Eat healthy at home and make the most of your grocery budget at the same time


Guest post by Adrienne
Eat More Plants tote bag
Eat More Plants tote bag

Many people think that it is too expensive to eat healthy, but it doesn't have to be. With the right planning and a few little tricks you can get really healthy food for dirt cheap.

We probably all know the tip that you should never go grocery shopping when you are hungry or you will end up coming home with bags full of tasty treats you probably don't need. But there are other things you can do as well to help make the most of your grocery budget and eat more nutritious foods at the same time.

Plan your meals

A little meal planning goes a long way. Before you hit the grocery store, take inventory of what you already have in your freezer or pantry that you can implement into your meals for the next week. Try to plan your meals around the foods that you already have on hand.

You'll save money by buying less food, and you will use up the foods you already have so that they don't go to waste.

Buy frozen

Frozen veggies are cheaper than fresh, and they will last longer than fresh as well. Ditto with meat in many cases. You can buy a whole bag of boneless, skinless chicken breasts for much cheaper than what they would cost fresh. Big bags of frozen broccoli or cauliflower are really inexpensive, and all you have to do it heat them up and you have a cheap, healthy side dish.

Go meatless

Meat is more expensive than veggies. By going vegetarian (even if it's only a couple of times per week) you can save money. You can even keep it interesting by experimenting with trying a different fruit or vegetable once per week that is new and exotic to you. You never know, maybe mustard greens will become a new favorite!

Use coupons

You don't have to become an extreme couponer to get some great deals at the grocery store. If there is a store you go to regularly make sure you sign up for their rewards card if they have one to get discounts at the checkout. Also check your mail for flyers and coupons for things you normally buy (not new things to waste money on). Keep in mind that many grocery stores will take competitors coupons so don't be afraid to bring in coupons from other stores.

Cook from scratch

Prepackaged meals tend to be less healthy than meals you prepare from scratch. Instead of paying extra for convenience foods you can save money and have healthier meals if you cook from scratch rather than buy easy to prepare foods from boxes or cans that are full of preservatives. Try out a new recipe once per week, find ones that your like, and keep experimenting in the kitchen.

Stock up

If you eat meat and notice they are having a sale on meat that is near the expiration date, stock up. You can freeze the meat and save it for later. Ditto for any foods that can be frozen like fruits and veggies.

Buy in bulk

Save money by purchasing dry goods like flour, sugar, coffee and other foods in the bulk section. Pound for pound it's almost always cheaper than pre-packaged foods.

What tips and tricks do you have for saving money at the grocery store? How do you eat healthy on a budget?

  1. I need more good vegetarian meal ideas. We usually end up with the default meat+vegetable+starch meal pattern just out of habit, but even when I tried to have one day a week that was meatless I realized that I was running through my non-meat options so fast that it felt like we were having the same thing for dinner every week.

    • Depending on how much you're willing to cook, you could:
      – investigate foreign recipes (chili sin carne, eggplants parmigiana, falafels, tons and tons of Indian recipes)
      – give a vegetarian twist to old-time favourites like shepherd's pie or spaghetti bolognese, using either tofu or a bean purée to replace grind meat.
      – speaking of beans, there are countless options with them: how about a chickpea+squash curry with rice? Zucchini stuffed with black beans? Split peas soup with a dash of hot sauce?
      – cook vegetable quiches or tarts: tomato+mustard tart, zucchini tatin, pea and corn quiche…

      Would you like a post on vegetarian meals idea? I think this needs an entire post. I'd totally write that.

      • I would love a post about vegetarian meals that KEEP and are good for leftovers. My default for leftovers is often a casserole but I find most of my go to casseroles are either with meat, or really pasta heavy (not helpful when you're trying to keep carbs down).

        • I challenged myself to a month of vegetarianism so I could branch out and learn more recipes. It was tough at first, but I broke out of the rut you mentioned REAL fast. Now I only eat meat a couple times a week and cook vegetarian the rest of the time and it is really easy!

          • I'd love to hear some of your suggestions for places to start! My boyfriend has just started going vegetarian so I need more ideas of what to cook when I share meals with him.

          • Ruth- if it is ok by the editors, check out my pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/allisonpwhite/vegetarian/. I store all my vegetarian recipes there. Also check the website http://www.budgetbytes.com. In general, curries (Indian especially, but Thai, too) are great sources of delicious vegetarian inspiration.

            Also try taking some of the recipes you already love and substituting a bit to remove the meat. Chili? Add more beans and remove the meat. Stir fry? Just as good with lots of veggies and no chicken. You get the idea.

          • Bean and lentil based soups and curries make good leftovers – you make a big batch and freeze them. Curries seem to keep pretty well in the fridge for a few days, too.

    • There are already tons of suggestions, but I wanted to add my two cents.

      I have kids, so it's a little harder sometimes for vegetarian more than once a week because if I go too out of the norm they look at it like "why are you trying to poison me?", but I have found that whatever is in season makes a good soup and/or salad, and it doesn't have to feel boring because the ingredients change. We do this a lot at my house where we can have minestrone, lentil soup, a chili without meat, potato cheese, or a salad with lots of fresh colorful and crunchy veggies. My kids will eat pretty much anything in a broth, or with some kind of dressing on it.

      Plus I can usually make enough to last us two dinners (which saves me with my long work hours). And the other added bonus, these meals are pretty easy to use up veggies that are slowly dying in your fridge. So sometimes after a few days of cooking I realize I have a lot of odds and ends that can be thrown together which keeps me from doing the "let's just get takeout, I don't feel like going to the grocery store" routine.

  2. Love this post!

    Also wanted to mention beans are much cheaper dried in bulk than in cans if you're going the veg route! They also tend to taste better, and if you are willing to make a 1 time investment in a pressure cooker then beans from scratch only take 30 minutes instead of hours of soaking 🙂

    Not sure if this is true everywhere, but in NYC and Honolulu Farmer's markets are actually way cheaper for produce. (not for other treats sadly, this only applies to local produce). It's a lot of roots in the winter, but seasonal eating has really helped our budget stretch a little!

    • Maybe you've had better luck than I have at this? Pressure cooker beans lack consistency when I prepare them. Sometimes they don't cook all the way through and I can never get the seasoning right (bland). I've read relative times based on bean type, but the whole trial and error process ended up being more trouble than it was worth.

      • What kind of beans? I usually do pinto for 14 minutes de pressurize then rinse then repressurize and go another 15. Other beans need adjustment but that middle washing is key!

  3. Great post! Budget-wise, always compare the price per pound/100 grams. It's usually written in tiny letters on the shelf label. This helps decide where you'll find the most bang for your buck if you're hesitating between canned/frozen/fresh products.

    I like the idea of meal planning before going to the grocery store, but also AFTER. Once you're back and you've stored everything, take stock of what you *did* buy and make another list of yummy meals by creatively combining the contents of your pantry and fridge. Stick it on your fridge. Keep for future reference when you're running short of inspiration.

  4. I would love to start getting away from pre-packaged, microwave, take-out food but the problem is I DESPISE COOKING! I absolutely hate it and would so much rather pop something in the microwave for three minutes and then throw away the container rather than spend an hour cooking something and then have to do all the clean up as well.

    That being said, these are really good tips even for a non-cook like me. I especially never realized that frozen veggies are cheaper and will look into that next time I'm at the store. I always end up buying veggies with the intention of sauteing them BUT then the "I hate to cook, let's order pizza" instinct takes over and they end up going to waste!

    • Perhaps batch cooking is for you. You do all your cooking in one day and then freeze most of your results to eat later. Some people manage nearly a month's worth of cooking in a weekend, but you could try finding something you wouldn't mind having even once per week over a few months. Once you start cooking, it's rarely that much more effort to cook large portions. There are entire websites devoted to this practice. I love to cook and I still love doing this for nights I'm too busy or tired to reach for anything but the microwave.

      • That's a great idea actually. I CAN cook it's just that after a long day at work it's like the last thing I want to devote my time to. My husband works on Saturdays and I don't so I generally catch up on chores that day.
        Maybe I'll start incorporating some batch cooking into my Saturday routine and see how it goes.

        • Once a Month Mom (if it's still around) is awesome for this. Their recipes are delicious, they generate grocery lists for you based on the number of people in your household, and they make suggestions based on what's in season.

    • Amen, sister! I have basically accepted that if I have the choice between something healthy that requires cooking and a dinner of chips, I'll reach for the chips, so I seriously limit what I purchase and try to find the healthiest options for my cooking-aversion. I definitely recommend working WITH yourself rather than against yourself by telling yourself what you should be doing. For example, I don't mind throwing stuff in the oven as long as I don't have to watch it. So frozen chicken breasts in the oven and a bag of frozen veggies in the microwave, and I have healthy-ish food.

    • I think there is a middle ground of dishes that take less than an hour but more than three minutes. I love to cook (ex chef) but never cook anything that takes more than 20mins on a weekday after work. For instance we tend to think of Italian pasta recipes as meat heavy with sauces that require hours of cooking but there are lots of vegetable sauces you can make in the same time it takes to cook the pasta.

      When making the switch to cooking more a good tip is to plan a weeks meals and shop for them at the weekend. That way you don't have to make decisions or shop when hungry and tired, plus not wanting to waste what you allready have will help keep you on track.

      • Crockpot one pot meals are also awesome for this. It takes fifteen minutes to toss meat, frozen veggies, potatoes and seasoning/sauce/chicken or veggie stock in a crockpot. I use mine to make curries, chicken pot pie, borscht, chicken tortilla soup, chili, and lentil stew. It saves me so much cooking time.

  5. Also, learn how to read grocery store labels. In some states, chain stores have to give you the per ounce/miligram/ etc price as well as the unit price. Some stores do it as regular practice. This way, you aren't tricked by packaging that makes you think you're getting more than you are or the assumption that buying larger packages is always cheaper (usually, but not always).

  6. Another good tip: KNOW HOW GROCERY STORES COMPARE!
    If you are lucky enough to live somewhere where there are several options to buy groceries, know how their prices compare! For me there's a target (tiny grocery section, no deli, I usually only get snack foods on sale here), a Stop&Shop (big selection, some great sales), and an ALDI (smaller selection, prices are usually ~30% cheaper than bigger chains). Once I did my homework and saw how much of a difference there was, I switched 90% of our food shopping to ALDI. Anything I can't get there, I'll get elsewhere less often. But I've stayed on the mailing list for other stores coupons, so if there's a great sale, I can take advantage of it!

    • This. We desperately needed to get our food spending under control. I did a little research and discovered that Aldi has way cheaper pantry staples and seasonal produce. Safeway has the cheapest stock the fridge type produce (heads of lettuce, squash, mushrooms, etc). Harris Teeter had the best sales. So I do my weekly shopping at Aldi's and swing by Safeway on my way home to pick up what ever produce we still need after shopping Aldi's. I work across the street from Harris Teeter so I check their weekly sales and stock-up on the things I know we will eat. For example, this week they have a buy 2 get 3 free deal on cheddar cheese and a buy 1 and buy 1 on mandarin oranges. With 3 kids under 4 yrs old we can't seem to buy enough citrus and cheddar cheese. So I will buy the maximum under the deal.

      We are lucky to live by 3 grocery stores so I try to maximize the sales.

  7. Frozen can sometimes be fresher than fresh, even if you eat your fresh fresh (heh) from the store. Who knows how long that produce has been hanging around.

  8. Lentils and beans (especially if you cook the beans from dried) are SUPER cheap and really good for you. They are full of fiber and protein. Yay! Also, it saves me money and time to cook big batches of things in the slow cooker and freeze portions for later. Check out budgetbytes.com for lots of healthy and cheap recipes- I love her stuff.

    • How do you prepare your beans once they're soaked? I have had beans and rice, seasoned various ways as side dishes, or in bowls with a sauce and veggies. What are other ways?

      • So beans and rice is a delight, but they're also great thrown in soups/stews (like three sisters).
        Over corn bread with vinegar and scallions (very southern Us thing my family does).
        I like them on tostadas, in burritos, in tacos, and well, basically involved in any kind of Mexican deliciousness.
        Lentils do well replacing ground meat in anything, you can also squish to make burgers (though I'm not a fan personally).
        They're also awesome in Indian stews like Daal.
        Pretty much the mighty legume can go into anything lol.

        • I've tried to make rice and beans, and it came out really bland. Seasoning it afterwards only helped a bit. Do you have a good recipe for rice and beans?

          Do you have good recommendation for a cookbook with lots of recipes that start with dry beans? I'd really like to cook more beans, but the times I have tried cooking dry beans it just was not that tasty. I have one good lentil recipe and I should try to find some others.

      • Basically, you soak overnight then just cook for a couple hours (time depends on your cooking method, I often just throw them in the slow cooker all day). I put beans in ALL KINDS of things. Chickpeas are great in curries or turned into hummus. Beans go into soups and stews of all sorts. Black/kidney/pinto beans go into burritos, nachos, etc or sometimes I make them into refried beans. White beans are good for making dips or for "binders" to thicken and hold together various non-meat things (like sweet potato burgers). Admittedly, I am usually lazy and just use canned, but dried is cheaper and you can make big batches and freeze if you want.

        Lentils are much less fuss. I use them in curries frequently, but they are also good in lots of soups and stews.

  9. Please realize that access to grocery stores has historically been gatekept across racial and economic lines in a development strategy called Red Lining. Saying that anyone can access healthy food for cheap denies and erases the struggle against environmental racism that historically Black neighborhoods are still impacted by. You can learn about redlining here: http://www.citylab.com/…/retail-redlining-one…/5311/

  10. Don't be afraid of the "reduced for quick sale" shelf. If I'm buying from this shelf, it means I'm adding to my list, but it often yields fantastic produce for a good price. You may have to sort through the ugly/the bruised/the starting-to-turn-yucky, but if you are creative in the kitchen you can make excellent food for a reduced price. I've made fantastic soups, sauces, salads, and baking using produce that was slightly squashed and in the markdown area.

  11. Good advice!

    You forgot "Eat your left-overs!"

    We used to throw out way too much food (and money when you think of it). Either eat the as is or recycle the food into sonething else, example cooked chicken recipes.

    Buy some clear glass or plastic containers. Prepare them "ready to go" with meal and sides etc. immediately after you finish eating. Designate a left-over shelf in the fridge. We call it the lunch shelf. Everyone can just grab lunch quick and easy that way.

    Leftovers are good four days, older than that is not safe.

    Prep veggies and store in mason jars. Apparently, peeling a carrot is too hard for teenagers but they will eat carrots if already cut in sticks… Sigh.

    • People have tried to impose hard and fast rules for how long leftovers are good. Yours sounds more reasonable than most I have heard, someone tried to tell me that leftovers are only good for 48 hours regardless of what they are and I thought they were pretty strange.

      However, in my opinion, there are simply too many variables for there to be a universal rule for how long leftovers are safe. What is in the leftovers? (Certain foods go bad much more quickly than others. Seafood needs to be eaten right away, for example.) How cold is your refrigerator? (Mine often ends up so cold it is almost a freezer, and things keep longer.) How quickly did you refrigerate that food? (If it sat out for an hour, many types of food area already not safe.)

      In my opinion it is a better idea to look at the food and smell it. If nothing looks or smells wrong and you've followed proper food handling procedures then is most likely still fine to eat. Yes, there are a few things that can go wrong with food that don't involve it looking or smelling bad, but those things should not be happening with your food if you prepared and stored it correctly.

  12. I'm currently eating lunch at my desk for work, which was a healthy vegetarian frozen burrito that I made three weeks ago. I make about 20 of these at a time, for those days when I need a healthy-and-super-easy-to-grab-and-go lunch. They're WAY healthier and cheaper than than frozen burritos.

    I don't actually know where I learned about these, but I basically make some filling by throwing in a bunch of rice, beans, and veggies in my crock pot for a day. When I get home, I scoop some of the slop into a small tortilla with some some shredded cheese. I individually wrap them up in wax paper first, then again in plastic wrap. When I get to work, I unwrap and microwave them. They keep for about 5 weeks, which is about the time I start to get tired of eating them.

  13. Make things in bigger quantities than you'd eat in just one sitting. My new husband and I often make huge batches of pasta sauce, soup, stew or roasted meats (like chicken thighs) and then freeze them in individual- sized servings for instant dinners or quick lunches. Also, making big batches of stewed tomatoes is hella-easy and if you get them seasonally and locally by the flat you can freeze or can enough to last for the next year. Commercially tinned tomatoes lose a ton of their nutrients and are (in my opinion) really bland. Plus, they're really expensive when you compare them to the cost of making the same amount of stewed tomatoes from scratch.

  14. Gardening even a few things can also save a ton of money. In particular, I save a fortune growing my own spices and herbs, like basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, lavendar, cilantro, and dill. You can use indoor/balcony pots or a community garden plot if you don't have your own land.

  15. I would actually like to correct this article a bit — don't buy frozen but rather learn to properly preserve your foods! The most useful trick I learned on preventing food waste and lowering our food budget is how to dry leftovers before they turn (i.e. Kale Powder for smoothies), how to freeze things (we slice and separate our jalepenos to have instant fresh pucks when we cook in 1/2 jalapeño servings, curtosey of ice cube trays) and how to reuse scraps (we DIY our own apple cider vinegar and cleaning solution using leftover orange peels). We used every bit of our garden this year without losing any of our growth before the first freeze. When you can find the right deals, fresh produce is way cheaper. Figure out what's near the end of season and buy it up then preserve it for the next year!

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.