6 Easy Ways to Eat Healthier on a Budget
A few simple moves can help keep your grocery bill in check while you and your family focus on eating good-for-you meals.
Spending more time at home lately means more money spent on groceries. With higher prices on fresh produce and meat these days, it makes it even harder to keep the nightly dinner menu healthy for you and the family. But you don't always have to buy expensive, market-fresh seafood or meats to enjoy a healthy, budget-friendly meal. Thanks to the help of a few experts, we found some of the best tips to keep your grocery bills down while still being able to enjoy a meal that's not only good for you but delicious, too.
1. Go meat-free a few days a week.
Research has found that vegetarians can save at least $750 per year. But even only one or two vegetarian meals per week make a difference, cost- and healthwise, says Mary M. Flynn, Ph.D., R.D., a research dietitian at The Miriam Hospital and associate professor of medicine at Brown University in Providence, RI. Subbing beans for chicken in a vegetable stir-fry once a week could save roughly $400 annually and meet your protein quota: One cup of most beans provides 14–16 grams, plus fiber and cancer-fighting nutrients.
2. Try frozen fish.
It costs money to quickly transport fresh-caught seafood from ship to store and to keep it in the refrigerated case. Frozen fish has the same vitamins, minerals, and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids as fresh and can cost 20–25 percent less, says Los Angeles nutritionist Ilana Muhlstein, M.S., R.D.N. Buying frozen also makes upgrading to wild fish options more affordable. “Wild-caught seafood contains fewer pesticides and usually has higher concentrations of nutrients,” Muhlstein says. Look for packages with individually wrapped portions so you can thaw only what’s needed for a meal. That way you don’t waste food or money. Keep in mind that you get the most health benefits, including lowering heart disease risk and boosting brain health, from fish if you eat it twice a week.
3. Have a clean-out-the-fridge meal.
The average American family of four throws away $1,365 to $2,275 of food annually, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Those carrots, celery stalks, and asparagus spears might not look as good as they did when you bought them five days ago, but as long as they’re not slimy or moldy, they’re safe to eat. Use whatever odds and ends are in the fridge in dishes like stir-fries, omelets, soups, and fried rice. Or breathe new life into past-their-prime veggies by roasting them with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. “Cooking changes their chemical makeup, extending their life by at least a few days,” says Katherine Miller, vice president of Impact for the James Beard Foundation. After roasting, refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container ($40, Bed Bath & Beyond) to enjoy them in salads, pasta, or scrambled eggs.
4. Stretch your ground beef budget.
We often pay a premium for 90-percent lean ground beef as the healthiest choice, but 80- or 85-percent lean ground meat packs the same protein and iron for less cost; just don’t eat it more than once a week. To make meals with ground beef even more nutritious and affordable, Muhlsteinlikes to combine a pound of ground beef with a pound of cauliflower rice. A 12-oz. bag of cauliflower rice costs about $3, or toss a head of cauliflower in a food processor ($50, Target) for even less. (One head yields about six cups.) The veggie is low in calories and high in fiber, vitamin K, and cancer-fighting nutrients.
5. Lean into frozen produce.
Frozen produce is as nutrient-dense as fresh (sometimes more so) at a fraction of the cost. Because they’re blanched and frozen almost immediately after being picked, frozen fruits and veggies lock in nutrients that can otherwise diminish during shipping and storage, says Wendy Bazilian, Dr.PH., R.D., and author of The SuperFoodsRx Diet. One study found that frozen green beans had 40 percent more vitamin C than fresh and frozen strawberries had 36 percent more beta-carotene. Broccoli, peas, corn, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and squash work well in casseroles, stir-fries, pastas, and soups. When you find fresh seasonal produce like berries on sale, “make the freezer your friend,” Bazilian says. “Rinse and dry them,
spread them out on a cookie sheet to avoid clumping, freeze them, then bag them to enjoy for months to come.”
6. Make a rotisserie chicken last.
Rotisserie chickens are a great way to get high-quality protein and stretch your budget, Miller says. Sunday dinner can be the breast meat with veggies and rice; Monday serve the dark and white meat pulled for BBQ sandwiches, fajitas, or gyros; and Tuesday stir what’s left into a chicken salad (with Greek yogurt, Dijon mustard, celery, lemon juice, dill, and parsley). One large rotisserie chicken has about 3½ cups shredded or cubed meat and typically costs $5 to $14, depending on where you shop.