Eating Healthy on a Budget Doesn't Have to Be Impossible


Eating Healthy on a Budget Doesn't Have to Be Impossible

Reading Time: 6 minutes 1 second


Date: 2020-04-10T00:00:00-04:00

It's very easy to eat poorly in the U.S. Advertising, stores, even our own DNA makes it so easy to reach for junk food, prepackaged meals, and processed snacks over healthy, whole foods.

Eating well does take some extra effort, and it can be costly too. This doesn't mean you can't do it. The barriers can be broken down, and while healthy eating on a budget may take more time and planning, it's doable.

As a trainer or nutrition coach, you may hear cost as an excuse not to eat well from your clients. For those motivated to eat better, you can help them plan, budget, buy, and prepare healthy foods without spending too much.

Is a Healthier Diet Always Expensive?

If you walk into a health food store or an upscale grocery store that makes it easy to select organic, whole foods and healthy prepared foods, it's easy to assume that a healthy diet always equates to a high cost. The truth is that it is possible, with a little extra effort, to eat well even on a strict budget.

Are your clients struggling to understand what a healthy diet looks like? Show them that it's actually very simple if they just follow a few basic healthy and balanced eating guidelines.

Meal Planning is Essential for Eating Healthy on a Budget

Those with an unlimited budget can afford to food shop without planning or preparation. The rest of us need to plan to stretch the budget as far as possible. Planning means avoiding impulse buys and minimizing wasted food. Shopping with a plan is a budgeting essential.

The elements of planning for thoughtful, affordable shopping and eating include the following:

  • Creating a weekly menu for meals and snacks

  • Making a strict grocery shopping list for each trip to the store

  • Using apps to stay organized

  • Prepping meals and snacks in advance

Access to Healthy Foods May Require Creativity

Plenty of people in the U.S. live in what are called food deserts. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines a food desert as an area, or tract, in which people have limited access to healthy, fresh, and affordable foods. The USDA reports that there are more than 6,500 food deserts in the country, affecting millions of people (1).

Access is an issue for many, but there are creative ways to get around food deserts: public transportation, rides with friends and ride shares, community gardens, and even food pantries for those most in need.

Eating Well on a Budget is a Skill

Like any other skill, learning to eat better and to enjoy a healthy diet while sticking to a budget will take practice. Encourage your clients to be patient, to learn more about healthy eating and budgeting, and to put that new knowledge to work, even if only little by little. With time and practice, budgeting for healthy food will become easy and routine.

The Best Tips and Tricks to Eating Healthy on a Budget

Keeping the above in mind, that you may need to work on access, that planning is essential, and that practice makes perfect, help your clients get started on healthy eating with these useful tips. They can pick and choose what works best for them, but all of these ideas will get them started immediately.

1. Learn how to plan your meals.

The first and most important step in eating well on a budget is to plan meals. If your clients are new to healthy eating, teach them the essentials and then help them make a weekly menu. It's okay to start small, with a day or two of planning and see how it goes.

2. Always shop with a grocery list.

Drill this into your client's way of thinking: never again shop without a list. This is how you go off the rails and get things you don't need and items that are too expensive. The meal plan should lead to a specific list to be strictly followed.

Navigating the grocery store in a new way, focusing on healthy foods, can be challenging initially. Help your clients with these tips for shopping with health and wellness in mind.

3. Shop with coupons and discounts.

You don't have to make couponing a hobby, but being aware of places to save will help with sticking to a budget. Check online coupon sources, coupon mailings, and specific store circulars for weekly deals and coupons. Many stores now have apps and loyalty programs. Sign up and use the apps to make a shopping list that maximizes sales and deals.

4. Stock up your pantry when it makes sense.

The one instance in which you can deviate from a strict grocery list—and your weekly budget if you can afford to do so—is when an item you know you'll use is on sale. For example, maybe you only need one bag of rice for your weekly meal plan, but it's on sale. Stock up to save. This makes sense, of course, only when the item is non-perishable and when you know you can use it in upcoming weekly meal plans.

5. Buy seasonal produce.

Produce is a foundational element to a healthy diet, but it can be pricey. As you become a savvier shopper, you'll notice that some produce costs more at certain times. If something is out of season, it will cost more. For example, if you live in the Midwest and buy blueberries in January, they probably came from South America, and they'll cost you. Buy in season to save.

6. Also rely on frozen produce.

Fresh produce is great, but it's not always the best option. Frozen fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh produce and much better than canned varieties. Stick to the healthy options thought—avoid those with sauces added. Frozen produce in bulk is very affordable, and it is almost impossible to let it go to waste.

7. Cook in bulk.

When you do stock up on certain items, including fresh produce that won't last, cook large amounts and rely on leftovers. A big pot of soup, for instance, will last all week in the refrigerator. Casseroles are also great for bulk cooking. Make homemade snacks in bulk and portion them to use throughout the week.

8. Buy whole foods as much as possible.

Processed and packaged foods are convenient, but even when healthy they are expensive. They cost much more than the constituent ingredients. This is where eating on a budget can be more time consuming, but it's worth it in savings. Buy whole foods like produce but also grains and beans. Bags of dried beans, lentils, rice, barley, quinoa, and similar foods are very affordable.

9. Eat less meat.

Meat is expensive, and it's possible to cut back and still get enough protein. Eggs, beans, lentils, whole grains like brown rice and quinoa, seeds like sunflower and hemp, all contain significant amounts of protein and cost less than most cuts of meat. When you do eat meat, stick with cheaper cuts that are just fine in dishes like tacos, casseroles, and stews.

10. Use online tools.

Apps for healthy eating, budgeting, and meal planning can help you stay on track. Online grocery stores may be able to offer better deals on healthy foods, so shop around before purchasing specialty health food items. Also look for recipe and meal planning ideas online. For instance, the USDA ChooseMyPlate program has a lot of resources available and recipes for meals that are both healthy and budget-friendly (2).

11. Avoid eating out.

This may seem obvious, but the more you cook healthy meals at home, the less you'll spend on food. Eating out is convenient, especially for quick lunches on the go or dinners at the end of a long day, but the costs add up. And, if you're trying to eat more healthfully, it's impossible to know exactly what is in those meals. To save time during the week and to avoid the temptation to order in or go out, prep meals on Sundays. They'll be ready and waiting in the fridge when you want to eat fast.

Learning how to eat healthier on a budget is not impossible. The more you know, the more you practice, the easier it gets. Healthy, affordable foods are out there, and you can help your clients take advantage of them so that budget is no longer an excuse for a poor diet.

If you love giving nutrition and budgeting advice, consider earning your Nutrition Certification online through the ISSA. With this self-paced certification course, you can add nutrition counseling to your list of training services, or focus only on nutrition coaching.


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