How to Eat Healthy on a Budget

A photograph of the author, Molly Mitchell.

By Molly Mitchell

May 13, 2019

A woman making scrambled eggs
Eating healthy and cheaply aren't mutually exclusive.

In This Article

  • Cook at home
  • Choose organic wisely
  • Frozen is your friend
  • Keep it simple, silly!

Eating healthy is tough for a lot of reasons, not least of which is that it can get really expensive. While it’s true that fresh, organic, local produce often costs more, there are plenty of tried-and-true foods that may be less trendy than others but are both healthy and affordable. Here are a few tips for shopping smart and getting the healthiest foods for your buck.

Mason jars full of spices in a pantry
Photo by Ehud Neuhaus on Unsplash

Make It Easier to Cook at Home

Finding the time and energy to cook at home can be a challenge, but it’s worth it. Home cooking is by far the best way to eat healthier and simultaneously save big bucks.

One way to make it a little easier to cook at home is to make sure your pantry is stocked and ready to go with the basics. If you always have oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, your favorite spices, onions and garlic on hand, you’re halfway to a quick, yummy meal before you even start.  There are lots of lists online to help you stock your pantry so that you always have something to work with when short on time or just too zapped to brave the grocery store.

Additionally, do yourself a favor: don’t spare the add-ins that will make your food taste good. Should things like salt, butter and cheese be used in moderation? Sure. But it’s unlikely that you’ll use nearly as much of these fats and salts as a restaurant would when making the same dish. The important thing is that you enjoy the food you cook for yourself! You'll be much more likely to do it again that way.

A man holds an apple in each hand considering them.
Photo via Unsplash

Choose Organic Strategically

Certified organic foods are usually pricier than their non-organic counterparts, but comparing organic produce to conventional isn't always apples to apples. Environmental Working Group, or EWG, is a nonprofit that tracks pesticide levels in the produce we eat, and they release an updated list every year of which foods are more important to buy organic and which don’t matter as much, at least as far as pesticide content is concerned. Their Dirty Dozen list is a guide to foods that have more exposure to pesticides. Buying organic may be more important with the Dirty Dozen. The Clean Fifteen is a list of produce that has lower exposure, so springing for the organic version may not be as important.

These lists are pretty good guidelines, but here’s an important note: it’s better to eat any fruits and vegetables, conventional or organic, than none at all.

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Frozen Fruits Are Your Friends

In the interest of eating more fruits and vegetables, and making it easier to cook at home: frozen is your friend. If you can swing the fresh variety, that’s awesome! But frozen is very good, too, and way better than limiting fruits and veggies in your diet. The research says that the nutritional value between fresh and frozen is quite similar. And when it comes to out-of-season produce, frozen is particularly better for your wallet and the environment than the fresh produce your provider had to preserve and fly in from somewhere with a different climate.

Photo via Unsplash

Keep It Simple

It can be tempting to get caught up in fancy new food and diet trends, but shopping at specialty health food stores or trying to keep up with the latest imported superfoods isn’t sustainable for most people. Though they’re not as trendy, beans, whole grains, dairy and eggs are nutrient-rich, filling and inexpensive. Don’t overthink it!

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Bulk Up Your Shopping and Cooking

It’s more time-and-cost-effective this way. When you’re stocking up on non-perishable essentials, buy big quantities.  When you’re cooking, really make it count by making enough for lunch the next day or cook big pots of meals like chili or soups on the weekends and eat from it all week.