7 Steps to Eating Well on a Budget

By Alyssa Krejci, RD, LD, LMNT
January 19, 2021

budget-cooking.jpgLet us face it, food can be expensive and without careful planning eating a healthy diet can feel like it will break the bank. To meet our financial goals for 2021 – and our health goals – one important habit we will continue to work on and improve is managing our weekly food budget. From personal experience, I’m here to show you it is possible to find quality, healthy food to feed yourself and your family that you can afford. Last year, because of changing life situations, the food budget for my family became tighter than we were used to. I was worried I would not find the quality, real food I wanted to feed my family and stick to our smaller food budget. If you can relate, read on as you will see there are many ways to save money while eating real food, the Nutritional Weight & Wellness Way.

Plan Your Meals & Cook at Home: To save money at the grocery store planning is critical. Choose one day each week to plan your meals for the upcoming week. Consider your schedule and the time you have available for cooking to keep the meal plan realistic and look through your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry to use what you already have. This helps cut down on food waste and saves money. When I plan my weekly meals, I like to look through the Nutritional Weight & Wellness Cookbook & Nutrition Guide for affordable real food meal ideas. 

Here are a few of my favorite go-to, budget friendly meals from the cookbook: 

  • Breakfast: Fast Frittata + ½ cup frozen strawberries, defrosted (about $2.50 per serving)
  • Lunch: 4 oz Beef and Wild Rice Meatloaf + 2 cups green beans (cooked from frozen) + ¼ cup golden potatoes (about $3.25 per serving)
  • Dinner: 4 oz Apple Cinnamon Pork Roast + 1 cup roasted Brussels sprouts + ½ cup carrots and 2 teaspoons butter (about $1.75 per serving)

An added plus is that making your own meals is much, much less expensive than eating out. You can often feed an entire family of four for the same amount of money as buying food for one or two at a restaurant. Cooking yourself also puts you in control so you know exactly what goes into your food. Make meal prep and cooking at home a habit in 2021 and I guarantee you’ll save money and feel better!

Tip: Try to increase your use of eggs, potatoes, beans, lentils, seeds, frozen fruits, frozen vegetables, canned wild caught salmon or tuna and cheaper cuts of meat. All of them taste great, are nutrient dense, keep you feeling satisfied, and are inexpensive.

Stick to Your Grocery List (+ Don’t Shop Hungry): Once you know what you have on hand and your menu is planned write out your grocery list … then stick to the list. Ordering groceries online can help you avoid some of the impulse buys (but you often must account for delivery fee and tips.) Some of the store apps even let you save grocery lists which can make ordering groceries the next week even faster. If you shop in person, keep in mind that the grocery store is designed to entice customers to add food (aka dollars) to their carts. Be intentional at the store and pay attention to unit prices.  Sometimes buying a larger package of a food can save you money in the long run if the price per unit breaks down to be less. Tip: Check the price tag on the shelf. Most grocery stores will include price per ounce to help you compared sizes and brands.

We all know from experience that running into the store on an empty stomach is never a good idea. When you are hungry, your cravings can become strong and cause you to buy more  foods that are not good for your health or your budget. Skip this problem by having a balanced snack before you shop. I like to have a ½ cup of pineapple with 1/2 cup of cottage cheese and 1   tablespoon of pumpkin seeds before heading out to the store.

Buy Foods Whole: Many foods are less expensive if you purchase them in less processed forms.  For example, washed carrot sticks or chips are more expensive than the large carrots you must wash, peel, and cut yourself.

Stop Buying Junk Food: The dollars add up fast when you are paying for soda, crackers, granola bars, cookies and packaged processed food. These foods offer little to no nutritional value, so you are just paying a lot of money for cheap processed sugar and refined damaged fats. Skip the ultra-processed junk food and you can spend your food budget on higher quality nourishing food – your wallet and waistline will benefit.

Buy a Cheaper Cut of High-Quality Meat: Protein can be expensive, however some cuts of meat cost less than others. Another great money saving tip is to look for sales in the meat department. Sometimes they will have a special on good quality meats that are close to the sell date. Going directly to a farmer is also a great option! If you have the freezer space and can buy half a cow or split one with a friend, you will spend much less per pound of meat. Tip: Chicken thighs with the skin and bones are cheaper than the boneless, skinless cuts. If you are intimidated to cook those, our in-house chef Marianne suggests popping them in the slow-cooker or Instant Pot and the meat will fall right off the bone.

Shop in Season & The Freezer Aisle: Produce that is in season is generally cheaper and is at its peak in flavor and nutrition. On that note, frozen fruit, berries, and vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh, plus they are affordable and available year-round. Some of my weekly stables include frozen berries, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and green beans. These are all nutrient dense options available at an affordable price. Tip: stock up when frozen items are on sale and store them in the freezer until you’re ready to use them in your meal planning. A perk to frozen produce!

Buy Foods in Bulk: Purchasing some foods in bulk quantities (if you will use them) can save you a lot of money. Some staple foods I buy in bulk include quinoa, wild rice, chia seeds, almonds, walnuts, canned tomatoes, and black beans.

Remember, you do not have to break your budget to eat real food the Nutritional Weight & Wellness way. There are many ways to maintain a healthy diet on a tight budget and having a plan is the first step. Want additional nutrition guidance?  The nutritionists at Nutritional Weight & Wellness are available to help you with one-on-one nutritional counseling currently available by phone or Zoom

About the author

Alyssa loves helping her clients feel empowered to make better choices and to feel positive about the food choices they make and maintain every day. "Every client has a story and I love to fully listen and absorb that to provide them with the best nutrition therapy care and support in their health journey.” Alyssa is a registered and licensed dietitian through the Minnesota Board of Nutrition and Dietetics.  She is also a licensed dietitian in Missouri and a Licensed Medical Nutrition Therapist in Nebraska.  She received her Bachelor of Science in nutrition and dietetics from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln and completed her dietetic internship at Cox College in Springfield, Missouri.  In 2019, Alyssa completed specialized training on the LOW FODMAP diet to become a MONASH FODMAP Trained dietitian. 

View all posts by Alyssa Krejci, RD, LD, LMNT

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