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Balancing Nutrition on a Tight Budget

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Despite the message we receive from high-end supermarkets and online gurus, nutritious foods don’t have to cost a fortune. With popular stores like Costco and Kroger carrying healthier choices, it’s easier than ever to balance nutrition on a tight budget. 

a small pink piggy bank sitting among red apples with a hand putting a coin in

We’re diving into a treasure trove of practical tips and savvy grocery shopping strategies. So, grab your shopping list, and let’s get started!

The Importance of a Balanced Diet 

A balanced diet is especially important when you are on a budget because the foods you buy should be nutrient-dense giving you more bang for your buck. 

It is easy to feel overwhelmed with making a balanced meal plan, even for experienced planners. I find that when we have a lot going on, my mind just can’t be creative with meal planning – it’s part of the invisible mental load!

​If this happens to you, focus primarily on “Eating the Rainbow”. Each color in food has a different nutritional value so eating foods of different colors is an easy way to ensure that you are getting a good variety of vitamins and minerals. 

a plate with different colored vegetables like carrots, purple cabbage, tomatoes and broccoli

Meals made with whole foods will provide more energy and keep you fuller longer than processed foods. You’ll also find that they will save you a lot of money! 

 Here are a few choices to consider:

  • Whole Grains – Sweet potatoes, white or brown rice, whole wheat bread
  • Fresh Fruits – Fruits like cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, and pineapple are cheaper to buy whole and cut up yourself.
  • Fresh Vegetables – Leafy greens and root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, and potatoes are typically on sale and cheaper than other veggies.
  • Healthy Fats – Oily fish, nut, avocado or olive oil
  • Peanut butter, almond butter, or seed butter – eat these with fruits, in sandwiches, or bake with them for a filling snack

Meal Planning and the Shopping List

Meal planning is essential to shopping on a budget. If you are new to meal planning, be sure to check out our Meal Planning post for beginners which will walk you step by step in building a meal plan and shopping list for the week. And if you need some recipe ideas, be sure to check out these recipes on our site. 

Once you have a meal plan for the week, putting your grocery list together will be much easier. You’ll know what you need before heading to the store which is a great way to keep your food costs low.

Depending on your personality, there are several ways to keep within your budget. Whichever style you choose, don’t forget your shopping bags!

1) The All-In Personality:

For the shopper who doesn’t mind spending some extra time finding the best deal, this one is for you!

Money Saving Top Tips:

  • Before heading out, go online and check the ads for your local grocery stores. Browse the weekly specials and make a note of who has the best deals for the items on your shopping list. It’s up to you whether you want to visit multiple stores or just go to the store with the majority of the deals. 
  • Review coupon sites and clip coupons for the items you are purchasing. 
  • Another option is to clip coupons before meal planning so you can plan your meals around sale items.

2) The Busy but Efficient Personality:

For the person who is no stranger to online shopping! 

Money Saving Top Tips:

  • Order groceries online. Yes, there are service fees and tips added to online orders, but this is a great option for those who are new to budgeting for groceries, or short on time. Many local grocery stores now offer delivery through Instacart. Instacart is especially great for Costco trips to keep you on budget and prevent random items from ending up in your cart. You can see a running total as you add groceries to the list and can make substitutions as needed to stay within your budget. 
  • See if Misfit Produce (use this link for $10 off), Imperfect Produce, Amazon Fresh, or a local CSA is available in your area. These can be a great way to purchase discounted organic foods. Stick to the deals because not all of the items are a good value. 
  • Look into purchasing beef in bulk. Sites like Crowd Cow allow you to purchase meat directly from the farmer. Local farms also offer bulk meat in 1/4, 1/2, or full cow options. It is a high upfront cost but can save money in the long run if you typically buy high-quality meats.

3) The Traditional Grocery Shopper

This one is for the shopper who enjoys perusing the aisles of the grocery stores. 

Money Saving Top Tips:

  • The #1 rule is never to shop on an empty stomach. 
  • Stick to your shopping list. This is the hardest style to budget for because impulse purchases are real! They will try to get you with great deals on junk food and other unhealthy foods – do your best to resist it!
  • When you first walk into the store, do a quick review of the current deals and decide whether you can make any substitutions. Then go shopping. Get in and get out!
  • When checking out, enter your frequent buyer club number and make sure you get your points. 

Maximizing Leftovers

There are two people in the world. Those who love leftovers and those who despise them. However, leftovers are essential when it comes to eating healthy on a budget by ensuring that there is limited food waste. 

For those of us who embrace leftovers, there are so many possibilities:

  • Add extra meat to burritos, salads, and soups, or make a protein plate with other sides. Classic leftover dishes would be any casseroles, chicken pot pies or soups!
  • Take leftovers for lunch the next day or send them to school with your kids
  • Freeze half of the leftovers for another night. You’ll be glad to have them after a busy day. 
  • Have a leftover night during the week and serve any leftovers from the prior few days. 

If leftovers are a no-go in your house, make smaller portions and minimize leftovers. There is nothing worse than throwing good food away when you have a designated food budget.

Farmers Markets and Local Options

Farmers markets and other local options are a great way to enjoy seasonal produce and to support your local community. Local farmers have higher overhead costs, but you can still find good deals on fresh produce and many dairy products.

The only caveat to shopping at farmers’ markets is that they may not have everything you are looking for. Be ready to substitute ingredients on your shopping list for seasonal favorites and other healthy options. 

Another option would be to build your menu after shopping – this is challenging so I wouldn’t recommend this if you are new to meal planning. Instead, pick up ingredients for easy meals or side dishes. 

Every farmers market is going to be different but here are some items you can expect to find:

  • Fresh Eggs (you’ll have to go early since these usually sell out)
  • Fresh produce – Root Vegetables are hearty and can last all week. If you are only shopping once a week, pick these up for the meals at the end of the week
  • Grass-fed beef – if it is pricey, try cheaper cuts of meat and put it in a slow cooker. Oftentimes, slow-cooked roasts can be used in multiple dishes throughout the week. Also, talk to your local farmer about purchasing cows by the 1/4 or 1/2. We do this once a year and although it is a hefty cost upfront, we don’t have to pay for beef for the remainder of the year.
  • Fresh foods like jellies and jams, infused oils, drinks, and homemade snacks

Eating Healthy on a Tight Budget Is Achievable

After reading our tips for healthy eating on a budget, I hope you are feeling ready to jump in! Be patient and start small. If you find yourself getting overwhelmed, plan for 2-3 days to get started. If you have the time to shop throughout the week, there is no reason why the entire week needs to be planned out at one time.

Follow the blog for examples of how much we have saved since meal planning for some inspiration. And be sure to share your stories! If you have a success story, please reach out. We would love to feature you on a blog post!

By on February 7th, 2024

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