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Eating Healthy on a Budget: Smart Tips for Nutritious and Affordable Meals

by Mara Welty October 18, 2023 7 min read

 Eating Healthy on a Budget

 After dedicating countless hours to budgeting, poring over spreadsheets and googling the prices of your favorite groceries, you come to realize that your allocated food budget isn’t quite meeting your needs. And it makes sense: recent explorations into food prices have uncovered significant price discrepancies between healthy and unhealthy diets.

Unhealthy diets, or those filled with processed food high in unhealthy fats, salts and sugars, cost less than healthy food choices like fruits and veggies. And these unhealthy snacks are a tempting option, too. They can be more satisfying than fruits and veggies, and researchers at the University of Washington found that high-calorie and energy-dense foods like pastries cost only $1.79 per 1,000 calories, compared to $18.16 per 1,000 calories for more nutritious, but lower-calorie choices.

So, what’s the solution for how to eat healthy on a budget? Planning ahead, and reinventing the way you view your grocery list. Find out more, below. 

#1 Meal Prep For The Week

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), most Americans are not meeting their daily dietary requirements, which include a healthy balance of macronutrients like proteins, carbohydrates and healthy fats, as well as vitamins and minerals. 

While dietary needs vary depending on age and sex, you can count on diets that are filled with such nutrients as:

  • Calcium – Essential for strong bones and teeth, muscle function, nerve transmission and blood clotting, this mineral can be found in dairy products, leafy greens, almonds and sardines.
  • Iron – Present in red meat, poultry, fish, beans and spinach, iron helps transport blood throughout the body and supports immune function.
  • Magnesium – To support muscle, nerve and bone health, stock up on plenty of high-magnesium foods like nuts, seeds, whole grains, leafy greens and beans.
  • Potassium – Eating a fruit and vegetable like bananas, oranges, potatoes, tomatoes and avocados can help regulate muscle contractions and nerve signals. It can also support muscle recovery after working out.
  • Zinc – To support immune function, wound healing and cell health, add plenty of meat, seafood, poultry and dairy products to your shopping cart, as well as whole grains, nuts and seeds.
  • Vitamin A – Sweet potatoes, carrots, leafy greens and butternut squash are high in vitamin A, which can help support immune function and skin health.
  • B Vitamins – There are various B vitamins, from biotin to folate. Each plays a unique role within the body, although they predominantly impact energy metabolism and nerve function.
  • Vitamin C – Found in citrus fruits, bell peppers, strawberries and broccoli, and our unflavored collagen peptides, vitamin C is an antioxidant that plays a role in immunity and joint health.
  • Vitamin D – Your body can absorb vitamin D through sun exposure and foods like fatty fish, egg yolk and fortified cereals. It helps support skin health and bone development.
  • Vitamin E – Like vitamin C, vitamin E is an antioxidant that can protect cells from damage and support immune function. You’ll find plenty of this antioxidant in nuts, seeds, vegetable oils and spinach.

Once you have an understanding of the types of nutrients your body needs on a daily basis, you can begin to construct your weekly shopping list. 

Generally, it’s recommended to plan your meals ahead of time, before hitting the grocery aisles. This is what’s called “meal prep,” which involves preparing a week’s-worth of food at one time, often in batches. 

To meet your budget, consider selecting cost-effective ingredients and buying in bulk where possible. This approach can help you stretch your dollars while still getting the essential nutrients your body requires.

You may also want to compare prices on popular items before leaving home to ensure you’re getting the most health- and budget-friendly options that work for your financial plan.

Also, you can stick to your budget by selecting versatile ingredients. Choose items that can serve multiple purposes in different meals. For example, a whole chicken can be roasted for one dinner, and the leftovers can be used in sandwiches, salads or soups throughout the week. You can also cook meals at home that will last for more than one day, such as nutrient-dense:

  • Casseroles
  • Chili
  • Stir-frys
  • Soup
  • Pasta dishes
  • Burrito bowls

To boost satiety, avoid only eating carbohydrates for a meal. This can spike your blood sugar levels and actually increase your appetite. Instead, pair every carbohydrate with a protein and fiber to curb hunger levels and improve satiety.

A nutrient-dense protein shake that’s rich in protein, fiber and veggie complex can also work as a meal replacement for those on a budget.

#2 Prioritize Plant-Based Proteins

Worried about how to eat more protein without consuming too much meat? Compared to meats and fish, plant-based proteins are more affordable and can be just as filling and nutritious. These alternatives include:

  • Beans
  • Broccoli
  • Chickpeas
  • Leafy greens
  • Lentils
  • Nut butter
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Quinoa
  • Seaweed
  • Soymilk
  • Tempeh and/or tofu
  • Vegetable patties

While it can be difficult to replace the flavor or texture of your favorite meat dishes, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health does have a few recommendations to elevate your plant-based dishes:

  • Incorporate “umami” – Umami is a savory taste that’s often associated with the smokiness of most meats. To add a bit of meatiness to your plant proteins, consider cooking with fermented products like soy sauce and miso. You can also incorporate popular barbecuing spices, such as cumin, smoked paprika, garlic and oregano. 
  • Cook them as you would meat – Contrary to popular belief, plant proteins don’t need to be eaten raw. Adopt common cooking practices you’d use with meats, such as grilling, roasting, sauteing, or caramelizing the plant proteins to create a more appetizing plate that’s full of flavor.
  • Increase satiety with legumes and nuts – To craft a filling meal, add plenty of highly nutritious legumes, nuts and soy foods to your plate. Legumes like beans, lentils and chickpeas are rich in fiber and protein, which can keep you feeling satisfied for longer periods. Nuts provide a satisfying crunch along with healthy fats and protein. Incorporating soy foods such as tofu or tempeh can also offer an excellent plant-based source of protein.

If you can’t bear to relinquish meat completely, swap expensive red meats for fish or poultry instead. This switch may even benefit your health, too. High consumption of red meat has been linked to poor heart and blood health.

#3 Purchase Non-Perishables in Bulk

Perusing the grocery shelves, the steep price tags on bulk or family-sized items can be daunting. But, if you plan accordingly, bulk items are typically cheaper when comparing cost per unit — and they can supplement many meals to come. Plus, they can help you avoid packaging food waste. 

Nutrient-dense bulk items may include:

  • Whole grains – These are the foundation of a balanced diet, providing complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Whole grains like quinoa, brown rice and oats are versatile options that can be transformed into hearty salads, comforting porridges or used as a base for various dishes. They also offer a sustained release of energy and promote digestive health, making them a crucial component of cost-effective healthy meal.
  • Lentils – Packed with protein, fiber and essential nutrients like folate, lentils are a plant-based powerhouse. They come in various colors and sizes, each offering a slightly different taste and texture. Lentils are wonderful additions to soups, stews and salads, providing both a satisfying mouthfeel and a nutritional boost.
  • Dried beans – An economical source of protein, fiber and minerals, dried beans encompass a wide variety, including black beans, kidney beans and chickpeas. They're incredibly versatile and can be used in salads, dips (like hummus) or vegetarian patties. Their high fiber content aids in digestion and contributes to a feeling of fullness.
  • Nuts – Nuts are dense in healthy fats, protein and a range of vitamins and minerals. Almonds, walnuts and pistachios are just a few examples of nutrient-rich nuts that can be enjoyed as snacks, added to yogurt or used as a topping for salads. Their healthy fats support heart health and provide a crunchy texture to dishes.
  • Seeds – Seeds such as chia, flax, sunflower and pumpkin are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and micronutrients. Chia and flax seeds are excellent sources of plant-based omega-3s, while sunflower and pumpkin seeds provide magnesium and zinc. These seeds can be sprinkled on smoothies, added to baked goods or included in granolas for an extra nutritional punch.

If buying in bulk isn’t an option, consider buying frozen or canned food instead. Canned foods will last longer, and you won’t have to worry about frozen vegetables and fruits going bad if not used in time. That said, you’ll want to avoid any packaged items that are high in sodium, sugar, creams or butter.

INVIGOR8: Healthy Eating on a Budget

Eating healthy on a budget is not an impossible task and can be achieved with the right plan. Before heading to the grocery store, create a list of nutritious food you can prepare throughout the week. Start by identifying affordable staple foods, like whole grain rice, oats and pasta, as well as protein-rich beans, lentils and chickpeas. These items are not only cost-effective but also packed with nutrients and fiber.

If you’re short on time, in addition to grocery money, consider bolstering your diet with a nutritious weight loss support and meal replacement like the INVIGOR8 Superfood Shake. With no added sugar or artificial ingredient, each scoop of our organic Superfoods powder delivers a bounty of essential nutrients. Our protein powder ingredientsinclude vitamin D, vitamin K, and vitamins B6 and B12, as well as a fruit and veggie complex made with banana, beet root, strawberry, raspberry and cranberry juice.

It’s healthy — and delicious — eating on a budget.


Sources:

  1. NYTimes. A High Price for Healthy Food
  2. USDA. Are Healthy Foods Really  More Expensive?
  3. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Eating healthy vs. unhealthy diet costs about $1.50 more per day
  4. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Strategies for Eating Well on a Budget
  5. CDC. 6 Tips for Eating Healthy on a Budget
  6. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Prioritize hearty and savory plant-based preparations 

About the Author

 Mara Welty
Mara Welty

Mara Welty is a copywriter who specializes in health, wellness and CBD topics. With a background in journalism, she aims to deliver engaging, research-based content that builds trust and engages readers through informative storytelling.

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