Certain circumstances require families or individuals to do a little “belt tightening” when it comes to the household budget. If you or a family member has experienced reduced income due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you may very well be in such a situation. However, this doesn’t mean you have to give up fresh, healthy foods in order to overcome financial challenges.
In this blog post, we'll talk about 5 key tips to eating healthy on a budget:
Tip #1: Meal Planning is Key
Leah Haak-Beck, registered dietitian from our Nutrition Therapy department, says that strategic meal planning can make a significant impact on stretching your dollar.
“Meal planning is one of the top things I talk about with clients or patients, because it takes a lot of the guesswork out. It really minimizes waste, which is essentially throwing away your money,” she says. “I don't know how many times I've had really good intentions, purchased a lot of fruits and vegetables, especially fresh ones, and then before I could even use them they were slimy in my fridge. But, if I have planned, I use them before they spoil and keep that money in my pocket and not throw it in the garbage can.”
Depending on your needs, you can plan for a week, two weeks, or even a month.
Tip #2: Buying In-Season Produce
Another trick Leah recommends is buying in-season produce, which typically lowers the cost—and yet, you actually get better-tasting, higher-quality fruits and vegetables. Farmers’ markets will often offer fresh produce at a lower price than a grocery store.
For those who live in geographic areas that may not support year-round growing environments, canned or frozen produce is a good alternative. “Fruits and vegetables that have been canned or frozen are actually pretty similar, nutritionally. In some cases, they're able to be picked at the peak of freshness and ripeness, when the produce has the most nutrition, and it's preserved through the canning or freezing process. So, that's a great way to get less expensive things when they're not in season,” she advises.
Tip #3: Make a Grocery List and Stick to it!
How many times have you gone to the store and headed home with a number of extraneous items—and missed picking up items you really needed? That brings to attention the power of the grocery list.
“Having a plan, having that list and sticking to it can really help you stay on budget rather than grabbing those miscellaneous items. Without this approach, next thing you know you have easily spent an extra fifty dollars on foods you might not even eat,” cautions Leah.
This phenomenon is especially precarious if you go into the store hungry. “When you're hungry, everything looks good, right? So it's really easy. ‘Ooh, that looks really good. I'm going to grab some of that too.’ It can make it a lot harder to stick to your grocery list, and to stay on budget. I suggest going after you've eaten a meal or a snack to balance your blood sugars and get you in a good state of mind for that budget-friendly shopping,” adds Leah.
Tip #4: Utilize Protein Substitutions
For those who are intent on getting enough protein in their diet, buying lean meats or seafood can be cost-prohibitive. Leah recommends replacing a percentage of animal protein (e.g. beef, poultry, fish) with beans, lentils, and eggs as an excellent way to stretch your budget. And, she doesn’t discount generic brands as a way to reduce costs.
“Check out the generic brands; sometimes the ingredients are the same. In fact, some generic products are actually produced in the same production facilities, and they just have a different label. So they're the exact same product. You can do a little bit of sleuthing by checking out the labels and seeing what's in it. Generic products can be a great way to save money when you're on a budget.”
Tip #5: Treat Yo’ Self (But Budget to Do It)
Eating out shouldn’t be an everyday occurrence, but sometimes it’s nice to treat yourself—despite the cost. Per Leah, these outings should also be figured into the budget.
“Feeding a family at a restaurant, you can easily spend over a hundred dollars. Whereas if you're shopping for groceries, you could easily feed your family for a week or more. But, eating at restaurants is a part of life. There's not always time to cook, or maybe you just want to eat out for fun. That's something that you can budget for. Maybe you have that in your overall budget, and you allocate a certain amount of money to eating out so you can still enjoy and have fun. Just keep it in check, or have some parameters you want to stick to when it comes to eating out.”
You may also be interested in reading:
- How to be a Healthy, Mindful Eater
- Healthy Recipes for Pregnant Women
- Nutrition Advice & Tips from a Nutritionist