How To Eat Healthy On A Budget (15 Cheap Diet Tips)

 

Written by: Spencer Higgs - May. 18, 2020

how to eat healthy on a budget  

True story: most people don’t know how to eat healthy on a budget. Many think it’s an impossible task. I assure you, it’s not. But it does take a little skill and planning. That said, the rewards are abundant. It’s a great way to stretch a dollar that you’d rather put toward something more satisfying, like a savings account or your dream vacation. If learning how to diet on a budget sounds restrictive, get ready to have your mind (and weight loss goals) blown!

From creating a cheap grocery list (that’s still mouthwatering) to building new habits that save you both coin and calories, I’ll go over 15 tips that show you how to eat healthy on a budget. What you do with all the money you save is entirely up to you!

Woman learning how to eat healthy on a budget


1. Create A Concrete Grocery Budget


Knowing how to eat healthy on a budget isn’t a superpower, nor does it restrict you to bland, monotonous meals. In fact, you can eat well while getting creative, even on a shoestring. The secret is nailing down a good grocery budget. 

Just as you’d budget for anything, take a look at how much you make, what your expenses are, and how much you want to save. Your grocery budget will be factored into your expenses. 

The USDA reported the average monthly spend for individuals was between $165 and $230 per month, depending on age, gender, and thrifty vs low-cost grocery budgets. The typical family of four eating on a budget spent around $565 – $855 in 2019, depending on the age of their children. [1] Use these numbers as a good starting point for your budget.

This is the most important step in learning how to diet on a budget. Once you see how much you can afford to spend at the food store, you can work out a cheap grocery list to stick to week after week.

2. Create A Cheap Grocery List


Creating a cheap grocery list is easy once you’ve got your budget narrowed down. List all the food you’d like to eat, plus the ingredients you’ll need for that week’s meals (more on meal planning later). As you learn how to diet on a budget, aim to make 70% or more of your grocery list whole foods. Whole foods are foods that are unprocessed, unrefined, or are in their most natural state upon consumption. These typically include foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, rice, legumes, eggs, and meat. Avoid processed foods as much as you can! Lastly, when you’re at the store, stick to your list! Otherwise, you may be more likely to overspend or purchase foods you’ll realize later you don’t really need. It also helps to not do your grocery shopping when you’re hungry! You’re way more likely to stick to the items on your list and avoid adding sweets and junk food to your cart.

3. Choose By Nutrition Density Vs Item Cost


Some foods seem expensive on shelves, but are worth more than their weight in nutritional gold. You’ll want to factor that in when figuring out how to diet on a budget. 

Take avocados, for instance, which average $2.10 per item, depending on the store and the season. [2] But a single serving is approximately 1/5 of an avocado, roughly 20 to 42 cents per serving. Within that 1/5 of a fruit you get a breadth of important vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and energy to last you well into your next meal. [3]

The same goes for whole wheat bread and pastas. Sure, the sticker price might be more than their cheaper, blander, more processed counterparts, but they’re higher in nutrients and fiber, so you’ll need smaller portions (which means fewer calories) to feel full and get the nutrition your body needs. Plus, dietary fiber is directly associated with lower body weight. [4]

4. Drink Your Greens


Speaking of surprisingly affordable items, using a veggie supplement might be the best thing for your budget!

Despite their favorable nutrition-to-cost ratio, buying large amounts of fruits and vegetables can still be expensive, especially for people just learning how to eat healthy on a budget. Not to mention the food waste if you don’t get around to eating them all. But powdered veggie supplements can boast incredible concentrations of nutrients, giving budgeters the potential to get their daily dose of greens in one or two tasty scoops. 

Studies have shown that veggie supplements have an extremely positive effect on overall health. One study in particular examined the effects of fruit and green powders on obese, pre-menopausal women and found that they were extremely effective at reducing oxidation and inflammation, as well as boosting skin health. [5]

One of the best green powders on the market is SkinnyFit Skinny Greens, a powerful and delicious blend of 34 superfoods. Each scoop helps nourish your body with powerful vitamins, antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, gut-renewing probiotics, vegetables, and adaptogens to help you destress and improve mood and focus. The thing is, you get all of this in one scoop for roughly $1.99! Think about that—an entire meal’s worth nutrients help you look and feel better for under two bucks!

On top of saving money, you’ll also be saving space in your fridge and pantry. And since Skinny Greens is made from natural sources, you don’t have to worry about suspicious ingredients! If you need a starting point for how to eat healthy on a budget, this is it.

Learning how to eat healthy is Easy with Skinny Greens, featured here in a SkinnyFit bottle and surrounded by fresh fruits and veggies.


5. Plan Your Meals


If you’re committed to a cheap grocery list, meal planning is one of the best strategies for sticking to it. 

Before getting started, go through your fridge and cabinets to take stock of what foods you already have. You’ll likely find that you have a lot of base ingredients and staples, such as rice, that can go with a variety of meal options. 

Make a list of the meals you’ll be making for a week and stick to it day after day.

6. Meal Prep For The Week


When I first started learning how to eat healthy on a budget, I always missed this tip. 

Prepping meals for the week means you’re already one step ahead on your budget and diet. It’s essential for people who are used to dining out on their lunch break because it forces you to stick to food you’ve already bought, cooked, and brought to work. So you’ll be less likely to dine out on over-salted, high-carb, high-fat meals that make you tired and unfocused after lunch.  If you need more tips on how to start meal prepping, check out the 12 meal prep secrets that health and fitness experts swear by!

7. Eat In


Speaking of not eating out—dining in is one of the most effective ways to cut back on calories and save money in the process! Many people know how to diet on a budget, but simply can’t bring themselves to cut back on social dining experiences. Unfortunately, that’s no help for your fit goals or your finances. 

Consider this: the average meal costs $13. And let me be clear—that’s the average, which includes lower cost regions and breakfast and lunch, which tend to run cheaper than dinner. If you’re having dinner out in a place like New York, Miami, Seattle, or San Francisco, a meal two or three times that can be a steal! By comparison, the average meal cooked at home is only $4.00! [6]

You may also find other benefits that aren’t necessarily budget-related, such as the good feeling of a full dinner table, the closeness of family, and the richness of conversation.

Knowing how to eat healthy on a budget can mean more family time. Photo of a family of three enjoying a meal together.


8. Eat Less Meat!


Meat will take a huge bite out of your grocery budget! But cutting back your meat consumption will do wonders for both your waistline and your savings. Try only eating meat one meal per day, four to five days per week. Leave the other days for vegetarian meals. Planning comes into play here big time, though. You don’t want to replace meat with nutrient-deficient items like simple carbohydrates.

But what about protein? Relax, meat is by no means the only only way to get complete proteins in your diet. A vegetarian diet can give you all the essential amino acids your body needs for protein requirements, and can help fend off chronic illnesses. [7]

9. Cook Large Portions And Separate Leftovers Before You Sit Down To Eat


Western diets are definitely known for large portions. The problem is, we tend to eat (or try to eat) everything on our plates. When you’re cooking a meal, aim to make at least one or two extra portions for yourself. Then, before you load up your plate, set those portions aside in a container for later. This way, you’ll be less likely to go back for seconds. (You don’t want to deprive your future self a free lunch tomorrow, do you?) This is an excellent approach to meal prepping, too, and works great for foods such as soups, stews, pastas, and stir-fries, which are often better the following day!

10. Bargain Hunt At Farmers Markets


When figuring out how to eat healthy on a budget, don’t overlook farmers markets. Sure the produce is often higher priced than food stores, but it’s also higher quality, and not without deals to be had. Assuming you know where (and how) to look. 

Loyalty goes a long way at farmers markets. Find a vendor you like and stick with them. Building up friendly relationships with vendors you like often leads to discounts and friend deals down the line. 

Hitting the farmers market with a cheap grocery list? That’s okay! Don’t be afraid to just ask for a discount, especially if you’re buying multiple items. “I’d love to buy a few baskets of strawberries from you. Can you throw in a head of spinach for me?” is a line that’s worked for me. 

Undoubtedly the best deals at farmers markets are found just before closing. Hit your local farmers market about 60 minutes before closing. Many vendors will happily sell you produce at significantly reduced rates. 

But just remember the golden rule about bartering at farmers markets: Be nice! Remember that most vendors are there out of passion. They’ve seen every type of person, from professional samplers to entitled demanders, so thinking you can hardball, low ball, or ball bust your way to a deal is a great way to go home hungry.

11. Change Your Snacking Habits


Some cultures view snacking as intentional small meals that nourish and energize throughout the day. But in places where obesity is epidemic, snacking behavior doesn’t follow the same pattern. [8

In America, we tend to snack because food is there. Or because we’re bored, or frustrated, or any number of variables. This adds about 580 extra calories per day to our diets, essentially adding another meal’s worth of food that’s not likely to be healthy. [9

Reducing the amount that you snack can certainly slim your waistline and save you money. But when the urge to snack does hit and you simply need a little energy, keep it clean! Instead of sweets and high-carb, high-fat foods, reach for healthy snacks like snap peas, cherry tomatoes, or baby carrots—foods that are nutritious, tasty, and leave you feeling energized. You’ll likely find that you also eat less at dinner, which can curb caloric consumption.

A photo of fresh veggie snacks and dip to show how to eat healthy on a budget and still snack away.


12. Drink Enough Water


Speaking of snacking, we often confuse dehydration with hunger, which causes us to eat when we actually need fluids. 

Throughout the day, as you feel like snacking, drink a full glass of water instead. You may feel your urge to snack subside entirely. 

Actually, SkinnyFit Skinny Greens is a great balance of the two. It’s delicious flavor makes drinking water more inspirational, it’s loaded with soluble nutrients, and has 20 calories—enough to help stave off hunger a little longer but far less than most stacks contain.

13. Don’t Skip Breakfast!


This may sound counter intuitive, because each meal means more calories and money spent on that food. But skipping breakfast is strongly linked to excess body weight and even type 2 diabetes. Regularly eating breakfast is shown to stabilize appetites throughout the day and reduce the risk of obesity and related chronic diseases. But don’t go reaching for that box of cereal or pancake mix so fast! The quality of your breakfast food makes a difference. [10] The healthier the breakfast, the healthier the YOU!

14. Season Yourself


Wait, let me rephrase that—Season your home-cooked meals yourself. 

Most restaurant food is loaded with salt, oil and/or butter. To be sure, these ingredients can make or break the tastiness of a meal, but you don’t need to use them in such quantities as your favorite eateries (and your waistline will appreciate the break from all those excessive calories).

When making food at home, you’re the chef! Try seasoning your food with natural, nutritional flavor enhancers, like garlic, shallots, peppers, scallions, and fresh ginger. These ingredients are usually very cheap, and a little can go a long way in making your home cooked meal as mouthwatering and addicting as anything you’ll find at a typical restaurant. They also provide a ton of healthy phytonutrients. [11, 12]

15. Have Fun With It!


Arguably the best advice I can provide you for how to eat healthy on a budget is to have fun with it. Remember that reducing your budget can open new doors of creative opportunity in the kitchen. 

Have fun with your meals! Try experimenting with new ingredients, learning about nutrition, finding easy, wholesome recipes (we have a bunch right here), and appreciating the great strides you’re making to improve your health and lifestyle.

 

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