Photo: Kelsey Hansen

You don't need to break the bank to get healthy.

Arielle Weg
January 18, 2018

It’s a new year, so you resolve to give this whole “healthy eating” thing a go. You plan meals every day, make a list, and head to the supermarket to fill your grocery cart with everything from kale to zucchini noodles. But as soon as the cashier tells you the total, you’re floored as to how people can afford this lifestyle every single week.

The truth is…they often don’t. Not everyone sticking to a budget wants to plan, shop, and cook for 21 completely different meals every week. It’s just not feasible.

Members of the Cooking Light Diet Facebook Community are no different. While many are pros at meal planning, they still have questions concerning how to keep their grocery bills manageable. Luckily, a lot of members have answers to those same questions. Here are some of their best tips for making healthy meal planning on a budget more affordable. For more, join the Facebook Community today.

Shop Smart

Sign up for your local supermarket’s membership program if they have one, or pick up a coupon booklet before you shop. Check with your butcher or fishmonger to inquire about weekly deals and what items are getting close to their expiration dates (they’ll usually sell these at a discounted price).

Consider sale items, and take the time to compare an item’s price per ounce for the best deal. Items are almost always cheaper per ounce the more you buy, so consider what you use often and if it’s worth it. This is especially true when it comes to big box stores. Cooking Light Diet member Elizabeth Striegl says she likes to buy more expensive cuts of meat at bulk stores, and she keeps whatever isn’t used right away in the freezer for special occasions. (You may want to consider these 9 Items to Buy at Costco When You Meal Prep.)

Swap in Alternative Ingredients

When choosing a meal, consider ways you can swap out ingredients with what you already have on hand. If a recipe calls for farro but you already have quinoa, it’s okay to sometimes swap in similar ingredients to save cash. This means you can make what you want for dinner and use up available ingredients.

You can opt for cheaper options with all manner of groceries, too, like grains, proteins, and vegetables. For example, if you already have a bag of spinach, toss that into a salad instead of buying a new container of a more expensive green like arugula.

Cooking Light Diet member Linda Chambers will often swap in ground chicken for recipes that call for ground beef since it’s the more cost-effective option. Alternatively, member Mary Martini buys the protein called for in recipes, but she opts for the cheapest cut of it.

Pick Smart Ingredients

If you’re not someone who’s going to use up an expensive container of tahini or a bag full of wheat berries, you may be better off choosing recipes that use minimal, simple ingredients. We love recipes from our 5-Ingredient Cookbook and, this article is a great source for budget-friendly recipes as well.

It’s ok to pass on recipes that use flashy ingredients you have to special order. Cut corners when time saved will offset cost (splurge on that pre-cut butternut squash) and choose cheaper options when the price doesn’t justify the convenience (you don’t need a bag of pre-chopped cauliflower florets).

Consider What You’ve Got

This doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but when considering your next meal (or shopping trip) think about what’s already in your fridge and pantry. Carolyn Williams, PH.D., R.D. suggests focusing on ways to incorporate the ingredients you use for one recipe into future meals.

If you’re planning to make One-Pot Pasta with Spinach and Tomatoes Monday night, you’ll need to use up the ingredients later in the week. The bag of spinach, for example, could be used for smoothies, scrambled eggs, as a base to chicken salad, or stirred into pasta or soup. Williams recommends this strategy of thinking ahead about ways to repurpose items into future meals as you create your shopping list.

You can also do this by searching for ingredient keywords on your favorite websites to find applicable recipes. There’s a nifty build-a-meal option on MyRecipes to find recipes using ingredients you have on hand. Meal planning services like the Cooking Light Diet have search tools to find recipes that incorporate ingredients already in your home. Cooking Light Diet member Jenn YoAdrien frequently uses that search tool to find recipes based on what’s in her kitchen.