Your budget is pretty tight, but you don’t want to eat packaged ramen or packaged macaroni and cheese every night. While these meals are low-cost, they aren’t nutritious—welcome to the high amounts of sodium and processed ingredients.
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The good news: You can eat nutrient-rich foods even when you’re constrained on money. You just need some strategies to fill your cart with cheap healthy foods.
“It’s a myth that only people with a large bank account can afford to eat healthy,” says dietitian Anthony DiMarino, RD. Shares tips for creating a grocery list of healthy foods on a budget.
Grocery shopping on a budget
Whole, slightly processed foods will give you the best nutritional value for your buck. But buying groceries on a budget requires planning to get the best prices. Here’s how you can save money on groceries:
1. Buy long lasting food
Food you keep in your fridge — dairy, meat, fresh fruits and vegetables — spoils faster than canned or frozen foods. If you don’t buy exactly the right quantities, it’s like throwing money in the trash.
Instead, stock up on canned and frozen fruits, vegetables, and meats. They last longer, and are usually cheaper too. Frozen fruits and vegetables are kept at the peak of their ripeness.
Just be sure to avoid these pitfalls:
- Frozen foods: Added ingredients like sauce or butter add extra salt and fat to your diet. Choose regular products and meat. You can add whatever you want to it at home.
- Canned vegetables: They are often high in sodium. Look for varieties labeled “low sodium” or “no salt added.”
- canned fruit: “Heavy drink” means that the ingredient is high in sugar. Choose fruit “in its own juice” or “light syrup.”
2. Maximizing savings
Coupons give you discounts on food. Cut out paper sheets or download your grocery store app to access their digital coupons. Many large marketplaces offer a special one-time coupon that gives you a portion of your total bill when you sign up for their apps.
Coupons are a great way to save money on groceries. Just don’t start buying items you don’t need just because you have a coupon for it. Stick to what you already plan to buy.
3. Plan meals around the weekly specials
A helpful weekly meal plan. It prevents you from buying foods or items you don’t need at the last minute. It also allows you to plan your meals around what’s for sale. Check your grocery store’s weekly deals—markets publish them in their digital apps and often mailings—to see what’s special and in season.
Some grocery stores have a day when their weekly deals overlap. Therefore, one set of trades ends while the other begins. It is usually in the middle of the week. If you get to the store that day, you’ll be able to access most of the discounts.
4. Choose Brand Store
Many stores offer their signature products for everything from tea to canned tomatoes to cooking oil. Look for these items next to the brand name items. They are usually cheaper than branded products – unless the branded products are on sale or you have a coupon for them.
5. Shop at the farmers market
Dimarino says: Cut the middle step and go straight to the farms for the freshest produce. Farmers’ markets are a great place to buy produce at reasonable prices.
“Go at the end of the day and haggle with the farm stalls,” he suggests. “They sometimes like to sell their remaining stock at a lower price so they don’t have to pack it up or let it go to waste.” But avoid getting caught up in expensive artisanal foods like sauces, mushrooms, and dips.
6. Check out the dollar stores
You might be surprised at what you can find in dollar stores. Many have a grocery aisle or two, as well as a few small refrigerated units. Amidst the many unhealthy options like chips, cookies, and candy, you can also find some healthy foods. Products to be picked up include:
- Canned chicken, tuna and tomatoes.
- Coffee and tea.
- Vegetable oil.
12 healthy and affordable foods for your shopping list
When the cupboards are bare, you’re more likely to eat junk food or get a box of macaroni and cheese. But some healthy foods are cheap. So, stop eating junk food by stocking up on these healthy food items in your kitchen:
- brown rice
- Cans or cans of chicken or tuna.
- Dried beans and lentils.
- Frozen chicken breasts.
- Frozen or canned fruit (in its own juice or light syrup).
- Frozen vegetables.
- Low-fat dairy products such as cottage cheese.
- Whole grain pasta.
- Whole grain crackers.
- Vegetable oil.
Cheap and healthy dinner ideas
“Try to reach all of the major food groups when planning meals, even when you’re on a tight budget,” DiMarino says. Here are some ideas for healthy and inexpensive meals:
Use whole-grain pasta, which has more fiber and nutrients than regular pasta.
Mix it with homemade marinara sauce or jar sauce that is low in sodium and sugar. Sprinkle with a little Parmesan cheese and mix with a fresh salad dipped in oil and vinegar.
Chicken with sides
Bake or grill chicken breasts (frozen ones are good!) and serve with brown rice and a side of vegetables.
You can also get creative by adding spices to suit your taste, as they contain no calories or fat. Try this recipe for Jamaican chicken breast, to get you started. Just keep an eye on your sodium levels, if you’re using a mixed seasoning.
stir fried chicken
This Asian-inspired dish is easy to prepare. Simply cook shredded chicken breasts and any vegetables you like in a little oil. Broccoli, carrots, and onions work well and are relatively inexpensive. You can add low-sodium soy sauce for a salty flavour, but avoid teriyaki sauces, which are usually high in sugar.
vegan hot pepper
Make plenty of chili, but avoid meat. It’s absolutely delicious, and the beans contain about 40 grams of protein per cup — about the same as chicken breast. Use leftovers on top of your baked potatoes the other night.
Making healthy food choices greatly affects how you feel — now and in the years to come. A heart-healthy diet keeps your index strong and can prevent diseases like type 2 diabetes.
“Eating healthy food at affordable cost doesn’t have to be difficult,” DiMarino says. By following these tips, your diet can help you feel satisfied — and fit within your budget.
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