Ask anybody who’s shopped at Whole Foods: Adopting a healthy diet can test your will and your wallet. Proper planning and savvy shopping can help you overcome challenges on both fronts.
Here’s how to eat healthy on a budget:
1. Make your own meals
Cooking at home kills two birds with one stone. You eat healthier by using a fraction of the butter and salt that restaurants tend to use, and you spend less money.
Order salmon at a restaurant, for example, and you’ll likely pay at least $15. You can get a pound of frozen salmon fillets, enough for three 5-ounce servings, for the same price or less at your local grocer.
When you do eat out, order an appetizer or split an entree with your dining companion to save on money and calories.
2. Plan your weekly menu
Meal planning is a great way to stick to a healthy diet without blowing up your budget. Map out your meals for the week — breakfast, lunch and dinner — and make a grocery list, taking into account what you already have in your pantry. This will keep you from over-shopping and helps guard against impulse purchases.
Planning will also help you maximize your grocery haul. Roasting a chicken one night? Shred the leftovers, add some salsa and toss it on a tortilla for lunch the next day. Or mix it up with some homemade mayo and a diced apple for a tasty chicken salad.
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3. Buy frozen produce
Fruits and vegetables are a staple of any healthy diet. But fresh produce has a short shelf life and can be pricey, especially if the item isn’t in season. Opt for frozen goods to save money, without sacrificing nutritional value.
“Produce is flash frozen at peak ripeness, meaning flavor and nutrients remain intact,” says consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch. “Plus, frozen goods store longer than fresh and you can stock up during sale time.”
4. Opt for store brands
Generic products are often identical to their name-brand counterparts in ingredients and quality. Where they differ is price.
“Shoppers can save 30% to 50% when they buy generic or store brands of such healthy foods as whole wheat pasta, canned organic vegetables and more,” Woroch says.
A 16-ounce bag of frozen broccoli at Giant is just $1 if you opt for the store brand. Buy the Bird’s Eye brand instead and you’ll pay $2 for a 14-ounce bag.
5. Hit the tail end of the farmers market
The early bird gets the worm, or so the saying goes. But when shopping at your local farmers market, you can get the worm — or berries, greens and beets — for less if you show up late.
“I shop at farmers markets right before the market closes to get a discounted price on produce,” says Jerlyn Jones, a registered dietitian who works at a health center that serves low-income and homeless individuals. “Most times the farmers are happy to sell at lower price than take food back to the farm that didn’t sell.”
Many markets accept federal and state food benefits, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly referred to as SNAP. Some even offer matching dollar programs, helping your benefits go further.
6. Try cheaper cuts of meat
Think beyond boneless, skinless chicken breasts, which can run anywhere from $4 to $9 per pound. Instead, snag some chicken legs or thighs for less than $2 per pound.
Not hungry for chicken? Pop a pork shoulder or beef roast into the slow cooker. Either will yield enough to feed your family with leftovers to spare, and both are more budget friendly than steaks or chops.
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7. Shop at discount grocers
Eating healthy doesn’t require shopping at Whole Foods. Discount stores like Aldi and Trader Joe’s offer healthy, organic eats for less than mainstream grocery chains. A bag of quinoa, a protein-packed whole grain, is $2.99 at Aldi, compared with $5.99 at Giant.
Hitting multiple stores can also help stretch your budget. Check weekly circulars and look for coupons to determine which retailer offers the best deals for the items on your grocery list.
A previous version of this article misstated the name of Aldi. This article has been corrected.