cSometimes shopping with a budget can be a game, with a thrill of excitement at how little we spend for so much stuff. I’ve been known to dance in excitement over a great deal.
If we keep this mindset on every shopping trip, though, it can harm our health and community. When shopping for food, keep these 3 things in mind:
- Junk food may be cheaper, but it has fewer nutrients per ounce and per calorie. This means you have to eat more of the junk than you do healthy foods. Junk costs less, but you have to buy more.
- You can sometimes talk a local farmer into lowering prices for you, but remember this is his livelihood and he deserves a fair wage.
- The money you spend on healthier foods is also investing in your life. When you provide your body with great nutrition, you’ll likely have more energy and strength to enjoy yourself and possibly have fewer medical costs in the future.
With that said, it is definitely possible to eat healthy on a budget. You’ve probably heard many of these tips already, but here they are as inspiration and motivation to keep at it, no matter how tight your budget is.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through a link, I may receive a small compensation at no extra cost to you.
Make It Yourself
1. Look at processed foods – all of those boxes and ready-to-eat meals that you buy – and see if you can make any yourself. Salad dressings, yogurt, bread, and ice cream are good examples. When deciding whether store-bought or homemade is cheaper for you, take into account how often you eat the item and how expensive the ingredients are.
2. Use trusted recipes. This is especially important if you’re not an experienced cook or baker. Use recipes from big names like Taste of Home or use highly rated ones from sites like AllRecipes.com. Read reviews when available, since many readers give great advice and trouble-shooting tips. You’ll waste less if the recipe is good.
3. Use your homemade goods as a bargaining chip. “You have an apple tree? Have you ever made your own apple butter?” (Let’s assume they say no, but that they’d like to someday.) “If you share a bushel of apples with me, I can make you a couple of jars of apple butter.”
4. Make a plan for leftovers. Have a “leftovers night” for dinner, plan to have the extras for lunch, or see if it can be frozen. You paid hard-earned money for that food.
5. Use scraps. Freeze bones and vegetable scraps until you have enough to make your own broth or soup. Freeze fruit scraps until you have enough to go in smoothies or for making your own fruit vinegar.
6. Use all edible parts. Did you know you can eat the green tops from carrots and beets? Some local farmers will give edible green tops of root vegetables away or sell them dirt cheap because most people don’t want them.
7. Prep your foods in advance, especially for snacks. Fruits and vegetables are more likely to be eaten if they are already washed and cut, which means less waste.
8. Substitute foods instead of buying new. Many fruits and vegetables are also interchangeable in recipes, so use what you have. I used chopped radish seed pods in place of green peas in a chicken pot pie. Joy of Baking has a huge list of ingredient substitutions for baking.
9. Eat until you’re satisfied, not stuffed. Overloading your body with excess food has no benefits.
10. Opt for nonfood rewards, preferably free ones. You’re not hungry, so why reward yourself with food?
11. Eat mindfully. Notice what you eat, appreciate the flavor, and chew it well. You eat more when you’re not paying attention, and you miss out on the enjoyment of it.
12. Look at other ways to save money in the kitchen, like having cloth napkins and not turning the oven on in the middle of a summer day. You don’t just pay for food — you pay for the electricity, water, and disposable goods, too. We go through lots of bags for my husband’s lunch, so these reusable sandwich bags are on my wishlist.
Use Cheaper Foods
13. Oats, beans, rice, and bananas are fairly cheap foods. So are the ones on this list (though not all foods on this list will be healthy choices for everyone).
14. Buy cheaper meats, such as whole chickens instead of just breasts. Then use the bones to make homemade broth.
15. Use meat as a compliment to the meal instead of as the star dish. Soups, stews, pasta or grain dishes, and casseroles are great for this.
16. Make the meat go farther by adding vegetables to it. In meatloaf and meatballs, oats, crackers, breadcrumbs, or grated vegetables can be used. The blog Six Figures Under shows how to stretch meat farther by adding pureed vegetables.
17. Keep your eyes open at yard sales, flea markets, and pop-up roadside stands. Couponers and gardeners sometimes have excess that they’re willing to sale more cheaply than the grocery stores.
18. If you need a little fruit or vegetable puree for baking, try a container of baby food (besides pumpkin, which is cheaper in a can). With a sale, it may be cheaper than buying fresh produce, especially if you don’t have a use for the leftovers.
Use Mother Nature
19. Grow it yourself, and grow it cheaply. Anything you grow (and use) will help with food costs, and it also gives you something to barter with.
20. Forage. Food that’s free and healthy? How can we pass this up?! Many healthy foods are cut down as weeds or bypassed as ornamentals. Take a local foraging class to learn what is in your area, and do not eat anything wild unless you are 100% sure of what it is. Fallen Fruit shows locations of public places to forage, and Eat the Weeds is a good resource for learning to identify wild edibles.
21. Grow edible flowers. They are a highly underused resource, abd they’re pretty in your yard and in your salad. Home Cooking has an edible flower chart. They won’t fill you up, but they can spruce up a bland meal.
22. Plan your meals ahead of time so you’re not relying on take-out and boxes of processed foods.
23. Prepare snacks or meals to take with you if you will be away from home for longer than 2 hours.
24. Plan for busy nights and sudden emergencies by keeping a couple of homemade meals in the freezer that just need to be heated.
25. When going out to eat, look online at the restaurant’s menu so you’ll have an idea of your options. Also look for coupons or discount gift certificates at Groupon or other discount sites.
26. Know the general prices of your meals — or at least know which are cheap vs. costly. Have a list of cheaper meals in your arsenal, so you know which foods to turn to when you’ve overspent.
27. Keep a wishlist, and take advantage of holidays that have gift giving. If someone asks what you want, never say “oh, nothing. You don’t have to get me anything.” Has that line actually stopped anyone from buying something? Instead, you’ll likely end up with a gift you don’t want or need. You can give specific answers (like a spiralizer or immersion blender) or general responses (“I could always use a gift card to Whole Foods or something else that makes healthy eating easier.”)
28. Don’t shop when hungry, of course.
29. Make the drive worth it. If a store has organic strawberries on sale for $1.50/lb, the savings of 1 pound isn’t worth the time and gas to get there. Either find more things to buy from their sales ad or call ahead to make sure they have enough in stock for you to buy in bulk.
30. Know the best prices. Until you are familiar with how much you spend on your typical foods, keep a list of prices so you’ll know a good deal when you see it.
31. Get familiar with a variety of stores and markets. You may do most of your shopping at one place, but it’s good to know what else your community offers. Check out farmer’s markets, farms with their own stores, pick-your-own farms, ethnic food stores, discount and bargain stores, and other local places. Azure Standard has great prices if they have a drop off in your area.
32. Buy items that you’ll use. Something on clearance isn’t a good deal if it gets shoved to the back of your fridge until it expires.
33. Buy quantities that you’ll use. A gallon of milk costs less per ounce than a half gallon, but if you consistently pour out sour milk, buy the smaller size.
34. Buy in bulk when the price is low. For really large quantities, call the store at the beginning of the sale so the manager can order the proper amount. If the item is perishable, buy in bulk only if you know you have the time and resources to preserve it.
35. Check the unit price. In theory, larger packages are cheaper per ounce than smaller packages, but great sales on smaller packs can change this.
36. Use coupons when available. Saving Star has digital coupons to attach to your store cards, and it offers one healthy option each week. Ibotta, a cashback app, has been known to have healthy deals. Checkout 51 is another grocery cashback site, though they have a minimum $20 cashout. Also, some companies will mail you coupons if you email them with compliments or complaints (or you simply ask for coupons).
37. Know your store’s coupon policy, since some stores allow you to use a manufacturer coupon and a store coupon on the same item.
38. Bring sale ads to price match, if the store allows it.
39. Use a credit card, but only if you do well budgeting your money and paying off your card every month. Choose a card that gives cash back for your purchases.
40. Buy frozen foods. When on sale, they’re often cheaper than their fresh counterparts, and you don’t have to worry about using them right away.
41. Many online retailers are cheaper than what you get in brick-and-mortar stores. My favorites are Amazon, Walmart, Vitacost, The Raw Food World, and Mountain Rose Herbs.
42. Shop through cash back websites before making an online purchase. Join at least 2 sites, since each one offers different percentages and stores. My favorite 3 are TopCashBack, ShopAtHome, and Ebates.
43. Check out blogs dedicated to finding healthier deals, like The Greenbacks Gal.
44. Follow my Pinterest board, Healthier Eating on a Budget, or other relevant boards.
Store It Properly
45. Buying in bulk is only useful if you can keep the food from perishing before you’re ready to consume it. Dry foods with a dehydrator or your oven. You can make things like beef jerky, garlic powder, and fruit roll-ups.
46. Freeze your bulk buys and leftovers with help from this guide: Can You Freeze That? So you don’t have to thaw more than you need, freeze food in small portions, such as in ice cube trays, quart-sized freezer bags, or small glass containers.
47. Store whole grains, beans, dried herbs, etc. in air-tight containers. If your home is prone to mice or other critters, avoid storing anything in plastic bags, since animals and insects can easily chew through them. Sanitized 2-liter bottles are a cheap alternative for storing dry foods.
48. Learn how to properly store your fruits and vegetables so that they stay fresh longer.
Barter and Share
49. Ask a local farmer or hobbyist gardener if they’d be interested in trading. Join Simbi, a fairly new bartering community, and see my tips at Bartering: What, Where, and How.
50. Make it known to neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family that you would happily use their excess garden produce (just don’t become obnoxious by reminding them daily). Be friendly to people, and they’ll be more likely to remember you when they have extra. Send a thank you note when they give you something, so that they’ll know to consider you next time, too.
51. Ask. If you see a tree dropping ripe fruit or nuts, ask the owners if you could pick or buy some. Just be polite, not pushy. The Real Farmhouse has a great etiquette guide for getting free produce through gleaning.
52. Buy in bulk with someone. It can be cheaper to buy a whole cow or 25 pounds of grains instead of smaller portions. To make it a manageable size and cost, ask your family and friends if they want to split the cost.
Whew, that’s all I can think of for now. How do you save money in the kitchen?
This post is linked to the Healthy Living Link Party at A Bountiful Love.