Healthy Eating on a Budget

One reason people often give for not eating a health(ier) diet is budget.  “How can I afford to eat healthy?” “Aren’t healthy foods more expensive?” 

If you think that a health(ier) diet means a bigger grocery bill, think again! There are several ways to make improvements to your diet without spending more money at the grocery store. 

Here are some tips to keep your budget and your health in check:

Plan Ahead

Planning your meals ahead of time allows you to make the most of your grocery shopping, and can help prevent last minute runs to the grocery store, which often lead to buying more expensive items.  Look for sales and plan your meals accordingly.  If there is a great sale on ground turkey breast, plan to have a few meals that week using this lean protein.  If you tend to end up with spoiled vegetables, meats, and cheese, buy only the amount you will actually use.  Preventing waste by planning your purchases is a great way to save money.  After all, no one wants to see their dollars end up in the trash!

Stretch your Buck 

Learn ways to stretch out the more expensive items in your recipe. For example, add canned beans to chili to add more volume (and fiber!) and it will last longer.  Try adding pasta or rice and cooked frozen broccoli florets to sliced boneless, skinless chicken breast to make a casserole.  By “stretching” a dish with less expensive ingredients like beans, rice or pasta, you may be able to use the more expensive leaner cuts of ground beef or turkey since they will be eaten over several meals instead of just one.

Use Leftovers Wisely  

Another benefit of planning ahead is that you can create new dishes with leftovers and even reduce meal prep time.  If you are making a chicken dish in the beginning of the week, plan to use the leftover chicken on a sandwich or salad for lunch later in the week.   Think of foods that work well in sandwiches, wraps, soups, and even omelets, and use those more often so that you can repurpose any leftovers to a new and delicious meal!

Shop Locally and In Season

This is especially important when buying fresh produce.  Oftentimes, produce stands offer the most fresh and locally grown items for a better price than some grocery stores.  Sometimes you can even strike a deal towards the end of the day, when sellers are hoping to unload as much as possible.  Buy fruits and vegetables when they are in season since they will be less expensive.   Consider stocking up on these items while they are in season and freezing them for use all year round.

Budget Bonus*: Did you know that frozen spinach is one of the best bargains in the grocery store?  You can usually purchase a 10 ounce pack of frozen chopped spinach for around $2.  It takes about 2 pounds of fresh spinach (which costs around $3 per pound) to yield one 10oz frozen package. So next time you are on the frozen food aisle, stock up on this superfood!

Think Nutrient Dense vs. Empty Calories

Unfortunately, it is common for highly processed foods that contain shelf stable trans-fat and refined sugars are less expensive than whole, natural products.  But what are you really getting for your dollar?  Remember that eating foods with higher fiber, healthy fats, and lower sugar content will keep you feeling full for longer.  This means you eat less, and your groceries last longer!  So rather than spend money on empty calorie foods that will offer little to no health benefit and leave you searching for more, the smarter choice is to put make your money work for you by choosing foods that will give you lasting energy and satiety. 

Here is a list of foods that are both good for your health and your pocketbook: 

  • Brown Rice
  • Whole Wheat or Multigrain Pasta
  • Whole Wheat Bread
  • Old Fashioned Oats
  • Frozen Vegetables
  • Canned or Dried Beans
  • Bagged Fresh Spinach
  • Canned Tuna
  • Eggs
  • Fresh Fruit (Farmer’s Market, In season) 

Try some of these recipes that are easy on the budget, full of flavor, and use ingredients that won’t break the bank!

Avocado & White Bean Salad with Vinaigrette

  • 1 can white beans
  • 1 avocado, chopped
  • 1 Roma tomato, chopped
  • 1/4 sweet onion chopped (or less or none if you're not a fan of onions) 

 For the Vinaigrette:

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • dried basil to taste
  • garlic powder to taste
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon mustard

Whisk vinaigrette ingredients together then pour over salad base and mix well. Refrigerate for a few hours before serving.

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Buffalo Baked Chicken Breasts Served With Stir Fry Veggies

  • 4 (4 ounce) chicken breast halves
  • 1⁄4 cup hot sauce
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil or stick margarine, melted
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 14oz Bag of Stir Fry Vegetables 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

Using a non-stick skillet, add chicken and cook 4 minutes on each side until browned then set aside. Next sauté vegetables until browned. Place chicken and vegetables in an 11 x 7 non-stick baking dish. Combine hot sauce and next 4 ingredients. Pour over chicken and bake uncovered for 25 minutes.

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Easy Burrito Bowls

  • 1 cup uncooked rice
  • 1 cup salsa, homemade or store-bought
  • 3 cups chopped Romaine lettuce
  • 1 (15.25-ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1 (15-ounce) black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1 avocado, halved, seeded, peeled and diced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

 For the chipotle cream sauce

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon chipotle paste*
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or more, to taste

To make the chipotle cream sauce, whisk together sour cream, chipotle paste, garlic, lime juice and salt; set aside. In a large saucepan of 1 1/2 cups water, cook rice according to package instructions; let cool and stir in salsa; set aside.To assemble the bowls, divide rice mixture into serving bowls; top with lettuce, corn, black beans, tomatoes, avocado and cilantro. Serve immediately, drizzled with chipotle cream sauce.

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White Bean Tuna Salad

  • 2 (6-ounce) cans dark meat tuna, packed in olive oil
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans cannelini white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/3 cup small capers, nonpareil in brine, drained and rinsed
  • 6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes
  • 2 cups fresh arugula (optional)
  • 6 fresh basil leaves

In a large bowl, add the tuna, reserving the olive oil in a separate small bowl. Break tuna into bite-size pieces with a large fork. Add the beans and capers. Into the bowl of olive oil, add the red wine vinegar. You should have 1 part vinegar to 2 parts oil - add more extra-virgin olive oil if necessary. Season with salt and pepper. Pour dressing on the tuna, bean and caper mixture and allow the flavors to infuse while slicing the vegetables. Add the onion and tomatoes to tuna mixture and toss gently. Place the arugula on large decorative platter and top with tuna mixture. Tear fresh basil leaves over the top and serve immediately.

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