Worried that eating healthier will blow the budget? Fear not. Here are the tips, tricks and tools you need to help manage healthy eating on a budget – including how to meal plan, how to stock your pantry with affordable staple foods, what to buy organic first, the best places to buy healthy ingredients at a good price, and even some grocery lists, recipe collections and app suggestions to keep you on track.
The commonly held myth is that healthy eating is expensive. So while we all know healthy eating is important to our overall health, it's easy to dismiss as something we can't do because it won't fit in our budget.
Here's the thing: eating healthy, nourishing meals need not break the bank.
Where to Start When You Want to Eat Healthy on a Budget
The good news is that there are strategies that you can start using right now to make the shift to healthier foods. Without spending your month's grocery budget in one week! Use these tips and tricks to eat healthy on a budget.
You'll learn how to set up a meal plan that suits your budget, how to stock your pantry with affordable staple foods, what ingredients to buy organic first, the best places to buy your healthy ingredients at a good price, and even some grocery lists, recipe collections and app suggestions to keep you on track.
Want to skip to a specific section? Here's what you'll find below:
- Meal Planning That Helps You Eat Healthy on the Cheap
- How to Plan a Grocery List That Suits Your Budget
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Meal planning is the first step you should take in setting yourself up for success with your healthy eating and budget goals. When you meal plan, you'll:
- Know what you should eat, which helps you fight off the urge to splurge on takeout.
- Build a grocery list that's based on your meal plan, which helps you cut out unnecessary purchases.
- Even be able to optimize your meal plan for zero waste. This doesn't necessarily save you money but stops you from spending your budget on food that ends up in the trash.
Here are my best tips, tricks, and tools for meal planning on a budget:
Your first step in planning to eat healthy on a budget is mapping out your meal plan. Here's a short list of tips to help you get started in preparing a meal plan that supports your budget goals:
- If you haven't yet done so, set a monthly budget for your groceries. Calculate your weekly grocery budget from the monthly budget figure. You can use the weekly grocery budget to keep you on track as you progress through the month.
- Choose simple recipes that rely on common healthy ingredients, cheap pantry staples and short ingredient lists. (Check out the section below for some of my favorite healthy budget-friendly recipes.)
- Choose recipes that either leave you with leftovers for packed lunches or freezer meals.
- Map out your weekly meal plan with recipes that share common ingredients. This allows you to buy in bulk, which is often more cost-effective than buying smaller formats.
- Shop your kitchen first. Look at what you already have in your kitchen (especially for fresh produce). This saves you money by using what you already have and helps you reduce food waste.
- Pick recipes that feature seasonal produce. Using seasonal produce helps you reduce your weekly grocery bill since you're not paying the extra shipping and import costs added to produce that's being brought in from other countries. Wondering what's in season right now? Check out this seasonal produce guide.
- Shop sales. Not only will you typically find sales on seasonal produce, but this will also help you stock up on pantry staples without breaking the bank.
Want more meal planning tips? Check out these easy ways to create a meal plan you can actually follow (applicable to everyone, not just keto, paleo or Whole30 followers).
One of the best ways to eat healthier on a budget is to choose budget-friendly recipes. Healthy eating need not be the fancy salmon and kale salad with 20 different ingredients! Look for simple recipes with short ingredient lists. Those recipes get bonus points if they also feature cheap pantry staples!
Here are a few recipe collections to consider, which include several recipes that require less than 10 ingredients:
- Healthy Dinner Recipes To Make in Under 30 Minutes
- Healthy Keto Soup Recipes for Easy Meals
- Paleo Chicken Recipes for Your Crockpot
- Easy Keto Ground Beef Recipes
My personal favorites for healthy recipes that rely on budget-friendly ingredients?
- 10-Minute Tomato Soup–relies entirely on pantry staples
- Avocado Tuna Salad–buy your canned tuna in bulk when it's on sale
- Crock Pot Turkey Bolognese Sauce–serve over zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash, depending on which is in season
- Chili Roasted Chicken Thighs–relies almost entirely on pantry staples
- Instant Pot Hard-Boiled Eggs–cook a dozen eggs and have protein-rich snacks for the week
You'll notice that most of those recipes rely primarily on pantry staples and are supported by fresh side dishes (like zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash). This should help you keep your grocery budget in check, as it gives you more flexibility to swap in the cheaper seasonal produce available in your area.
So, you might be thinking: how are these meal planning tools budget-friendly if they cost money?
That's a great question. Here's how:
- Most meal planning tools allow you to set filters that include and exclude ingredients, so you can exclude foods (meats in particular) that are outside your budget and work with what you already have in your pantry.
- Meal planning tools help you reduce food waste by optimizing your meal plan and grocery list to use the food you buy. So you won't be throwing food out (which is basically like throwing money out, when you think about it).
- eMeals (one of my favorite meal planning tools) offers a budget-friendly meal plan option, which promises to keep your grocery bill to $95 per week. Even if you're meal planning for a family. Here's how I recommend using their service to make meal planning quicker and easier.
- Likewise, if you're cooking for one or two, a meal planning tool will help you limit the number of servings you make, which also helps you reduce waste and only buy what you need.
With those money-saving perks in mind, here are two of my favorite meal planning tools for eating healthy on a budget:
I love Real Plans because it does most of the heavy lifting for you, including selecting your recipes, planning your grocery list, and even mapping out a meal prep timeline to help make eating healthy even easier. They even include handy tips for saving on your groceries and stretching your grocery budget.
Here's how it works:
Real Plans' comprehensive ingredient-filtering settings make this meal planning tool a great choice if you (or someone in your family) has allergies or specific dietary requirements.
How much does Real Plans cost?
The annual 12-month subscription runs at $6 per month, but you also have the choice of a quarterly subscription for $11 per month. On the annual plan, you would spend about $72 per year for meal plans that perfectly suit your tastes and reduce food waste.
Want to give Real Plans a try? Sign up for a free 14 day trial of Real Plans' meal plans.
eMeals works similarly to Real Plans in that it will also automatically select your recipes and create your grocery list for you. Where eMeals differs is the wider variety of meal plan types. While Real Plans offers 9 different yet mostly diet-specific meal plan choices, eMeals offers 14 meal plans that vary from keto or paleo-specific to budget-friendly or even quick 30 minute meals.
Here's how it works:
In fact, personal money expert, Dave Ramsey endorses this product. And based on customer feedback, eMeals estimates that they help their subscribers save an average of $2,000 a year on their grocery bills!
How much does eMeals cost?
The annual 12-month subscription runs at $4.99 per month, but you also have the choice of a 3-month subscription for $9.99 per month. On the annual plan, you would spend about $60 per year to save $2,000. This is inexpensive when you consider the savings.
Want more information about eMeals? You can read more about how I use eMeals to help make healthy eating easier and quicker.
Ready to get started? Try eMeals for free for 14 days.
Now that you've got your healthy eating meal plan in order, it's time to plan your grocery list. This step is key in keeping both your healthy eating and budget on track. You can save simply by sticking to your list and staying out of the center aisles in your store!
Here's my shopping lists for new paleo, keto and Whole30 eaters:
The fresh produce on these lists covers some of the most common ones but doesn't include all of them. Most produce and fruits are healthy for you. If you're following paleo, keto or Whole30, you'll want to double-check which fruits and vegetables are compliant, as they differ from one plan to the next.
I would focus first on the basic healthy foods – vegetables, fruit and proteins. I've included shopping suggestions for my favorite places to buy high-quality healthy ingredients, but your best bet is to buy the best quality you can find and afford.
As far as your other pantry items, start small. Shop for the ingredients you need for the first week in your meal plan. You can gradually stock your pantry over time buying just a few things each week.
Buying organic can help you steer clear of the preservatives, fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides that are used widely in regular farming and agriculture practices. It can also cause your grocery bill to creep closer to the limits of your budget.
But here's the thing: you don't need to buy everything organic.
There are some products on your grocery list are more at-risk for containing those unwanted preservatives and pesticides than others.
Here are the vegetables and meat to prioritize buying organic first:
Fruits & Vegetables
I recommend always buying organic for the Dirty Dozen, which are the fruits and vegetables which have been tested and confirmed by EWG as likely to test positive for at least one type of pesticide. They also maintain a long list of at-risk produce, which you can see here.
The most recent Dirty Dozen list (last updated in 2019) includes:
If you're new to buying clean and organic products, check out the EWG's Healthy Living app. It's available for both iOS and Android, and will help you make safer buying choices and boost your confidence in the food and products you buy.
Meat & Fish
Trying to understand what food labels actually mean once you're in the store can be confusing and frustrating, so it's important that you read more about USDA labeling laws for meat & fish. Those food labels aren't created equally and understanding what they actually mean will help ensure that you don't overspend on products that aren't actually as healthy as they sound.
As far as the term organic goes when applied to meat and fish, this label encompasses multiple benefits such as being free of antibiotics and hormones. That said, it's important to keep in mind that this label does not show whether you're purchasing a grass-fed animal. Here's a little more on the differences between grass-fed and conventional beef:
I buy my meats and fish through ButcherBox and Thrive Market because I feel confident in their sourcing and labeling practices, not to mention I'm able to purchase beautiful high-quality cuts of grass-fed beef, organic chicken and sustainably sourced fish for about the same price I'd find unhealthier alternatives in my local grocery store. In fact, purchasing through these suppliers usually cuts costs for meat and fish to just $5 to $8 per meal.
One of the best ways to stick to your grocery budget is by ensuring that you stock your pantry with healthy foods. Even better if you stock your pantry with those foods when they go on sale!
Here are some of the most versatile (and cheap!) pantry staples to keep on hand:
- Sea salt & pepper–a basic that elevates the flavor of so many dishes!
- Tomatoes, canned
- Tuna, canned or packaged with no additives
- Wild-caught salmon, canned or packaged with no additives
- Organic olive oil–not necessarily cheap, but definitely something you're likely to use every day
- Chicken and vegetable broths–homemade is better, but this is great for emergencies
My tip? Take inventory of what you already have in your pantry and start building out your healthy pantry with great healthy products from there. Little by little, you'll create a pantry that supports your healthy eating goals and helps you save money while you do so!
On the topic of cheap staple foods, while it's always wonderful to eat fresh veggies, frozen vegetables offer a cost-effective alternative to fresh, especially if the produce you want is out of season. Bonus points to frozen veggies because you don't risk it spoiling as quickly either.
This is potentially the most important decision you'll make in keeping your healthy eating budget-friendly. Pricing on healthy pantry items, produce, meat and fish can vary drastically from store to store, so it's best to do a little research on what you have available to you in your area. The first store that might jump to mind when you think of healthy ingredients is likely Whole Foods, but that doesn't mean it's the only (or most cost-efficient) place to shop.
Here are my top recommendations:
It might surprise you to see Walmart on my list, but they have a lot of items that are healthy, whole, real foods. If you're shopping for paleo, keto or Whole30 compliant foods, your big task will be to read the ingredient lists on the labels and make sure there are no non-compliant ingredients added.
I've found that one of the easiest ways to shop for healthy food, resist temptation and keep unnecessary items out of the grocery basket is to stay out of the grocery store as much as possible. That's where Instacart comes in.
Here's how it works:
Once you've signed up for an account, you can shop directly from your computer or download the app and shop from your phone. And if you're using a meal planning service like Real Plans or eMeals, you can send your meal plan grocery list directly to your Instacart basket. It's so quick and easy to use, and it helps you stay out of the snack aisles!
It's much easier to cook up healthy meals when you have a fully stocked freezer of healthy meats and sustainable seafood. And I like to think of ButcherBox as my secret weapon in keeping the freezer stocked with high-quality cuts of meat and fish at budget-friendly costs.
Here's what I receive in a typical monthly order:
As you might expect, ButcherBox prices are higher than regular meat you might find in your local grocery store. But they're about the same as what I would pay for this quality (grass-fed, heritage, free-range, hormone-free, etc.) if I was buying locally. My big problem? I live in an area with limited options for purchasing choices for high-quality meats.
You're likely used to seeing your meat priced by weight, but ButcherBox does it a little differently. They price by meal. When all is said and done, their meats work out to less than $6 per meal. And I always check the monthly specials for extra savings. The monthly specials are seasonal and depend a lot on availability, but they offer an additional opportunity to stock up on incredible cuts at budget-friendly prices.
With all this in mind, I like ButcherBox for a few key reasons:
- They're USDA-approved. Their processing facilities are inspected, approved and always have someone on-site to make sure that all their products meet high safety standards.
- Flexible subscription options. While Butcher Box offers monthly and bi-monthly subscriptions, but you have plenty of flexibility to pause and re-activate your subscription as your budget allows. You can pause your subscription for up to 6 months or cancel at any time before they bill your next order. And you're not locked into a particular box!
- Exceptional value + free shipping. Butcher Box's collective of small farms provides humanely raised top-quality meats for around $6 per meal. And they always ship for free!
Curious about the details of using ButcherBox to buy healthy meat that won't break the bank? You can read my full review of their service here.
Want to give ButcherBox a try? Click here to get free bacon and $15 off your first delivery here! (While supplies last.)
If you're a regular reader, then you know I love Thrive Market for stocking up the pantry. In fact, I've used Thrive Market to save over $1000 on my grocery bills! I like to think of Thrive Market like a cross between Whole Foods and Costco. You'll find the premium high-quality organic food and natural products without the retail markup that you usually see in your local grocery stores.
Here's what you're likely to see in my typical monthly Thrive Market orders:
- Thrive Market organic pasta sauces. I love the marinara sauce, roasted garlic, and tomato basil – $4.99 ea.
- I use these Thrive raw cashews to make cashew milk – $10.99
- tahini – $7.49
- grass-fed bone broth – $6.99
- nuts – starting at $7.99 per 16 oz. pouch
- organic vanilla extract – $6.99
- spices – wide selection starting at $2.99 / pouch
- coconut milk – $1.99
- Himalayan pink salt – $5.99
- nutritional yeast – $5.29
- Red Boat Fish Sauce – $7.49
- extra virgin olive oil – $14.99
- Larabars (box of 16) – $15.99
- organic tomatoes, canned – $1.99 ea.
- paleo, keto, vegan crackers – $5.29
- grass-fed gelatin – $16.99
- chicken broth– $6.99
- organic vegetable broth – $3.49
Not only is Thrive a great place to pick up your healthy pantry ingredients, healthy snacks and clean wine, but its meat and fish boxes offer a budget-friendly way to buy high-quality cuts at budget-friendly bulk costs. My favorite meat and fish boxes (the Free-Range Organic Chicken Box, the Wild Caught Seafood Box and the Surf ’n Turf Beef & Seafood Combo Box) bring the cost per serving down between $3 to $8.
Thrive Market even offers starter kits for Paleo, Keto, AIP and Whole30 diets. The Paleo, Keto and Whole30 kits offer savings of between 27 to 38% off the suggested retail price and include a bunch of the key ingredients that you'll find on my pantry lists. This is a great way to stock up your pantry on the cheap!
And if all of this isn't enough to convince you, here are a few more reasons I like Thrive Market:
- Convenient all-in-one grocery platform. Thrive Market removes the hassle of shopping with multiple delivery services. Purchase healthy pantry staples, seafood, paleo and keto-compliant products all from the same website.
- Budget-friendly shipping rates. You'll get free shipping on all orders over $49. I use the app to place items in my cart as I run out and submit my order after I pass the free shipping minimum.
- Savings Guarantee. Most Thrive members make their annual membership fee in just two orders. But if you don't, the Thrive Savings Guarantee automatically rolls over the difference as a credit toward your next annual membership renewal.
Get up to $20 in shopping credit when you purchase a Thrive Market Membership! (1 month, 3-month, and 1-year memberships available)
What about hard-to-find & specialty ingredients?
Last but not least, I buy most of my hard-to-find and specialty ingredients online through Amazon. I have plenty of recommended products, but the biggest suggestion for ingredients that fall into this category is purchasing either Wellbee's Super Fine Blanched Almond Flour or Honeyville Blanched Almond Flour Super Fine Grind. I've tested other brands and they don't work as well.
The Key to Healthy Eating On A Budget
The big key to success in healthy eating on a budget is taking the time to set yourself up for success and understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to healthy eating.
Do the best with what you have available to you right now and keep building from there. I hope that these tips, tricks and tools will help you feel like healthy eating on a budget is not only possible but completely attainable.