An excuse I hear all the time from people that tell me they want to eat better is “eating healthy is so expensive and I can’t afford it”.
Okay, what? My fridge is stocked with blueberries, avocados, strawberries, meat, yogurt, and a few extra snacks on $50 per week. I promise, you can afford to eat healthy. This goes for families, bachelors/bachelorettes, college students, and everyone else in between.
I’m going to go over 7 ways that I stay on budget and also prepare beautiful, tasty meals every week that also fit my nutrition goals. This isn’t a laborious task, but it does require some planning and a little elbow grease.
1. Plan Your Recipes Ahead of Time, THEN Make Your Grocery List
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Planning your meals for the week (take note, I’m talking about breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks) is crucial for building the grocery list that you can afford and sticking to your goals. If you’re single, then plan the same things for lunch and dinner during the week, and be a little flexible about your breakfast and snacks.
If you’re looking for great recipe ideas on a budget to help you start planning, I suggest searching through Meal Prep On Fleek’s tag “Under $4“. They provide very simple, balanced, and tasty recipes for anyone on a budget. College students and recent grads take note: you no longer have to suffer through plain rice, plain chicken, and plain broccoli. Also, your body will thank you for varying your nutrition by feeling better.
Once you’ve decided which recipes you want to make, go through the recipe and write down which items you need and leave off the ones you already have (unless you’re getting low on an ingredient). Your grocery list will be shorter, and you know the exact amount to get, instead of guessing.
2. The Old Adage: Buy in Bulk and Make in Bulk
Want to save some serious money? Do yourself a favor and buy in larger quantities.
This is a really simple business practice: buying in larger quantities reduces the price per serving and lasts you longer. By reducing the price per serving and not having to go to the grocery store as often (or not having as much to get every week) you will save some serious dollars over the course of a month.
By making items ahead as well in bulk, it’s easy to add them to other recipes which could save you upwards of 30 minutes during your cooking time.
This really applies for meats and other ingredients that you can easily freeze or store to use at a later date. One recipe that I will be using VERY often from now on is the easiest recipe for crockpot chicken that is so easy to make into chicken salad, asian bowls, buffalo chicken dip, or anything else you would need rotisserie-style chicken for. The recipe is also easy to double or triple, and can be frozen for up to 2 months.
3. Don’t Buy Organic or Other Specialty “Health” Foods
Unless you actually have Celiac Disease, Lactose Intolerance, or other health problems diagnosed by a medical professional or have other diet restrictions, don’t buy specialty health foods. This includes gluten-free, lactose-free, vegan, vegetarian, etc.
Go back to your basics: Fruits, vegetables, meat, grains, healthy fats, and dairy. This is the best option for you when it comes to staying within your budget. Specialty foods and organics cost more than the non-organic.
If you want to buy organic, I suggest buying organic canned items and very carefully comparing the prices and amounts you need of organic vs. not. If you want to get as close to organic as possible but don’t want to pay the crazy prices at the supermarket, go to a local farmer’s market or to the farm itself and purchase in-season produce from the farmer.
Bonus points for supporting local farmers and their business. More bonus points for making friends in your community too.
4. Don’t be Afraid to Eat the Same Thing 5 days in Row
This is more for the single people reading this: If its just you cooking or you don’t have an arrangement with your roommates about meals, don’t fear eating leftovers for 5 days, especially if it’s bomb when you first make it. Some leftovers are even better a day or two after prep.
I usually make something with A LOT of flavor to eat for 5 days. Mexican, Asian, Caribbean, soups, sandwiches, and salads are great for this. Then I don’t arrive home after a long day thinking, “Well shit, now I have to cook dinner”. NOPE. I eat the leftovers.
This also ties in with buying and making in bulk (see #2)
5. Invest in Meal Prep Containers for Convenience
One of the big reasons I was eating out so much was because I wasn’t packing my lunch the night before, so I would leave for work and think “what am I gonna have for lunch?” and then be at the mercy of food joints with less than stellar choices.
I was also running out of tupperware at this time and needed something to divvy up all this food I was making during the week. So I invested in meal prep containers. You can buy them on Amazon for under $20. CRAZY, RIGHT?
Now, I portion out my meals evenly into the containers and, in the morning, I pull one out and I’m out the door in 30 seconds with a healthy meal.
6. Use those Circulars and an App like Ibotta
One of the biggest things to use is coupons, circulars, and apps like Ibotta. These tools will help you get the higher quality items you want, but keep you in budget.
Most circulars are on the internet now, so environmentally conscious folks can load coupons and offers onto their phones to use. Browse these circulars for the items on your list, or you can tailor your recipes to make based on the available offers.
Apps like Ibotta offer cashback on products you buy and others to try. You might even get lucky with a cashback offer and coupon in a circular! You submit your receipt to Ibotta after you watch a few ads for products you’re looking to buy and it rewards you with the cashback. Once you accumulate $20 (if you play your cards right, you can do this about once every 4-6 weeks) you can cash out for gift cards or actual cash in the bank. Pretty cool right?
7. Don’t Make Excuses: Roll Up Your Sleeves and COOK.
Success on a budget requires resourcefulness. This means cooking your meals in your home and doing the work needed to achieve your goals.
With all the tutorials, instructions, and recipes out there, cooking has never been easier to learn how to cook. Cook with your mom or dad, ask them to help you out. If you have a friend that makes divine meals, ask them to send you the recipe or show you how to make it. Get a basic cookbook.
Just quit making excuses for not eating healthy. I do all of the above and spend about $50 per week (or less). There is nothing wrong with going back to basics. In fact, that’s the best foundation you can build upon.
By following these 7 tips, your body and wallet will be thanking you for years to come. One of the first steps in your fitness and wellness journey is improving your eating habits. Going on fad diets, weight loss shakes (I’m looking at you, Herbalife), and other short-term solutions will cause more harm than help, while also cleaning out your wallet.
Stick to your budget and these tips, and all your friends will be jealous of your food too.