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I don’t know about you but my family’s grocery budget is the hardest budget item to keep under control. It is also are second largest monthly expense, next to our mortgage. I am pretty health conscious so figuring out how to eat healthy on budget, has taken some work but it has been so worth it!

One thing I want to get straight from the beginning is that, you can eat healthy on a budget. It’s absolutely possible.

It does take time and dedication to figure out though. To do it, you need to be diligent, have a plan, and make smart decisions.

I’ll be honest, sometimes I do a crappy job of keeping our grocery budget in check. But awareness is half the battle. 

It’s about progress not perfection.

Eat Healthy on a Small Budget

Here are a bunch of awesome tips to get your grocery budget on track while still eating healthy.

1. Establish a monthly grocery budget.

Check your receipts or credit card statements and add up how much you spent on groceries each month for the past three months.

Are you surprised by this number? When I did this, I was shocked! It was close to double my guess. 

If you want to reduce your food bill, decide by how much. Your goal to reduce your food spending needs to be realistic. If you are spending $1000 per month, it might not be realistic to cut it in half. However, you might be able to shave $50 off to start with. As you get better at this, you can continue to shave money off your budget until you find yourself in a place where you’re comfortable. 

Plan what you are going to do with your grocery money savings. This is key. 

What are you going to do with the money you saved on food? Are you going to use it to start an emergency fund, pay off debt, start a college fund, save for a trip, etc?

Write it down to make it real. 

2. Identify your grocery shopping weaknesses and mistakes.

Grocery stores are just one big marketing trap. With all the fancy and flashy packaging and placement of food in end caps, at the register, etc, it can be tempting to just throw food into your cart if you don’t have a plan.

How to eat healthy on a budget
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For me, it is buying expensive, out-of-season fruit, snack foods, dark chocolate, and gourmet foods like fancy crackers and olives. 

Here is a list of common mistakes people make at the grocery store:

  • Shop when hungry
  • Don’t have a plan and just buy random food
  • Don’t look at the flyer in advance
  • Not being aware of what you already have before shopping
  • Impulse buying
  • Being brand loyal
  • Not stocking up on foods you go through regularly when they go on sale
  • Not signing up for rewards programs
  • Not using coupons
  • Pay too much for meat
  • Buying too much convenience packaged foods
  • Not considering frozen (less expensive) foods
  • Give into your children who want food they don’t need
  • Buy fruit that is not in season
  • Buy toiletries and kitchen items 

Awareness is half the battle, my friend!

Write down your grocery shopping mistakes or weaknesses and what you are going to do to overcome them.

Be specific. Here are some examples.

  1. If you love the snack aisle, allow yourself to shop this aisle once a month and set a specific budget just for this aisle.
  2. If you often go hungry, make sure you have an emergency snack in your purse or vehicle you can eat before heading into the store.
  3. Impulse buying. Make a grocery list based on your meal plan. Write in big capital letters “Do not buy anything else!” Before you get to the checkout, look in your cart and remove anything that is not on your list.

You might be rolling your eyes right now but trust me, there is huge power in writing your problem areas down and then a plan to address them. This is going to go very far in allowing you to eat healthy and great on a tight budget.

3. Meal Plan.

To eat healthy on budget, create a list of your family’s favourite meals. Think of as many as you can. Keep a list going for a few days so that when you think of one you can write it down before forgetting.

Pick approximately 5-8 of the simplest meals from your list and make sure you always have the dry ingredients on hand.

One day a week, with your grocery store flyers handy take an inventory of your freezer, pantry and fridge and plan your meals around what you already have. Remember to refer to your list of favourite meals when making your meal plan.

I have a whole post dedicated to just meal planning here so please check it out before moving on. 

4. Keep a very organized pantry, fridge, and freezer.

For your fridge, keep it clean and spacious so you can see what you have. If your fridge is packed with food, you are inevitably going to let things go to waste if you can’t see what you have.

Bring foods to the front that need to be eaten up quickly and use a role of masking tape and marker to label containers.

As for your freezer, approximately once a month go through it and see what needs to get used up. Work these foods into your meal plan.

Lastly the pantry. Since you probably have just non-perishable items in there, make sure it is very organized and tidy. Go through it when you go through your freezer when meal planning.

5. Get an accountability partner.

If you think you will struggle in holding yourself accountable to your new budget, tell a friend what you are doing and ask them to hold you accountable. Maybe they will join you and you can hold each other accountable! There is a lot of power in someone else helping to keep you to your goals and this is no exception.

6. Reduce spending on meat.

Meat accounts for a large portion of the average family’s food costs. To reduce your meat costs, do the following:

  • Look for cuts of meat that are reduced for quick sale and either cook them up asap or freeze them. The store just needs to get rid of it fast but it is safe to eat.
  • Have a price per pound goal such as “I will only buy meat that is $2/lb or less.”
  • Buy less expensive cuts such as chicken thighs, utility turkeys, bone-in, skin on (take the skin off yourself).
  • Buy in bulk and divide before freezing.
  • Buy a quarter or half a cow directly from a farmer. Ask your friends if they know anyone or look at local websites such as craigslist or kijiji.
  • Eat a little less meat at each meal. Most people overeat on meat anyways.
  • Go meatless once in a while.
  • Buy frozen meats. Much less expensive.
  • Buy turkeys when they go on sale after holidays. Cook them up and freeze the meat for future meals. Also, use the carcass to make soup and freeze for meals and individual sizes for lunches. 

If you can get a handle on your meat spending, you are one big step towards eating great while keeping your budget in line.

7. Compare by unit price.

Many grocery stores are starting to state the unit price on labels in the fine print, which is awesome! You don’t have to break out your calculator.

However, if you shop at a store that doesn’t do this, grab your phone and use your calculator to determine what the best unit price is. Unless you are really good at math in your head. And I’m jealous.

Over time, you will know which items are the best to buy.

8. Cook meals with only a few and the same ingredients.

Most of your meals should be simple where you already have most of the ingredients on hand. If you have to buy most of the ingredients for a recipe, you are going to blow your budget.

Not to say you have to eat the same simple meals all the time. If you really like to experiment with different recipes that would require you to buy new ingredients, limit yourself to doing this only once in a while (i.e., once a month).

Also, keep an eye on the ingredients to see if they go on sale or research if you can make substitutions for things you already have. 

Spices are expensive.

Often, it will be the spices that will make the meal expensive if you don’t have them. Consider buying one or two a month until you have what you need.

You can also buy spices from the bulk section which is usually cheaper because you only buy what you need.

Or you can grow and dry your own spices! Here is a great post from Mother Earth Living on how to dry your own spices.

Limit each meal to one vegetable and one carb.

If you are on a small budget, this will reduce your grocery costs big time! You are still eating great so don’t worry about that. But you don’t need to have 6 different kinds of food on your plate. Also, this will help with portion control.

Make meals that use some of the same ingredients. 

For instance, if you are making meat sauce for your spaghetti and you like to put peppers in it, buy a big bag (provided it’s a good unit price) and use the other peppers for something like tacos. If you bought tortilla shells for chicken caesar salad, also use them for making burritos.

9. Reduce Spending on Fruits & Vegetables

Only buy what’s in season. 

This is key to eating healthy on a tight budget! Check out this post that gives you a list of fruits and veggies that are in season by month.

When a fruit or veg is in season, it is often cheap for a very short period of time. For instance, if squashes are at rock bottom prices, plan a meal around it.

When fruit is in season and you can buy it in bulk at a great price, take advantage! Either make a plan to use it or freeze it.

Also, check out your local u-picks. This is also a great way to stock up on fruits and veggies that are really inexpensive. U-pick are also a great family outing. Kids love it! Check out this website called Pickyourown.org to find u-picks in your area!

Grow a garden!

How to eat healthy on a budget
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Someone asked me once, how I grow a vegetable garden (their face looked bewildered).

My answer was ridiculously simple and maybe even a little blunt. My respons was “you put the seeds in a row on soil, cover the seeds with a little bit of soil, and water everyday unless it rains. That’s it!

It really truly is that easy. Also, the seed packages have instructions on them with how deep below the soil the seed needs to be and how far you need to space the seeds out.

Here is a great resource to get you started with your garden.

To get started with your vegetable garden, here is my advice:

  • Start small
  • Only grow a few things that you eat often
  • Be diligent in watering

Cost Cutting Tip: Share seed packages with a friend and split the cost. Often the packages come with so many seeds. Unless you have a huge garden, you won’t use them all.

Check out the reduced rack.

Don’t think this is beneath you. Seriously. There are often some really good deals to be had. Maybe there are a bunch of apples marked down that you can bake with or make apple sauce or some bananas that are going brown that you can make muffins with. Think outside the box.

Buy frozen fruits and veggies.

Usually the frozen bags of fruit and veggies were bagged and frozen at their peek freshness. If you are cooking them anyways, you will likely not noticed any difference and can keep them in the freezer and use as needed. Convenience! 

Increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables.

You might think this is counter intuitive but if you increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, you are going to decrease your intake of other foods such as convenience foods (ie, crackers, granola bars, cereal, etc). 

Be sure to only buy what is in season.

Also, you will also be much healthier! Eating healthy without going over budget.

This brings me to my next point…

10. Reduce consumption of convenience/packaged foods.

Not only are they often unhealthy, they are usually very expensive when you consider what you are actually getting in that box!

Have you ever opened up a box of crackers to find it was only half full? Yeah, total rip off. The packaging is deceiving. 

Instead, make your own. There are lots of great healthy recipes that only require simple ingredients and are easy to make. Make them in bulk and freeze.

11. Stock up on items you eat regularly.

This isn’t a license to buy whatever is on sale. No! Nope. Don’t do that.

What you want to do is scan the flyers for deals on items you often eat. When you see a sale, stock up!

For instance, I like to make recipes that require chicken stock. Chicken stock goes on sale all the time so when it does, I take advantage if I don’t already have a healthy supply.

12. Use a Grocery Store Pick-up Service.

For so many of the grocery stores now a days, you can order online and then just pick it up without having to enter the store.

This eliminates any temptations you might have.

You will know exactly how much you are spending and can adjust if needed before hitting the order button. 

Think of all the time you will save! Winning! 

13. Never let your leftovers go to waste.

I mean NEVER!

You put a lot of time, effort and money into making that meal, so don’t waste it.

Eat leftovers for lunch the following day.

If there is still some leftover, freeze it for another meal (if it is freezer friendly) or freeze it for individual lunches that you can grab in a pinch. You will never be stuck without a lunch again. Major money saver!

14. Reduce Eating Out.

Set a specific budget for eating out whether it be for dinner or lunch because let’s face it, going out and having someone else cook is awesome! So allow yourself this indulgence now and then.

Also, eating out a lot also can be awful on your waistline. 🙁 Therefore, keep it in control so you can eat great on a low budget. Look for coupons or groupons to your favourite restaurants and skip the alcohol.

How to eat healthy on a budget
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Now, if you are struggling financially in a huge way, then you should cut eating out entirely until you can afford it.

Keep your eye on the prize and focus on eating simple healthy meals at home.

Lunches out are often a big budget buster without realizing.

To keep lunches out in check, as mentioned above, keep your freezer stocked with lunch size meals you can grab in a pinch so you aren’t tempted to eat out.

I used to eat out for lunch ALL the time because I would wake up in the morning and realize “Oh no, I don’t have anything to take for lunch!” over and over again.🤔 So, I would go and spend $10-15 per lunch two to three times a week. This is well over $1000 a year!

Dinner socializing at home.

It is a lot of fun to go out for dinner with friends and family, isn’t it?

Well, the problem is that doing this often is just too expensive for most of us. So what do you do instead?

The answer is…take turns hosting dinner! However, dinner doesn’t have to be fancy. It can be really simple and the family that isn’t hosting can bring something like a salad or appetizer.

Since we have two small children and all of our friends have young kids as well, this tends to work out better anyways. Taking my kids to a restaurant is stressful.

15. Limit grocery store trips.

Plan on one trip to the grocery store per week.

I like to go each Sunday. I try not go to the grocery store at all throughout the week. 

The key to this is having a solid grocery list and making what you originally planned. If you planned to have a meal of BBQ chicken, salad and rice but changed it to something totally different, your lettuce for the salad is very likely going to get wasted.

16. Track your spending.

When you are just starting out, keep track of your grocery spending each week. If you go over your budget, try to cut back next week to make up for it.

Once you get the hang of it and you have developed good grocery spending habits, you can monitor less frequently. If you are finding that you are slipping back into your old ways, go back to tracking each week.

17. Use cash.

How to eat healthy on a budget
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If you are still having trouble sticking to your budget, look at your receipts and see if there is anything you bought that you didn’t need, you could have bought less of, or could have bought a cheaper option. This isn’t to beet yourself up, it’s to learn from your mistakes. 

If after going through all of these steps and you are still over your budget, look at making some extra money to increase your grocery budget.

Check out these related posts to make extra money:

The Bottom Line

If you want to be able to eat healthy on a budget, you gotta make a plan, tweak as you need, and stick with it! 

Take each action above one at a time if you need to. 

Strive for progress not perfection!

Also, if you have any grocery saving tips of your own, please feel free to make a comment!

I truly hope you found this post to be helpful and I deeply appreciate you reading it.

If you like this post, I would greatly appreciate it if you shared it!

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