With food prices constantly rising, eating healthily, especially when you’re on a tight budget, may seem impossible. After all, many fresh fruits and vegetables are quite expensive. The leanest cuts of proteins are often priced higher, too.
The lack of and limited good ingredients can cause you to prepare unhealthy dishes and have a poorly balanced diet.
However, your budget should not be the main reason for having an unhealthy diet. This is an obstacle that you can easily overcome with some careful thought and planning and extra work.
Below are eight tried-and-tested techniques and tricks that you can follow to eat healthy even if you are on a tight budget:
1. Plan your meals
Creating a weekly meal plan is the best strategy for eating healthy without spending too much money.
By planning your meals for the week beforehand, you can choose balanced meals to prepare. This ensures you buy plenty of healthy ingredients that you will use for your dishes.
If you are new to cooking healthy fare, look for recipes online. Choose ones that you think you can follow to the T and won’t have difficulties getting the ingredients.
Once you have decided on your meals, create a shopping list. Your handwritten or digital guide helps you stick to the items you need to buy and avoid the ones you want to purchase, which is often the cause of overspending.
2. Shop at the right store
Not all supermarkets and shops are the same. They differ in the brands and items they carry, the freshness of the products they offer, and their prices. Because of this, you should rethink your grocery shopping habits.
This includes reconsidering your choices of supermarkets or stores to shop.
Looking up the best grocery stores in your area online before you start shopping can help you stay within your budget while buying the right products that will help you eat healthy in the coming week.
Several websites and apps allow users to check the current products that different supermarkets and stores carry in or near their area. Because of this, you can compare items and choose the shop that has everything or most of the things on your list that come at prices you are comfortable with.
Although this step means spending several minutes doing comparison shopping, it is an excellent money-saving strategy. Moreover, you might chance upon discounted products, thereby allowing you to save a few more bucks.
3. Skip “convenient” products
Chicken wings and thighs, peeled and sliced fruits and veggies, and shredded cheese often cost more since they have been prepared beforehand. You can save some money if you skip these products.
This means buying a whole chicken and breaking it down to use in your dishes. It also entails purchasing fresh fruits, vegetables, and other proteins by the pound or pack.
Although you will spend several minutes cleaning and prepping them, it will be worth it since you will get plenty of healthy ingredients without going beyond your budget.
4. Buy in-season and frozen produce
Fruits and vegetables that are grown locally and in season are usually more affordable than those that are out of season. This is because when fresh produce has to be brought in from other states or countries, their prices include the shipping charges.
So, try to opt for in-season fruits and veggies as much as you can.
Additionally, don’t be afraid to buy frozen produce. They are high in nutrients, even if they do not look as appetizing as fresh fruits and vegetables.
Frozen fruits and veggies are not only cheap: they are handy to have, as well. You can divide the pack, put them in different containers, and freeze them. Once you are ready to cook, simply take out a portion and defrost it. You can then add it to the dish you are preparing.
5. Opt for some canned goods, too
Like frozen fruits and veggies, canned goods often have a bad rap as well. However, if you’re on a tight budget, they should always be on your grocery shopping list.
Canned tuna, salmon, and sardines contain the same nutrients that you get from fresh ones but at a lower price. Additionally, they are more convenient to cook; simply open the can, and you can add it to your favorite pasta dish or even a plate of salad.
Aside from fish, other healthy canned food choices include whole tomatoes, fruits, and beans.
To make these healthier, throw away the liquid portion or rinse them to remove some of the salt or sugar used to preserve them.
6. Don’t rule out store brands.
Large supermarket chains and stores, such as Al Adil Supermarket, often sell products under their names. These include fresh and frozen proteins, fruits, and veggies, grains, bread, cereals, and spices.
Although these products cost less, it does not mean that they are of poor quality.
If you come across these items when you are shopping online or in-store, don’t ignore them. Check their labels and if you are satisfied with their ingredients, add them to your cart.
7. Purchase healthy food in bulk
Although buying food in bulk means spending more money when grocery shopping, it can prove to be a more cost-effective option in the long run.
Purchasing packs or boxes of non-perishable or canned goods such as tuna, salmon, beans, and tomatoes, which you can use in your healthy dishes, often translates to bigger savings. This is because most bulk items come at discounted or cheaper prices.
Moreover, these products have long shelf lives, which means you won’t have to worry about wasting food and money
Some nuts, seeds, and dried fruits are cheaper when you buy them in bulk, as well. If you consume these items fast, consider getting bigger packages to save money and ensure you always have something healthy to munch on.
8. Repurpose your leftovers
Lastly, avoid throwing away your leftover pasta, stews, and dishes. With the right recipes, you can create new healthy meals with the same ingredients that you won’t mind eating again.
Add leftover vegetables in a soup or to tacos. If you still have some roasted chicken, freeze it and use it for a sandwich or wrap the next day.
As long as you store your leftovers correctly, you can use them to create other healthy dishes, thereby avoiding the need to throw away food.
By following these proven tips and tricks, there should be no reason for you to have an unhealthy diet, even if you can’t afford to spend a lot on your groceries.
Xavi Nunes is the Co-Founder and CMO at El Grocer, a digital platform for grocery stores and specialty and gourmet shops in the UAE. The company is reinventing the grocery shopping experience, integrating the best local stores into the mobile-first environment.