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Healthy Eating Tips That Can Save You Money at the Grocery Store

You’d like to make healthier food choices for yourself and your family, but the prices in the grocery store make you want to give up and grab a family meal at a fast-food drive-thru. It can seem like filling your cart with things like fresh produce, organic meat and extra-virgin olive oil can double your grocery bill. 

But you know healthy eating is important. Food fuels your body and impacts your energy levels, immune system, mental health and long-term well-being. The right choices improve your heart health and lower your risk of chronic diseases.

Here are some tips that can help fit healthy food into your grocery budget.

Plan your meals

Before you head out to the grocery store, take a few minutes to think through the next few days. What do you have on hand for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks? And what’s on your calendar? 

“Not having a plan when you go into the grocery store can lead to purchases that quickly add up, and you may not even end up with the ingredients you need for a meal,” said Javier Gomez, a registered dietitian with Banner Health.

A meal plan provides healthy, nutritious meals for the upcoming days. Knowing what you’re going to eat and when can save you money because you can resist impulse purchases. Plus, you won’t need to fall back on fast food and you won’t waste food. 

“Not only will planning your meals help with more effective shopping, but it can also result in healthier food choices. It may also keep you from buying last-minute food items, which tend to be processed,” Gomez said.

Find options you can afford at the grocery store

Healthy eating doesn’t mean you have to buy expensive organics or out-of-season produce. Here’s how to find nutritious, affordable options:

  • Choose whole foods such as whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables. They are usually more cost-effective than processed alternatives. 
  • Buy staple items like rice, beans and oats in bulk. 
  • Compare prices across brands and sizes. Sometimes, the generic brand or a larger “family size” quantity is a better value. 
  • Look for seasonal and locally sourced produce. They are often fresher, tastier and may be more affordable than out-of-season or imported options. 
  • Create a list and stick to it so you’re less likely to grab impulse purchases. 
  • Keep an eye out for discounts, promotions and sales. Adjust your meal plan if you find a good value.
  • Don't overlook frozen or canned fruits and vegetables. They can be just as nutritious as fresh alternatives and often have a longer shelf life. 
  • Join store rewards programs that provide discounts or cashback. 
Budget-friendly sources of protein

Protein is a key nutrient for your energy, muscles, immune system and well-being. Plus it helps you feel satisfied after eating. Affordable foods that are good sources of protein include:

  • Beans, lentils and chickpeas
  • Eggs
  • Canned tuna or salmon
  • Greek yogurt
  • Peanut butter
  • Tofu and tempeh
  • Cottage cheese
Affordable vegetables and fruits
  • Vegetables and fruits are packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They support your digestive system, immune function and overall health and well-being. Reach for lower-cost options like:
  • Leafy greens such as spinach, kale and collard greens 
  • Root vegetables like potatoes, carrots and sweet potatoes
  • Cabbage
  • Frozen or canned vegetables or fruits. Choose versions that don’t have a lot of added sugar, salt or preservatives. Store brands are often cheaper than name brands.
  • Bananas
  • Apples
Less-costly carbohydrates

Carbs give you energy and stamina and support your brain function. Whole and minimally processed carbs are healthier options than refined carbs. Try:

  • Brown rice
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Whole-wheat pasta
  • Barley
  • Buckwheat
  • Popcorn 
Lower-priced fats

Healthy fats support your cells, help your body absorb vitamins and regulate certain functions in your body. Good options include:  

  • Olive oil
  • Avocados
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Canned fish (in water)
  • Coconut oil
  • Greek yogurt
  • Eggs

Simple, nutritious meal ideas 

“Focus on making good food choices 90% of the time. You don’t have to be perfect but be aware of your choices and try to make improvements where possible. Enjoy your food, and don’t stress about it,” Gomez said.

These easy meals combine healthy, affordable ingredients. Plan out your portions, including any leftovers you’ll want, to save time and minimize food waste. Planning meals that include leftovers can make it easier to have nutritious options ready to go all week.

  • Vegetable stir-fry with brown rice: Sauté colorful vegetables like bell peppers, broccoli and carrots in olive oil. Add tofu or your choice of protein. Serve over brown rice with a simple soy sauce and ginger dressing. 
  • Chickpea and spinach curry: Simmer canned chickpeas with spinach, tomatoes and curry spices. Serve over quinoa or brown rice. 
  • Oatmeal with fresh fruit: Cook oats with water or milk and top with fresh fruit such as bananas or apples. Add a sprinkle of nuts or seeds for extra crunch and nutrition. 
  • Egg and vegetable wrap: Scramble eggs with sautéed vegetables like bell peppers and spinach. Wrap in a whole-wheat tortilla for a quick and nutritious breakfast or lunch option. 
  • Pasta primavera: Toss whole-wheat pasta with colorful vegetables like cherry tomatoes, zucchini and mushrooms. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Black bean and corn salad: Combine canned black beans, corn, diced tomatoes and red onions. Dress with lime juice, olive oil and a pinch of cumin for a refreshing and protein-packed salad. 

Cooking tips

You can prepare, cook and store food in ways that maximize flavor and nutrition when you’re using affordable ingredients.

  • Stir-frying or sautéing: Cooking at high heat preserves nutrients and makes the most of fresh vegetables. It’s a good way to use smaller amounts of meat.
  • One-pot meals: Combining ingredients like grains, proteins and vegetables allows flavors to meld, creating delicious dishes. 
  • Slow cooking: A slow cooker can transform budget-friendly ingredients like inexpensive cuts of meat, beans and lentils into flavorful, tender meals.
  • Roasting: Roasting vegetables enhances their natural flavors and textures. 
  • Batch cooking: You can pre-chop fruits and vegetables, so they are ready for salads and stir-fries. You can also batch roast a variety of vegetables and use them throughout the week in salads, wraps or as a side dish. Rice, grains, beans and hard-boiled eggs keep well in the refrigerator and can be cooked ahead of time. 
  • Freeze leftovers: Freeze the meals you don’t eat in individual portions. “Be sure you label and date your leftovers, so you use the oldest ones first,” Gomez said.

Affordable shopping options

To find affordable food, look beyond the grocery store. These community resources may be able to help you stretch your food budget:

  • Discount stores and markets: These stores may offer affordable produce and pantry staples. 
  • Community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs: With these programs, you can buy a share of a local farm’s produce at a reasonable cost.
  • Community gardens: Local gardens may provide fresh, locally grown produce and allow you to connect with your community.
  • Farmers' markets: These markets offer fresh, seasonal produce, usually at competitive prices. 
  • Local farm events: You can often find deals and discounts at these special events.
  • Local co-ops: These community-driven grocery stores often offer affordable, high-quality, local food. 
  • Government assistance programs: Based on your income and family, you may qualify for government assistance programs such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or WIC (Women, Infants and Children).

The bottom line

It can seem like you need to spend a lot on food if you want to eat healthfully. But there are ways to save at the grocery store, less-expensive foods you can choose, food prep and cooking strategies to utilize, and other places you can shop. Combine these ideas so you can make nutritious meals without spending too much money.

For more tips on eating well and finding foods you can afford that taste good, reach out to a Banner Health provider

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