You’ve heard the complaint: Healthy eating is more expensive, because most health foods tend to be costlier than preservative-filled junk food. In some cases, this is absolutely right: One meta-analysis even found that eating an unhealthy diet is about $1.50 per day cheaper than a healthy one.
But do these statistics mean that every person with a grocery budget to stick to has to make unhealthy food choices if they’re going to shop within their means?
The answer may surprise you. By practicing some financial discipline and doing the research necessary to find healthy and cheap foods—not to mention good ways to preserve them—you can stretch your healthy-eating budget and enjoy healthier foods without breaking the bank. Here’s how:
Make the Most of Your Purchases: Meal Prep and Repeat
If you’re trying to eat an endless variety of food, you may find that it’s difficult to stick to more affordable health foods. After all, there may be only so many packets of brown rice that you can purchase.
But “meal prepping” is a popular movement that has roots in historical frugality: By buying your health foods in bulk and being willing to repeat a few meals, you may be able to stretch your food dollar without sacrificing your health and buying junk food.
Another noteworthy approach to grocery shopping and eating worth noting is being willing to stick to a few “core” meals. This has the added benefit of increasing the convenience of each meal: Rather than spending another half hour to prepare a meal, you can simply visit the refrigerator and pack your lunch for the day or microwave a quick dinner.
Understand That There Are Plenty of Cheap and Healthy Foods
A frozen package of broccoli might cost you a dollar at the supermarket. An orange might cost you 89 cents. So why does it seem like healthy foods are so much more expensive when you can go to your local grocery store and shop light?
Remember that meta-analysis from before? Think about it another way: $1.50 per day isn’t so much. Over the course of a month, that only comes to $45 extra. Note the commentary at Harvard: “While healthier diets did cost more, the difference was smaller than many people might have expected.”
That means that if you’re selective about what you buy, you can find all sorts of healthy options that cost just as much as junk food, or less, including:
- Frozen vegetables, which maintain many of their health benefits and can be prepared via simple microwave steaming.
- Fresh produce. Stick to fruit with less water in it to avoid paying for all of that bulk. You can also get more variety from your diet by choosing those seasonal fruits and vegetable that are reduced in price.
- Cooking more at home. Should you buy your chicken and stock separately, or start saving your chicken for making your own stock at home? What else can you do to stretch your dollar, and how can you incorporate fresh ingredients like that when you want?
- Creating your own treats. Even if you feel tempted to veer off of the healthy diet path once in a while, you’ll find that if you buy bulk ingredients, you can make treats such as homemade chocolate chip cookies for incredibly low prices. Make a commitment to only having food that you make yourself and you’ll find that preparing healthier food (such as hard-boiled eggs) is much easier than it is to prepare the so-called “convenience” foods many people enjoy.
Switching Your Credit Card Rewards
Let’s say you have to feed a family of four. Does it make sense to continue your credit card rewards plan based on airline miles you hardly ever use?
Instead, consider switching your credit card rewards. You may find that you have the option to choose which places yield the most rewards. If you can get higher yields on your cash back from shopping at the grocery store, you’ll find that you’re even more motivated to buy plenty of healthy food; after all, you’re getting some of the money back.
Take a few minutes out of your day to review where you get the most credit card rewards. Even a simple 15-minute phone call with your credit card company can give you plenty of other options for your grocery shopping. You don’t have to eat poorly if you don’t want to, and credit cards are yet another tool you can use to ensure that you spend less while eating better.