10 Tips for Eating Healthy on the Cheap

by David Ning · 24 comments

Heather Johnson is a freelance finance and economics writer, as well as a regular contributor for forex trading, a site for currency trading and forex trading information. Heather welcomes comments and freelancing job inquiries so contact her by email.

Ramen noodles may be cheap, but they sure don’t offer much in the way of nutrition. In fact, it seems that all the affordable foods in the grocery store are pretty bad for you. However, there are ways to maintain a healthy diet for less. It takes some commitment and a little creative cooking, but the 10 tips below should help you out.

  1. Stretch Your Meat – If you are indeed a carnivore, then you know how expensive meat can be. However, you can stretch your poultry and beef out by using healthy fillers like tofu and grains.
  2. Make a Shopping List – By planning meals ahead of time and sticking to a shopping list, you will avoid any unnecessary (and unhealthy) impulse purchases.
  3. Avoid Processed Foods – Starting with raw materials is not only cheaper, it will cut many preservatives and additives out of your diet. This can only improve your mental and physical well-being.
  4. Drink Only Water – Your soda/coffee/juice/alcohol dependency isn’t doing your wallet or your body any favors. Water is the only liquid you will ever need to drink. So, put a filter on your tap and drink without guilt.
  5. Buy In-Season Produce – A seasonal produce chart may help you do determine what will be cheapest at the store right now. Buying your favorite fruits and vegetables during the off-season can really cost you some major dough.
  6. Shop at the Farmer’s Market – Are you paying gouged prices at your local health food store when you could be getting your food direct from local growers? Check out the local farmer’s market before heading to the grocery store.
  7. Know Your Healthy, Cheap Staples – These include oatmeal, beans and rice. Foods that are filling, inexpensive and healthy should always be readily stocked in the kitchen.
  8. Start a Vegetable Garden – Growing your own food is not only a cheap alternative, but also it offers many physical and mental benefits. Gardening is great exercise and helps to reduce stress, so there are many reasons to take up the hobby.
  9. Avoid the Drive-Thru – When trying to save money and your life, the drive-thru can be your worst enemy. Dollar menus exist, but they are usually filled with deep-fried horrors. If you can find a 99 cent baked potato, however, knock yourself out.
  10. Clip Coupons – This is an obvious way to save some money on food. However, be sure to only save coupons for healthy foods, no matter how much those Oreos are marked down.

Believe it or not, there are actually healthy foods that won’t cost an arm and a leg. You should also consider the ways you indirectly save money by eating well. Being healthy means having a higher immunity and making fewer trips to the doctor, for example. Whatever the reasons for making wiser decisions in your diet, you don’t have to spend a fortune at the local health food store to do it.

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Lise April 22, 2008 at 10:51 am

Hi David – just wanted you to know I tagged you for some meme sheepery (see the link). You lucky guy you :)

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MoneyNing April 22, 2008 at 10:28 pm

Lise: I will try to get to it but I’m going to be busy for quite a while with family matters….

Mike: Agreed. Saving money is almost a side benefit even though this is a PF blog.

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Dividend Growth Investor -Blogs and Free Money - April 18,2008 April 23, 2008 at 7:36 am

My favorite frugal food used to be lentils soup.
Lentils – 50 cents
Tomato can/s – 40-50 cents
Seasonings, some vegetable oil, electricity – 50 cents
Total: around $1.50
Total servings – 8-10
Saving Money: PRICELESS ;-)

I used to eat that for several months, until I was sick of eating it.. But it was nitritious..

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Asia'h Epperson April 27, 2008 at 10:41 am

Great tips, thanks for sharing, especially about making a shopping list.

One of the things I found most interesting when I read the “Millionaire Mind” is that a majority of “everday” millionaires made shopping list and some even mapped out the stores. Their maps had each isle and what product they needed from those isles.

The reason behind this was so that they would spend as little time as possible in the store. More time spent in a store equals buying stuff you don’t need.

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dr.avinash July 13, 2008 at 10:01 pm

it is a wise idea to purchase fruits that are available in a current season ,becoze they come cheap and as far as nature is concerned they are made for the season by it,specificially.

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AJ McCreary October 6, 2008 at 3:34 pm

Great ideas. Its really important that people are educated and informed on how to become smarter shoppers. Its a skill that not everyone gets. PIC Current wrote a similar post about eating healthy for cheap: http://current.pic.tv/2008/10/06/simple-ways-to-eat-for-less/. Check it out they have some links for recipes. Again thanks for sharing these healthy money saving ideas.

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Kim September 14, 2009 at 7:06 am

A few more things
1 – buy store brand. Our rule – if there’s less than 5 ingredients, the store brand will taste the same.
2 – buy spices, oil, honey, rice and tea at an ethnically-oriented grocery store – the spices will be one quarter of the price of a chain grocery store
3 – Lately I’ve noticed that coupons tend to be for processed food and 2-for-1 deals. So coupons never really help us. But I do make my grocery list around the items on sale in the grocery store weekly circular (I shop often enough to know whether or not it’s a “real” sale.)

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JB November 10, 2010 at 11:18 am

One caveat about “farmers’ markets,” which SHOULD always be the best place to buy. Before purchasing from them, make sure that they are selling true homegrown produce. I’ve heard of one instance in which the “farmers’ market” stand bought its produce from the local supermarket, then resold it and, even worse, one case of the stand buying from another stand that specialized in fruits and veggies that were, shall we say, at the end of their shelf lives, and then reselling them.

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kris August 22, 2011 at 9:10 pm

I recently got 2 zucchinis, 2 yellow crookneck squash, 6 peppers, two eggplants, several tomatoes, and a watermelon for a total of eleven bucks, from an Amish roadside stand. All of it was fresh, perfectly ripe, and homegrown locally (saw it come in on a wagon). Great way to shop if you happen to be out in the country anyway!

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imuneekru November 12, 2010 at 4:29 pm

I spent last summer on unemployment and really had to learn how to stretch a dollar. Lost 15 pounds and ate home-cooked every day. Here’s a few tips that got me through each week on about $10-15:
1 – Don’t eat out.
2 – Don’t eat out.
3 – Don’t… okay, okay.

Okay, seriously. These take a little planning ahead:
1 – Your store-brand chicken goes on sale about once a month, down to about $1.99/lb here. Wait for it and stock up. Bag up your boneless thighs or breast quarters and freeze them in small portions, so you don’t have to thaw out the whole package at once.
2 – Hawk the manager’s special on fish, and just cook it up that day. Don’t save them or they’ll go south quick–they’re on sale for a reason.
Or, if there’s a particular fish on weekly special, like salmon, ask the butcher if they have any that’s still frozen. That’s better than having to cook it quick, or worse yet, re-freezing it–yuck.
3 – Grab a bag of brown rice, and serve it with everything. Your food will go much, much farther. My roommate used to joke that my favorite dish was “some meat and a vegetable, over rice.” It’s cheap, and loaded with B-vitamins.
4 – See if your local deli or supermarket sells the lunchmeat ends. If they do, chances are some customer ordered a pound of sliced turkey and then changed his mind. At about $0.99 a pound you’ve got sandwiches for a week. Or, buy the ham ends and chop it up with pickles and mayo for a great ham salad.
5 – Buy a bread machine at your Goodwill, and make your own bread. You’ll never go back.
6 – Stop drinking orange juice. Seriously, just stop. The sugar in it is practically pure glucose… and it’s freaking expensive. For the price of your morning Tropicana, get a bag of plums or apricots or whatever’s in season.
7 – Invest in a couple of tomato plants. Grape tomatoes are especially good for snacks, hors d’oeuvres, baking, sautees, etc. For $3, you’ll have a constant supply from July until frost. Anything else takes a greener thumb than mine–good luck.

Oh, and spices, oil, and tea? See if you have a grocery “outlet” like Amelia’s, Aldi’s, or any other “bents/bumps/bargains&overstocks” store. Actual dented cans should be avoided, but dry goods that are clean and sealed are a safe buy. They are generally an overstock from local grocery in the area, or an off-branded product, and they sell for a fraction of the supermarket price.

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promark420 March 3, 2011 at 10:16 am

I was really hoping to see you mention braising cheap or “undesirable” cuts of meat. These include boston butts/pork shoulder, brisket, shanks and even ribs. I often buy pork loins and trim them down to tenderloins. 10 minutes of butchering, a lost art in my opinion, can save about a dollar a pound. Braised cuts are frequently more flavorful and forgiving cuts of meat to cook than ultra-lean cuts. Osso bucco or a grilled chicken breast? I’ll take the veal in a heartbeat…with a little spoon and toast for the marrow, please. Beans and rice have provided complete, cheap nutrition for centuries. Like braised cuts, these can often be very flavorful.

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LCHF April 16, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Oatmeal, rice and beans is just plain nasty. Know your source of food. We go to a farm to buy meats and eggs and get organ meats, back fat and kidney fat(to render into lard) for free since there is no market for it. FYI liver is the most nutritious food known to man. Usually you can get bones for free, crack them and get that yummy marrow out. Pastured eggs are extremely cheap ($2-3/ dozen) and contains everything except vitamin C. And yes, the “heart diet idea” is just an idea that has been proved incorrect. BTW you can get a quart of high quality heavy cream for about $5 and it contains about 4000 kcal which is very cheap/kcal and absolutely delicious. Fresh low carbohydrate vegetables (broccoli, asparagus, leafy greens etc) are extremely expensive when considering nutritional content so I suggest that you grow your own, if possible.
The above food is what we are designed to mainly eat. Large amounts of sucrose in combination with lots of starch were not available prior to agriculture and modern processing and it is clear what damage the standard American diet is doing.
More ketosis for the people…..

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kris August 22, 2011 at 9:21 pm

I prefer to pick my asparagus out of the pasture fence rows and ditches where it grows wild, for free. (seriously) I eat pecans right off the ground where they fell, and eat blackberries right off the brambles out in the field. But the liver and kidneys are filters for the toxins in the animal; that seems “just plain nasty” to me.

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Walter May 7, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Let’s have a reality check.

The vegetables at the Farmers Market are often way more expensive than those at the super market. And watch for specials.

Clip coupons? Rarely. Coupons are mostly for national heavily advertised brands and way more expensive than store brands. You may think you’re getting a good deal, but usually, you’re not.

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Nicole M Bliss July 7, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Shop at “ethnic” grocery stores for good cheap produce. Caribbean, Latin, Chinese/Asian grocery stores have excellent, fresh, cheap produce. People from these communities buy produce almost every day. The stores have to restock produce everyday so it is always fresh and bought in large quantities. The store doesn’t pay for refrigeration because non is needed due to fast produce turnover and the store can pass the wholesale prices on to you. Avoid the mainstream grocery stores like Giant, Acme, Star, etc. They have monopolies and inflated prices. $50 of produce at a regular grocery store is $26 at an ethnic grocery store. Same beautiful fruit and veggies. And you will learn about sauces, groceries, and recipes from other countries.

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Ruth November 7, 2012 at 4:29 pm

I think this is the single best piece of advice available, particularly for those who live in cities (I live in the UK and it is especially true here). If you can find a decent Asian, Caribbean, and/or Eastern European grocer you can cover almost all of your needs. Dairy products do differ substantially across the world, though, so local independent grocers are great for other basics.
There’s a great talk by New York food writer Mark Bittman about how we should be mindful of what we eat and where it comes from: http://www.ted.com/talks/mark_bittman_on_what_s_wrong_with_what_we_eat.html

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Karl Wilder July 17, 2011 at 11:27 am

Interesting tips. Calling Tofu a healthy food is not correct. Most soy in American is genetically modified and most tofu is made from GMO soy and is unfermented. It is not only unhealthy but dangerous to eat.

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Des August 23, 2011 at 11:12 am

In what part of the country are Farmers Markets an economical way to get produce? In my neck of the woods (Pacific Northwest) the farmers market is the single most expensive place to get fruits and veggies. Yes, they are fresh and local and you get what you pay for – but I don’t get why this always ends up on the lists of how to reduce grocery bills.

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MrsBike September 19, 2013 at 8:04 am

I totally agree that the Farmer’s Markets are extremely expensive. I too live in Pacific Northwest, McMinnville, OR. The prices have gotten so high I rarely go anymore.

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Mehgann August 24, 2011 at 8:21 am

I agree with Karl about the tofu. Not to mention that it can get expensive, too! I recommend pumping up the volume of ground meats with mushrooms. Just be careful about what ground meats you purchase, and where you purchase them from.

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Witty Artist September 1, 2011 at 7:27 am

Nice tips, David! :) Thanks for sharing. The way I see it, the most important one would be to make the shopping list – thus we’ll be aware of what is good for us and we’ll also avoid spending extra money.

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alex d September 28, 2011 at 7:37 am

Healthy eating means maintaining a nutritious diet. I believe it to be important to every one. I stress a healthy life to my family and friends and I try to show them the benefits to it. I think the greatest benefit most of all is that it makes you feel and look great. If your not eating healthy, then you are not helping your body. You are filling it with what it does not want, instead, help your body out and eat healthy. The turn out is awesome. I have been eating healthy for years and I have never felt better in my life.

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John Schroeder March 3, 2014 at 6:32 pm

I would add the following: Kale, sweet potatoes, carrots, cabbage – all healthy and nutritious foods that are relatively cheap.

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Mabel June 29, 2014 at 8:02 pm

Really good tips. I really love these tips and really happy to follow these ideas. Thanks!

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