with a crock pot! I’m such a fast food junkie…

    I like the idea of cooking in the crock pot, then freezing everything for the other days.
    .-= Money Reasons´s last blog ..Stop Waiting For Magical Moments To Happen =-.

    • See if you can borrow one from a friend or relative. You don’t want to go through the expense of buying one only to find you don’t like using it.

  14. The best way to eat healthy is to make it convenient. Of course making it convenient is not always easy, but once you get in the swing of things it’s much easier to keep it up. I used to be the queen of shopping hungry, but now I keep protein bars in the console of my car. Haven’t done it since!

    Also, as a vegetarian, I’d like to point out that even though you are trying to eat on budget you should make sure your diet still is diverse and meets your nutritional needs. Made that mistake before.

    • I agree about convenience! Its better to plan ahead a bit than getting stuck with bad food options when you are hungry.

      And yes, vegetarians need to keep diverse. It’s easy to get stuck eating pizza or something similar all the time.

  15. My girlfriend and I are going to start a vegetable garden to promote healthy eating this spring. The best part is it hits the big three:

    1) Healthy food for the body
    2) Frugal food
    3) Fun for us to share

    I’m excited!

    Austin @ Foreigner’s Finances

    • That sounds awesome! When we get our own home we’ll be planting a garden. I miss our garden in our old place but we couldn’t plant vegetables there anyway. Looking forward to being able to plant what we want and reap the benefits.

      I’d love to hear how your garden is doing once its rolling!

  16. I don’t usually plan my meals specifically, but have a big list of all possible meals we could make. My supermarket doesn’t send out flyers with their specials, so I never know what the specials are before I get there. And of course, the butcher and grocer don’t do flyers either…but their prices tend to be the same week to week.
    .-= eemusings´s last blog ..Our weekend on Waiheke =-.

  17. Great post! I agree with you that everyone can benefit from the guidelines you identified for healthy eating. As you say not only will health improve but so does the quality of life. Healthy eating is so important but often takes a back seat in today’s fast paced society.

    You are spot on advising us to trade in cookies, chips fast food for healthy alternatives. I have found that by doing that and planning healthy eating menus made up of proper serving sizes actually can make buying organic more cost effective. We don’t need to super size meals. I also have a home vegetable garden and a few fruit trees. I even grow some tomatoes, herbs and lettuce in pots on the patio. Can’t beat the taste of veggies and fruit picked 1 hr before eating them!

  18. Those are some excellent tips.
    I particularly resonate with planning ahead so that you’re not forced to go to a ‘drive thru’.
    However, if you find yourself in these situation, you can always go for just the fruit bowls. I found that since I stopped eating KFC 4 years ago, my taste buds automatically changed too over time; such that after 2 years when I was forced to stop at a drive thru while travelling on the motorway, I could not eat the KFC fried chicken I bought! It tasted like RUBBER. I couldn’t believe it!

    But that is a good thing and this is what you will find when you make a conscious effort to trade fast food and sweet foods like cookies for healthier options. When you want to eat them later, you will just find you can’t eat them anymore. A friend of mine vomitted when he ate fast food (fried chicken) after one year of not eating it. His system could no longer deal with all the oil!

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