10 Tips To Save Money While Eating Healthy

by | Feb 4, 2013

Collards, Carrots and Lentils Recipe (click for recipe)

Most people consider it common knowledge that healthy food is expensive and unhealthy food is cheap—that’s why we’re all so fat, right?

But for most people it does not need to be this way. Since I upgraded my healthstyle not only have I lost weight and become healthier, I have also managed to save more money.

How?

In a nut shell, I started cooking more at home.

It is a sad reflection on our culture that so many people rely on fast food for their daily sustenance, and my heart goes out to those who truly cannot afford better. But I contend that many of the bad decisions we make about food each day are more an issue of (perceived) convenience than price.

Last I checked burritos in San Francisco averaged over $5. And if you have properly set up your kitchen you will find it actually takes less time to cook a healthy meal than it does to place and fill your order at El Farolito.

Every penny counts in this brutal economy. Here are a few tricks you can use to save a buck and get a little healthier too.

10 Tips For Eating Healthy On A Budget

  • Cook at home The most important change I made to save money was to turn cooking at home into my default option rather than rely on neighborhood eateries as my go-to cop out. Eating out is expensive, no matter which way you cut it.
  • Shop on weekends If you already have fresh food in the fridge you will be more motivated to cook for yourself instead of going out and spending money. Make the habit of buying food ahead of time and you won’t be as tempted to waste money going out.
  • Shop seasonally When choosing what to eat, taste trumps health 90% of the time. (That’s why you rolled your eyes when I suggested you eat fewer burritos.) If you really want to start eating healthy you must want to eat vegetables, and that will only happen if the ones you buy taste delicious. Seasonal, farm fresh produce can completely change how you feel about vegetables and fruits—it also tends to be the best deal in the produce section.
  • Shop at the farmers market In my experience the best tasting produce in a chain grocery store is at Whole Foods. But if you have ever been shopping there you know what a dent it can put in your wallet (this does not apply to their non-fresh items, which are competitively priced and often cheaper than other stores). Rather than handing over your Whole Paycheck or settling for less than inspiring options at Safeway, do your weekly produce shopping at your local farmers market. If you shop intelligently (see below) you can get 2 meals for the cost of one burrito.
  • Focus on leafy greens Leafy greens like kale, chard, collards, spinach and broccoli are some of the most nutritious, least expensive things you can buy. And this is true at any grocery store, not just the farmers market. Frequently, half a bunch of kale with some beans, grains and herbs is my entire dinner and costs around $1.50. It also takes less than 15 minutes to prepare. Can you beat that?
  • Buy in bulk Canned beans are fine, but dried beans taste better and are way cheaper. Grains from the bulk bins at your local health food store are only pennies per serving. Cook these staples in large batches and save them in your freezer for cheap, quick and nutritious food anytime. This is also true of lentils. Just add some greens and you’re good to go.
  • Eat less meat This is probably the easiest way to save money. Whether at the grocery store or at restaurants meat is always the most expensive thing on the menu. I do not advocate a vegetarian diet, but limiting meat to once or twice a week is an easy way to cut back on both calories and expenses. If you are worried about protein (you needn’t be) you can eat beans, eggs and lentils instead.
  • Use fish from cans Fish is an important part of a healthy diet, but fresh fish can be expensive (especially the wild sustainable kinds). Canned salmon, sardines (boneless, skinless), smoked mackerel and anchovies are inexpensive alternatives for protein, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Make fruit dessert If you think the farmers market is expensive my bet is you spend most of your money on fruits. I am the first to admit that fruit can be very expensive, especially summertime berries and stone fruits. While I do recommend you invest in some high-quality farmers market fruit, it will be easier on your wallet if you consider fruit a treat.
  • Think long term I am not arguing that buying every single food item at the farmers market is the cheapest way to shop, but it is almost certainly the healthiest. Our hedonistic tendencies may incline us toward cheap, greasy foods but you should consider what you are really paying for in the long run. Poor diet can be attributed to most cases of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer and a generally difficult, painful life. And I probably don’t need to convince you that a farm fresh salad costs less than a hospital trip and a lifetime of medication. Healthy eating doesn’t have to be expensive, but unhealthy eating can cost you your life.

What are your favorite money saving tips for healthy eating?

This post was originally published on May 20, 2009.

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73 Responses to “10 Tips To Save Money While Eating Healthy”

  1. Jillian says:

    Great article and great tips. I’m really looking forward to hitting our local farmers market on Saturday morning!

    I’m curious as to why you don’t advocate a vegetarian diet?

    ~Jillian

    • Darya Pino says:

      Thanks Jillian!

      To answer your question, I have just read too much about the benefits of fish to advocate cutting it out. It is certainly possible to be healthy while vegetarian (most vegetarians are healthier than typical Americans), but it is easier to be healthy including some fish. There are many other good reasons to be vegetarian, but heath-wise I do not think it is necessary.

      Also, the foodie in me could never cut out meat completely ;)

      • I like to say I’m 100% vegetarian 85% of the time. I don’t eat any meat other than fish at home (my boyfriend is pescatarian), but will occasionally eat meat if we’re eating out somewhere. Usually chicken, sometimes pork, and almost always bacon. I have a weakness for bacon. ;-)

      • Dave says:

        I understand your assertions regarding the health benefits of eating fish (fatty omegas, etc.). I believe those to be true. On the other hand, how do you resolve the mercury levels and over fishing issues? Not trying to pick a fight, just curious.

        I enjoy your website. Please keep up the good work.

      • Darya Pino says:

        I cover that extensively in the post I link to in that point (here it is again). It’s definitely a tricky topic, but I think it’s worth navigating.

        Also, I never mind thoughtful questions and disagreements here, that’s what science is all about :)

  2. Katie says:

    This is a spectacular post! Love these little bits of advice!

  3. Amy says:

    Great tips, Darya, thank you! Love the fish from cans tip. I also try to “shop from my pantry” and use up grains, canned goods and beans before I buy any more. Also, I often plan meals around similar ingredients each week. If one recipe calls for only half an avocado, I find another meal to use the other half, for example.

  4. Great tips! looooove Farmers markets ;)

  5. I just found your blog through your guest post on MizFit, and I have to say, I love it! You’ve given such great advice written in everyday, normal people language!

  6. All good tips! I’d say, eat fewer animal products in general. Milk, cheese, eggs, especially organic – it’s not cheap!

  7. Louise Ross says:

    Oh yeah, Darya, great post and tips. I’ll definitely link to this in one of my upcoming posts!

  8. julie says:

    Eating cheaply rules out Whole Foods entirely, no? That’s actually now my closest grocery, but I try not to buy anything there. They’re like the Walmart of natural foods-predatory, spread like maggots, no thought to local produce or products. I much prefer Rainbow, or even the local Mexican produce markets. I mostly eat at home, but if you stay away from the chains, you can eat cheaply out. I can get a burrito and agua fresca for $5.20, or a huge Vietnamese tofu soup for similar price, and what I make at home never tastes quite the same.

    • Darya Pino says:

      Thanks for your comment, Juilie! I would disagree that Whole Foods is 100% expensive. One of my favorite cereals costs $4.50 at my neighborhood market, $2.50 at Trader Joe’s and $2.25 at Whole Foods. Their bulk bins have great deals on healthy foods.

      Their produce is expensive, I agree. However some of it actually is local. Last summer I found amazing local Frog Hollow peaches. Sure I prefer to shop at Rainbow, but not everyone lives in San Francisco so I think Whole Foods can be a good option sometimes.

    • marinjim says:

      You can save at Whole Foods especially in the bulk section. A recent example: peppercorn prepackaged as much as $85 per pound but in the bulk section $12.99 lb. Steel cut oats are around $1.68 per pound with no metal can to recycle and better for you than rolled oats especially the brands that are presweetened.

  9. Jeff says:

    You suck… I’m Mexican and our food its the best food…

    u are a poor guy who doesn’t know anything about other cultures….

  10. thomas says:

    isn’t one of the arguments (“Use fish from cans “) just plain wrong?
    if the fish is sustainable you pay a lot for canned fish too (ie. 20euro for 1kg of canned sardines). i don’t see how this is cheap ;)

    • Darya Pino says:

      $5 for a can of wild sustainable salmon is cheaper than $18/lb fresh fillet. Sardines are $2. I’ve never bought a 1 kg can of anything, and you don’t have to buy anything you don’t want to. These are just the things I do.

      • thomas says:

        we don’t have 1kg cans of fish. but i normalized the prices. how can i compare a can…
        but $5 for a pound of wild sustainable salmon in a can is a good price, so i guess austria/europe is different

      • Jamie says:

        Hi Darya,

        You have some good tips, but there are a couple of points I’d like to make. Thinking of fruit as a treat, goes against all the suggestions for healthy eating re:fruit which is to have 4 to 5 servings a day. EWG (Environmental Work Group) & others have warned of dangers from chemicals from the cans themselves. I think the chemical is BHT?
        I think it’s best to get fresh fish on sale, I got Dover sole at Whole Foods for less than 7 dollars a pound! Trader Joe’s has Wild Alaskan Salmon for less than $10 a pound.

        ~Jamie

    • Pyrexic says:

      Pro tip: most canned salmon is sustainable, even if it’s not on the can, because the vast majority of it is wild Pacific salmon. If you look in the fine print you can often find the origin, and if it’s wild Pacific or Alaska you’re golden.

      Canned salmon marketed as sustainable may have other benefits (business practices, packaging, etc) but in terms of the product itself it’s usually the same.

  11. Don’t forget that you can save money and eat healthy at work by starting a Salad Club! http://bit.ly/saladclub

  12. Mike says:

    Sometimes I wonder if your tips are really saving me money . . . I’ve already purchased an immersion blender, salad spinner, Pollan and Ruhlman books, and now I’m looking at pressure cookers. (All kidding aside, buying cheap kitchen equipment will not save you money)

    Local, seasonal produce isn’t always plentiful in my part of the country, but I’ve followed quite a few of the above tips and it’s helped my diet a lot. I’ve tried a couple variations of the simple dinner made with greens, nuts, and a few herbs and spices. Great stuff.

    Now off to buy something to cook my lentils in.

  13. Whole Foods does have specials and they do always have a section from the local farmers. They also have meat and seafood specials. People need to just wrap their head around eating much smaller portions.

    Another way to save money is to disregard all bottled beverages (get a water filter) and all packaged snack products. Make your own sweet treats and eat them once or twice a week. Eat more eggs, but buy better ones.

    I looked at our dinner for three last night. I made too much. I had a pound of wild grouper, roasted red beets (from one large beet) artichokes, salad and homemade focaccia. We could not eat all this food. And, I realized I got carried away. I spent about $25 for a very gourmet Sunday meal, but could have spent $20. It was enough for four people easily. I did most of shopping at Whole Foods.

  14. Ken Leebow says:

    In all my research about diet and healthy eating, most people either recommend paying more or state that it costs more to eat a healthy diet.

    I found this to be erroneous. You mention cook at home and that definitely helps, but even if you eat out, the portion sizes are enormous. So, you can either split one meal or bring leftovers home. There is no doubt, when you go out to eat, even though you might order one meal, you actually are getting two.

    If your readers are interested, here’s my 7 Day Menu with cost and calorie counts…the calories are low and the cost is too – http://bit.ly/aHxoCN

  15. Matt Shook says:

    This is such a great list…I complete agree and adhere to these guidelines.

    I’m a big proponent of buying from the bulk bins at my Co-Op and produce vendor. You don’t have to buy Costco-sized portions to save money…buying from the bulk bin saves you from spending extra money on packaging/marketing.

    Another option is to simply grown some of your own food. I’ve grown my own kale, garlic, onions, broccoli, tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and many herbs (like cilantro, rosemary, and thyme). This can be an extremely inexpensive way to feed yourself if properly setup and executed. (Apartment/studio/city folk, you can still grow herbs and tomatoes on a railing or windowsill.) It may take you a bit to figure out how to be a decent farmer, but it can be very rewarding work. My next step is setting up a chicken coop…PDX allows up to three chickens in residential areas. It’s doesn’t get any fresher than getting your eggs from your backyard. ;)

  16. Andreas says:

    Hey Darya,

    Great post. I especially like your rercommendation of buying dried beans and grains and cooking them up and freezing them for a quick reheat for a nice dinner. This tip has been a huge timesaver for me recently.

    There are a few things I would like to comment on in your post. Firstly, you seem to mention the options of where to shop for produce being wholefoods and safeway or the farmers market. While both offer organic fresh produce there are other stores, such as local health food stores and cooperatives. In San Francisco we have a number including Rainbow Grocery, Other Avenues, Haight Street Market, and Real Foods among others. These stores do offer organic foods and are often times less expensive than the farmers markets, while supporting our local food stores rather than the corporate chains.

    You also mention limiting the amount of fruit we eat to dessert. I feel like fruit is probably one of the best things you can eat, filled with vitamins and minerals and is also a tasty treat. I want to say I’ve heard to eat at least five pieces of fruit a day which is a lofty goal but definitely rewarding. And if you eat things in season that are grown locally and organically like apples, kiwis, oranges, grapefruits, peaches and strawberries, eating fresh fruit in California can be a very inexpensive source of nutrients.

    Also in terms of fish, you recommend eating canned fish. First of all, fish caught in the wild have significant environmental impacts including but not limited to large fishing boats that trail the bottoms of the ocean tearing up reefs and wrecking marine wildlife habitats while catching all sorts of other animals that are not meant to be fished. In addition the cosumption of fish has led to fisheries being overfished to the point where it is commonly known that global fish populations could collapse in the coming years. Lastly, eating fish has become hazardous to our own health due to the high levels of mercury found in fish(which come from our coal burning electricity generation by the way) and I have heard to eat canned fish no more than twice a month to avoid the risk of mercury poisining.

    I think that there are a lot of reasons for different diets, so I thank you for your post and getting folks to think more about these issues.

  17. Leah says:

    Limit fruit consumption? Seriously?

    I give that approach a thumbs-down. Do stick primarily or completely to buying what’s in-season – or to long-storing fruits such as apples and pears during the leaner months – and shop at local farmer’s markets to save a buck, but don’t cut down on your fruit consumption. That’s bad news.

  18. Ugly says:

    I know this is an old post but the Farmer’s Market in my area is so $$$$$$ $3 for one cantaloupe; and we are famous for our cantaloupes. I have shopped farmer’s markets for 20 plus years but the last 5 year the prices have become unaffordable. So sad to bad.

  19. Colin Hall says:

    My wife and I have recently taken to home cooking our meals every day. We spend time after work making healthy meals and it gives us time to wind down, talk about our days and generally relax in a nice communicative way. Although we’ve never been big on ready meals and takeaway’s, but we had certainly began to open a bottle of wine to wind down … which although pleasurable, was not doing us much good.

    We still have a glass of wine, but now it’s later in the evening with some jazz. Because we have eaten healthily we need less wine to relax and this is good for both our wallets and health ;-)

  20. julie says:

    Another thing that I’ve noticed just recently is how cheap it is to make my own prepared food. Hummous, salsa, salad dressing, pesto, etc.. Granted, some of these ingredients aren’t cheap, but if I had a choice of using $5 of organic olive oil, balsamic vinegar, organic mustard, and some herbs, vs a $5 bottle of organic dressing (made with soybean oil!), I’ll make my own. I have only recently been noticing the quality of ingredients, and while great ingredients can get pricy, it’s higher quality than store bought.

  21. Kat says:

    Great article! I’m moving out of my parents’ house in a few days and this article is really helpful since I’m going to have to fend for myself for the first time. Also, where I’m moving is close to an excellent farmer’s market so it’ll be nice to purchase most of my produce there.

    I’m going to be putting this article to good use.

  22. RickMONEY says:

    Are there any health benefits to eating sardines without the skin and bones? Or is it a flavor thing? Just wondering because it seems like a specific thing to mention.

  23. Adriana says:

    I think there is a good value in frozen produce. I am surprised no one has brought it up yet. It can be purchased on sale if cost is really an issue. Flash-freezing normally does not zap the nutritional value of the produce. I try to always keep frozen spinach on hand that I add to everything to boost taste, fiber, color, and nutrients.

    • Darya Pino says:

      Great point. I don’t *LOVE* it, but it is definitely handy.

    • Pyrexic says:

      I wholeheartedly second this! When I first moved out on my own ten years ago, I bought a lot of Arctic Gardens frozen veg mixes… they weren’t bad, but they weren’t on par with fresh, either.

      I recently switched back to frozen vegetables, paying slightly more for the good quality flash-frozen organic ones because I realized that I wasn’t saving any money by letting 50% of my vegetables slowly turn to grey sludge in the back of my fridge.

      Honestly, with a lot of the vegetables (especially asparagus and broccoli), once they’re cooked it they have exactly the same taste and texture as vegetables cooked from fresh- complete with that crispness. I was pleasantly surprised to see how this had improved in the last ten years!

  24. Chris says:

    In summary, and certainly my experience so far:

    Real foods = generally not expensive.
    Processed foods = generally expensive.

    I had never even heard of a lentil until reading this blog (note: this is not a joke). Now they are almost a staple of my diet. Along with other cheap, real, bulk foods and fresh produce, I’d say my total food bill each month is significantly reduced…a nice ancillary benefit to eating well!

  25. I love this list! I have found that it really can be very reasonable to make good choices and buy quality food…it just takes a little effort at first!

    Many of my clients use money as a barrier to buying quality food, but they certainly haven’t seen this list :)

  26. js290 says:

    Look for “fish bones.” Usually it’s salmon and contains the fattiest (and most tasty) parts of the fish that they couldn’t sell as steaks or fillets. Sold at discount because it includes the bones.

  27. Marya Kalaf says:

    I must say, as much as I enjoyed reading what you had to say, I couldnt help but lose interest after a while. Its as if you had a great grasp on the subject matter, but you forgot to include your readers. Perhaps you should think about this from more than one angle. Or maybe you shouldnt generalise so much. Its better if you think about what others may have to say instead of just going for a gut reaction to the subject. Think about adjusting your own thought process and giving others who may read this the benefit of the doubt.

  28. Sarah Newkirk says:

    Love this! Substituting beans for meat is my favorite — delicious and easy to cook at a fraction of the price. Bringing lunch to work is also a huge money-saver (in my city the cost of a healthy convenience lunch starts around $8 and goes up from there), and puts me in control of the quality and nutritional content of what I eat. All it takes is a little planning over the weekend.

    I think a lot of people end up shopping over the weekend with the best of intentions, then throw away rotting food when they get busy/lazy and order in or go out. To avoid wasting food and money, I try to be realistic about what I can pull off, and stick with my routine of cooking at least a few dinners a week at home.

  29. Jason says:

    I would add preparing soups to the list. A 12 pack of wide mouth 16 oz mason jars provides the opportunity to store 12 single serving meals from one trip to the market and one session in the kitchen. My favorites are chicken wild rice with herbs and root veggies and albondigas with roasted corn, chick peas, carrots and stewed tomatoes. You don’t need a pressure canner if you practice proper sanitation, store your small batches in the refrigerator and eat them within a reasonable time. A healthy soup could be as little as $1.00 per meal. I started doing this when I discovered how much MSG was in commercially canned soups and take pride in making a superior product for less.

    • Darya Pino says:

      Soups are one of my all-time favorite foods, thanks for the reminder! This is my favorite soup recipe book.

      • Jason says:

        Thanks for the tip on the book. If you are looking for material, I was thinking the Mason jar portioning concept would make a good winter project for your video blog. You can make multiple portions of your all-time favorite foods and demonstrate one of your favorite soup recipes. The economy of buying and preserving in bulk is a good skill to have when on a budget and who isn’t these days?

  30. Excellent post! It is very easy to skip a meal and load up on junk food. It is often advisable to always keep a healthy snack in your bag so that if hunger does strike you’re not tempted to reach for the sweets or chocolate.

  31. mahdi says:

    The Paleo Cookbooks consist of recipes using ingredients available in the paleolithic times – in other words, foods from nature.
    All the recipes aren’t only healthy but are very tasty as well. It isn’t hard to cook food that tastes great and is healthy for you, but speaking from experience it can be very hard to find a Cookbook that contains 100% healthy recipes.
    The Paleo Cookbooks allow people in modern times to follow a paleo diet as closely as possible. People have followed the paleo diet to lose weight, increase their energy, improve their exercise performance and/or to generally focus on achieving the best health possible. The power of whole food nutrition has shown to be the best way to reach optimal health and to experience all the benefits associated with a healthy body.
    There are great recipes for people on the go who want to take something with them, one of my favorites is the chocolate nut bar recipe, extremely convenient and easy to make. I also regularly enjoy some of the meatball recipes which are easy to take with me on the go.
    The recipes are broken into the following categories:
    - Snacks
    - Salads
    - Chicken
    - Meats
    - Soups
    - Omelettes
    - Seafood
    - Desserts, and…
    With seven bonus recipe categories including:
    - Breakfast recipes
    - Noodle recipes
    - Foccacia and cakes
    - Chocolate recipes, and
    - Capsicum Sandwiches
    Their is a lot of variety in the Paleo Cookbooks for healthy and tasty recipes for any meal; breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert or a healthy snack. Many healthy cookbooks lack this aspect and is one of the main reasons I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy referencing many of my meals from these Cookbooks.

  32. Lizzy says:

    Fabulous postings, loved the recipes and tips, one should put, eating healthy on top of he list.

  33. Excellent Tips! Save money, get healthy and lose weight.

  34. Great article, I am starting to eat healthy, but it is hard to cook when you work all day and you come home tired.

  35. Jesse Pakin says:

    I think its a nice notion if you are starting from eating out all the time. But what if you’re already locked into a thrifty paradigm. There’s no way shopping at farmer’s markets and buying fresh veggies can come close to the savings of buying 5 lbs of mexican pre-cooked bacon, or canned lima beans @ $1/4 cans. How about some tricks to improve the quality of food for people who already cook for themselves and are financially marginal?

  36. najwa safar says:

    1-Avoid to be too aggressive.
    2. keep a scientific diet.
    3. Are always in the good mood.
    4. Enough sleep.
    5. Right practices.

  37. pamela says:

    I have cut down on my meat consumption in the last year, but have also been experimenting with cooking organ meats… they are a lot cheaper. I was buying ground beef heart (grass fed) for a fraction of the cost of regular grass fed ground beef. I have cooked chicken gizzards, and chicken hearts chopping them up in stir fries and added to soups. No one knows the difference! And I come out with a very cheap grocery bill! I have learned so very much about eating “out of the box” living overseas, and I am glad I am open to new ways of eating. It will help my food budget and bring healthy alternatives to me and my family!

  38. Dee says:

    I don’t know that it saves money, but it sure saves a peace of mind and my waistline :)

  39. Farid says:

    very good tips but our problem is in Iran we have many food that use meat ,vegetable is not our main food.but I think must be change.

  40. Danielle says:

    This is a great article. I ran across it in my search to cut back on useless spending at the grocery store. For the last few weeks I’ve only been spending about 20 dollars a visit and it lasts about 2 weeks. I can’t understand how people think eating out is cheaper than making their own meal now. Instead of spending 5 bucks on one unhealthy meal at mcdonalds I spent 62 cents and made a twice baked potato for myself. It was delicious and I knew everything that was going into my body. I do cheat a little and buy my veggies frozen instead of fresh because I’m not sure how to preserve them long enough for me to use them up.

  41. NickCC says:

    If you are in San Francisco, I think shopping in China town is a good option. Things are really cheap and pretty fresh there.

  42. Michael says:

    I’ve come across many websites about dieting and weight loss, but this is the first one today where I actually see an article about healthy living in combination with saving money.

    Some of the tips you came up with were really informative. I have my own way of saving money and getting good vegetables and other foods, but it’s not for everybody: dumpster diving.

  43. Elizabeth says:

    I love to cook at home. Can’t deny that it not only save me money, but also keeps me healthy.

  44. Nicole says:

    Hi! I was just wondering what you suggest for people who don’t have farmers markets year round?! (I live in MASS) Thank you!

    • Darya Rose says:

      Grocery stores are totally fine. But in my experience most cold areas (e.g. Wisconsin, Albany, Detroit, etc.) have CSAs that deliver fresh food year round (sometimes they freeze summer vegetables and send them to you in the winter). Check localharvest.org for CSAs and markets in your area.

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