Cheap food doesn’t always mean bad food. There are plenty of ways to get affordable healthy food on your table without busting your budget.
Cheap food doesn’t necessarily have to be junk food — and adding nutrition to your diet doesn’t have to be costly. In fact, eating healthy on a budget is within reach.
Often, people spend more money filling up on empty-calorie snack foods than if they had bought fresh produce instead.
The key is shopping wisely and cooking more at home. Stock up — you can always stock your freezer with frozen varieties of fruits and vegetables.
Use these tips as your road map at the market:
- Shop the perimeter first. This is where most of the high-nutrition foods are. Fruits and vegetables can be budget foods when you buy in season, so plan your menu accordingly. But don’t forget about frozen fruits and vegetables, especially when local produce isn’t available. They are just as nutritious, and they last a lot longer.
- Go with whole grains. Avoid refined or processed grains, such as white rice, white bread, breakfast cereal, and regular pasta, which deliver fewer nutrients per penny. Instead, invest in whole grains like brown rice, oats, dark breads, and whole-grain pasta. These foods are higher in fiber, so you’ll feel fuller while eating less, and they pack more nutrition in every bite.
- Look for budget proteins. Plan a few meals around vegetable proteins, like tofu, beans, or lentils, instead of meat. Eggs are another low-cost but incredibly nutritious source of protein.
- Search high and low. The more expensive items are usually positioned at eye level. Look higher and lower for store brands. Always double-check the unit price to compare items and be sure you’re getting the best buys.
- Shop in bulk. Nuts, grains, and pasta are also good things to buy in bulk because you don’t have to worry about them going bad. Additionally, a gallon of milk is cheaper per ounce than a quart, and a whole chicken is cheaper than just buying certain pieces. Just be sure to eat these foods before they go bad.
- Buy local. These are great sources for in-season fruits and vegetables that cost less than foods imported from other states. Local produce is harvested at the point of ripeness — not a week or more in advance — so it also gets to you with more nutrients intact.
- Grow your own. You’d be surprised how many fruits and vegetables you can grow in a small plot or even in pots on your patio or deck. Additionally, herbs can be grown on just a sunny windowsill, and a cherry tomato plant only needs a small deck or patio bucket to bear fruit.
Preparing Budget Foods
The best way to take advantage of buying budget foods in bulk is to cook them in bulk. Choose your recipes carefully — make meals that allow you to cook large amount of food at once so you can freeze the leftovers for a second meal. That cuts back on valuable time and gas spent going to and from the market and the amount of time you have to spend cooking.
It’s important to always have a plan for your leftovers to maximize every dollar spent. “If you bake a whole chicken, use leftover chicken in a salad or sandwich the next day for lunch. Eating healthy on a budget does require some effort and planning, but the reward is worth it — affordable, healthy food on your family’s table.