Eating Healthy on a Budget

April 18, 2012

Last week, I talked a bit about some of the routines that help keep me on track with my goals. And while I’m not really one to write a lot of “how to” posts, I thought I would share with you some of the things that help me eat healthy on a tight budget. The first one is fairly obvious…

I Plan Meals

Everyone who plans their meals has a slightly different routine and mine is probably no different than some others. I start by thinking about what I want to eat for lunch at work. For example, this week I bought all the ingredients to make a fresh vegetable sandwich everyday. Then I decided on snacks, based on what was on sale (almonds, bananas, grapes). Once lunches are covered, I think about breakfast. Do I have any cereal leftover? Or frozen fruit for smoothies? After that, I plan my dinners. I’m fairly lose with this, in that I don’t plan what I’m going to eat on each individual day, but in general I usually pickup ingredients for salads, stir fry and sometimes pasta.

I Shop With a List (…and it’s in order)

I felt crazy for sharing this secret last week but was so surprised to read comments from a number of readers who do the same! After writing down all of the groceries I want to buy, I rewrite the list in order of where it will be in the grocery store. This isn’t easy to do, until you’ve shopped at one store a few times, but now I know my store like it’s a second home. In my experience, writing your list in this order shortens the amount of time you spend in the store and helps you avoid unnecessary aisles (Aisle 6: Candy & Chips), which in turn stops you from making impulse buys. And those impulse buys are usually for items that don’t help your budget or your butt!

I Don’t Eat Meat

Enough said.

I Buy Alternative Snacks

This isn’t necessarily the healthiest trick in my book but it’s one I’ve been doing for years. I have serious salt cravings and a wicked sweet tooth. And while it’s nice to think that I could potentially live without salt and sugar, I’d rather just eat it in smaller doses. For example, dill pickles can almost always curb a salt craving. Adding banana peppers to simple meals helps me with two things: the salt craving and the fact that even a little bit of spice makes me eat less. And fruit (ok, fine! and sometimes sugar free candy) helps me cure that sweet toothache.

I Don’t Make Leftovers

This last one might sound strange but hear me out. By no means do I think I am a great cook… but when I make something good, I have a really hard time eating only one portion of it. If/when I make enough dinner that there are leftovers, it is more likely than not that I will eat them that night. Does this surprise me? Not in the slightest. I think I could safely diagnose myself as a binger of many things; eating and spending, included. To stay healthy, I make all of my meals right before I consume them. Doing this gives me the best control of my portion sizes.

And that’s it! For now, anyway…

What are some of your tricks to eating healthy on a budget?

  • Jordann @ My Alternate Life April 18, 2012 at 4:47 am

    My best trick to avoid crappy, high calorie foods that will leave you feeling unsatisfied after: Shop somewhere that doesn’t sell them. My nearest city has a bunch of big box stores that I avoid, instead I go to a small, locally owned grocery that has loads of local food including veggies, pasta, meats, yoghurt, grains, beans, etc. But since lays chips and Pepsi aren’t local, they don’t stock that kind of stuff. Works like a charm!

    • Cait April 19, 2012 at 11:34 am

      This reminded me of the market I buy most of my produce from. They sell almost everything I like to buy but most of it is at a much higher cost… but maybe that would force me to buy less of that and eat more produce? I dunno! Thanks for the tip though.

  • makingsenseofcents April 18, 2012 at 5:21 am

    I need to eat less meat. Last night I ate a meatless meal though for once!

    • Cait April 19, 2012 at 11:35 am

      Nice! Eating even one meatless meal per week is noticeable in your budget.

  • bogofdebt April 18, 2012 at 5:54 am

    I try to buy what is in season–it’s usually cheaper. I’ve never been able to go without meat (I tried it a few times though) but even that, I buy on sale and usually in bulk. If I can make something that is expensive (i.e. trail mix) for less, I usually will.

    I do make left overs but it’s normally just half my meal and I use that for lunches. This way I’m buying less items for lunch and still get tasty (healthy) lunches. I also have a sweet tooth but I’ll normally eat less candy stuff if I can have fruit. So I need to buy more fruit then some people as I will eat it every single day–and I love bringing fruit for part of my lunch.

    Speaking of leftovers, if able to, I freeze it! That way I have something that is yummy and already made in my freezer.

    • Cait April 19, 2012 at 11:35 am

      I make a lot of chilis/sauces and freeze those! That’s a great tip.

  • Jessica April 18, 2012 at 6:19 am

    I try to plan meals and stick with a shopping list, but I always lack the discipline. I always tell myself that I will be more disciplined after I get married, but all my married friends tell me that’s not going to happen. I always make leftovers though. I’m too lazy to make every meal every day

    • Cait April 19, 2012 at 11:36 am

      I think it’s harder to stay disciplined, if you have a partner who doesn’t want to do/buy/eat the same things as you… but I like your theory! haha

  • My Piece of the World April 18, 2012 at 7:08 am

    Thanks for all the tips!

  • Char Star (@chars_kitchen) April 18, 2012 at 7:21 am

    I’m so with you on the “no leftovers” thing. I’ve tried to do it, but yeah…I always want to eat it NOW haha. Dallas is the same, so I only ever make enough for what we will eat in the moment.

    • Cait April 19, 2012 at 11:37 am

      It’s so hard to put delicious leftovers in the fridge, without taking another few bites. Hooray for cooking meals as you eat them!

  • Lindsay April 18, 2012 at 7:27 am

    I tend to make intentional left overs. On a Sunday I will make a big batch of food which immediately gets portioned and frozen so that it is ready when I need it (I’m super lazy). Then there is no excuse to buy take out.

    • Cait April 19, 2012 at 11:38 am

      I used to do that but, at the end of the week, was always sick of the leftovers and found myself looking for other food (usually takeout) instead.

  • A April 18, 2012 at 8:26 am

    Good tips, C. We try to limit our meat meals to no more than twice a week at most. It’s way too expensive as it is. We *live* for leftovers, though. They are such a great and easy way to deal with lunch! I would hate to have to cook every single night. It’s such a drain on my time. (Luckily J cooks, too, but we share duties depending on our work schedules.) I totally understand your reasons for not having leftovers, though.

    We also meal plan, otherwise we would have zero food in the house. I bought a chalkboard and I always write out our meals as soon as we get back from the grocery store while J unloads the groceries. We chat about what the upcoming week looks like and decide which nights we should make the “easy” meals (if one of us is on sole cooking duty) and which nights are good for the more time-consuming meals. We also do NOT buy anything that isn’t on the grocery list. If we do, we both have to agree to it. No surreptitiously sticking things in the cart. Impulse buys are typically crap food, anyway, so that helps to limit junk appearing in our cabinets. This last trip J decided to impulse buy Grape Nuts. I think he’s secretly about 80 years old. I agreed to it though because I like them too. Haha.

    We try to use coupons but unfortunately all of the coupons in the Sunday circulars are for total crap food that we don’t eat. The only coupons we ever seem to get to use are 50 cent coupons for Swanson chicken broth. Oh well, we’ll take it. I continue to check the circulars each week in the hopes that one day we’ll manage to save a boatload of money. I wish they had coupons for organic produce…

    • Cait April 19, 2012 at 5:20 pm

      A – why are you and J so freaking cute!? I want to come down for dinner. May I? haha

      • A April 20, 2012 at 8:08 am

        Anytime, my dear! We’re only a train trip away :]

  • MommaStar April 18, 2012 at 9:11 am

    I need to stop making more then we can handle in one sitting.

    Great tips on the sweet and salt craving. I struggle with that as well..

    • Cait April 19, 2012 at 5:21 pm

      Cravings are tough to beat! I can’t say these are the healthiest “cures” but they help me.

  • eemusings April 18, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    Eat seasonal. Your tastebuds and wallet will thank you!

    • Cait April 19, 2012 at 5:21 pm

      I definitely do this w/ fruit. Berries that come out too soon are disgusting and grapes the size of my thumb just aren’t right!

  • centsofacountrygirl April 18, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    I like to make meals on the weekends then freeze them and voila, lunches for the week. It keeps me from eating out, which is better for the waistline and the wallet. I also buy lean cuts of meat when they’re on sale and then vacuum-pack them in single portions and chuck them in the freezer.

    • Cait April 19, 2012 at 5:22 pm

      I used to make lunches for the week but found I was bored of them by Thurs/Fri and would go looking for takeout…

  • Amy April 19, 2012 at 3:24 am

    In my small town we basically have two box chains for grocery options (I’d love to live somewhere that has small local stores!). So, like others, I meal plan but I try to make multiple meals using the same ingredients. Artichoke hearts are fairly expensive, so I’ll make two different recipes that same week out of it and have leftovers for lunches/dinners.

    I’ll also try and use coupons, but decent grocery coupons in Canada are practically non-existent.. actually I’d probably be an extreme couponer so maybe that’s a good thing.

    • myjampackedlife April 19, 2012 at 4:55 am

      haha. thats funny. i probably would get all crazy too if they had couponing like that here in canada too. I’d probably have 3 years worth of everything in my basement too!!

      • Cait April 19, 2012 at 5:37 pm

        Oh, I would be all over coupons, if they were a big deal up here.

  • myjampackedlife April 19, 2012 at 4:53 am

    Im a meal planner as well, but with the kids in the house, i always have some sort of snack food going on. Thats the toughest part for me. If it wasn’t here, i wouldn’t be tempted. I do make a list and shop on sundays usually for the whole week, but i love your tip about putting it in the order of the aisles. In out, done. good job.
    i also wanted to say your blogroll listing for my blog has been giving me some traffic as of late so i VERY much appreciate the listing!!!

    • Cait April 19, 2012 at 5:23 pm

      My mom complains of the same thing (kids = snack foods). And you’re welcome for the listing!

  • Bruce Bucks (@BruceBucks) April 19, 2012 at 7:20 am

    For me leftovers are a part of eating on a budget. I make enough for lunch the next day. I have had Spagetti for lunch the last three days, which was from our meal on Monday night.

    • Cait April 19, 2012 at 5:24 pm

      I used to do the same thing but would always get sick of it by Day 2 or 3!

  • ST April 19, 2012 at 8:30 am

    My naturopath mentioned when you binge and crave sugar, salt, it’s your body asking you for nutrients. What we do is fill ourselves with sugars and salts and fats, because it releases seratonin and makes us satisfied quick, but that doesn;t satiate us. You may need more protein sources if you don;t eat meat. Do you eat TVP, quinoa, oats, lentils and beans etc, to make up for this? I was told my lack of protein also makes me less full, and fill up on carbs to keep me satiated.

    • Cait April 19, 2012 at 5:24 pm

      I can’t stomach quinoa but beans, lentils and oats are my best friends! Love hearing advice from a real naturopath though.

  • Pamela @ April 19, 2012 at 10:21 am

    I really need to start planning my meals too – that’s one thing I can’t seem to ever to manage! But I do admit to making my shopping lists like you – in order of the aisles :)
    One thing I started doing recently is making the switch to (mostly) organic food. But, because it is considerably more expensive, I reasoned that if I don’t buy as much processed stuff & non-organic items, I can actually save money buying good food but less of it. And I also find that we waste a lot less food than we used to, so it’s a win-win!

    • Cait April 19, 2012 at 5:25 pm

      Your comment reminded me that I forgot to mention something! I hardly ever have garbage to throw out. I use all my produce, minus scraps, and will pretty much put anything in a meal to eat it up, haha.

  • fromshoppingtosaving April 19, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    I am a huge list writer. I have to go to the grocery store with meal plans in mind and lists. I try to write my list in the order of the aisles at the store so I don’t drift off. Also I really hate wandering around with a cart when I already walked by that section. They should make grocery stores more fun haha, it gets boring. The aisles should also be wider, or the carts should be thinner so that 2 carts can fit comfortably in the aisle. Okay I’ll stop rambling now!

    I keep telling myself that I want to stop eating meat, but I can’t see to shake it..I love meat.

    • Cait April 19, 2012 at 5:36 pm

      I hear ya. I loved meat for a long time and I still have cravings for certain things (medium-rare steak) from time-to-time. But I’ve had crazy health benefits since going veg and can’t see myself ever eating it again.

  • eating healthy on a budget May 2, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    At first I actually thought that not eating your left overs was one of the very unpractical ways of dealing with your food, but then again, if your motive was just to control your amount of food to prep and eat, then it would just be great for you. :)

  • Sharon J. Gilman March 13, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    This is a great post. I’ve discovered that meal planning makes a HUUUGE difference! And it helps you to grocery shop with a purpose. One rule I have to adhere to is not to shop when I’m hungry. Too easy to deviate from the shopping list! lol… Someday when I have my own home/property I would like to have a garden to grow certain vegetables that I use all the time, like tomatoes and lettuce, etc. I’m sure even a small garden can make a pretty big difference in the food budget.