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How to Eat Well on a Budget

How to Eat Well on a Budget | How to Afford Wholesome Foods | Save Money on Food | Money Saving Meals | Grocery Budget Tips

 

This is a guest post by Erin Odom of The Humbled Homemaker

When I was expecting our first child, our family began the transition to eating healthier foods. 

Like most children in the 1980s and 1990s, I had grown up eating the typical American diet of Rice Krispies for breakfast, PB&J for lunch, and Rice-A-Roni dinners.

By the time I became a mom, our society knew that this isn’t the best way to eat.

I live under the philosophy that when you know better you can do better. Now that I knew a diet rich with whole, real foods was the best choice, I wanted to do something about it.

One problem: We could barely afford to eat. 

When our daughter was just a year old, my husband and I both lost our jobs, forcing us to move to another state that offered employment for my husband.

We had purchased a home at the height of the housing bubble in 2006. By the time we moved, the mortgage was underwater. For four years, we tried to balance the mortgage with a revolving door of tenants who leased the home from us—all while paying rent on a townhouse in our new state.

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We had nothing extra in our budget. The only area to try trimming was our food. 

Can you cut your grocery budget without cutting into your overall quality of health? I was up for the challenge.

The following six secrets to eating well on a budget are ways that our family learned to go from barely surviving to more than just making it during that lean time of our lives.

The good news is that anyone, anytime can employ these strategies to go from grocery stress to grocery savings.

How to Eat Well on a Budget | How to Afford Wholesome Foods | Save Money on Food | Money Saving Meals | Grocery Budget Tips

1. Cook from scratch.

When you cook from scratch, you control the ingredients going into your body. This is not so with processed foods. And using real, whole ingredients to make homemade foods will almost always save you money in the long run.

Cooking from scratch might be easier than you think. Instead of opting for pre-seasoned chicken nuggets, make your own by cutting boneless chicken into bite-sized pieces and breading them yourself.

Ruth has an abundance of recipes that can help you begin the cooking-from-scratch journey. The recipes can be simple. I’m no gourmet chef, but I almost always cook from scratch.

How to Eat Well on a Budget | How to Afford Wholesome Foods | Save Money on Food | Money Saving Meals | Grocery Budget Tips

2. Shop clearance shelves.

When we were living on a low income, I made a game out of getting our grocery budget as low as it could go. Shopping the clearance shelves helped me achieve my goals and helped me keep our family eating healthy foods.

When shopping clearance items, it helps to form a mental plan of what you will do with the items.

I find that without this plan, my “great buys” may buy themselves time rotting in my fridge only to be tossed in the compost or trash can.

Some clearance produce items are eaten fine as is, but many times they make the mark-down racks because they may have a bruise or be extra ripe. You can turn bruised apples into homemade applesauce, cook soft tomatoes into a yummy marinara sauce, and freeze overripe bananas to use later for delicious smoothies or blender “ice cream” bowls.

Unless you plan on using the meat the same day you purchase it, it’s best to freeze it immediately. Don’t overlook create ways to use various meats as well. For example, if you score a bunch of marked-down lunch meat, think about chopping it up to add to omelettes or salads or frying it up as a breakfast meat.

If you don’t see a clearance section at your local supermarket, ask the grocer what they do with bruised and ripened produce and near-expiration-date dry goods. These still have nutritional value; they simply don’t look as nice as what stores like to display on their main shelves.

How to Eat Well on a Budget | How to Afford Wholesome Foods | Save Money on Food | Money Saving Meals | Grocery Budget Tips

3. Meal plan.

Meal planning can save your health and your budget.

When I don’t plan my meals, I’m more prone to call in take-out, order pizza, or announce it’s a Chick-fil-A night, again. It costs my family of six around $50 each time we eat out. Even one night per week can add an additional $200 to our food budget—and that’s being conservative!

Eating out is also bad for your waistline. You lose control of all ingredients when you eat this way, and most restaurants use much more sugar, salt, and unhealthy oils than you would use when cooking from scratch at home.

Faithful meal planning can ensure you are being a good steward of the food you have.

How to Eat Well on a Budget | How to Afford Wholesome Foods | Save Money on Food | Money Saving Meals | Grocery Budget Tips

4. Frequent discount stores.

Even before we added children to our family, I began frequenting discount supermarkets in order to shave money off our grocery budget. I was amazed that I could spend up to 50 percent less at these stores—even without coupons!

While ALDI is my favorite discount chain, I hear wonderful things about Save-A-Lot as well as WINCO for those who live in the Pacific Northwest.

If you’ve never visited a discount supermarket in your area, make a point to give one a try. You might be surprised at what you will find and the money you will add back into your budget.

While these stores—like most—carry lots of processed junk foods, they also carry wholesome foods like produce and dry goods. The best bet for eating well while shopping at these is to stick to the store’s perimeter while avoiding most of the inner aisles.

How to Eat Well on a Budget | How to Afford Wholesome Foods | Save Money on Food | Money Saving Meals | Grocery Budget Tips

5. Eliminate Unnecessary Ingredients.

It was a lightbulb moment when I realized that there were ingredients I was buying at the store that I could eliminate from my budget because I simply did not need them!

There are some ingredients that recipes call for that you can eliminate without changing the overall taste of the recipe. As well, one “ingredient” I have successfully cut from my grocery list is spice mixes. Instead of purchasing taco seasoning, for example, I’ve been making my own homemade taco seasoning for years. I do the same with poultry seasoning and bread crumbs. These are items I simply never buy because I realize they take such little time to make and are so much more affordable homemade. 

You can also make some ingredients stretch without your family being none the wiser. Does the recipe call for two pounds of ground beef? You can probably make one stretch by bulking up the cheaper ingredients the recipe calls for–like extra pasta, sauce, or veggies. As well, lentils and refried beans are both good ways to stretch ground meat while maintaining a good amount of protein in the meal (albeit in a much more affordable way!).

There are some ingredients that recipes call for that you can eliminate without changing the overall taste of the recipe. You can also make some ingredients stretch without your family being none the wiser. Does the recipe call for two pounds of ground beef? You can probably make one stretch by bulking up the cheaper ingredients the recipe calls for.

How to Eat Well on a Budget | How to Afford Wholesome Foods | Save Money on Food | Money Saving Meals | Grocery Budget Tips

6. Use a price book.

A price book is a record of how much certain items sell for at each store in your area. If you have more time than money, a good way to save on food is to frequent a variety of stores to hunt down the best prices.

A price book keeps you organized by helping you quickly locate the stores with the best prices on the items you have on your grocery list that week.

A price book can be a a note on your smart phone, a spreadsheet on your computer, or even housed in a blank journal.

I’m also offering a printable price book sheet in the free downloadable bonus bundle that comes with my new book, More Than Just Making It: Hope for the Heart of the Financially Frustrated. More Than Just Making It chronicles my family’s time living on a low income—and gives practical tips for how we climbed our way out. Order your copy here now to get the free downloadable bonus bundle! Or, sign up for my free, 5-day e-course to learn more in depth about how to eat well on a budget! Claim your spot at http://eatingwellonabudget.com.

 

Erin Odom is the author of How to Eat Well on a Budget | How to Afford Wholesome Foods | Save Money on Food | Money Saving Meals | Grocery Budget TipsMore Than Just Making It: Hope for the Heart of the Financially Frustrated and founder of The Humbled Homemaker, a blog dedicated to grace-filled living designed to equip and encourage mothers in the trenches. Her Southern charm and wealth of inspirational, practical content has drawn an audience of millions over the years. Erin and her husband, Will, live in the South where they raise their four children.

How to Eat Well on a Budget | How to Afford Wholesome Foods | Save Money on Food | Money Saving Meals | Grocery Budget Tips

13 Comments

  1. September 8 at 10:34AM

    I feel your pain owning two houses – we’ve been there twice and hopefully never again… your tips are great ones – thanks!

  2. September 8 at 01:04PM

    Meal planning and cooking from scratch really are great ways to save on food. They both help you to use up all the groceries you buy instead of throwing away food (and your money) every week.

  3. September 11 at 05:26PM

    I always cook from scratch, it saved a lot of money but it’s also a very healthy habit! Same goes for making your own breadcrumbs or sauces or whatnot. My mom was much busier back in the day,with a job and a family and house to take care of, yet if she still found the time to make literally everything from scratch, then so can I 🙂

  4. September 13 at 02:39PM

    You will feel healthier by cooking from scratch more. Plus, you could be cutting down on your long term health care costs. Cheap and healthy can go together, if you are willing to do the work. Stepping off health coaching soap box now.

  5. Anonymous
    September 14 at 11:14AM

    is anyone out there a single mom of three kids who works full-time? i would like to meet her and hear some tips on cooking from scratch on a budget????

    • September 14 at 05:37PM

      I know it has to be extremely hard to navigate working full time and raising the kids on your own. Give yourself lots of grace and just do the best you can. Hang in there.

    • September 15 at 04:32PM

      Years ago , I was a single mom with 3 kids and working full time with a part time job just to get by. No, it is not easy!!! I think the best thing I discovered was a weekly menu and to assign one child one dinner a week to make (I started this when my kids were in 2nd grade). They would have to come with me to the store during the weekly shopping trip and help find the ingredients to cook it from scratch. During this exciting time 1:1 with each of them, they learned how to buy good food and price compare. Granted, the second grader struggled more, but on her night we chose something easy to make. It was a little cumbersome to begin this with them, but I noticed that they no longer were picky about what was being served since their day was coming. They all also learned to respect their siblings’ attempt at dinner. That was about 25 years ago, and today they are all good cooks able to cook from scratch.

  6. October 5 at 02:05PM

    Great tips! I definitely believe that it’s possible to eat healthy on a budget, it just isn’t easy all the time. It certainly becomes easier with practice though! I use my phone to take pictures of sales signs at the store so that I can look back later and decide if something really is a good deal. I also think it’s a good idea to shop at a few different stores because some things will be cheaper at one store and other things will be cheaper at another. Of course, that’s tough if you don’t live near several stores.
    I look forward to reading your book, Erin!

  7. Terri
    October 9 at 08:48PM

    I have an almost completely empty refrigerator every week before I shop. If you don’t meal plan, but buy what is on sale and that only the vegetables and meat, bags of cheap rice from Aldi’s and cans of already prepared beans, canned tomato paste and soy sauce…the possibilities are endless. I try to not waste food and that is one of the best ways to save money as well as respect those in the world who would love to have our trash…even for a day. I used to live in a 3rd world country for a long time and I’ll never be the same when it comes to food. You can tell a lot about a country by looking at its trash…what is thrown away says volumes. It is a fun challenge to look at one’s pantry and refrigerator like a Chopped Episode and see what you can make to make it to payday. I used melted marshmallows, some lemon curd and cracker crumbs the other day to coat my baked chicken and it was amazing.

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