Nutritionists often say that healthy eating doesn't have to be expensive, but for many, it can take a bite out of the monthly budget. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's most recent Cost of Food at Home food plans, a single adult on the least expensive "thrifty plan" can expect to spend about $170 per month to eat healthy. Sticking to a budget lower than this takes careful planning.
Make a List
When you're on a budget, you'll need to eat in most, if not all of the time. Planning out the week's meals ahead of time and making a shopping list is a smart move to saves time and money. Decide what you'll eat for a week, or even a month, and plan meals based around low-cost staple foods like oats and eggs for breakfast; tuna, peanut butter, cheese and nonfat plain yogurt for lunch; and inexpensive cuts of meat like chicken thighs or flank steak and dried beans and grains like brown rice that you can buy in bulk for dinner. Frozen fruits and vegetables are usually less expensive than fresh but can be just as nutritious.
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Store-brand products sold in large-sized containers usually have the lowest prices. Compare not only the individual prices, but also the unit prices listed on the shelf. The unit price of a product compares the cost per pound, quart, etc., and it may be beneficial to buy larger packages of a food if it's a staple and has a long shelf life or can be packaged into smaller portions at home and frozen. Other money-saving tips including scanning the store circular for good buys that you can stock up on, buying fresh produce only when it's in season, and avoiding prepared meals and convenience products in favor of lower-cost ingredients that you assemble yourself.
Add It Up
To stick to a budget of $100 a month, or $25 a week, you'll have to eat for less than $4 each day. For breakfast, try a bowl of oatmeal with half a banana and a scrambled egg, which should cost less than a dollar. Get into the habit of repackaging ingredients from dinner for lunches the next day. If dinner was chicken thighs with brown rice, peas and carrots, and a cucumber and tomato salad, use any leftover chicken and vegetables to turn into a roll-up sandwich or salad the next day. Soups and stews can also be inexpensive to prepare and provide tasty leftovers.
Skip Junk Food
Snack food or fast food might seem like a low-cost and filling option, but neither provides much nutrition, and both will cost you more in terms of empty calories. Instead of grabbing fries and a drink for a snack, choose a banana with peanut butter, or yogurt with nuts for less than $1 and far more nutrients. Other low-cost snacks include carrot sticks cut from whole carrots, with homemade yogurt herb dip, or a piece of pita bread cut into quarters and served with hummus.
- USDA:Official USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels, U.S. Average, November 20141
- USDA: Healthy Eating on a Budget
- USDA: Shop Smart to Fill Your Cart
- Iowa State University Extension: Spend Smart. Eat Smart.
- IncredibleEgg.org: Egg Nutrition
- American Diabetes Association My Food Advisor: A Low-Cost Meal Plan