Healthy Eating on a Budget Is Not as Hard as You Think

Living off instant noodles so you can pay your rent or mortgage is no way to live. But how can you balance healthy eating on a budget? You don’t have to resign yourself to eating a bunch of processed junk to reduce your food bill, and you don’t need to skimp on groceries to make room in your budget for expensive organic or premium quality, either. It’s absolutely possible to eat well on a budget. In fact, it can be downright easy if you keep the following five guidelines in mind.

1. Eat Real Food

The best thing you can do for your grocery bill is good for your health, too — eat real food. This includes whole foods and foods that aren’t processed. According to cookbook author and TV host Michael Pollan, there are a few food rules that come in handy to help define this:

  • Don’t eat anything your grandma wouldn’t recognize
  • Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or that contains ingredients you can’t pronounce
  • Don’t eat anything that can’t go bad

If you keep your grocery list limited to whole foods like produce, meat, dairy, rice, beans and other grains and legumes, eating healthy on a budget immediately becomes easier. It eliminates processed products from your grocery bill and your diet.

2. Know When (and When Not) to Buy Organic

You can’t practice healthy eating on a budget if everything in your cart is labeled “organic.” It’s just too expensive. The solution? Compromise. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) produces annual reports called the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen. These lists show what produce is most contaminated and what produce is the cleanest.

If you’re set on buying organic but have a limited budget, buy organic only where it really counts. “More than 98 percent of strawberry samples, peaches, nectarines, and apples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue,” reports EWG.

3. Get Creative in the Kitchen

Healthy eating on a budget becomes much more realistic when you prepare most of your meals at home. If you don’t do this now, it simply takes practice to make it a habit. Get creative with cheap, staple ingredients to enjoy interesting, flavorful and tasty meals at home with minimal expense.

Take rice, for example. It’s cheap and there are many ways to prepare it that aren’t boring. It can be a side dish to other foods or incorporated into a main dish, and you can prepare it in a number of styles like Indian, Mexican or Asian. (Just avoid white, bleached rice, which is essentially devoid of nutritional value!)

4. Use Coupons

Take 10-15 minutes of your time every two weeks or so and skim through sites of stores you frequent to see if they’re offering any coupons to print and use. If you already receive a newspaper with coupon inserts, browse through that as well. Remember that you can save yourself time by only hunting for coupons for things you already buy.

5. Compare Stores

You may have a preferred place to shop, but if you want to save a little more money, consider branching out. Take an old grocery bill with you when you shop at a new store and compare prices. You may find a certain store offers better deals on some products, or even that a farmer’s market is cheaper for seasonal goods than the local chain grocery store.

If you change the way you think about your meals and how you shop, you can make healthy eating on a budget a far more realistic undertaking.

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