Healthy Eating on a Budget

Mark has received a number of requests from you savvy readers asking for budget-friendly foods that are nutritious. Want to know how to eat healthy on a tight budget? Look no further. Start with these 5 tips for cheap eats, and stay tuned for more great grocery money savers next week, too!

1. Frozen vegetables ice the competition

We’ve pretty much beat this one into official dead llama status around here (if you’ve been hanging around here, you also know we’ve pretty much beat the dead llama phrase into dead llama status as well). Wait, where we we? Oh, yes! Frozen vegetables are just as nutritious and in fact are often more fresh than “fresh” produce. That whole “picked at the peak of flavor” marketing yarn is actually true for frozen veggies. Major grocery chains frequently offer large packs of frozen plants for just a few dollars; and scoop up those “5 bags for 4 bucks” deals, too. The most nutritious and cheap vegetables are usually broccoli, peas and spinach, but look for brussels sprouts, artichoke hearts, asparagus spears, and stir fry blends, as well. (Note: make sure that the blends you’re buying don’t have added unhealthy sauces full of oils or corn syrup.)

2. See ya, snobs: go for salad packs

So packaged greens can be pricey. And you’re supporting the Man. And they come in plastic. In fact, packaged salads are scientifically proven to be evil. Still, in the long run, salad packs might actually be more economical for you. If you’re the type of person who routinely buys loose lettuce because it’s cheaper, only to see it wilt in the crisper because you don’t have time to deal with washing, drying, and chopping it, you’re wasting money and avoiding nutritious meals. If you are this person, bags are for you. Sure, some of the blends are expensive, but it’s not difficult to pick up romaine or spinach. They’re perpetually on sale at 2 bags for 4 bucks.

3. Better yet, find a farmer’s market

If you don’t mind washing your veggies, you’ll save a lot of money if you visit the farmer’s market once a week. Snoop around to find the best one with the lowest prices – you’ll be surprised at how cheap things like peppers, lemons and avocados can be when you don’t have to walk through air conditioned doors to get them!

3. Water: nectar of the healthy

The easiest way to reduce your grocery tab and simultaneously enjoy good health is to stop buying anything that isn’t water. Don’t pay for hydration! You’ll be fine without milk, really. Your kids don’t need juice. No one needs soda. Energy drinks, fizzy fillers, juice blends – all terrific ways to drain your bank account. These corn syrup chemical mixtures are the ultimate rip-off. They cost manufacturers just pennies to produce and, gallon for gallon, are more expensive than filling up your Suburban. Again.

4. No processed snacks and meals

Buying meats, fruits, and vegetables can initially seem very expensive. After all, a pack of salad only lasts for one meal, whereas a pack of mini bagel bites lasts for…wait, one meal! Processed foods come in packages, and those confounded things cost a lot of money to make (possibly more than the actual food contained within). They are also incredibly annoying to open. Not only are most processed snacks and meals completely unhealthy, they don’t go far and they’re a dollar-chomping rip. Fruit roll-ups, Pop Tarts, frozen pizzas, taquitos – this junk adds up. Worse, these foods are terrible for your health and leave you craving more junk instead of truly satisfying your body’s needs. On your next trip, make it a goal to have a box-free grocery cart.

While we’re on this topic, avoid breakfast cereals – aka worthless sugar flakes gummed up with additional sugar bits – like the plague that they are. No, seriously, they really are a plague. We just call it type 2 diabetes instead of something more exotic-sounding like diabola. Sure, the box says it has a dozen servings, but as any parent knows, no child shakes out a half-cup of cereal.

5. Grow your own flavor

You know what else is a total, utter, ridiculous rip off? Condiments and sauces. You’d think these things were full of waterproof lottery tickets and hydrogenated diamond syrup instead of soybean oil, corn sweeteners, and artificial flavors that taste kinda-sorta like something known as actual herbs and spices. Save yourself a lot of money by avoiding anything that comes in a tube or a jar. (Except toothpaste, obviously.) Even buying from the healthy “outer aisles” can still be expensive if you’ve got bottomless stomachs and hollow legs to fill. So avoid the fatten-belly-starve-budget flavorings. We often forget about the cost of all the stuff we add to our food to make it taste better. Well, that stuff is technically food (although that’s debatable), and it’s the most expensive of all food. To add flavor to all your meals, use onions and garlic instead – super cheap. And buy an at-home herb kit, pick up some cheap planters at the hardware store, and get to know rosemary, basil, oregano, sage and all the rest. This is not only cheap, but incredibly healthy for you. Then go to Costco and buy yourself some giant jugs of olive oil and vinegar.

Bonus: taking care of herbs is an excellent chore for you kids. Who now love Mark’s Daily Apple. You’re welcome, kids!

Further reading:

Hey, we talked about healthy eating on a budget before!

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37 thoughts on “Healthy Eating on a Budget”

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  1. #1 Are canned veggies just as good as frozen and fresh? Fresh does taste about 100% better than the alternatives.

    #3 Anything that isn’t water….or wine. Unless,of course, you are able to change water into wine.

    #5 I am unable to grow anything. I am primalman. My existence predates the invention of agriculture. I am being serious here…I am unable to grow anything – I have tried with zero success.

    1. Be careful of canned goods – they tend to contain elevated levels of BPA (a chemical usually found in the packaging materials). I tend to stick with frozen and fresh.

  2. Primalman, I have a real knack for killing plants, as well. But I promise, herbs are easy! 🙂

    I happen to agree with you on wine. As far as canned veggies, it is true that they are picked when fresh and immediately sealed, but somehow they just don’t “seem” right. I’ll research it and report back asap. Anyone else know?

  3. In my limited experience, canned veggies tend to be nasty. I don’t know if they’re not as good for you, but they’re mushy and salty. Other than beans and pineapple, I avoid the cans.

    Thank you so much for this article. I’m on a really tight budget, but eating well means a lot to me. Shopping at a greenmarket has been vital to being able to live on veggies without going broke. Lots of produce, some whole grains, and, for me, vegetarian protein (tempeh, eggs, and cottage cheese), and I’m set. Peanut butter, dried fruit, and dark chocolate for treats. I’ve amazed myself that it’s possible to do it cheaply.

  4. On the canned veggies, you’re going to lose a third to a half of your vitamins A, C, riboflavin, and thiamin in processing with another 10% loss per year of storage, but all other vitamins and nutrients will hold up through the canning.

    And canned spam actually retains all of its nutrients as well as gaining a significant amount of mojo during the spamming process.

  5. Yams are often inexpensive, and they are better than potatoes. Also, legumes are ridiculously cheap and a better carbohydrate than grains (more protein usually). I agree, canned veggies just taste bad to me. Mush. 🙁

    Eggs and nut butters: very smart!

  6. My only problem with the frozen stuff is that it’s usually high starch stuff like corn and peas. It’s hard to find veggies like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and so on in a canned or frozen foods section.

    By the way, there’s web site that shows a lot of farmers markets and local produce stores that sell fresh and cheap veggies and fruits. It’s called local harvest I believe although I’ll look it up later. It’s been really helpful for me since I can’t always make the Saturday market in my area. I found a produce store through local harvest that’s basically a retail version of a farmers market. Cheap, local grown produce available every day. Hard to beat!


  7. 1. Boy, I can’t wait to finally have a freezer. I totally agree with that point, but… when you can’t store frozen items, it’s definitely a problem. (And tight budget is what has determined that I can’t afford the freezer yet. Vicious circle…)

    2. That’s exactly me. I don’t like green salad very much–I’m training myself to like it, it’s just taking time–so in the meantime, packs are still less of a waste of money to me. But I’m getting there.

    4. Oh yes, they last one meal… sometimes even less than that. 😉

    On the 12 servings topic: huh, seriously? I don’t even know any adult who can make it last for 12 servings. Because even if you add a fruit to that tiny serving, your breakfast won’t be very filling anyway, so if it’s to pig out at 10 am on some croissant, well, I’m not sure if it’s such a good deal.

    On the other hand, All Bran’s cereals work wonderfully for me.

    5. Herbs are great. (But I still like to eat a teaspoon of chutney with certain foods from time to time. :))

  8. For growing your own, I recommend the Earth Box. However, if you buy the brand item, they’re $33 each. However, if you go on-line and search, there is a way to build your own earth-box for less than $10. I’ve had one for three seasons, and the number of tomatoes I grow are many, and they are tasty. Two plants, almost a gallon of water a day (no, you don’t have to water every day, but that’s how much they “drink”) and more tomatoes than two can eat. I give a lot away, and they are excellent. Try it; you’ll like it.

  9. A meal delivery service can also be somewhat inexpensive, as well as cut out a lot of time and effort involved in cooking. I would definitely suggest one if you have a good one nearby.

  10. Merry Christmas!Hope you has a good day!If you have the time, Welcome to my Web

  11. Skip the toothpaste, too. Grok recommends that you whiten your teeth with plain baking soda (unless you have severe enamel damage) to avoid guk like “sodium laureth sulfate”.

    1. Look for toothpastes without SLS in them. I have an allegy to the aweful guk and have found alternates in Tom’s brand or some sensodyne brands.

  12. I thought we were supposed to lose the beans and peanut butter in the primal eating plan? I’m new and trying to get started. Being the mother of two and in charge of feeding my extremely picky daughter and husband I need help! Please could someone set me strait?

  13. Thank you for the laugh! I was searching for some new ideas, and while I’m already on the same page as you, I appreciate a witty article :0) I will definitely relay your cereal description verbatim to my 11 year old!

  14. Ill put in my 2 cents as I lived on a less than 40 a week grocery budget for years. I shopped at walmart and a local mexican food mart for most of my groceries. Occasionally I splurged on raw honey or almond butter at the food co op (both rare items in a small town). I ate a lot of white potatoes and ground beef. I also found bananas, carrots, and apples were always very cheap so I bought them nearly every grocery trip. Seafood was a rare treat when it was marked down enough. I couldnt afford natural lunch meats so breakfast was almost always 2-3 eggs. I cooked in off brand olive oil, and once in a while coconut oil.