Eating nutritiously while on a budget may seem impossible, but it’s far from it. Many healthy meals can be prepared at home using cost-effective ingredients such as rice, beans, canned tuna and frozen vegetables.
Additionally, imperfect or “ugly” produce items are often available through grocery stores at heavily discounted rates. To make sure you eat healthy while spending less on groceries each week and saving more money over time, start planning your meals in advance.
Simple steps such as planning your weekly meals around the items in your cupboards, refrigerator and freezer can also save you money while helping you to reduce food waste at the same time. For additional tips on planning healthy, affordable meals, review the sections below.
Learn How to Plan Healthy, Low-Cost Meals
Planning your meals for the week before you head to the grocery store is an excellent way to eat nutritiously while cutting costs at the same time. To get started, choose one day each week when you will plan your meals and create a grocery list. Then, implement these tips into your meal planning:
- Check your current inventory. Look in your cupboards, refrigerator and freezer to see what you may already have in stock. If you find two cans of black beans and a bag of rice, try making burritos. If you find a head of romaine lettuce and frozen chicken strips, make a salad. Then, make note of the items you already have and plan to use for the week.
- Plan your meals. For added convenience, purchase a dry erase board for recording your weekly meal plan and mount it to your refrigerator. Then, search for recipes that use the items you already have in stock. For instance, if you find a bag of pre-cut broccoli and chicken breasts in your freezer, use Pinterest to search for “cheap broccoli and chicken recipes”. Once you find a recipe that you like, save it and add the meal idea to your dry erase board.
- Search for new recipes. Once you have planned meals that use your current inventory, search for new recipes that can be used for the remainder of your week. Try using Pinterest to search for “affordable meals” or “cheap meals for families”. If you have any dietary restrictions, try searching for “cheap vegan meals” and so on. For more inspiration, use the What’s Cooking? recipe finder under the website of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
- Use your leftovers. After you finish a meal, divide the leftovers into multiple storage containers and eat any leftover meals for lunch throughout the week.
Read and Compare Price Tags
When grocery shopping for healthy, affordable food items, there are two types of prices to consider before making a purchase. These include the item’s retail and unit price. While the retail price pertains to the actual amount you will pay for the full item, the unit price is much more useful when you are trying to save money. For instance, the unit price tells you how much you will pay per ounce, pound, or quart, which is especially useful when you are looking for the best deal.
If the retail price of a six-ounce container of yogurt is $0.72, for instance, but its unit price is $0.12, you will be spending $0.12 per ounce. However, if the retail price of a 32-ounce container of yogurt is $1.62, but its unit price is $0.05, you will only be spending $0.05 per ounce, making this option the better deal. Therefore, concentrating on an item’s unit price is best when you are trying to cut costs.
Shop for Seasonal Produce
Shopping for in-season produce can also save you a great deal of money on healthy fruits and vegetables. When you plan your meals for the week, remember to take the current season into consideration, as out-of-season fruits and vegetables tend to cost much more.
During the fall, for instance, in-season produce items include beets, bell peppers, green beans and mushrooms, while berries, cherries, cucumbers, eggplant and nectarines are cheapest in the summer.
In the spring, plan your meals around asparagus, lettuce and radishes, with brussels sprouts, winter squash, kale, pumpkin and rutabaga in the winter. However. year-round fruits and vegetables include apples, bananas, celery and carrots.
Get Free or Discounted Fruits and Vegetables
While shopping at a local grocery store is generally more convenient than foraging for fruits and vegetables on your own time, there are several ways to obtain free healthy foods. To get free or discounted fruits and vegetables, you may:
- Use Falling Fruit, a website with an interactive map that shows you nearby trees and plants with free, fresh produce for picking. To find free produce in your area, simply enter your address or zoom in to your location on the map.
- Ask for “seconds”, or unsellable products. When shopping at your local grocery store, ask the product manager about purchasing “seconds” at a discounted rate. Often times, grocery stores throw away bruised, soft or “ugly” fruits and vegetables, or they sell them at a reduced price.
- Sign up for a produce delivery service. If you are unable to make it to your grocery store on a regular basis to purchase cheap, unsellable fruits and vegetables, you may sign up for a produce delivery service. For instance, delivery services such as Imperfect Produce rescue “ugly” fruits and vegetables from becoming food waste, while also providing you with discounts on healthy foods by up to 50 percent.
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Stock Up on Affordable Staple Foods
The cost of purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables adds up, but frozen or canned foods are much more cost-effective. For instance, frozen foods that can easily be used to create a healthy meal at home include Green Giant Cauliflower & Sweet Potato Riced Veggies ($2.48 for 12 ounces) and Birds Eye Pepper Stir Fry ($1.96 for one pound). Additionally, 12-ounce bags of off-brand frozen broccoli, carrots, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, corn, peas or spinach are typically available for less than $2.
As for affordable canned foods, healthy options include tuna, pumpkin puree, black beans, diced tomatoes, and canned vegetables such as corn, peas and green beans. For instance, Amazon sells six 15.5-ounce cans of Goya Black Beans for as low as $14.99, with 15.25 ounces of LoveSome Whole Kernel Corn selling for as low as $1.88 per can.
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