Eating Healthy on a Budget: Part 1

If I've heard it once, I've heard it a thousand times: “I can't afford to eat healthy.”

This is a common complaint and concern for many people. And for someone who relies on government subsidies, or is used to living off of ramen noodles and the dollar menu, there is an element of truth to it. But most people that say this are people who do have a little wiggle room in their budget and who do eat real food on occasion!

If you've found yourself saying that it's expensive to eat healthy, then you've probably heard the opposite argument: "You can't afford to NOT eat healthy." You might be paying a little more for groceries, but you could be potentially saving yourself thousands of dollars in health costs. For instance, the average person with diabetes will pay $85,000 in their lifetime to manage their disease[1]. The annual cost of obesity in America is over $190 billion[2]

But I get it, tomorrow's savings doesn't put money in your bank account today! And when you are forced with choosing between quality food and childcare or rent, it's not just a matter of "re-prioritizing" your funds. So let's talk about a few ways to make this practical for you. 

Eat In More

  • Hands down, the number one way to save money when it comes to a healthy diet is to dine out less. Yes, this probably means a little more work than usual to plan and prep. But your wallet and waistline will thank you.
  • An example: buying a pre-made salad is going to cost you ~$8 if you grab and go, or ~$10-15 at a sit-down restaurant. Why not spend that same amount of money at the grocery store and make salads for almost a week? 

Budget, Budget, Budget!

  • Create a food budget - and stick to it! Some of you may have NO idea how much you spend on food. For you, it might start with keeping receipts or credit card statements for a month or two to paint a picture. Don't forget to count non-grocery store items, as well: coffee shop, fro-yo, gas stations, restaurants, etc.
  • Once you've got a budget in place, give yourself a little extra that first month. You may need to stock up on some staples (based on your preferences) to set up a functioning kitchen.

Plan Ahead

  • Before you go to the store! Plan meals based on your schedule for the week - what nights will you have time to cook vs. eating on the go vs. reheat?
  • Check your pantry, fridge, and freezer to see what you already have. Don't buy what you don't need :) You'll note that this isn't rocket science. But it does take discipline and consistency to be helpful. 
  • Make a shopping list - and stick to it! I bet if you had a dollar for every impulse buy, you wouldn't need this blog post.
  • Check out the weekly sales fliers. Figure out what store can give you the most bang for your buck that week. It might not be the same store each week, depending on your menu and what you already have on hand.
  • Sometimes you need to go to more than one store. I'm not suggesting that you have to spend an entire day going from grocery store to grocery store to save your pennies. Making a special trip for a sale on meat or seafood - yes. Making a special trip for a sale on canned items - not so much. 

Shop Smart

  • You don't have to be loyal to a store to take advantage of their store loyalty cards. Don't miss the free savings!
  • Sometimes, you need to let go of your brand loyalties to get the best deal. I'm not suggesting that you lower your standards for foods - keep reading those labels! But many store brands are just as good (or better) than national brands. I love Whole Foods 365 brand - I have found it to be consistently cheaper than national brands, and even some other store brands!
  • Coupons can be a great way to save. But sometimes a coupon for a brand name may still be more expensive than the store brand.
  • Use the unit price to help you compare like items (this is the cost per ounce or per pound, not the total cost of the item).
  • Buy in bulk when you can. It's not always practical, I get it. Not everyone has an extra deep freezer, a spare fridge in their garage, or a basement fit for apocalyptic planning (I’m looking at you, dad!). But if you have the extra space, take advantage of bulk prices. Or split the cost with a friend. 

More to come later this week. Stay tuned!

{cke_protected_3}[1]{cke_protected_4} Xiaohui Zhuo, Ping Zhang, Thomas J. Hoerger. Lifetime Direct Medical Costs of Treating Type 2 Diabetes and Diabetic Complications. Am J Prevent Med. 2013;45:253-261.

{cke_protected_5}[2]{cke_protected_6} Cawley J, Meyerhoefer C. The medical care costs of obesity: an instrumental variables approach. J Health Econ. 2012; 31:219-30.


Katie Goldberg

Katie Goldberg, MCN, RDN, LDN, has been a registered dietitian since 2013, but has always had a passion for good food and a healthy lifestyle. Katie earned her Master’s of Clinical Nutrition from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and has worked in private practice, higher education, in a clinical setting, and as an in-house dietitian for a food company. Whether it's at through large groups or one-on-one, Katie enjoys connecting people with easy and practical solutions for better health.