Living is expensive. It feels like literally everything costs an arm and a leg and healthy eating is just one of the things that tends to fall to the wayside when money is tight, but it doesn't have to. With some savviness in the grocery store, and a little creativity, you can have nutrient dense, delicious tasting eating habits, without having a sky high grocery bill.
It's easy to brush off clean eating as unattainable because of cost, but the reality is that heavily processed, unhealthy food only seems cheaper. Often times those quick, convenient already-prepared meals and snacks are very literally more expensive than healthy whole foods, but that's not even taking into account that a wholesome diet can save you thousands and thousands of dollars on health care bills. A healthy diet can serve as preventative medicine (the best kind of medicine), saving your health and your money in the long run.
Here are our food group essentials that are great clean eating staples, as well as a list of ways to make them more affordable. You don't have to like the same ones we do; find ones that make your own tastebuds happy. Also keep in mind that especially fruits, vegetables, and grains are going to vary in availability depending on where you live. We live in the Pacific Northwest in the US, so our list may look a little different than yours, depending on where you are in the world. Just know that this list should be flexible so that you can make it work for what's available where you live.
Fruits - Apples, bananas, kiwi, melons, grapes, peaches, berries, cherries, avocado, apricots, dates, mangoes, tomatoes, oranges, plantains, pineapple, etc, etc
Vegetables – Onions, mushrooms, carrots, potatoes, peppers, zucchini, broccoli, celery, asparagus, beets, cauliflower, spinach, cabbage, squash, cucumbers, romaine lettuce, kale, brussels sprouts, radish, dark leafy greens, bok choy, etc
Beans – Black, pinto, kidney, navy, garbonzo, adzuki, lentils - These are so very inexpensive and very easy to toss into the slow cooker or crock pot with a little salt and pepper; buy large bulk bags for the cheapest and lowest sodium options. Check out our slow cooker bean recipe (we use it all the time and go through 3-6 lbs of dry beans a week with just two people!)
Whole Grains - Rice (ideally wild or brown but white is much cheaper in a pinch), quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, barely, flaxseed, millet, steel cut oats (assuming no allergies), etc
Healthy fats – Olive oil, sesame oil, canola oil, almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, and nut butters etc (best if raw with no extra additives)
For Omnivores - The cheapest form of animal protein is eggs, and with meats, buying in larger quantities and then freezing portions can be a way to save. Considering the very high intake of meat (in the US in particular), you may want to consider cutting back on meat as a way to save money and potentially improve your health.
Tips to eat clean on a budget - Using your money & groceries most efficiently
- Get comfortable with cooking. We know it can be intimidating to start but you don't have to be a master chef in order to whip up something quick and healthy. Don't be afraid to start cooking. Check out our healthy whole foods recipes for ideas.
- Bulk up on the cheap healthy stuff. Beans and rice make for an incredibly inexpensive and nutritious option when you're trying to save money; make these the staples of your diet and add in as much variety of vegetables and fruits along with that as you can and you're off to a great start.
- Prepare and plan ahead of time. Meal prep in order to make cooking for yourself more feasible time wise, and to make the most of the food that you do buy.
- Shop in season. Wherever you are in the world, there are likely certain times of the year when certain produce items are cheaper. Try to allow your diet to flex with what's in season and you will find that you can save a lot of your hard earned money.
- Invest in a slow cooker (you can find reliable ones for as little as $15-50). Slow cookers are a huge time saver and can make healthy meals much more convenient.
- Buy in bulk. Dry goods, nuts, and whole grains and legumes are very cheap when purchased in their whole, raw form.
- Use your leftovers. You can either use them as a quick go-to meal the next day, or you can add them into another dish to make both dishes go further.
- Get creative with what's in your refrigerator. Sometimes the weirdest ingredients will taste amazing together with a bit of salt and some tasty spices. When you're working off of a heavily plant based diet like the list above will lead you to, you'll find it's a lot easier to just throw a bunch of veggies together for a stir fry along with your favorite whole grain together and call it dinner.
- Avoid prepackaged and prepared meals. These only look cheaper, but in reality, if you were buying the ingredients to the dish in their whole forms, you could probably feed an entire table of people for the cost of your pre-prepared dish (plus when you make it yourself it's even healthier because you aren't dealing with mystery ingredients).
- Skip organic if you have to. Organic is preferable, but unfortunately also ridiculously expensive. Even if you can't afford organic produce, it's still far better than eating processed junk foods.
What are your best tips for eating clean on a budget? We would love to hear your suggestions; sign in and share below.