Updated: Mar 2, 2021
People often feel they are faced with a conundrum when it comes to eating- they want to eat a healthy diet, but they think healthy food is too expensive. Right now people are cooking at home more than they used to, and trying to save money while they do it. So how do you find a balance between a healthy and budget-friendly diet? Here are a few tips:
Cook at home! There are infinite savings and health benefits to be found by making your favourite meals at home instead of buying them at a restaurant.
Skip the “health foods” aka foods that are overpriced because they are being advertised as super healthy.
If a food has a commercial or an ad, you are probably over-paying for it. Remember that someone has to pay for that expensive advertising, and it doesn’t have to be you.
Shop for ingredients instead of meals. For example: buy the ingredients for a power bowl or soup, instead of the ready-made power bowl, or canned soup.
Choose simple ingredients that are minimally processed (whole foods.) Some examples include oats, fruits, vegetables, grains, eggs, dairy, meat and fish, beans, legumes, potatoes, some nuts and seeds. These foods have the added benefit that they will keep you satisfied longer compared to more processed foods, which might mean you’ll need less food overall.
Find a balance. Yes, there will be times when you have to choose between saving a few dollars/ cents or buying a healthier option (for example white vs brown rice.) You have to decide where the balance is, but the good news is that it IS possible to eat a nutritious diet on a fairly strict budget.
Set priorities. Know what you really like, and be okay with buying it. But also know what is not worth the money for you. For example, I buy chia seeds, almonds, coconut, and maple syrup even though they’re not the most frugal options, but I compromise in other areas.
Buy the store brand. Seriously, there is no need to pay more money for a name brand when the store brand products are basically identical. Maybe there are a few things that you decide are worth paying for the name brand (for me it’s Ziploc bags) but you won’t know until you try the store brand.
Buy bulk/ compare the price by weight. This requires some mental math, but make sure you’re comparing costs by weight. Don’t just look at the price tags. Often the items with more quantity will be cheaper per unit of weight BUT only buy it if you’ll actually use it all. For example, with greens it may be more cost effective to buy the bigger bag of spinach, but not if you can’t finish it before it spoils.
Meal plan and shop your pantry. These strategies will prevent you from over-buying, and help you to create an all-inclusive grocery list. Having a list also prevents impulse purchases. Learn about the benefits of meal planning, how to meal plan, and some of the grocery budget challenges we’ve tried in the past.
Only buy what you need. It’s hard to know exactly how much produce you’ll need in a week, but it’s way too easy to buy more than we need instead of figuring it out. It will take some experimentation, and sometimes you will run out, but you really, really, don’t want to throw away your hard-earned money away with your rotting avocados do you?
Incorporate more meatless meals. You can read all about why this is a good idea here.
Okay, time to get practical. What foods give you the best bang for your buck when you’re trying to eat a healthy diet? The following is a list of easy-to-find food items that cost less than $0.25 per serving.
If you’re looking to eat a healthy diet on a frugal budget, here are some staple ingredients to include (provided you don’t have any dietary restrictions.)
Frugal Foods Cost Per Serving:
Just for a second, let’s do some simple math. One of our favourite breakfasts is toast ($0.22) with peanut butter ($0.08) and half a banana sliced on top ($0.10) with two eggs on the side ($0.42). That’s a total of $0.82 and this breakfast provides us with lots of nutrients including protein, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals, and complex carbohydrates that will satisfy us and fuel our bodies.
There are lots of meals that you can make that include these staple frugal ingredients.
Here is a list of some of our favourite frugal healthy meals:
Eggs and toast or Avocado Toast
Cooked oatmeal or Steel Cut Oats
Roasted Whole Chicken (later you can make chicken wraps, salads, casseroles etc)
Pulled Pork or Chicken (on potatoes or in a sandwich)
Maybe you’re in a season of life where you can delegate more money to your food budget. That’s fantastic. Go for it! Try all kinds of different fruits and vegetables, grains and proteins. If you can afford it, adding more variety and colour and higher quality food products into your diet can bring you many added health benefits.
But if that’s not you, and you’re in a season of life where a strict food budget is required, that’s fine too! I hope this article helps you reject the common notion that healthy food is too expensive and see that you CAN eat a nutritious diet on a strict budget. The key to success for you might be simplicity: simple ingredients, simple meals, and a simple budget.
Most of us can benefit from adding MORE nutrients and spending LESS money on our diets. If you have any questions, or if you’d like to share a favourite frugal recipe, leave a comment or send me an email at email@example.com