Eating healthy while on a budget can feel overwhelming, especially with today’s high food prices. It can feel tempting to purchase higher quantities of low-cost, low-nutrient foods rather than produce in order to stay within budget. But it doesn’t need to be this way! As someone who has spent the past three years as a full-time graduate student, I understand the challenge. Through a lot of trial and error, I figured out some tips and tricks to save money while making nutritious choices. Below are several of the methods I discovered work best.
The first step is to have a plan before going to the store. Be sure to set a weekly food budget to prevent unnecessary spending. Once you have a number you are comfortable with, browse the web for 2-3 recipes that fit within the budget and have similar ingredients. If you are on a strict budget, most stores have an order online option where you can search for the items on list, add them to your virtual cart, and check to see if you are comfortable with the cost. While this sounds time-consuming, it helps save a lot of money in the long run. Also, choosing recipes with similar ingredients helps reduce cost and food waste. And, that way, you won’t spend hours at the store looking for a bunch of different things. From the recipes chosen for the week, begin to form a grocery list. Evidence has shown having a grocery list prepared and ready will help remember what is needed, minimize impulsive purchases, aid in structuring meals & snacks, and overall eating habits.
Second, be prepared prior to entering the store. Aim to have a small, balanced snack at least an hour before heading out. Being in a grocery store on an empty stomach makes everything look tasty and can lead to poor choices (been there). Also, be aware of any deals the store is having, and search for coupons that only apply to your grocery list. Aldi posts weekly deals on their website, which varies by store location. Follow this link to search for an Alidi location closest to you. Once you find your location, click “View Weekly Ad,” to find some deals!
Third, focus on purchasing produce wisely. Choosing in season produce is cheaper than buying produce that is out of season. If you are unsure what produce is in season, you can search for seasonal produce here. Frozen fruits and vegetables are also a cost-effective way to buy produce, and they last much longer compared to fresh. This reduces food waste and saves you more money in the long run, so you aren’t constantly throwing away rotten food items and buying more. Canned fruits and vegetables are also a good, cost-effective choice. Make sure to choose canned vegetables that say, “low sodium,” or “no salt added,” on the can. If you are unable to get a low-sodium option, rinse the vegetable before eating. When choosing canned fruits, aim to pick “canned in 100% juice,” and drain prior to eating. Choosing frozen or canned veggies over fresh also reduces prep time, as it is easy to throw them in the microwave, pan, or oven for a quick side dish. Lastly (and this one can take some trial and error), try not to purchase more fresh produce than you can comfortably eat in a week.
There are a few online tools available to further help eating healthy while on a budget. I personally love using Shop Simple with MyPlate. I think it is an excellent resource that provides many healthy, budget friendly recipes and general nutrition education. I really like how it provides a list of budget-friendly foods by food group. For example, under fruits, mango is listed. When you select mango, Shop Simple will provide tips, serving ideas, recipes, and the nutrition of a mango in the middle of the screen. It does a wonderful job of breaking the information down into more digestible parts. Shop Simple is available via mobile phone, tablet, or computer, and you can find the link here. Another great resource to use is either SuperCook or Foodcombos. These apps allow you to input the food you have left in your pantry, and then generates a recipe based off that. It’s a great tool to use when you don’t have time (or are too tired) to hit the grocery store (again, been there!). It’s also an excellent way to reduce food waste and save money on takeout. Both are apps available in both the App Store and Google Play.