10 Ways to Eat Healthy on a Budget

By Joanna Dolgoff, MD, Child Obesity Specialist for The Biggest Loser Author of Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right

Posted on | By Joanna Dolgoff, MD

The recession is causing us all to watch our bottom lines. However, there is no better investment than an investment into your health. Eating healthy today will lead to better health (and lower medical bills) in the future. That said, there are ways to have it both ways - healthy and economical. Low cost doesn’t have to mean low quality. In fact, some of the most inexpensive things you can buy are the best things for you.

Read on for some suggestions to help you keep your supermarket bills in check.

1. Make Three Shopping Lists

Look around your house before you head to the market and make the following lists:

  • Foods You Need Immediately: Buy these items even if they are not on sale. 
  • Foods You Will Need Soon: Only buy these items if they are on sale or if you have a coupon. If they are not on sale, try again next week. You never know when a sale will pop up! Stock up on non-perishables when they go on sale.
  • Foods You Will Not Need For a While: Do not buy these foods.

2. Use Coupons

  • Many supermarkets offer coupons. Clip the coupons and save them until you need the item.
  • Go online. Do a search for the name of the food item you want to buy and the word coupon. You will be shocked at how much you can save by doing a little investigation on the web. Print the coupons and prepare to save.
  • Many stores offer loyalty cards for extra savings; it never hurts to ask if your local store has a loyalty program.

3. Don’t Shop Hungry

Eat a healthy snack before heading out the door. It is diet and wallet sabotage to shop hungry. Hungry shoppers fill their baskets with all kinds of non-essentials. It is always best to shop on a full stomach.

4. Buy in Bulk

  • Buying in bulk usually saves you money. To see if you are really getting a better deal, compare the unit prices of the bigger and smaller containers on the store’s shelf.
  • Smart bulk choices are family packs of chicken, steak, or fish and larger bags of potatoes and low-sodium canned or frozen vegetables.
  • Instead of pre-packaged foods, buy bigger containers and make your own single servings!
  • For example, buy a large barrel of pretzel rods and portion them into small baggies at home.
  • Consider going to a wholesale store for your non-perishables.

5. Buy Generic

Why waste money on brand name foods when the generic versions taste the same?

6. Buy in Season

  • Fruit can be reasonably priced when it is bought in season. Each season offers delicious produce options. Take advantage of nature's natural variety!
  • During the summer months, corn on the cob can cost as little as 10 cents an ear; at other times of the year, it may cost 10 times as much.
  • Vitamin-rich vegetables can become the centerpiece of your meals without putting a dent in your wallet e.g. broccoli, mustard greens, arugula, bok choi, chard, carrots, onions, parsnips, sweet potatoes, leeks, beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, mushrooms, and squashes of all shapes and sizes.
  • Opt for apples, pears, and cranberries for inexpensive fruits packed with nutrients.
  • Some healthy, flavorful foods that can spice up any dish are ginger, garlic, burdock, scallions, and parsley.
  • Shop your local farmers’ market for great deals on local produce; the produce will be fresher and the prices won’t include shipping costs.

 7. Buy Frozen

If fresh produce is too expensive, consider frozen. Frozen produce usually has the same vitamins and nutrient as fresh.  In fact, sometimes frozen produce has higher vitamin values than fresh produce. Frozen products are flash-frozen at the time of optimal ripeness when vitamin levels are at their highest. The vitamins in fresh produce decrease naturally with time while they are waiting to get from the farm to your grocery store.

8. Get Protein From Less Expensive Sources

  • Soy products, such as tofu, are much less expensive than high-quality meat. Tofu, or bean curd, has very little flavor of its own, so it can be seasoned or marinated to work with any dish. Consider making a vegetable stir fry that is 70% bean curd and 30% meat. It’s low in calories and relatively high in protein, iron, and fiber. 
  • Beans and legumes: They cost very little, but bring a robust flavor and a bounty of benefits to your health.  Beans and legumes are packed with protein and fiber, provide the good kind of fat, and are loaded with complex carbohydrates, the nutrients that provide energy to the body. You can buy these in bulk, another savings tip, because dried beans and legumes will keep their quality for 6-12 months in an airtight glass container stored in a cool, dry place. 
  • Whole grains: A good source of dietary fiber, protein, and essential fatty acids, whole grains are filling and delicious. Eating whole grains reduces the risks of coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity. Try barley, brown rice, oats, quinoa, rice, rye, sorghum, spelt, organic wheat pasta, buckwheat pasta, and amaranth. These can also be bought in bulk and stored in glass containers for up to 6 months.

 9. Be Smart About Leftovers

  • When you make more than one meal at a time, you save money and time. The trick is to plan in advance so that nothing goes to waste.
  • Before heading to the supermarket, loosely plan what recipes you will make for the week. Include meals like stews, casseroles, or stir-fries, which “stretch” expensive items into more portions.
  • Get creative so that you don't end up eating the same meal over and over. For example, yesterday's chicken salad can be today's chicken salad sandwich.
  • Soup is a great way to make use of leftovers. Not only is soup one of the healthiest ways to fill up, it is also one of the most cost-effective. Use the vegetable scraps from the preparation of other meals to make your own vegetable broth. You can also add in leftover chicken, potatoes or other vegetables from the week’s meals to add bulk to your soup.

10. Homemade Meals Save Money

  • Packing lunch is almost always healthier and less expensive than buying it from a store.
  • Be adventurous; bagged lunch doesn't have to be a sandwich every day. Get a short wide stainless steel thermos and bring leftovers, soup, or anything else you have in the house.
  • Restaurant-sized portions should last for more than one meal. When you do eat out, ask your waiter to bag half the meal right when they serve it and eat the leftovers for lunch the next day.
  • Convenience foods like frozen dinners, pre-cut vegetables, and instant rice, oatmeal, will cost you more than if you were to make them from scratch. Take the time to prepare your own – and save! 

Use these simple tricks and you can eat like a king without spending like a royal.

Article written by Joanna Dolgoff, MD
Child Obesity Specialist for The Biggest LoserAuthor of Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right