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How to Eat Healthy When on a Budget

Written by Grace & Silas
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Whether you’re a guy or girl living alone, a couple, or parents with kids, knowing how to eat healthy and save money can be a bit of a challenge. Many of us want to be able to eat healthy and lose weight, but our restricting budgets and paychecks don’t always make it look possible. Frozen dinners, packets of ramen, and cheap carbs may seem like the best option if we don’t want our lights to get turned off.

I’ve heard that being an adult is only being able to afford McDonald’s, but I disagree. Being an adult is knowing how to meal plan (and shop smart) so you end up spending less money than you would have eating at McDonald’s.

So if you plan right and follow a few simple steps, you’ll be well on your way to losing some weight, feeling better health wise, and cutting down on grocery costs.

How to Meal Plan Like a Pro

The key to eating healthy, but still staying on budget, is knowing the basics of meal planning. It may not seem like much fun at first, but it’ll cut a few hours off of your week from cooking and shopping.

Pick the Right Meals: This is all about picking the meals that won’t just feed you (and others) for one night, but 2-3 nights (and will help you eat healthy). It’ll cut down on your time in the kitchen and give you one or two breather nights. It also means that there will be fewer meals that you’ll have to buy ingredients for.

Pick the Right Ingredients: This means picking the right (healthy) ingredients that are going to last multiple meals. So yes, you could buy that frozen pizza and eat it that night, or you could eat healthy and buy staples like brown rice, whole wheat bread, whole grain pasta, sweet or regular potatoes, lentils, or beans that can be incorporated into a lunch or dinner throughout the months. Then you’ll start to see your grocery bill get cheaper as you start to buy less ingredients.

Ingredients that Overlap: When planning, you’ll want to be conscious of what meals you’re actually picking. So let’s say I need to buy pasta sauce for lasagna, well I can also use it for a flat bread pizza or chicken parmesan (as well as the cheese or any other ingredient I plan on getting). You’ll save yourself the time and money if you look carefully for overlapping dishes.

Last Tip: This also applies to ingredients that you would have eaten by themselves. So if you have bananas, you can eat them as is, and put them into a smoothie. Or if you have oatmeal, you can make oatmeal cookies, or homemade granola (very easy and tasty by the way).

Build up the Staples: I can’t tell you how happy I get when I’m able to find meals that use a lot of the ingredients I already have. That means I don’t have to shop as long or spend as much money.

So when buying staples, you’ll want to get them over the course of a few weeks. Set enough room in your grocery budget to buy them (this may mean living a little leaner for a small amount of time), and pretty soon you’ll be stocked with the staples you need to eat healthy and save yourself from spending too much money in the future.

Now if you’re wondering what’s all included in making a staples list for your cupboards and pantry, The Simple Dollar created a great example of one. Pick and choose what you know you’ll be using to cook with, and you’ll be stocked and ready to go.

Keep a List: You’ll want to save the recipes you make somewhere so that if you don’t feel like searching for the right recipes, you’ll have a few healthy and easy go-to meals. This helps you know that what you’re making is good and saves you from splurging and eating out or getting something unhealthy because you aren’t in the mood to meal plan.

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Make the Same Breakfast and Lunch: When meal planning, you’ll want to find a couple of go-to breakfast and lunch recipes that fit your needs. So whether that’s something healthy and quick to eat before work, or just healthy and budget friendly, you’ll save yourself the time when meal planning.

So for instance, my usual breakfast is oatmeal with honey, cinnamon, and milk all mixed together, and my lunch consists of a healthy wrap. They’re both easy, budget friendly, healthy, and delicious.

Plan Your Meat Right: Meat, whether it’s chicken, beef, or pork, can get very expensive. So you have a few options when planning meat into your meals. The first is that you only have one meal in the week that has meat. Making your meals primarily vegetarian will help your waistline and budget (and there are plenty of foods that have protein in them such as lentils and beans).

The second is that you can call into your local grocery store and see what days they’re selling chicken, ground beef, or any type of meat the cheapest. I’ve found that on certain days, I can get a pack of chicken thighs or breasts for a smaller price than they would have cost other days.

And lastly, don’t make meat the main center of your meal. Incorporate it into a stir fry, chilli, or a soup. Find great healthy meals that have veggies and carbs you can pair meat with. This way you’re making the meat you bought last longer.

When Shopping

Now this is how you’re going to apply a few tips and hacks to save yourself money at the store when shopping to eat healthy. You now know how to start a meal plan, but you’re going to have to know a few more things if you want to eat healthy and spend less.

Before Going to the Store: Now before you make the trip, make sure you’ve eaten something beforehand. I know you’ve probably already heard this, but when you’re hungry, you’re more likely to get something unhealthy and waste money. Almost everything will look good to you and you’ll be sure to gain a couple of pounds as well as go over budget.

Buy in Season: People may think that fresh produce is expensive, but they need to know the simple hack of buying in season. This means that if avocados or zucchinis are being grown this time of year, they’ll be in abundance, therefore, less expensive.

You can check out this guide to show you when certain fruits and veggies will be in season.

Grocery App – Shopular: I talk about this app in a couple of my posts like 6 Ways to Save Money at the Grocery Store, but I think it’s worth mentioning again.

This app is just another good reason to have a meal plan. Because if you meal plan, then you can open up Shopular, find the store you want to shop at, and see if they have a deal or coupons for anything on your list.

Another very cool feature of this app is that as soon as you come into range of the store, it will send you notifications of deals and coupons that the store is offering. All you have to do is show the cashier your phone opened up to the coupon you were given, they’ll scan it, and you’ll automatically save money.

Shop the Frozen Aisles: Another way you can save money and still eat healthy is to shop for frozen produce. You can find plenty of frozen fruit for smoothies or desserts and frozen veggies for lunch and dinners for a good price.

Know the Difference: While it may seem cheaper to buy a meal that’s premade or a meal that mainly consists of pasta, know that you will end up spending more money. The reason for this? Well meals like that break down in your system quickly and you get hungry faster. Then you’ll go back for seconds only to expand your waistline and not have another meal the second night. Or if it’s something you’ve had for lunch, you’ll get hungry quicker and be tempted to buy food out.

So if you eat healthy and filling meals, you can save more money rather than buying something that’s “quick and easy.”

Go for the Store Brand: Sometimes we feel that eating healthy is expensive because the well known brands are so expensive. But as I’ve mentioned in my post “5 Tips for Saving Money on Groceries,” you need to look around for the store brand and see what’s the best price for your budget. Often, you’re going to find a much lower price if you look above or below eye level (eye level is where some of the most expensive items are going to be).

Know the Great Bulk Deals: If you don’t have a Costco membership and want to eat healthy (and save money), then you might want to consider getting one. Costco sells grains like quinoa and other healthy foods in bulk for a good price. This means you’ll be feeding yourself (and others) a nutrient rich meal, and still have plenty over for other nights.

When At Home

Now this is where I talk about how you can save money on the food you’ve brought home. There are only a couple of tips here, but all of them are important so you can eat healthy and stay on budget.

Freeze Bulk Produce: We all know that fresh produce can go bad within a week, that’s why it’s important that we use it as soon as possible. But what if you buy in bulk because of the great deal? Well then it’s a simple fix, freeze what you know you’re not going to use. Cut up the veggies or place those berries in a bag or ziplock container. They’ll stay fresh and be ready for you when you pull them out.

Waste Not: As I’ve talked about in a previous post, I was a live in nanny for a family, and was given the task of doing their dishes. I didn’t mind this, but what I did mind was having to throw away all of the leftovers they never ate.

There was a study done by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), that shows how the average American family wastes $2,200 on food a year. Now that’s money that could have been put down for a new car or even a vacation.

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It’s crazy how many times I’ve found that I’ve spent more on unhealthy food when shopping without a meal plan than when I planned my healthy meals out. It’s so easy to buy ingredients you’ll never need or spend money on things that look good but make you gain weight.

So finding the right meals that fit your budget, but keep you healthy, will benefit you many ways in the long run. It may seem easier just to pick out processed pre made food, but trust me when I say that your health and wallet will be a lot happier when you use your newfound smarts at shopping.

I hope this post was helpful and if you have any tips on eating healthy on a tight budget, email me or let me know in the comments! I’d be glad to hear you out!

 

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Meet Silas & Grace

Silas and Grace always had a passion for travel. So in 2016, they started Chasing Foxes as an independent income source. 4 months after launch, they were making enough money from their blog to travel full-time, and in the past 5 years, they’ve been able to encourage others in their blogging journeys too. Learn more about Silas & Grace.

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