Eating healthy is challenging enough, but when money is tight, it can feel so overwhelming that eating healthy on a budget seems impossible.
It becomes even harder when you have any type of dietary restrictions or special diets. Our family first started a GFCF diet (gluten free and casein free diet ) 8 years ago for our son with autism, and we continue on the diet today.
It was incredibly hard at first, but through the years, we have found ways to cut costs, save money, and make eating healthy more affordable.
By following some of these tips, you will see that you can still eat healthy or follow any diet no matter how tight your finances.
Eating Healthy on a Budget
In this post, I will share with you the strategies we have implemented that have helped our single-income, family of 5 continue eating good quality food without breaking the bank.
- Ways to lower the grocery bill by buying the right things and avoiding more expensive items.
- Snack and Meal Strategies to reduce waste and help stretch your groceries without sacrificing nutrition or taste.
- Lifestyle Changes you can make to cut $100’s from your monthly expenses.
Defining a Healthy Diet
Essentially, a healthy diet is whole-foods based, has limited sugars, and is free of unnatural ingredients.
Eating Healthy On A Budget:
Reframing the Question
We are a family of 5 living on a teacher’s salary, so we certainly know how tough eating healthy on a budget can be. Diet is the foundation of good health and healing, so we place a high value on eating the best quality foods we can afford. This explains why we spend so much of our budget on food each month.
I used to say,“there is no way the whole family could eat this way. It’s way too expensive.” A couple of years ago, I started to reframe that thought and ask a better question. How can we afford for us all to eat better and follow the GFCF Diet?
This shift in thinking led me to realize ways to find savings on our food bill and reduce expenses in other areas.
I urge you to adopt a similar mindset. If you continue to think, being healthy is too expensive then it will be too expensive. But, if you shift that mindset, you’ll discover new ways that will allow you to start eating healthy on a budget.
It all starts by deciding how important diet is for your family. For us, it’s at the top of the list.
Ask the Better Question:
“How Can We Afford To Eat Healthy on a Budget?”
Some of the ideas and strategies our family uses may seem out of reach if you have picky kids. In fact, for many of us parents with kids on the autism spectrum, they may seem downright impossible.
Keep in mind, that we’ve been working at this for 8 years and the first year was insanely tough. Remember, we can reframe this thought too. We can switch from, “there’s no way my kid will eat that.” to “How can I get my kid to eat that?” It can be hard work, but the result is awesome.
Eating Healthy On A Budget:
Lowering the Grocery Bill
Buying the Right Things
Go Organic only when you have to.
I think we all know that organic is always better than its conventional grown counterpart. It’s also always more expensive.
Check out the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15. If you’re not familiar, the dirty dozen is the 12 produce items with the highest residual levels of biocides. Conversely, the Clean 15 have the lowest levels.
I personally try to buy all produce organic except for the Clean 15. Produce like onions, cabbage, mangos, cauliflower can be purchased at its cheaper non-organic price if you’re eating healthy on a budget.
Fresh Isn’t Always Best
Buying fruits and veggies frozen rather than fresh can save you a ton of money. For example, fresh, organic strawberries are typically about $4/pound, but I buy a 4 pound bag of frozen organic strawberries for $10. That’s big savings!
Often times, it is cheaper to buy frozen produce rather than fresh. You also get the added benefit of having them already chopped our cut in some way. Score!
If you can’t find frozen or just prefer fresh, buy whatever is in season (preferably from your local farmer).
Choose the Right Cuts of Meats
For us carnivores, meat can be a huge expense. If you pick the lower priced cuts of meat, then you can cut that expense substantially. For example, I never buy chicken breast. They range from $10-16 a pound compared to organic chicken wings or thighs I can get for $2-4 a pound. Then, I can save the bones and make homemade bone broth. (More Savings!)
The same is true with beef or pork. I avoid all steaks and only purchase ground beef. This saves me $5-15 a pound. Say what you must about hot dogs. As long as you buy an organic, grass-fed, all beef hot dog, they are a convenient and inexpensive option.
Eating Healthy On A Budget:
Lowering the Grocery Bill
Avoiding the Wrong Things
Packaged and Processed Foods
Higher priced cuts of meat is not the only thing you should avoid when you’re eating healthy on a budget. As best as you can, the most important thing to avoid is packaged food. When we first started the diet 8 years ago, we looked to replace all of our son’s favorite foods with its’ gluten free and dairy free equivalent.
Everything was nearly twice as expensive, and it nearly brought me to tears right there at Whole Foods. I wondered how on earth I was going to afford this. When you’re starting out with a new healthy diet, don’t try to replace everything you already eat. It’s far too expensive to buy clean, natural versions of all the cookies, bars, crackers, cereals, waffles…etc. Just find replacements for a 2 or 3 of your favorites.
We decided to only replace a couple favored items, and then we started learning how to cook. My wife and I were not good cooks back in those days, but being on the GFCF diet forced us to develop our skills in the kitchen.
Learn to Cook
When you’re eating healthy on a budge, you better learn to cook. Honestly though, it’s much healthier to make things at home. Not only can you avoid preservatives and odd sounding ingredients, but you can control for things like sugar, salt, and carbs. Eventually, you’ll figure out how to sneak veggies into your homemade items too.
Now that I am a decent cook, I essentially make everything from scratch: meals, snacks, and even some condiments. I make my own salad dressings, mayonnaise, BBQ sauces…etc. This saves me on average about $20-30 every month.
Don’t Buy Drinks
An easy way to cut the grocery bill is to stop buying drinks. Stay away from sodas, juices, milk alternatives, and maybe avoid the grown up beverages too. Not only will you save another $20-40, but you’ll be healthier too.
If you don’t like water, start experimenting with herbal teas or start brewing your own kombucha!
If you Google eating healthy on a budget, the most common piece of advice is to plan out your meals before going to the store. I admit this is not a tip that I use all the time. I either never have the time, or perhaps I don’t put enough emphasis on meal planning. For whatever reason, I rarely plan my week’s meals.
However, whenever money gets super tight at the end of a month, you better believe I’ll grab a sheet of paper and plan out the meals to see just how little I can get away with buying that week.
I’d like to say that I would implement this tip myself more often, but I don’t wanna lie to you 🙂 . This is a “do what I say not as I do” type situation. I promise, if you’re on a tight budget, meal planning is the way to go. Not only will it prevent you from over-buying, but it will also cut down on your waste as well.
Katie the Wellness Mama has an incredible tip when it comes to meal planning. You can find that at the end of this article!
Eating Healthy on a Budget
You Gotta Spend Money to Save Money
Membership Has It’s Perks
There are 2 membership-only retailers that I highly recommend for anyone eating a GFCF diet on a budget. The first is Costco at $55 a year, and the second is Thrive Market at about $60 a year. Both of these retailers have lower prices that easily make up for the membership fee. Costco saves me about $150 every month and Thrive will save me about $100.
I just finished a thorough review of Thrive Market, and I am kicking myself for waiting so long to join.
Buy In Bulk
There are many items that you can save on if you are able to buy in bulk. For instance, if you can afford to buy half of a cow, you can save a ton and be set with your meat for the year. Unfortunately, this one may be cost prohibitive. Our family certainly doesn’t have an extra $1000+ to buy a half cow. However, sometimes I do consider trying to swing it, so we can have roasts and steaks for the less than ground beef.
One thing I do buy in bulk is herbs and spices. When I get low, I head over to Mountain Rose Herbs (no affiliation) and spend about $100-150 in herbs and spices. These will last me about 4-6 months (some longer). It’s a painful order, but I know it is saving me a boatload. An added bonus, I’m getting good, clean and mostly organic spices for all my cooking!
Eating Healthy On a Budget:
The cost of healthy snacks for 3 kids can add up fast if you’re not careful. I have a few “go-to” options that save me a lot of money. Our 11 year old son with autism is on a very restricted low sugar, low oxalate diet. This means most fruits are not an option. Typically, he only gets organic berries or the occasional green apple (when they’re on sale) I do like to transform the fruit in some way, so that my $10 bag of frozen berries last longer.
Fat is Your Friend
One of the ways I extend my frozen berries is to make compote. This recipe is in my Free Ebook. If you want to check that out just enter your email at the end of this post, and I’ll send it to you. Essentially, I add organic palm shortening and shredded coconut to the berries. The added fat allows the kids to get filled up on less fruit, which saves money. Just make sure to use a healthy fat source like ghee, coconut, palm, or avocado not vegetable oil or fake butter.
Cheap Snack Ideas (cookies, popsicles)
Another way to extend your fruits is to make popsicles. I’m able to take about 5 strawberries, full-fat coconut milk, monk fruit sweetener, and water to make about 10 popsicles.
I also make homemade sugar-free cookies quite regularly. Takes 3 eggs and maybe 1/4 cup of coconut flour. It’s a very inexpensive, yet healthy snack.
Bars, crackers, and packaged snacks are quite handy if you’re on the go, but the cost is too high if you’re on a tight budget. Make things at home and save the convenience foods for when you’re out and about.
Eating Healthy on a Budget
Not everything I make is a success. Spaghetti squash for instance used to be something I could get all the kids to eat, but lately, they’d rather starve than eat it. Whenever, I have a failed experiment, I always repurpose it. Sometimes, I add other veggies, sauces, change the flavor, or add extra meat to get them to eat it the next day.
Other times, I puree the entire meal in my Vitamix, add some eggs, and coconut flour and turn it into a bread. The bread always works! Whatever you do, just don’t throw it out. That’s not just food waste. It’s money going into the trash too.
Repurpose and Extend Leftovers
I almost always try to make enough dinner, so that there are leftovers. This makes the next days lunch easier, but sometimes I have to add a little something in order to make it a full meal. Often times, that is simply adding lettuce and turning a stir fry or casserole type meal into a salad. Other times, I’ll throw the leftovers in a pan and scramble a couple eggs with it.
Reduce Meat Portions
For most people, the meat is usually the star of the show at mealtimes. It certainly was for us, but I’ve slowly reduced the serving size to the point where we know only use half what we used to. That’s typically 1/2 pound of meat for all 5 of us. Our main source of protein comes from eggs, which is easily the cheapest form of healthy protein! I also supplement with collagen. It’s an added expense, but cheaper than a pound of meat with every meal would be.
Don’t feel like you have to include meat with every meal. You can simply make something like a pizza crust with lots of eggs and a pureed squash for the sauce. Just the other night, I made cauliflower crackers with a butternut squash dip, and my kids ate it up.
Don’t be scared to make meatless meals. If your kids are super picky, this may seem impossible, but with some effort, it can be done. When we were first starting out, I would be rolling my eyes as I read this paragraph and saying to myself, “yeah right, that ain’t happening!”
I Get It
If this sounds like you, I get it. I was there too, so work with where you are. If your kiddo only eats potato chips, french fries, and chicken nuggets, then don’t sweat this tip. This was my son 8 years ago. Focus on getting them to try new foods using their existing favorites as reinforcers.
Just keep working with them, and they’ll eventually expand their palate. If you need some ideas or strategies for your picky eater, check out the strategy we used that took our son from a limited eater to a crazy devourer of veggies.
Eating Healthy On A Budget:
Remember, we’re asking a better question. How can I afford to eat healthy? Sometimes, in order to make it affordable, you have to cut costs in other areas of your life. Our family has made many lifestyle shifts (and plans for even more) in order to be able to swing the added cost of quality food.
Cut the Cord
2 years ago, we made the decision to drop cable TV. Honestly, we decided to cut cable because I felt like we were all watching too much TV. Saving money was simply a happy side effect, but one that saved us $50 every month!
It’s Like We’re Criminals
This one may seem a little crazy in our connected world of today, but my wife and I do not have cell phone plans. In fact, we rock the old school flip phones. You know, the ones you see the drug dealers using on all the cop shows. They call them burner phones, but we use them everyday.
Rather than paying $100 a month for an expensive cell phone plan, we pay $100 for the whole year. That’s over $1,000 in annual savings. Crazy I know. Like said earlier, you have to figure out how important a healthy diet is for you, and for us it’s #1. That means we rock the 90s flip phone with pride.
The Latte Factor
The Latte Factor is a term coined by author David Bach. It’s called the Latte Factor because it’s based on how much we tend to waste on fancy coffees every morning. The average American spends $15 a week on coffee. That’s $60 a month that could be spent on healthy food instead.
I first read about this idea in the book, The Automatic Millionaire. According to Mr Bach, the Latte Factor is based on the simple idea that all the small things you spend your money on like lattes, bottled water, fast food, cigarettes, magazines…etc, all add up to a big drain on our resources.
Often times, we don’t even realize how much we’re actually spending on these little purchases. Using simple strategies such as packing lunch for work, skipping Starbucks, and using a reusable water bottle can add up to a fair amount of monthly savings.
Be a Little Dirty
Americans spend about $40 a month on cleaning products according to Statisticsbrain.com.
I know I used to buy the expensive all natural or green cleaners too. Then, I realized they were completely unnecessary. I now do all my cleaning for about $3. That’s how much a gallon of vinegar costs. I pour vinegar into a spray bottle with a little water and use that to clean my tables, countertops, bathrooms…everything.
You get used to the smell after a week or so, but it typically dissipates in a few minutes anyway. If you really want it to smell better, you can add some essential oil to your bottle. Lemon, lime, cinnamon, or orange leave a really great scent after cleaning.
Remember, most of the cleaning products we use are more harmful too. That “clean smell” people talk about is actually toxic fumes in the air. Fragrance is often the most toxin part of any product, so cleaning with vinegar not only saves your wallet, it saves your health too.
These days I make my own laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, toothpaste, lotions, vapor rub…etc. Again, it’s a healthier way to go, but it saves a ton of money. All you have to do is head over to Pinterest, and you’ll find thousands of recipes for DIY everything.
Making cleaning products and personal care products is a lot easier than you may think. For example, it only takes 3 minutes to make laundry detergent using only 3 ingredients! (washing soda, Castile soap, and borax) I can make about 5 gallons of laundry detergent for about $3.
DIY Your Food Too
While you’re becoming a DIY expert, why not DIY some of your food? It’s fairly easy to start a backyard garden, and even cheaper. I’m amazed by the amount of produce my friends get from the gardens in their small backyards. We are still looking for the perfect house to buy, but once we do we will plant a huge garden!
Once we find our perfect house, we also plan on getting some chickens. Backyard chickens are becoming more and more common, and from what I read online, they’re fairly easy to care for. Our family goes through about 25 dozen eggs in a month, so raising our own chickens should save us quite a bit.
Eating Healthy on a Budget
Here’s the breakdown of how our family saves over $500 every single month.
|Savings from Costco||$150|
|Savings from Thrive Market||$100|
|No Cell Phone Plan||$100|
|No Cable Bill||$50|
|Avoiding the Latte Factor||$60|
|Using Vinegar instead of Cleaning Products||$35|
|Savings from DIY Personal Products||$35|
As you can see, there are plenty of savings to be had if you’re willing to make a few changes. Just by doing a few of these ideas, you can save $500 (or more) every month. That’s $6,000 a year!!!
The table above doesn’t take into account the tips to lower your grocery bill or the snack and mealtime strategies I discussed. There is even more potential savings to be had. Of course, you don’t have to go crazy and do everything we do. When diet is at the top or near the top of your priority list, you’re willing to sacrifice a lot in order to be healthy.
Just remember to reframe your thinking. It’s not, “there’s no way we can afford it.” Rather, it should be “HOW can we afford to eat healthy on a budget?” Ask the right question, and you’ll be own your way.
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Eating Healthy on a Budget: Further Reading
- The Latte Factor
- Why You Should Buy Local Grass Fed Beef
- Tips on Meal Planning
- Guide to Healthy Cleaning
- Homemade Laundry Soap Recipe
- Monthly Consumer Spending
- Backyard Chickens