Here is the Secret to Healthy Eating on a Budget

Recently, I got a frantic letter from Barbara, who lives in Florida. It seems that her teenage son has taken up bodybuilding and her husband is adhering rigidly to the Atkins Diet, both of which are protein-heavy. Barb got through the first week with a major case of mixed emotions: Her husband lost 7 pounds, her son gained 4—and her food bill doubled!


Can Barb keep her food costs down while still supporting her family’s healthy eating choices? I know she can. Special diets don’t have to be budget-busters. In the same ways her son and husband are adjusting their way of eating, Barb must adjust the way she shops.

Don’t pay full-price for protein

Tuna, chicken breasts, and lean beef cuts are always on sale somewhere. If you don’t want to store-hop, you can always find some cut of meat, fish, and poultry on sale in your favorite market.

Eat what’s on sale and if it’s a loss-leader (that means dirt-cheap in an effort to entice people through the door), stock up for the coming weeks.

Grab up the items that are marked down for quick sale because they are close to the “sell by” dates, and then freeze.

RELATED: Chicken Labeling: Prepare to Be Surprised

Buy carbs in bulk

Find a warehouse club, ethnic market, health food store, or food coop that offers rice, beans, oatmeal, nuts and, legumes in bulk—by the pound. Store dry items in the freezer to retain freshness.

Shop with a list

Buying on impulse can blow a budget and a diet. So can arriving at the store hungry. Eat before you get there, stick to your list so you leave nothing to chance.

Buy generic

Let go of your brand loyalties. Shop by best value and not by brand. Try the store brand. Most stores have a “satisfaction guaranteed” policy. If you try something and it is awful, ask for a refund.

Some generic items are identical to their brand-name cousins, while others are pretty bad. You be the judge.

Don’t throw anything away

Freeze extra rice or leftover pasta in freezer bags. Save up meat bones and scraps in the freezer to make stock or soup. Ditto on vegetables.

Stick to the perimeter

If you’re on a diet or special food plan, most everything you need is around the outside perimeter of the typical grocery store (dairy, meat, produce), while the high-calorie, high-priced, highly processed items are in those center aisles.

Don’t pay for convenience

Pre-washed bagged lettuce and pre-cut veggies might be convenient, but they are expensive—three to four times more than uncut items in bulk bins. Individual packets of oatmeal, chips, etc. are outrageously priced.

The way to make sure you’re getting the best deal is to shop by price per unit, not package price. When it comes to fresh produce, buy what’s in season and you’ll get the best price and best quality, too.

Control portions

Eating more than is prescribed by your food plan will blow your diet and your budget. Take the time to measure and weigh. Tomorrow before you pour out your bowl of cereal, read the box to find out how much cereal makes a single serving. Now measure that amount into your bowl.

Does it look a little puny? It’s possible that your “dump method” has been treating you to 3-4 servings at a time instead of just one. Whoops!

First published: 3-30-15


More from Everyday Cheapskate

summer frozen drinks in fancy glassware
woman stressed out waiting for things to return to normal
Food on a table, with Corn on the cob and Sweet corn
Iced Tea at Picnic in Grand Junction, Colorado
homemade blueberry muffin on wood board
Homemade Pulled Chicken Sandwich

Please keep your comments positive, encouraging, helpful, brief,
and on-topic in keeping with EC Commenting Guidelines

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Caught yourself reading all the way 'til the end? Why not share with a friend.

3 replies
  1. Pat Goff says:

    I usually stock up on name brands as they are usually cheaper than store brands. The secret is buying them on sale and using a coupon or buying them online with free shipping and using a coupon code like $10 off a $30 purchase etc. I do buy store brand if I find them cheaper than name brand.

  2. Sue in MN says:

    Don’t forget eggs & beans as inexpensive sources of protein. There are many ways to prepare them, and with different seasonings and sides, your family will not recognize that they are being fed “on the cheap.” Using an Instant Pot, pressure cooker, or crock pot, it is possible to prepare large batches, then fix a variety of individual meals from them. For your body-builder, don’t forget foods like hummus (easy for him to make with a blender and a little instruction) as high-powered inexpensive snacks. You absolutely do not need to buy him high-priced, name-brand protein shakes like “Muscle Milk” – if he insists on having them, give him a weekly budget of his own to spend – he’ll quickly find alternatives.

  3. Cathy says:

    Great tips as usual, Mary. Not sure where Barb lives in Florida but in the Tampa Bay area, I can attest that the prices for groceries can be daunting. Publix always has flyers weekly with BOGOS (buy one get one free) offers, which come in handy if the foods you like are on sale. I would stalk the flyer for sales on things like Arnold’s Oatnut bread which to me was ridiculously priced but is what my husband eats at over $4.00 a loaf (cringe worthy). Then I would stock up and get as many as possible that would last in my freezer until the next BOGO came around. Shopping at Walmart however, would save us 33% over shopping at Publix. Eggs in Florida are/were $3.59 a dozen and milk is $3.89- a gallon, and no, I’m not talking about organic either. Where we live now, in Indiana I just bought milk for $1.50 a gallon and eggs are $1.88 per a carton of 18 eggs. The problem with certain areas are just the areas themselves. The cost of living in Tampa Bay, Florida is horrendous, when all things are added up. It’s the “hidden costs” that get you. Don’t get me wrong … love Tampa Bay as a Snowbird for a couple of months a year but to live there full time can be very hazardous to your “wealth” and “health”. The traffic is a story for another day!


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.