As much as accidentally spending too much at Whole Foods would have you believe otherwise, eating healthy does not have to break the bank. You can eat a luxurious, satiating, nutritious meal without spending your whole paycheck. All you need are a few smart shopping secrets.
The first and most important secret? Learn to cook! Registered dietitians say this is absolutely essential to eating healthy on a budget. You don’t have to become a master chef, but having a few simple and easy-to-prepare nutritious meals in your back pocket will keep you from accidentally eating $10 salads for every meal. Plus, when you cook your own food you always know what you’re getting. No mysterious ingredients or added sugars, just lots of flavor and even more love.
These 11 more registered dietitian-approved tips are designed to help you spend less and eat better.
1. Buy store brand foods.
Alissa Rumsey, M.S., R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, swears by this tip. According to her, store-brand foods, “are just as tasty as their name-brand counterparts, but cost much less.” She also explains that now it’s easier than ever to plan your grocery shopping lists around these items, because most grocery stores will list their items online. This is also a great way to find out when your store is having a sale.
2. Use online coupons and discounts.
With a little gumption, you can find a lot of coupons online and print them out or save them to your phone for future use. Or, you can do as Lindsey Pine, M.S., R.D., owner of Tasty Balance Nutrition, suggests and sign up for a club card at your local grocery store. “It is now possible to load coupons digitally onto your supermarket club card,” she says. And this will save you time, printer ink, and (of course) money!
3. Shop seasonally.
Oh hey, seasonal fruits and veggies. Rumsey says these groceries are both more nutritious than their out-of-season counterparts, and more affordable. Stock up on a bunch and freeze them for later use.
4. Splurge on important things that will last.
Fancy olive oil? A bunch of amazing spices? These are things you actually do want to spend a bit more on. Rumsey explains that better quality olive oil tends to have more nutritional benefits, and, if used sparingly, it can last you for quite a long time.
As for spices and other flavoring agents, Pine says that it’s great to have a lot of these on hand because they’re easy to preserve and can take even the most boring meal from plain to gourmet. She likes to keep hot sauce, mustard, and lots of herbs and spices on hand at all times.
5. Follow a grocery list.
If you go into the store with a plan, you’re less likely to buy expensive extras, says Pine. Plus, if you always know exactly what you’re getting, you’ll also always know exactly what you’re spending, she says.
6. And try not to shop when you’re hungry.
“Don’t go shopping when you know you’ll be ravenously hungry, like right after hitting the gym, because items that aren’t on your list will probably be more likely to end up in your basket,” says Pine. The best way to avoid accidental hungry shopping? Keep a snack in your bag at all times.
7. Include more plant-based proteins in your weekly meal plan.
Pine says, “items like beans, chickpeas, lentils, dried peas, and tofu cost pennies compared to meat and fish,” and still pack a protein punch. Eating enough protein is essential to maintaining a healthy diet, because the important nutrient keeps you feeling satisfied and helps build muscle mass. Another affordable protein option Pine loves? Edamame. “It’s found in the freezer section and contains about nine grams of protein per 1/2 cup,” she says. Plus, in my opinion, it makes a great snack.
8. Plan for smaller portion sizes.
“Instead of switching the type of meat or seafood you love, just try using less,” says Pine. This is a great plan of attack if you eat a lot of meat-based proteins. High-quality chicken, beef, and fish can tend to be quite pricey, which is why she recommends making it, “an accessory to the dish, not the star of the show.”
9. Use canned food when you can (no pun intended).
“Canned and dried beans are budget-friendly and will last in your pantry for months,” says Rumsey. When it comes to these products, she recommends purchasing versions that are low in sodium and don’t have any added sugars.
Another great canned item? Seafood. Pine likes to stock up on canned salmon in particular and use it in salads and salmon cakes. “They’re just as tasty [and less pricy] than crab cakes,” she says.
10. Stock up on things when they’re on sale.
You may end up spending more in the moment, but Pine assures us that it’s worth it. “When you find something on sale, like ground turkey for example, stock up and freeze,” she says.
11. The freezer is your best friend.
Seriously. Generally speaking, most food can last in the freezer for a few weeks or months. Pine recommends using yours to store leftover proteins and produce. She also likes to use her freezer to save any produce that’s about to go bad. “Chop them all up and make a vegetable soup, then freeze the soup in small batches and remove when needed,” she says. It’s also extra helpful when you need a super-speedy meal.