18 Tips to Eating on a Budget

Jun 13, 2022

When it comes to cutting calories or saving cash, we know tight budgets can be a challenge. When you’re trying to do both, well, that’s even trickier.  Here are 18 suggestions from MyFitnessPal  - some pretty good suggestions!   

1. Scratch-cook.
Not everyone will have time to make everything from scratch (OK, the vast majority of us), but cooking at home can definitely stretch your food dollars, especially if you’re strategic about shopping and minimizing food waste. Restaurants and takeout may be convenient, but 95% of the time they’re not the most economical way to eat. 

2. Scout the sales.
If your local grocery store has weekly specials, sign up to receive their circular by email. Every week, peruse the flier for deals on produce, meats, fish, whole grains, dairy and pantry staples (i.e., canned or dried beans, herbs, spices, etc.), and plan your next few meals using those foods. 

3. Meal-plan.
Some people enjoy sitting down with a cup of coffee and spending a couple of hours meal-planning each week, but it really doesn’t need to be a big to-do. Ten or fifteen minutes of scouting sales and jotting down meal ideas can be just as effective. One way of doing this might be to make sure each meal includes one source of protein, at least one vegetable (bonus points for adding veggies to breakfast) and a whole-grain or nutrient-rich starch, with fruit for a snack or dessert.

4. Know how much you’ll need.
The beauty of a meal plan is that it gives you a good idea of how much and what you need to buy at the grocery store. Before hitting up those grocery store specials, do a quick inventory of what you already have on hand. Don’t forget to check the freezer and pantry for ingredients (like frozen veggies or spices) that you might be able to substitute in place of buying things you don’t really need. When it comes to fresh produce, buy only what you’ll be able to eat (or freeze) before it goes bad. 

5. Buy in bulk.
One solid argument against buying only what you need is buying certain foods in bulk, particularly those that you eat several times per week, that have a long shelf life or that can easily be frozen. Buying in bulk can save significant money, especially at large grocers or wholesale stores, but it’s always good to do a quick price comparison against smaller quantities just to be sure. 

6. Frequent the freezer section.
Shopping the freezer section can save you a bundle since it essentially eliminates the chance of spoilage and allows you to use only what you need. To maximize your food dollar in the freezer section, keep your eye on that grocery circular and stock up when frozen fruits, veggies, meats, poultry and fish go on sale. 

7. Eat what’s in season.
Pay attention to the large bins of produce that greet you at the grocery store. They’re often filled with in-season fruits and veggies that retailers are looking to unload for a deep discount. 

8. Stick with store brands.
Stocking up on supermarket-brand staples can save you an average of 15โ€’30% compared to national brands. Just be sure to check the ingredient label before buying to make sure the quality is similar. 

9. Frequent your local farmer’s market.
Farmer’s markets can be a great way to get superfresh, in-season produce for less, because they cut out the middlemen who can take up to 92๏ฟ of every food dollar spent. On the contrary, farmer’s markets take only 6๏ฟ  from every dollar a farmer earns, allowing them to sell you their produce for less and actually make more money. 

10. Serve up smaller portions.
Rather than devouring a heaping plateful of food just because you’re overly hungry and it’s just what’s in front of you, serve up a smaller portion and take your time to enjoy it. Oftentimes, you’ll realize you didn’t need quite as much food as you thought to feel satisfied. 

11. Prep (and portion) in advance.
Having a fridge stocked with nourishing foods that are ready to eat, or cook, can mean the difference between noshing on something nutritious and spending $20 plus on a fast food fix. 

12. Make your own staples.
Fancy salad dressings, gourmet granola and 100-calorie snack packs—these convenience foods sure do add up fast at the grocery store. Making your own staples is an easy way not only to save money but also to eat healthier versions of your favorite convenience foods, since they won’t contain preservatives and you can control the amount of added salt and sugar. Figure out what your most costly go-to healthy staples are, and experiment with making a homemade version. Once you do it one or two times, it’ll be hard to go back to buying the expensive, convenience version. 

13. Embrace batch-cooking.
When you do have time to scratch-cook, think big batch and freezer-friendly meals. Batch-cooking will leave you with more (nutritious) food, more time and more money in your pocket. 

14. Eat affordable proteins.
Meat, poultry and fish are great sources of complete proteins, but they aren’t usually the most budget-friendly. Cutting back on these foods, even one or two days a week, can be an opportunity to save some cash and explore alternative protein sources. Some healthy, affordable protein sources include eggs, dairy (like milk, yogurt and cottage cheese), dried beans, edamame (shelled soybeans), tofu, lentils, peanut butter, peanuts and whey protein. 

15. Use up your wilting produce.
If you find yourself with a drawer full of shriveling fruits and veggies, one quick way to use them up is to make a homemade smoothie or soup. Smoothie leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to 24 hours, and soups can be frozen for a fast dinner or lunch when time is tight. 

16. Learn to love leftovers.
Cook once, eat (at least) twice. That’s my motto at home, and it really helps save not only time but also money, too. Consider doubling or tripling a recipe to use up all of the fresh ingredients or making a couple of meals at once that use many of the same ingredients. This way, you can minimize waste and enjoy the ease of reheating or freezing leftovers. 

17. Drink more water.
And less of everything else. Filtered tap water is essentially free and is the cheapest way to hydrate. By skipping the soda aisle and ordering tap water at restaurants, you’ll save both money and calories. 

โ€‹18. Have some “back pocket” budget-friendly restaurants.
When you find yourself with both an empty fridge and an empty stomach, it’s helpful to have a couple of go-to restaurant or takeout options where the portions are big, ingredients are fresh, and prices are affordable. Oftentimes, mom-and-pop restaurants, particularly those serving up ethnic cuisine (like Indian, Thai or Mexican), offer healthier, homemade dishes that leave you with enough leftovers for a second meal. 

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