How to Eat Healthy on a Budget: Tips to Save Money

With grocery prices rising due to inflation, it can be hard to find the foods your family needs and enjoys. For many, getting a healthy (and affordable!) dinner on the table every night can be a challenge.

Diane McCrohan, associate professor and chair of the marketing and management departments at Johnson & Wales University School of Business, told TODAY Food that there has been a big increase in protein costs lately.

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“The biggest increase we’ve seen is the 20% year-over-year increase in beef and veal prices, as well as the 9% year-over-year increase in chicken costs,” he said. “The biggest way to reduce this cost is to buy your meat in bulk and on sale. Then invest in a freezer and store your meat.” When you see chicken for sale at 99 cents a pound, you can stock up!

McCrohan said another great strategy for shoppers looking to save money is to sign up for store loyalty programs.

“Always sign up for the grocery store loyalty program,” he said. “They offer member-only deals that you don’t have to clip coupons to get.”

Jenna Helwig, Personal Chef and Food Director at Real Simple, said TODAY that it’s possible to hit your next grocery store and cook meals that are easy on your wallet and enjoyed by the whole family.

buy frozen

Buying fruits, vegetables, and fish in the frozen aisle is a great money-saving strategy. “Frozen foods have a longer shelf life, which leads to less food waste,” Helwig said. “Also, when it comes to greens like spinach and kale, they’re already washed and chopped.”

For the best quality, look for “one ingredient” products that are fresh frozen (meaning nothing is added).

“In terms of dollar figures, berries are one of the most obvious places to save, especially since they go bad so quickly and you end up throwing them away,” Helwig said. “You can save $2 on 10 ounces of frozen raspberries compared to fresh.”

When it comes to shrimp (an easy protein to add to salads and pasta dishes), you can save about $7 a pound by buying frozen (plus, those “fresh” shrimp are often pre-frozen anyway!).

Make a plan

Helwig suggests shoppers check their fridges and pantries before heading out to the store. This way, you don’t end up buying items you already have. Stick to your list and stay away from those impulse buys.

“Check grocery store banner ads and apps for weekly sales,” Helwig said. “Plan your meals around what’s on sale.”

McCrohan said don’t just shop with a meal plan in mind, but also shop with a monetary budget.

Another smart strategy is to do your grocery shopping online so there are no surprises at the register.

Compare unit prices

McCrohan says it’s essential to compare not only the price on the label, but also the price per unit when you’re in the supermarket. “This will let you know the least expensive products to buy,” he said. “Compare unit price between store and national brands. You’ll notice big differences in cost.” Often the store brand and the national brand are processed in the same plant.

DIY Snacks and Ingredients

When it comes to saving cash on your grocery bill, Helwig suggests using meal prep to your advantage. For example, shredding your own cheese and chopping your own vegetables creates big savings.

While snack-sized items can be convenient for school lunches, buying the largest bag and then portioning out your own snacks will save you money.

“A regular container of Jif Peanut Butter costs 40% less than individual Jif To Go,” Helwig said. “Instead, make your own ‘singles’ out of small reusable containers.”

If you’re buying in bulk, consider if any of the items can be frozen as leftovers. Always try to avoid waste, as wasted food equals wasted money, Helwig said.

Interior store aisles

“We hear a lot about ‘shopping the perimeter’ of the store for healthy items, but there are also a lot of less expensive, nutritious items in the center aisles,” Helwig said. “Think beans, canned fish, brown rice, pasta, oatmeal, and packaged vegetables.”

For example, canned salmon can cost $5 a pound versus $20 more a pound when purchased fresh. “Canning is great for burgers and salads,” Helwig said. “You’ll see similar savings with canned tuna.”

Buy in multiple markets

If you want to save big, don’t do all your shopping in one place.

“Look at the offer brochures and compare prices,” McCrohan said. “Don’t do all your shopping in one supermarket. Take advantage of the discounts of each one. Supermarkets will often have a few items at a great price just for you to go to the store. Do not fall in the trap”. Buy the sale items you need and move on to the next supermarket.

Splurge on these items

While it’s great to save on groceries, there are some items that are actually worth spending more on in said Helwig.

“A quality EVOO doesn’t go through extensive processing like cheaper alternatives, which means it’s packed with healthy compounds like antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties,” Helwig said. “Another benefit of higher quality EVOO is that it has a distinct flavor, which makes your vegetables taste even better.”

grazing eggs

“A couple of dollars more a dozen, but the taste and nutrition are better,” Helwig said of eggs that come from free-roaming hens.

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