How to Grocery Shop on a Budget: Tips for Cheap, Easy and Healthy Meals

Tips and tricks to save money and time while still providing nutrient-rich, satisfying meals for you and your family.

How to Grocery Shop on a Budget: Tips for Cheap, Easy and Healthy Meals
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Tips and tricks to save money and time while still providing nutrient-rich, satisfying meals for you and your family.

Sometimes it can feel like eating healthy and shopping frugally can be in utter opposition to each other, and if you don't shop smart they are. When you buy every fancy 'superfood' ingredient and don't plan your meals strategically it can cost so much to 'eat clean'. But I am here to debunk some of those healthy eating myths and give you actionable tips to keep you satisfied, fueled, and frugal!

a white car parked in front of a costco store
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Buy in Bulk (If You Can)

I understand there are many reasons you may not be able to; not having the money for a membership, not having money for a large amount of groceries up front, not having the space to store groceries in bulk, or not having the means to transport them. If you do have the means to buy in bulk, you are fortunate! And it can be very helpful for saving money and aiding in meal prep.

I do almost all my grocery shopping at Costco, and with some strategic planning, it can be a great decision. I buy 4-5 different fresh fruits and vegetables (read on to see how I stop them from going bad when I buy them in such large amounts), milk, eggs, yogurt, cheese, and restock any items I may be running low on like pasta, bread, canned goods, baking supplies, or seasonings.

person holding bell pepper
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Plan Recipes by Ingredient

I already mentioned that I buy 4-5 fresh fruits and vegetables at Costco every week, and these come in really large amounts. I'm not going to use 5 lbs of carrots in one chicken pot pie, and I can't use 9 bananas for one breakfast. This may seem obvious, but the best thing to do here is plan recipes for the week that have shared ingredients.

For example, I know I want a chicken salad that uses blueberries. I can eat some of them as a snack, but I'm still going to have a ton of leftovers. So I do a quick Google search and find a meal-prep breakfast for blueberry cheesecake overnight oats. Now I have a few lunches knocked out for this week, and several breakfasts, and I didn't have to sit around racking my brain for breakfast ideas because the ingredient decided for me.

It cuts down on some of the planning and mental labor, and it's going to make sure I don't waste ingredients. A great resource for this is using websites that have ingredient categorization, like Tasty and Eatingwell. You can also be aware of ingredients that are used in a lot of recipes, like spinach and onions.

And of course, prepping your fruit and veggies and then freezing or canning them is another great option if you have the time, space and energy.

Campbell's can lot on shopping basket
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Buy Shelf-Stable and Freezer Staples

Did you know the nutritional value of frozen foods can be higher than their unfrozen counterparts? On top of that, buying frozen and canned produce allows you to always have some healthy staples on hand without worrying about them going bad. A lot of foods are cheaper to buy this way too, because food manufacturers and grocery stores also don't have to worry about them going bad (or looking less than perfect).

So I like to stock up on a few essentials, like canned beans (black beans, chickpeas, and white beans), canned tomatoes (which I use in recipes like lasagna and chili), and frozen berries. Things like frozen spinach and artichoke hearts are also great to have around!

food in pink bowl
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Don't Get Caught up in 'Superfoods' and 'Clean Swaps'

Don't get me wrong, some things can be more nutrient-dense than others, but a lot of the time the expensive swaps that fitness influencers tell you to make aren't markedly better. Whole wheat pasta only has minimally more fiber than the normal stuff, agave is almost no different from table sugar, and your body can make its own collagen effectively without supplementing it.

While some ingredients might be a little better than others, oils are still oils, sugars are still sugars and proteins are still proteins. Most of the time, it's not going to make a big difference. Eat plenty of whole foods and don't get swept up in trends if you want to save money eating healthy.

cereal and three buns
Photo by Wesual Click / Unsplash

Don't Demonize Carbs

I'm not going to get too much into the science here, but your body prefers to use carbs as energy, and they don't make you fat. They might cause a little water retention compared to a keto diet, but that isn't weight gain.

But another great reason to keep carbs in your diet is that they are cheap! Rice, bread, pasta, and oats are staples worldwide because they are cheap, tasty, and versatile. They will go a long way in stretching out your grocery budget while keeping everyone fed, so I recommend keeping them around.

clear glass cruet bottle
Photo by Roberta Sorge / Unsplash

Don't Demonize Oil, Either

While it's true that some oils are better for you than others (though vegetable oils are perfectly fine in moderation, don't worry), oil overall tends to get a bad rap. It's high calorie, it's less essential, etc. But fats have nutritional value, help you absorb other vitamins, regulate your hormones and cushion your organs. Fats also help with satiety, so adding some fat to a dish can make it more filling overall.

Oils are also a very cheap source of calories overall, so you can get vital energy, nutrition, and satiety from incorporating fats into your cooking without overspending. I would recommend focusing on olive, avocado, and coconut oil, but oil, in general, is not something to fear!

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About the Author

Hi! I'm Alexandra, and I've been cooking and baking for about 12 years. My passion is making cheap, convenient, nutrient-dense food that still tastes amazing, and helping to perpetuate healthy eating habits without perpetuating diet culture. I want you to find recipes that make your body and your heart happy, without putting any food off limits, or making you feel guilty for loving delicious things.

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By Alexandra Massengale

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