Having a family of six makes our monthly food bill a pretty big expense but we’re constantly working to eat healthy on a small budget to keep costs as low as possible. This can be difficult to do when all four kids come home from school wanting to eat everything that’s edible as quickly as possible. I swear you’d think they hadn’t eaten all day! You can spend a fortune on food if you aren’t careful. I hope you find this comprehensive list helpful in some way!
Here is everything we do to eat healthy on a small budget:
- Do a 30 Day Pantry Challenge. Although this may mean that you aren’t eating super healthy, it does help you save money and it gets you using up what you already have. We’ve done the pantry challenge before and I think we need to do it again real soon. It could mean you’re eating baked chicken with pancakes but at least you aren’t wasting food and throwing money in the garbage right? (An alternative is to get rid of all the unhealthy food right away but I don’t like wasting food – or money. Bringing non-perishables to a food shelter is another option.)
- Shop at Aldi. This store has been a lifesaver for us. I think Aldi is pretty much everywhere these days and they’ve become a huge rival to Whole Foods. They have a great selection of fresh food at amazing prices. Once we began to spend upwards of $250 in a single weekly grocery trip to our local Walmart Superstore, we now save 40-50% by shopping at Aldi and buying the same quantity. You can read more about why I love Aldi in this post.
- Stick to water as much as possible. In our home, we drink a LOT of ice water, from the tap. *gasp!* Purchasing a good filter will help save you money while saving the earth from a ton of plastic water bottles too. I do get my kids juice boxes for their school lunches but they will bring a reusable water bottle filled with ice water on many occasions too. If you avoid purchasing alcohol, juice and pop regularly it will help you put your money towards healthier food choices instead. A win-win if you have healthy living goals.
- Buy frozen vegetables. How many times have you purchased fresh vegetables only to have them rot before you could finish them? It happens to us all the time so we started purchasing most of our veggies frozen. Our favorites are broccoli, cauliflower, mixed veggies and peas.
- Eat seasonally. When it comes to fresh fruits and vegetables you will also save money by purchasing foods when they’re “in season”. You can use this guide to help you determine when to shop for certain foods.
- Shop at local Farmer’s Markets. If you’re lucky enough to have a Farmer’s Market near you, take advantage of the opportunity to shop there. What you’ll find there are quality foods that are in-season that will be super affordable. You can find local Farmer’s Markets here. Not all cities and towns will have them but the closest major city might and it’d be worth a trip if it’s not too far.
- Shop the sales. When specific foods are in season, Aldi will typically mark them down even lower than they already are. Other grocery stores do this too but I find Aldi has the lowest prices around the area I live in. Check the weekly ads for your local grocery stores to see what’s on sale that week. A great tip is to plan your meals around what’s on sale at stores near you.
- Lower your meat consumption. Meat is easily the most expensive food item on our grocery bill. We typically buy our meat in bulk at Costco and we like the quality of their meat much better than Aldi. Just a personal preference. We always purchase their boneless skinless chicken, tilapia and low-fat beef. You can easily eat healthy on a small budget by not consuming meat as often as you may be used to. To stretch your money a bit further, use fillers like brown rice, veggies and/or salads.
- Menu plan. For some reason, this has been especially tough for me to get into. Breakfasts and lunches are easy-peasy but it’s the dinners that always get me! Dinners always go more smoothly if they’re planned ahead of time and it’s easier to save money when you have your meals planned before you step foot into the grocery store. The easiest way for me to menu plan is to keep a list of meals the family enjoys and also try new finds I see on Pinterest. The meal ideas there are endless.
- Shop your inventory first. Once you’ve chosen meals, you can figure out what ingredients you already have so that you don’t waste money buying things you don’t really need. You can also use your inventory to help you meal plan. I just checked our inventory yesterday morning before we went shopping and I was glad I did because I found things I didn’t realize we already had. It can make a big difference in the amount of money spent in a grocery trip.
- Stick to the list! So basically don’t go shopping when you’re hungry. When we do that we always stray from the list and the food choices are more expensive and not as healthy because we’re craving the sweet and/or the salty… or… chips and chocolate.
- Use coupons with caution. Only use coupons on food items you already buy. If you buy something only because you have a coupon you’d save even more money if you didn’t buy it at all. The only exception is if you found something new you’d like to try. Most healthy food options won’t have coupons available for them anyway. I mainly use coupons for things like pet supplies, house cleaners, detergents, hand soap and toiletries. On occasion, I’ll use them on not-so-healthy stuff as a treat. This is usually things like ice cream, cold cereal (my weakness!) and chocolate/candy.
- Make smoothies. Smoothies are a great way to make use of mushy fruit and/or wilting greens. This has been so helpful for me when blueberries get not-so-firm. Or if you get your wisdom teeth pulled out and you’re craving s’mores, you can get creative like I did. (You can forget about that last part if you’d like. And yes, I’ve given up Pop-Tarts. It took several years.)
- Eat at home. This doesn’t even mean that you must make everything from scratch, just avoid fast food and restaurants most of the time. If we eat even one fast food meal per week it easily costs our family of six at least $35. If we did that 4 times a month that’s $140! That’s more than the cost of one week of groceries for us (thanks to Aldi). You can buy a lot of healthy food for $35 that will prepare several meals.
- Keep meals simple. Generally speaking, the fewer ingredients you need the less expensive the meal will be. Also, the more ingredients you use the more costly it likely is in both time and money.
- Eat several of the same meals per week. For example, I like to eat the same meals throughout the week as witnessed in my 21 Day Fix Extreme simple meal plan. I’m a creature of habit and that really helps me save money. If you buy a carton of eggs or a bag of oats, that can be a part of your breakfast for several days of the week. My lunches are almost always dinner leftovers which means we need to make sure we prepare enough to have leftovers the following day.
- Meal prep. Having meals (and snacks!) prepped ahead of time makes it easy to stick to healthy eating. To make prep time faster and your meal prices lower, prep meals that consist of simple things: a protein, a fruit and/or veggie and a starch. A favorite of mine is romaine lettuce, grapes, chicken, shredded carrots and sunflower seeds. I also like to wash fruits and veggies right after shopping to prepare them for grab-and-go. I have a free meal planning template you may download and I also share my meal prep strategy.
- Batch cooking. If you plan on having baked or grilled chicken for lunches on several days, it’s easiest to cook all the meat at once and then just grab it as you need it – or separate it into containers for each meal. You can also do this with a large batch of oats if you like them for breakfast. I often do this with a large bag of frozen veggies as well. I heat up the veggies and then disperse them into my lunch containers for the week. It’s easiest to stick to the same day of the week for this task – my husband and I always do ours on Sunday after we have grocery shopped for the week. And then we take a much-needed nap.
Updated to add more ways to eat on a small budget
19. Shopping without kids. I know this isn’t always possible but it can definitely save you a few bucks! My kids like to sneak things in the cart once in a while and sometimes I don’t even notice until checkout. Stinkers.
20. Let the kids make their own list. To encourage my kids to eat healthy, I have them each fill out a grocery “wish list” of items they’d like to munch on throughout the week. This works amazingly well and they make very healthy choices when they do this. Bringing them to the store and having chocolate and candy in front of their face does have an impact, haha… but they’re usually excited to pick out the items from their list.
21. Shop for food online. Some may say this is lazy, I say resourceful. One of my favorite reasons to shop for food online is to purchase items not found in local stores – or if they are found in local stores – are usually much cheaper online. My favorite place to find healthy food? Amazon of course! It’s a great place to find affordable gluten-free food items and other specialty diet items.
I think I’ve listed everything we’ve done to save time and money on our weekly grocery budget. We aren’t perfect and we don’t hit every single one of these every time but each of these tips will save you either time and/or money – I promise! Pick one or two options that you aren’t currently doing and focus on those to begin with and then go from there to see what works best for you and your family.
Quick list of cheap healthy foods:
- Broth (for soups)