When shopping for groceries, it's not always easy to know how you can save money without compromising your health.
Thankfully, everyone can use some tips and tricks to shop smart and eat cheap and healthy food.
Grocery shopping doesn't have to be expensive. You can make it quite affordable using food savviness and some practical knowledge up your sleeve. By following these tips, you'll be able to cook and eat healthy without breaking the bank.
Trust me on this one because I've got some experience when talking about tight grocery budgets.
I am sure everyone knows some of these simple truths, but I will list everything possible to make this a comprehensive list of tips and tricks everyone can go back to when needed.
Here are 19 ways to help you shop smart and cook delicious and healthy meals for you and your loved ones:
To meal plan like a pro, ask yourself the “What’s for dinner?” question only once a week. It might sound like a lot of work, but once you get the hang of it and start thinking about what’s for breakfast/lunch/dinner each week instead of every night, your shopping will become much more manageable.
When you make a realistic meal plan, there are no more last-minute grocery store trips or orders, no more greasy takeout when you are tired from working all day, and no more regret about eating something unhealthy or spending extra money you wanted to save.
Here are some things to consider when meal planning:
Be realistic. Think about all the major factors of your life, work, habits, and preferences.
Be honest with yourself. It is highly unlikely that you will come home from a busy day and feel happy and motivated to go straight to the kitchen.
Plan one delicious meal a week that takes some time to make, but you know you will enjoy it and keep it for the day you are least busy.
Plan a minimum of two low-effort quick meals you can make in 30 minutes or less.
Plan one meal that you can make in bulk and have twice.
It makes sense to spend a couple of hours over the weekend and prep some quick and easy breakfast dishes you can freeze and simply reheat in the morning.
Get some ideas:
13 Budget Friendly Breakfast Recipes That Cost Less Than $1
Good for you if you don’t get tired of having the same meal several days in a row. I try not to have leftovers more than twice a week to keep things interesting.
Don’t forget to check your social calendar for the upcoming week. This will help you avoid wasting time, food, and money. Plan accordingly.
Take a look at the amount you spend on groceries, takeout, coffee, snacks, etc., and decide on a sustainable number you’re comfortable with. This will be your meal planning budget, and once you stick to it for a couple of weeks, feel free to make adjustments to make it more comfortable.
We all have our favorite go-to recipes but don’t stay away from making something new.
When choosing a recipe you haven’t made before, pay attention to the cooking time and ingredients. It’s anything but pleasant to discover that you had to marinate something overnight when you are about to start dinner.
If you see an unfamiliar ingredient, don’t give up on the recipe straight away - just look for possible substitutions and proceed to add it to your meal plan.
Keeping your meals exciting and adding variety to your dishes will only help you keep on track.
When you schedule what recipe to make on what day of the week, don’t forget to consider your schedule and eating habits.
I prefer to start the week off with a few healthy low-carb meals and treat myself to something more indulgent closer to the week’s end.
A quick tip: Choosing recipes that use some of the same ingredients will save you money.
If you plan to eat or order out, be honest with yourself and add it to your budget. If you can’t keep cooking every day, don’t plan seven different meals. The more honest and realistic you are, the easier it will be to sustain a healthy and cheap meal planning budget.
Be smart about your breakfast and lunch. Either prep something over the weekend that you can easily reheat in the morning or opt for something simple and quick like scrambled eggs, a breakfast sandwich, or overnight oats.
A quick tip: “Overnight” oats don’t really need to be made the night before. Most instant oatmeal will be ready in ten minutes or less.
Alternate between making lunch the day before and reusing your dinner leftovers smartly.
Here are some great ideas on how to do that 30-Minute Dinner Recipe Ideas That Are Perfect For Next Day Lunch.
Depending on your habits and preferences, you can either organize your grocery lists the old-school way by making a list of all the ingredients on a piece of paper or using a grocery and recipe app like Sidechef.
As much as I enjoy my old-school vinyl records, hard-cover books, and classic movies, I prefer using an app when it comes to meal planning and grocery shopping on a budget.
It just saves a lot of time to add the recipes I choose for the week to my grocery shopping cart and let it automatically calculate what I need to purchase.
Then I can decide to swap the specific ingredients I want and tick off everything I already have in my pantry. Smart grocery shopping at its best!
Even better, I can use the app to track whatever ingredients I will have leftover and get some recipe suggestions for next week and avoid food waste.
Find out more about one-click recipe to grocery shopping and make meal planning even easier if you’d like.
In case you are all the way old-school and still prefer to make your grocery list by hand, follow these steps:
Now it’s time to get down to some specific grocery tips and tricks to help you plan your cheap and healthy meals.
Different varieties of beans, lentils, and chickpeas are often overlooked. Yet, these ingredients are not only super affordable but also full of healthy protein and rich in nutrients.
Make your diet more versatile and healthy by choosing recipes with white and black beans, chickpeas, lentils, and grains like brown rice, barley, or quinoa. Chances are you will find a lot of cheap options for healthy eating.
Grains, beans, and legumes also keep well and won’t go bad for a long time. They are a great filling ingredient for which you can find tons of meatless recipes. So consider them for a healthy meatless Monday option.
Rice is undeniably one of the most impressive crops in the world. It is affordable, nearly imperishable, incredibly filling, and high in energy.
Don’t just resort to rice-based dishes every day as it’s high in calories but not super nutrient-dense. It is a great base or side dish for curries and stews, stir-fries and sheet pan meals, and an occasional fried rice meal hasn’t hurt anyone. Just keep the balance right.
The superfood industry is sure on the rise, but these magical nutrient-dense ingredients also usually come at a super high price.
There’s no doubt that chia seeds, matcha powder, and acai berries are healthy and nutritious, but those superfoods might not be the best choice when you try to eat healthy on a budget.
You can easily get the same vitamins and nutrients from much more affordable options like fresh fruits and vegetables that are always cheaper when in season and those beans and legumes I mentioned earlier.
All-purpose flour is somewhere in between gluten-free and high-gluten flour variety. It is almost universally used in most baked goods, bread, pastries, and desserts and is way cheaper than the gluten-free version. You should always have this staple ingredient on hand for savory dishes, sauce thickeners, and roux.
Onions and potatoes are often sold in bulk at a reasonable price, and the number of delicious meals you can make using them is countless. They are delicious and cheap.
You don’t need to store them in the fridge. Potatoes and onions should be stored in dry, enclosed spaces, and they will stay fresh for a long time.
You can get amazing deals on seasonal fruits and veggies. And those are the essential ingredients to get your vitamins and nutrients.
If you have time and freezer space, most fruit (especially berries) can be frozen and stored for months. You can also dehydrate or make dried fruit which is a great snack with many health benefits.
Always check your grocery store for over-supplied seasonal produce that sometimes doesn’t look perfect but tastes just as good. Those often include turnips, corn, apples, pears, and cabbage.
Learn to use the ingredients available, and you will always have something healthy and delicious on your dinner table.
If you are trying to keep your diet healthy, buying fresh is always the best option. But if you absolutely must, pay attention to the nutrition labels and get the ones with the least added sugar and salt content.
Frozen vegetables like peas are cheap and can be used in many recipes. The same goes for store-bought frozen berries. You can get some frozen fruits and vegetables at a great price and store them in your freezer for months.
Don’t buy frozen when you can get the same fresh produce in season.
Opt for the least processed cuts if you like to include meat in your diet. Try to stay away from the frozen meat options. Learning how to use a whole chicken or meat on the bone will save you money and add more healthy nutrients to your meals.
One chicken gives you about eight portions of protein, and you can further use its bones and carcass for soups or broth. The same rule applies to beef and pork - don’t get rid of bones or skin; instead, learn how to use them in other dishes.
With many frozen seafood and fish options available, choosing fresh is always best. You might be surprised that fresh whole fish is cheaper and more flavorful than any frozen option.
Don’t get rid of fish or shrimp heads. Use them to make fantastic aromatic stocks, infused oils, and the most delicious sauces.
It sure is convenient to get your favorite coffee drink from your favorite coffee shop on your way to work. But even if you feel better thinking you’re saving a buck and the environment by bringing your own thermos, there’s still almost a 2000% markup on that drink price.
You can find any coffee drink recipe online and easily recreate it yourself.
And get a water bottle too.
It might be tempting to get a premade frozen meal or a pack of ramen, but if you prioritize your health together with your grocery budget, stay away from those. Avoid store-bought sugary cereals and spend some time making homemade granola instead. Stay away from sweet sodas and enjoy a glass of refreshing homemade iced tea. Small swaps like these will be beneficial not only to your health but also to your savings account.
If you don’t have a food processor yet, get one. Plenty of affordable models are available, and it will save you a ton of valuable time prepping your ingredients.
As healthy as most homemade versions of our favorite foods are, stay within reason.
To put it simply - make the bread, and buy the butter.
Last but not least, learn how to cook and bake. It is a luxury not to possess this crucial life-saving skill.
Cooking should not be a burden or an ordeal. It is a fundamental skill and a fun activity when you take it easy.
If you know healthy, delicious foods, you might as well learn how to make them in the comfort of your kitchen on an affordable budget. Look for recipes you love, discover new ingredients, and try them.
And if you are looking to improve your cooking game, start with 10 Realistic Ideas to Help You Become a Better Cook