United Way
of Massachusetts Bay
and Merrimack Valley

March 14, 2017

5 Smart Tips for Eating Healthy on a Budget

A tight budget doesn’t have to mean boring or processed meals. Here are some family-friendly ideas for eating well on a budget.

Trying to eat well on a budget can be tricky. Often we think we have to buy flavorless canned vegetables or subsist on ramen noodles to make ends meet. Fortunately there are some cheap and easy ways to stretch your dinner dollar and still eat healthy. Here are a few ideas:

Play the Google recipe game

Open Google Search in a browser and type in the words beans potatoes onions garlic rice. Just try it – we’ll wait. Now try it with ingredients you have right now in your kitchen. More than one meal is probably lurking in your pantry – with no shopping required at all. This one’s on us.

Plan ahead

Every time you go to the grocery store, odds are that you’ll buy at least one thing you don’t need or never use. To avoid this, plan out a week of meals, buy everything at once and try not to go back. Another trick is to stick to the perimeter of the grocery store. These areas tend to contain meat, dairy and produce, while the aisles in the middle contain processed foods, which may be cheap but are often less nutritious. Also, don’t shop when you’re hungry – hunger is the number one cause of irrational grocery store purchases.

Multi-purpose your meals

Buy a rotisserie chicken and use leftovers in a salad or wrap the next day. Save the bones and use them to make chicken stock. Use leftover vegetables to make an omelet for a super inexpensive “breakfast for dinner”. Broken taco shells can be used in a salad (along with leftover taco meat). Leftover rice makes great fried rice with a few simple additions. Freeze bananas that are starting to turn brown you have the start of a great smoothie (be sure to peel before freezing). Plan your meals with leftovers in mind to make the most of every ingredient. Here are some great recipes for meals that “keep on giving”.

Buy big

Whole foods in bulk are cheaper than their individual counterparts. Buy a bag of potatoes instead of the one or two you need for a single meal. Never buy pre-cut vegetables – cutting your own celery into sticks can save you 50% of the cost, and slicing your own cheese just makes sense. If you can cut a whole chicken into 8 parts you’ll have several meals for the price you’d pay for 2 pre-cut chicken breasts. Sound intimidating? Never fear – Martha is here!

Buy produce in-season

Strawberries in the summer are cheaper and better for you (and much more delicious) than those that spend a week on a plane from Argentina in the middle of winter. Here’s a handy reference guide for which fruits and vegetables are best throughout the year. Craving blueberries in December? Buy frozen. Fruits and vegetables are frozen when they are at their peak, nutrition-wise. They tend to be sold in large quantities and you can use only what you need in the moment, making them last much longer than fresh produce.

Cooking and eating healthy on a budget requires a bit more planning and discipline, but it can definitely be done. And while being budget-conscious and reducing food waste are important for every family, for those trying to feed their family on a limited income, it’s more than just a game or a challenge. It’s a constant, stressful reality of wondering if you’re going to go to bed, school or work hungry. And “luxuries” like fresh herbs or an ingredient that you use in one recipe and then throw out a week later when it’s gone bad are simply out of the question.