Healthy Eating on a Budget


Have I ever mentioned that I’m cheap? Maybe cheap is a bad word to keep using. We’ll go with frugal today. Hey, I’m a nutritionist mom of two kiddos (one of which is a bottomless-pit-picky-eating-teen-aged boy) with a husband who lifts. When it comes to feeding my family, I only want the best and I need the most but, let’s face it, I have a tight budget. Have you ever thought, “I want to eat healthier, but it’s so expensive!”? We’ve all been there and it’s true, to a degree.

Healthier foods cost more because those foods are harder to produce and they have a shorter shelf life. Convenience foods can be manufactured with cheaper ingredients and a longer shelf life (as well as in mass quantities) making the cost much lower. The trouble here? Little nutritional pay back. If you think of food like we think of money, then fruits & vegetables and other real food stuffs would be our $100 bills. They pack a HIGH nutritional value. Fast food, french fries, burgers, frozen dinners etc; they would be the $1 bills. They have a very LOW nutritional value. Sure, they are going to buy you something, but it ain’t gonna be much.

The key to eating healthy and maintaining your budget is to shop smart. Have a game plan before you go and be knowledgeable in-store.

What to do before you leave the house:

  • Check your pantry and create an inventory. Only buy food items that you do not have on hand and that you will need before your next shopping trip.
  • Be sure to check expiration dates to repurchase what may have gone bad.
  • Read the store adds to find out what’s on sale or clip coupons.
    • Some stores have apps that let you know what’s on sale or will allow coupon downloads
    • Some stores offer price match, if you find an item at another store for a lesser cost they will match the add or price. Just provide proof at the register.
  • Create a menu.
    • Try to use ingredients multiple times. ex: If you need half a container of plain yogurt  for one recipe, what can you make that will include the rest of the container?
    • Try to incorporate what’s on sale into your menu recipes. ex: if pork loin and canned corn are on sale, make sure to cook a dish with pork loin or canned corn.
  • EAT. Never go to the grocery store hungry, you’ll want to buy everything in the ding-dang store!
  • Make a grocery list and stick to it.
    • Use your inventory sheet and your menu to create a list of foods you need to buy and keep extra purchases to a minimum.

What to do in-store:

  • Shop generic or store brands that may cost less
    • Be warned! Some store brands are not always the better deal.
  • To determine the best deal compare unit pricing. On a store price tag we often see the actual price which is larger and easy to see (The price in yellow below). If you look closely there will also be a smaller price, called the “unit price” (the price in orange below) which breaks down the total price by measured unit. ex: If you find one product that says: $1.32 and is an 85ct box and the product next to is the same product in bulk for only $4.27 but offers 5 times the product, it may sound like a good deal, which would you buy? Check the unit price! If the individual price by unit is cheaper than go with that one.
    • Don’t be fooled by value deals or buying in bulk. They are not always more cost efficient.
  • Don’t be afraid to buy canned, frozen, or dried foods.
    • When purchasing canned varieties of any sort always look for low sodium, reduced sodium etc.
    • Be sure to drain and rinse if possible (even if low sodium)
    • When buying canned or packaged fruits be sure to buy fruit packed in water or 100% all natural fruit juice (no added sugar) to avoid extra calories and sugar.
    • If buying frozen vegetables: look for “Fresh frozen” and avoid high fat cheddar, cream or butter sauces. You can make those at home with low-fat/heart healthy ingredients.
    • If buying canned meats: be sure to look for products packed in water vs packed in oil.
  • Read nutrition labels and compare brands. This one is so important I will say it again READ NUTRITION LABELS. If you’re not familiar with how to read a food label, you can learn more about them here. The food label is our primary tool for determining nutritional content. There are about a million different brands in the grocery store and there are going to be (at a minimum) 5 brands of any one given food item. Each brand has their own process, ingredients, and value. We must be able compare products in store to determine what is best. If you see a store brand that advertises a cheaper price tag but has 10% more fat, the cost may not be what’s important. Like wise, if you see a product that advertises “fat free” and has 8g of fat per serving but the brand next to it does not say “fat free” and only has 5g of fat, it may be the better option. The trouble with brand competition is that some brands have better advertisements than others. Don’t be fooled by good advertising. Let the cost and nutrition labels speak for themselves.
  • Grab items from the back of the shelf. If you ever worked in food service and food retail you might know about FIFO (First in, First out) this is the concept that we must get the older products out before we start getting the newer products out. So, the items on the shelf that are in the back, will be the new arrivals and may have a longer shelf life. This is especially important when purchasing perishable items like fresh fruits and vegetables. Buy from the back, they will last longer at home.
  • Look up and down the shelves. If you have kids you may have noticed that all the stuff kids want (and you don’t) is always mysteriously at kid-eye level. It’s not so mysterious. This is another form of good advertising. The store will stock items that they WANT YOU to buy at eye level (either yours or your tiny tots). Look around, up and down for WHAT YOU WANT to buy.
  • Finally, be sure to fill your basket with as much fresh as possible. If you get to the check out line and you find that your basket is full of highly processed foods like sodas, chips, and frozen foods, double check your choices.

What to do when you get home:

Now that you’ve successfully made it through your shopping trip feeling like a super shopper be sure you put all that nutritious food to good use.

  • Plan ahead to eat and snack healthy
    • Make your own 100 calorie snack packs buy portioning snacks in individual ziplock bags so they are easy to grab-n-go.
  • Utilize leftovers – “Waste not, want not” I always say. Never throw out a good meal just becuase you cant finish it all. If you have left overs, box them up and save them for later.
  • Stick to your menu. Dont forget you created your menu and shopping list to go hand in hand, if you stray from your careful planning, all your hard work will be watsted and you will need to journey back to the store at some point.
  • Don’t mindlessly eat. Even if we shopped healthier and bought the baked lays this week instead of the fried lays chips, we still need to watch our portions. Always be thinking about self control. Don’t eat if you’re not hungry.

Well readers, I hope your finding this years National Nutrition Month a healthy one! Stay tuned for more ideas, recipes, and fitness tips this month.

Happy running!


Priscilla Askew, NDTR

Hi I’m Priscilla! Nutritionist, USA triathlon & RRCA run coach, fitness enthusiast, foodie, and owner of Askew Nutrition & Fitness.

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