Eating is one of the most basic human needs, and we all know nutrition is critical to our health—but our best intentions can be foiled by the cost of healthy food. With a little planning, it can be easier than you think. Here are our tips for how to eat healthy on a budget.

1. Plan your meals in advance

Starting with a plan is key to saving money while eating healthy. It’s helpful to sit down and plan out your week in advance. Take a look at your grocery store’s current specials, and try to use ingredients that are on sale in several of your meals for the week. For example, maybe you can include spinach in three of your dinners. Then, you’re both saving money when you buy it, and also getting the most for your money by minimizing waste.

Planning to eat leftovers, or turn leftovers into lunch the next day (maybe you make a salad with leftover chicken) is a great way to stretch your budget even further.

2. Buy in Bulk

Buying in bulk can be a great way to save. For example, if you use a lot of canned tomatoes and your local grocery store has a ‘buy 3, get 3 free’ promotion, that’s probably a great deal to take advantage of—because you use them often and they have a long shelf life. Likewise, items like toilet paper and paper towels—which don’t spoil, and that you’ll always need—are ideal to buy in bulk when there’s a good discount. 

To make buying in bulk worthwhile, you’ll want to make sure you’re buying things you’ll use before they go bad. If there were a deal on bulk quantities of strawberries, for example, carefully consider whether you’ll actually use all of that supersized quantity before they become overripe or spoiled.

Another caveat of buying in bulk is making sure it actually is a good savings. Sometimes, if you do the math to calculate cost per ounce or pound, you might find that the bulk price isn’t much of a discount at all; if that’s the case then there’s obviously no advantage to buying a larger quantity at once.

3. Frozen, canned, and dry

Buying certain frozen, canned, and dry foods can be considerably cheaper than their fresh counterparts. Another benefit of these foods is that you can keep them on hand for an extended period of time.

Canned foods like black beans are inexpensive (especially if you catch a sale) yet have a lot of protein. Most frozen fruits and vegetables have virtually the same amount of nutrients as fresh ones, and they’re usually a lot less expensive. (Pro tip: Frozen fruits are ideal for making healthy smoothies for breakfast!)

Dry foods like lentils, couscous, or brown rice are very nutritious and can be used in just about any meal. They’re typically inexpensive, and last a long time on the shelf—they’re a great hack for eating healthy on a budget, so stock up on when you see a sale!

4. Buy whole foods, in season

Whole foods were a thing long before the market by the same name. They’re basically foods that are minimally processed or not processed at all. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains are all whole foods. So are meat, fish, and eggs.

In addition to being a lot healthier than processed foods, whole foods are generally less expensive. That’s especially true when you make a point of buying whole foods that are in season—that way you’re not paying extra for vegetables that were grown far away, and have higher prices due to scarcity and having been shipped a long distance.

Some examples of seasonal fruits and vegetables are:

  • Summer
    • Zucchini
    • Peaches
    • Tomatoes
    • corn
    • Plums
    • Apricots
  • Fall
    • Beets
    • Artichokes
    • Kale
    • Broccoli
  • Winter
    • Brussels Sprouts
    • Apples
    • Parsnips
    • Cauliflower
    • Pears
  • Spring
    • Avocados
    • Cherries
    • Chard
    • Broccolini
    • Asparagus

5. Grow your own food

This might not be possible for everyone, but even if you have a small outdoor space, you may be able to grow some of your own food.

A good place to start is by looking at your grocery receipts for the past few months. Did you buy a lot of zucchini? Have you been spending a lot on herbs, like parsley and cilantro? (Herbs don’t seem like much, but they can really add up!)

Putting it all together for healthy eating on a budget

Beyond just knowing some tricks for planning nutritious meals without spending a lot, you can find more helpful tips in our article about how to grocery shop on a budget.

If you need some inspiration to help you plan out what to cook, check out 50 cheap, healthy meals you’ll want to make all the time. There’s something for everyone, and most of them are simple and quick to prepare, so you really can make them all the time! If you’re interested in avoiding meat, here’s another of our favorite collections of Budget-friendly vegetarian recipes to make for dinner tonight.