Let’s face it! At least once in your life, you are going to hear somebody that excuses his or her bad eating habits because “eating healthy is just too expensive”. I have heard that countless of times and I used to believe that myself, until I was forced to try when facing a very tight budget. Today I want to share with you some tips and recipes ideas so that you can eat a balanced healthy diet when your budget literally sucks (with bold capital letters!)
I remember that time when I thought “healthy and balanced” only referred to fancy and often overpriced stuff. It was incredibly expensive and soon I realized I couldn’t keep up. We all love times of bonanza, but hard times; either by economic crisis, personal finance struggles or because you are just lost in the dark financial tunnel right before your paycheck, can happen to anyone and during such times, you don’t have to trade your health.
Before I start I want to note that I understand “eating healthy” has such a broad meaning. For you it can mean eating paleo, or keto, or going vegan; but for the matters of this post, and in general terms, when I refer to “healthy” I mean “natural, non-processed”. It doesn’t matter if you do paleo, keto, vegan or anything else, as long as you eat as natural as possible, and taking into account your own dietary requirements. In other words, that yummy box of GF “healthy” paleo vegan cookies don’t fall within this category.
Processed Foods costs a fortune
In case you have such friend that love junk food and thinks eating healthy costs a lot, or you are a junk eater yourself, maybe it is time to know that eating processed foods is costing you way more than you think.
I think one visit to the store is more than enough to find out how expensive processed foods really is. I mean, a bag of crackers or chips can easily cost $2 and I can buy pasta or rice and some veggies for the same price and have a decent meal on a mega tight budget.
Let’s take apples as an example. They are nutrient dense while a bag of chips is full of sodium, additives and other stuff that are simply not good for you. So, my first recommendation when you are trying to make healthy choices when your budget sucks will be to make more in-depth considerations regarding the foods you are buying. In other words, not just consider “the cash value”; rather focus on the real value which takes into account the nutrition you get versus the cash you pay.
Understanding the Real Value
Understanding the real value of the foods you eat can sound overwhelming at first but it is actually very easy concept and so important to understand.
When I first started to think about the real value of food, it was difficult for me to find the balance between eating healthy and having a tight budget. I soon started to do a mental exercise to figure out the real value, because yes, when the cash was short I was more tempted to eat refined breads or pasta almost everyday because they were “cheaper” (but they are not!) Let me show you an example:
When doing this exercise in my head, the top factor on my list wasn’t the cash value, but the nutritional value. Apparently you have to pay more for a bag of apples but you are actually getting a whole lot of nutritional benefits that you won’t find in a bag of chips, and for so little cash. So, focus on the real value and eat real, natural, whole, non-processed foods, that makes you feel bright and satiated for less cash on the long run.
How to actually eat healthy on a budget
Look for sales first; then plan.
I’ve read this a million times: “plan your meals” and then, “stick to your list” and I tried really hard to do it but it just didn’t work out that well for me.
I really understand the importance of meal planning but I often felt that planning my meals before going to the store was the most frustrating thing I could do. I could spend hours burning my brain out planning for the week, and then go to the store to find out that what I want is not in stock or I just couldn’t afford it at the moment. It has happened to me enough so now I do the exact opposite. In short, first look for sales in your local grocery store; then, plan your meals around what you found.
Use your freezer
When going to the grocery store or farmer’s market you can sometimes find a really good deal on seasonal fruits and vegetables. This is a great opportunity to get those veggies prepped for the freezer. This make it really easy to prep a healthy meal and will be available to you at not extra cost.
Cook with less
Pure and simple; learn to cook with less ingredients. This sounds pretty obvious, but I think is worth mentioning. We all have those favorite recipes that call for a huge list of ingredients, but you can actually make the same thing with minimum ingredients and great results.
When on a tight budget I found out I could make most of my favorite recipes with 5 ingredients or even less. For example, you can make a delicious rice with spinach with 5 simple ingredients: onions, salt, pepper, spinach & rice. The secret for it to taste yummy? Caramelize the onions very well before adding the rest of ingredients.
Or, for example, a chickpeas curry can taste just as good with just curry powder and coconut milk when you heat up the curry powder on low flame for a few seconds.
When I am out of ideas I usually google “3 ingredients ——” (fill in the blanks). You’ll be surprise how many people have had the same struggles and ideas that you have and shared a way out so that you can take that path. Just be creative and open to new culinary experiences.
Go to the Farmer’s Market
Going to the farmer’s market has its challenges (like, when you go with kids and they want pretty much everything they see, lol) but it can also be a great way to save, so take your time and explore your local farmer’s market.
When I started going to my local farmer’s market, I found out that in the entrance prices were higher; but if I went to the end, I would find the same amount or sometimes even more for less and even half the price, so now I go straight to the end and buy there first.
Paying attention to every inch of your FM can also save you money on the long term. In my local FM there is a stand were they sell everything at $1 or less that I wouldn’t have discovered without some exploring. They sell mostly baked products and sweets that expired the day before, but on that same spot I have found a box of quinoa (500gr) and 1Kg Spelt flour for 50 cents each (usually priced $2.99 each).
Buy from an ethnic grocery store
Don’t be afraid to enter that ethnic grocery store around the corner. They usually sell cheaper produce and you can find special ingredients, like for an affordable price.
There are also more budget friendly grocery stores like Lidl & Aldi where you can find great deals on fruits and veggies and also Gluten Free, Vegetarian and often vegan options at more affordable prices.
Learn to use those stems and leaves
In my country they are used to say “necessity is the mother of invention” and this applies so much in the kitchen! Now that you found those great deals on the FM, please, don’t throw half that in the garbage in the form of leaves, stems or even skins! Be bold, be creative with what you bought. Our Apple Peel Chutney for example, was the result of having huge amount of apple skin after preparing an apple crisp for Rosh Hashanah last year.
Before, I was one of those people that didn’t use the broccoli stem or the leaves. Now, I cannot even see how to throw that deliciousness away. Broccoli stems for example, are a great addition to stir fries. I usually remove the roughest outer skin of the stem with a potato peeler, and chop. It taste delicious and I love it for added texture and crunch in soups, curries and stews. Broccoli and cauliflower leaves are a great addition as well.
Re-Purpose your leftovers
I used to be so mortified when I had leftovers but now I actually plan to have some to play with. Yes, I am a fan! For example, with leftover spinach you can make some rice or fritatta; with mixed veggies you can make stews, curries, veggies nuggets, or simply add some soy or tamari sauce to make fried rice, and with leftover apple crumble you can make a delicious cake.
Hope to convince you that re-purposing leftovers can be so much fun!
Eat more veggies!
Veggies are the way to go when eating healthy, and specially on a budget because meats and fish can be really expensive.
Vegetables are so incredibly versatile and should always be on the top of your shopping list. You can eat them as salad or as a main dish. You can blend them as a smoothie or as a creamed soup, and just that can be your next satisfying meal! Or you can serve roasted as a snack and even sneak some on sweet treats, if you are into that!
Worried about where to get your protein from? Legumes, like beans, lentils or chickpeas are a great source as well as nuts & seeds.
Easy Healthy Recipes for a Tight Budget
We said this already, shopping healthy foods on a tight budget can feel overwhelming at first but with a little bit of patience and planning, you can do it. These are my Top 5 budget meals for tight budget situations:
I think I’ve just made this Simple Vegan Blog recipe exactly how is written once, but I have made countless versions of it with every bit of veggies I may have in the fridge.
Apart from legumes, eggs (even organic) are very affordable and an excellent source of protein.
This combo of chickpeas + curry + coconut is DE-LI-CI-OUS and this recipe from Pinch Of Yum calls for just 5 ingredients. Excellent for tight budgets! 😀
Rainbow Rice Noodles from My Fussy Eater is a great alternative for those who loves noodles (like me!) but want to escape from the same pasta and sauce combo. You can also substitute noodles for zoodles (zucchini noodles) 😉
I love love love this Minimalist Baker’s recipe for Veggie Sliders. It is so full of flavor and so easy to make and you just need 7 ingredients. Looking for a nut-free option? Try our Ultimate Vegan Meatballs.
Well, this is all for today, guys. Hopefully now you are more relieved knowing that eating balanced and healthy is possible even on tight (sometimes *very tight*) budget. Have a trick that we didn’t mentioned? Share it on the comments section below! Looking for more ideas and inspiration? Follow our brand new Pinterest Board, Healthy Eating on a Tight Budget, and don’t forget to follow on instagram to keep up with other easy recipes and adventure.
Until next time! 😉