General chatter - Eating healthy on a budget

View Full Version : Eating healthy on a budget

08-05-2007, 08:31 PM
Why oh why does it seem that all of the sugar loaded, fat filled foods with no nutritional value seem to be dollars and dollars cheaper than fresh fruits or lean meat? I'm a third year college student about to be in my own apartment for the first time, which I'm very excited about. I am not, however, excited about having to budget for a healthy diet. I mean, milk costs almost double a gallon of gas!! (Okay exaggerating a bit...) And I was looking at Kashi cereals, which never seem to be on sale and cost almost $2 more than other cereals, and the boxes are quite a bit smaller.

Others in a similar situation- how do you maintain a healthy eating style on a low budget? It seems almost impossible to me!

08-05-2007, 08:41 PM
I try to buy fresh fruit and veggies that are on sale that week. When prepared meals go on sale (lean cuisine or what have you), I buy them. When certain snacks I really like go on sale (reduced fat wheatables is one of my favorites), I get those. There is usually a decent type of bread on sale every week. I don't know where you're located, but our grocery store (Meijer) has lunch meat for 59 cents a pack. It lasts for 2-4 sandwiches, depending on how you like it, and is very low in the calorie department.

08-05-2007, 08:45 PM
I hear ya! One thing I do is get coupons in the paper every Sunday. Trust me, every little cent helps! Plus, I have a grocery store, Kroger, where I'm on their mailing list and they send me some coupons every so often specifically for their store. And finally, go online to search for some coupons to print out! I even sign up for samples once in a while because they do come in handy around the middle to end of the month when cash is really hard to come by.

Now, I'm not saying you'll be able to find coupons for the most healthy or organic stuff...even I have trouble sometimes with that. But you can save on other things to where it all evens out in the end. Make sure you look up brand names online that you buy most often to see if they have coupons on their site. Hope this helps! :)

08-05-2007, 08:48 PM
If you have a farmer's market nearby, those are awesome places to get fresh fruits and veggies at a really low price. As a plus, the food is often fresher and tastes better than most supermarket foods.
In college, I also ate a lot of sandwiches on light wheat bread w/ lunchmeat and cans of Amy's organic or healthy choice soup that I bought whenever it was on sale. Stock up on cans of veggies and buy chicken breast whenever it's on sale and just freeze it until you need to use it.
Heads of lettuce are far cheaper than the precut kind. I always have a head of lettuce around. Also, dried beans (I love kidney beans) and brown rice make a great dirt cheap meal...sometimes I'll throw a can of corn in the mix, as well. Light yogurts often go on sale for like 10 for $5 - whenever they do, I buy 10 at least, lol.
Just look at the supermarket sales online before shopping, and pick the best store for you. It's difficult, but not impossible.

08-05-2007, 08:51 PM
I've been doing alright on fruits and veggies at the farmer's market - don't know if you have one near you... but you can get a lot of great seasonal stuff from your local farmers for a lot less and as I've discovered it tastes soooooooo much better when it's fresh - even the difference of sitting in the grocery store vs. buying from the stand.

Other than that, I'm in the same boat as you, I find it very difficult to eat healthy & stay on budget & we have what is probably considered a fairly large amount of $$ budgeted for 2 people per month.

08-05-2007, 08:55 PM
we were all posting at the same time! :) Yes - there are budget stretchers like frozen meats from Costco & brown rice & whole wheat pasta is fairly cheap & lasts forever.
Also, anything that isn't on the healthy list or just household goods we shop at discount stores for. Walmart usually has the best price on cereal & household goods & we shop at Winco for everything boxed/canned - they are the cheapest where I live.

08-05-2007, 09:11 PM
Bulk buying helps--and if you have a freezer, you can stock up. It sometimes takes repackaging something like lean ground beef, but you'd want to have it in the right portion size anyway. Sometimes the large bags of frozen veggies can be resealed with just a twist tie, or some brands have zipper closures. Also, if there's a whole-grain bread on sale, you can just put a whole loaf into a second bag, right over the first one, and freeze it. Comes out fine. Or, you can divide a loaf into 3 portions and freeze it that way.

Bulk buying helps with grains, too--like brown rice, oats for oatmeal, etc. Many health food stores have bulk grains. If kept in airtight containers, these can last indefinitely.


08-05-2007, 09:29 PM
My husband and I, both being on disability do have more time to shop, though even when we were both working we still did as much of this as we could.

1. Check out liquidator stores in your area. If there's a privately owned one, it will be cheaper, but a national chain like Big Lots will still have some great bargains. They buy out stores going out of business, stock from stores that bought too much, label and box mixprints from the factory.... The only disadvantage with these stores is that the stock changes frequently. You have to shop with an open mind, be willing to take a chance or too on an unknown brand, and realize that if you fall in love with a product, they may get it in regularly, or you may never see it again.

We also shop, bread thrift bakeries. My father delivered bread for Butternut bread, which had their own thrift store (known to employees as the "stale store) and we usually bought there because we knew the bread in the thrift store was actually fresher than that in the grocery store if you knew which day to shop (if you become a regular customer, you can ask which day the bread is the freshest, and this will be the day that it is actually fresher than any in the grocery store. I forget how this worked exactly, but I remember it has something to do with the day the delivery drivers have off. Also the thrift store had to throw out bread that was 7 days old (though there usually wasn't much left) and small grocery stores don't have to follow this rule).

Dollar Stores also have some good grocery bargains, usually on non-standard brands, but I to me most bran flakes are just bran flakes, no matter what the brand.

Discount groceries like Aldi are also great (note, onions, celery, and potatoes are often cheaper, but generally the produce their is more expensive than in a traditional grocery).

Walmart marks meat down after only 2 days (it's good in the fridge for at least several more), so if you're going to freeze it right away, you can get 30% or more of the regular price. Some Walmarts have great meat departments, we're lucky ours does. If you can ask someone in the meat department which meats get marked down on which days, it can be helpful. When we were in Illinois Tuesday, Thursdays, and Saturdays were the big markdown days, and if you weren't there by 10:00 am, most of the marked down stuff was gone. It's not as predictable in our store here in Wisconsin. Although I did find that Saturday late afternoons is when they mark down the jerky cut beef. I love buying this, either for making jerky, or just low cal meals. The meat is sliced very thin, so it's perfect for stirfries with just a little slicing into smaller strips, or leaving in the larger strips (about 2" by 5") for sandwhich steaks, or on skewers to grill for satay.

There are websites and books that are helpful. I google cheap food, or frugal living, or dieting on a budget.... or search or the public library.

I have a cookbook "Good Cheap Food," and the Complete Tightwad Gazette (3 volumes that were initially sold seperately, but were combined into one book).

If there's a Farmer's Market in your area, this is also a great way to save money. In our area, most of the produce at the farmers markets are cheaper, though there will be some that are more expensive (a little or a lot), so you have to pay attention, and know what it a good value for you. I find that even if some things are a little more expensive than in the grocery store, it still sometimes saves me money, because it lasts longer so is fresher (and the fresh produce tastes so much better than grocery store stuff because it's picked riper, and delivered more quickly, so there's a lot less waste for several reasons).

Soups are healthy and cheap (if they have cheap ingredients like celery, onion, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, tomato paste, smaller amounts of cheaper cuts of meat and poultry).

Walmart rotisserie chickens are a good buy too. Some stores sell these at double the price of a whole raw chicken, but in our Walmart at least, the rotisserie chickens are only about 50 cents more than the raw whole birds. After we eat the meat, I through the skins and bones in for stock. The skin is mostly fat, but has all of the roasted flavor. So for several hours, I simmer the bones and skin (reserving the bigger chunks of meat if there are any to add at the end so they don't get stringy) with a whole or quartered onion (washed, but not even necessarily peeled), the bottom off of a bunch of celery also washed, as well as the leafy parts of the celery and tops off of carrots, a cabbage core (basically these are to season the soup, are parts that would otherwise be thrown away), and a couple bouillon cubes. Then I strain the stock, and put it in the frige. I let the pile of veggies and bones cool, and pick through the carcass for bits of meat to add to the soup (this sounds weird to anyone not taught traditional soup making, but this is how my grandmother and mother taught me). The bones and soft veggies are then thrown away (although I usually have a bite or two of the yummy, but ugly veggie bits. The cabbage core is my favorite, mom liked the cooked celery, and gramma liked the carrot tops). When the stock cools, I skim off the fat (usually the next day). Add any veggies I want to add (pretty this time, and diced small so they cook quickly, maybe a small handful of corn, peas, rice, wheat berries or pasta). When the veggies/grains are tender, I add back in the meat. Season if needed, and healthy low fat broth based soup is ready. Out of a $4 chicken, my husband and I have 6 or more meals (each) Roasted chicken night 1, chicken salad day 2 (and sometimes 3), and chicken soup (usually about 10 cups). I usually end up freezing about half the soup so we don't have to eat soup for a week.

08-05-2007, 09:38 PM
Not sure if you have an Aldi's in your area but it's a cheap grocery store that sells good quality foods. They have a brand called "Fit and Active" and offers such items as Cookies similar to Snackwells, Canned Fruits in Natural Juice, Turkey Bacon, Low Fat Cream Cheese, Turkey Meatballs, Artifical Sweetner like Equal--it's only 1.50 for 100 count! and others. If you like Ice Cream they also have a "Skinny" line of sandwiches, bars, and juice bars. I do all of my shopping there.

Here's a link to their site where they have some recipes listed too that sound pretty good and gives you nutritional info: erBy.percentCaloriesFromFat

You can also search by low sugar, calorie etc.

08-05-2007, 10:19 PM
These are great suggestions! I posted a few ideas earlier in the summer on a couple of threads devoted to the question of eating healthily on a budget:

When searching for these threads (advanced search - budget in title), I also discovered that there's a sticky on this topic in the food talk forum:

It's great to see all of this good advice. When I was in graduate school, I was paid once a month, so I tended to do one big shop for staples like lentils and canned tomatoes. It helped to know that I had the basics for a month in the cupboard...

Shopping at farmer's markets is often suggested. I would check to see if there's one near you, but it can depend a lot on where you live and who is iimagined to be the target market. Some of those near me seem to be targeted towards those with a lot of money to spend, which can be discouraging. There was one in my neighborhood last year which was great and had many staples for prices less than that at the grocery store, but it closed, so now I go to ones that are more likely to have heirloom cucumbers for $3 a lb, and I have to be careful not to overspend.

Have fun with your first kitchen of your own!

08-05-2007, 10:23 PM
Thanks for all the wonderful advice everyone! This is really going to come in handy. I was afraid that I was going to have to compromise my diet because of money, but it seems like it's possible to stay on track.

08-06-2007, 12:07 AM
Well I am definately in the same boat at you....I'm starting my senior year at college, but I've been in my own apartment for 3 years now so I've adjusted. One of my major major staples if you don't have one you should get one....George Forman grill. I use it for everything! And one of the small ones only costs $20. It's worth it.

Ok so here are food staples....I generally go to walmart so a store like that works too

-Frozen chicken breasts or if it's just you chicken breast strips - $5-6 and they last for about 2 weeks or more
-Frozen veggies...not as much money as fresh, but still have the same nutrients according to what i've read. I get broccoli - $3 for a big bag
-Frozen hamburger patties - $4-5 Once you thaw them they taste just as good and you can use a couple to make meatloaf or you can make hamburgers on the george
-Mixed bag of fruit - that way you get quite a bit of fruit at a variety - $3-4
-Bags of lettuce that have different veggies (the ones that have mixed lettuce are the best for you)- $2-3
-Tortillas are good to make different sandwiches - $2
-Huge bags of trail mix at walmart are soo good- $5
-If you like strawberries Kroger's usually does 2/5
-Big packs of turkey or ham 60-70cals for 3 slices i think - $3
-Salad spritzer (dressing spray) I love it - $2 or so
-Granola Bars...personally I like Natures Valley peanut butter so good...but to save I get the off brand generally its like 2boxes for $6 and that definately works for me
-Yogurt get the walmart brand cups I think they are .50 per container.

Also, I don't know where you are but if you have a Krogers in your area look in the ad's for the week (they usually post them at the front of the store) because they have a ton of 10/$10 deals. I've gotten lean gourmet meals for $1 a piece and I love them.

Another thing I found is It's a website for coupons for stores near you that you can print out. They are free, all you have to do is sign up. I typed in healthy foods specfically in the google search and thats the site that came up so you may be able to find coupons for kashi.

I'll write more if i think of it. Hope this helps

08-06-2007, 12:27 AM
I was also going to suggesdt Aldi grocery store. I don't know where you are located, but that store for me, is a god send! I can get a weeks worth of healthy food there for my husband and myself for around $40-$50. It is great! and their FitNActive brand items are really good.

08-06-2007, 01:53 AM
Just dropping in with a quick tidbit. This is a rare find: Kashi GoLean Original is $4.50 at my local grocery stores, and $2.50 (non-sale) at my Target. Hope it's the same for you!

08-06-2007, 02:50 AM
Well I'm in the same boat too. I'm 23 and going into my 3rd year as a college student and finally full time so I've got a ways to go before I get my BA and we only live on my husband's salary which isn't all that much since he's just starting out. I shop at Walmart. Basically what everyone has said is what I've learned myself. There are fantastic suggestions up above that I will be trying out myself and doing more coupons since I do have the time for it but just didn't know where to look. So I have to say thanks too!

08-06-2007, 07:28 AM
I was also going to suggesdt Aldi grocery store. I don't know where you are located, but that store for me, is a god send! I can get a weeks worth of healthy food there for my husband and myself for around $40-$50. It is great! and their FitNActive brand items are really good.

I live near Pgh, PA and just LOVE Aldi's! The Fit n Active brand seems to be expanding more and more there and the prices are just phenomenal! That's what I spend too about $50 a week for my family of 3 and have become expert at stretching out every meal. The bonus is everything I get from there is healthy!!!!!!

08-06-2007, 03:38 PM
Wow, thanks for posting this question...I needed all these good tips and suggestions and we do have an Aldi's...going to have to check them out. We spend waaaaay too much on groceries each week and healthy foods really push it up there.

It's always cracked me up how the cheap stuff is what is not good for you but the healthy foods are soooo expensive.