5 tips to plan meals and eat healthy on a budget
For many, finding time to eat healthy foods may seem like a challenge. After all, it can be hard enough to squeeze in everything you’ve got going — family doctor appointments, late-night sports or activities, checking things off your never-ending to-do list. And when you’re busy, reaching for the quicker, cheaper meals can be common — but the truth is, they often don’t offer the vitamins and nutrients needed for optimal health. Read on to get tips for eating healthy on a budget.
1. Plan your week
Does lack of planning lead you to a quick Internet search of “food for less near me?” It happens to many of us. Here’s some advice on how to plan your week to match your meal budget and stock your fridge.
- Decide ahead of time which day of the week you may have to grab a quick bite when you’re out and about (and choose a better-for-you restaurant that offers healthier menu options, like salads, steamed veggies or fresh fruit).
- Prepping for a long commute? Pack the car with healthy snacks (like fruit, nuts or crackers) to avoid stopping at a fast-food joint.
- Pick a day each week to meal prep cheap, healthy meals for the family. Try simple dishes you can stuff with fruits and veggies, like overnight breakfast oats, salads for lunch, and a slow-cooker recipe for dinners.
2. Shop smart
If you’re learning how to eat healthy on a budget, you’ve come to the right place. Small changes in how you shop for food can make a big difference at the bank.
Did you know eating local produce that’s in season is both better for you, better for local farmers and costs less? Visit your local farmer’s market to find food that’s locally sourced and fresher than what you’d find in stores. Fruits and vegetables start to lose their nutrients within 24 hours of being picked, so the quicker it gets to your table, the more you’ll benefit. Plus, you’ll be supporting local growers who don’t have to rely on transporting their goods across the country, which helps cut your carbon footprint.
Need healthy meals on a budget? There’s a reason bulk stores are so popular. You can typically get more for less. This strategy might work best for shelf-stable foods, like nuts and seeds, dried fruit, canned goods or condiments. This approach also helps eliminate frequent trips to the store (and the gas pump too).
To piggyback on the benefits of buying in bulk, purchasing frozen or canned goods can help your kitchen stay stocked longer. Since these foods don’t need to be used right away, you can keep these items on hand for a longer period of time.
3. Skip processed foods
Not all procssed foods are bad for you. In fact, things like bread, hummus, yogurt and protein bars are all considered processed. Any food that’s altered before it gets to our grocery cart is a processed food. That even includes drying or freezing (but frozen strawberries are good for us!). Knowing which processed foods to stay clear of or eat in moderation (things like chips, frozen pizzas, store-bought baked goods) can help you figure out how to eat healthy in a way that works for you and your family.
4. Prepare large portions
Did someone say frozen meals? Making big portions of your favorite healthy dishes can help save you time and money. Plus, they can end up being the cheapest meals for your family. Think of recipes you can make that don’t need many ingredients — things like chili, soup, stir fries and stews. Pick a protein, toss in some veggies, and you’ve got a healthy dinner for cheap that’ll last you a while in the freezer.
5. Store leftovers
Using leftovers helps prevent wasting food and money. Be sure to properly store any food left over from meals in the fridge or freezer, and get creative in the kitchen. Potatoes from last night’s dinner can be made into a satisfying breakfast burrito, fruit can be mixed and matched for a refreshing smoothie, and the lasagna you made 2 nights ago will freeze nicely until you crave it again.