How To Eat Healthy Even When Your Budget’s Tight

Learn how to eat healthy on a budget with smart planning, shopping and cooking. 

How to Eat Healthy on a Budget //

When I was about 9 years old, my friend invited me to the pool her family belonged to. As a guest I was given a silver button to wear on my swimsuit – to prove that I was legit. After dutifully pinning it onto my suit, my friend’s mom said “Don’t lose that – if you do, it will cost me a week’s groceries and we’ll be stuck eating mac ‘n cheese all week.”

Whoa. A week’s groceries. That’s a lot of money. And a lot of pressure for a little girl at the pool.

So after every dive or swirl or jump or splash….I checked for the button. I didn’t want to be the one responsible for my friend and her family eating crap for a week.

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Why Healthy Food Matters

That was a real wakeup call for me about family food budgets. They are a big deal! My family watched our pennies too but just because you have a strict food budget, doesn’t mean you can’t eat healthy, nourishing food. There’s almost always a way to avoid eating packaged mac ‘n cheese all week.

I believe eating healthy food is the most important element to a healthy lifestyle. Eating is something we do (at least) three times a day, every day. It’s what fuels our bodies to get the exercise we need, nourishes our brains to support our mental health, and builds up our immune system to fight off sickness. Food affects the way we feel, the way we look, our energy level and our general health.

On the flip side, junk food doesn’t help your health, it hurts it. I didn’t want that for my friend – and I don’t want it for you either!

How to Eat Healthy On a Budget

I’m standing on my soap box to say that it IS possible to eat healthy without spending a fortune. With a bit of determination, and some smart planning and shopping, you can buy healthy, organic food to nourish your family without breaking the bank.

(Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase using a link, I may receive a small commission. Thank you for your support if you do!)

Buy in bulk

When you buy from the bulk bins you skip both the packaging and the marketing – why waste your money on things that don’t add value? Hit up the bulk section for dry goods like flour, oats, grains, beans, pasta & nuts. Many stores also sell oils, nut butters, honey and other wet or liquid foods in bulk. And don’t forget the spices, which are often in smaller bulk jars nearby.

Many conventional grocery stores have bulk bins these days. If you’re nervous about tare weights and PLU numbers, read my post on how to shop the bulk bins with confidence. Just beware – not everything in there is healthy – I see a lot of candy in the bulk bins these days!

Real life: At my local food co-op, organic oats and rice are considerably less expensive in bulk than they are in a package. Plus I can buy exactly the amount I need! 

How to Eat Healthy on a Budget //

Plan to cook

Unless you can afford to hit up the deli at Whole Foods every day, you’re going to need to do some cooking. And healthy cooking is a lot easier if you plan. No, you don’t need an elaborate meal plan for the entire week, but planning out recipes and shopping lists will help you manage your budget, get you motivated to make healthy meals and keep you from relying on take-out yet again.

Real life: This easy breakfast idea recipe from my blog is a great place to start!  Mango Chia Overnight Oats

Shop at warehouse clubs and value-driven stores

Warehouse clubs like Costco have jumped onto the organic bandwagon in a big way. Just be careful to buy things you will actually use and not more than your family can eat. Certain value-driven stores like Aldi and Trader Joes have some very good prices on organic and healthy foods.

Look for the store-brand, which usually cost less than popular brand names. If you don’t have these stores near you, Thrive Market is an online membership club with fantastic prices on packaged natural and organic products. Or check out other places to shop for organic food online.  

(Learn more about Thrive Market and how to get the lowest prices + FREE products in each order!)

Real life: Costco sells organic chicken in 3 packs at a much lower price per pound than regular grocery stores. The packs can be separated easily so I toss a couple in the freezer for later use. Thrive Market also carries sustainable meat and seafood. 

RELATED: Best Places to Buy Organic Food Online

How to Eat Healthy on a Budget //

Buy in season

Just because a particular fruit or vegetable is available all year round, doesn’t mean it’s smart to buy it. When produce is not in season, you’ve probably noticed it’s more expensive. So stock up on organic peaches and plums in the summer when you can afford them, and go for other fruits the rest of the year. And remember to use the EWG’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen to help you understand when buying organic is most important.

Real life: In peak season I often find organic strawberries for the same price (or only slightly higher) than conventional. You can bet I stock up then!

Grow your own

Organic produce still a bit too pricey? Consider growing your own. It will almost certainly be less expensive and extra healthy from all that love you put into it! Container gardens are great when space is limited. Herbs and lettuces are especially easy to grow in pots.

Real life: A packet of basil seeds costs a lot less than a package of basil from the grocery store – not to mention that a plant will produce a lot more basil!

How to Eat Healthy on a Budget //

Buy directly from a farmer

Buying direct from the farm means no middleman and lower transportation costs. This could be purchasing a share of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), shopping at local farmer’s market, or going on a fun visit to a farm. Either way, you’ll save money and feel closer to your food.

Real life: With a CSA share, you pay the farmer at the beginning of the season, but then reap the benefits later with fresh produce and often eggs, meat or dairy delivered weekly. I’ve found this to be a great value over similar quality food purchased at a store.

Stock up

By keeping your pantry, fridge and freezer stocked with healthy basics, you’ll be ready to cook a healthy meal and avoid another call to the pizza place. Some of the things you’ll always find in my house include chicken stock, organic olive oil and coconut oil, beans, rice and other grains, nuts, seeds and dried fruit, baking supplies, frozen fruit, lots of herbs and spices, plus a basic assortment of fresh produce and dairy products.

Real life: When it comes to cooking, I’m less of a planner and more of a wing-it type. But with a well-stocked kitchen, I can pull it off!

Eat less meat

Save some bucks by skipping meat once or twice a week and substituting low-cost beans and grains combined with healthy vegetables. No need to go completely vegetarian, but I bet you’ll find that saving money never tasted so good!

Real life: Can’t get the family to give up meat completely? Try using it more as a flavoring as opposed to the main course – i.e. corn chowder with bacon – or using less – like a stir fry with mostly veggies and only a little bit of meat.

So are you curious what happened to the guest button at the pool? I must have checked it a thousand times. At one point I didn’t see it and my heart jumped into my throat. I imagined diving to the bottom of the pool to find it. But it was still attached to my swimsuit and I didn’t lose it!! To this day, I am annoyed that my fun was sort of ruined by that darned thing – but hey, I kept my friend from eating junk food for the week – so it was a healthy WIN!

Do you have any tricks for eating healthy on a budget? Please share!

green & healthy wishes Micaela signature


  1. These are great! I do a few more things: buy grocery store USDA organic options. They tend to be local and save you money, and if you have a good loyalty card program, you can save more. Use rebate and coupon apps, like Ibotta, Cartwheel (for Target), BerryCart and Checkout 51. They do have the better organic brands, you just need to watch. And coupon! People say you cannot coupon organic food but it’s not true. Use and I probably save at least $50-80 a month this way.

    1. Such good points Gina!You can definitely save money on healthy food with coupons and loyalty programs. MamboSprouts is a fantastic source for coupons and I hadn’t heard of so I’m looking forward to checking that out! Many brands offer coupons by email too, so it’s worth signing up. Also Whole Foods puts out a lot of coupons – so worth a look if you shop there!

  2. Definitely on board with the CSA and eating less meat (I do fish and that’s about it). Have thought about Costco, but with a family of two I’m not sure if that would be worth it.

    1. Agree – a Costco membership might be too much for 2 people – unless you buy everything there! Luckily there are plenty of other ways to find affordable, healthy food here in the Twin Cities. Thanks for stopping by Stacy!

  3. These are such good tips, Micaela! I’ve been pleasantly surprised that Aldi and Trader Joes and even Sam’s Club have so many organic and gluten free choices! I don’t have any of those stores in the town that I live in, so I always have to make a special trip though, so I’ve been meaning to check out Thrive Market! 🙂

    1. Thrive Market is awesome! Obviously it’s just for packaged goods but they have some really good prices. Also they are constantly offering freebies with your purchase, which is a fun way to try out new products!

  4. Glad I’m not the only one who does this. It really does help. I also find out the cycles for the grocery stores. Like our local Hyvee their has pasta goes on sale at a dollar or less in the middle of the month.

    1. Good point Anung! Taking advantage of your local store’s sales is key!

  5. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the organic offerings at both Costco and Aldi. And I can’t believe how affordable Aldi is! It almost seems too good to be true.

    1. I agree Bre! When I first shopped at Aldi I was unimpressed, but they have really upped their organic game! You still have to steer clear of a lot of junk – both at Aldi and Costco but both have a lot of really good healthier options now.

  6. We split a CSA share with my in-laws each year and I love it, it’s really improved how we eat throughout the summer and we try to can some of it for winter as well. We purchased a pig from them as well and it was some of the best pork I have ever had!

    1. That’s awesome Beth! I’ve found that splitting a CSA share is the way to go – enough to make you make sure you’re eating a lot of healthy vegetables, but not too overwhelming or wasteful.

  7. Great post! You have lots of good ideas here. I especially am interested in getting a CSA, but haven’t yet because of having to move regularly the past few years. I am hoping that will change soon!

    1. Yeah you don’t want to get a CSA unless you’re prepared for it. We did one for years but stopped when we did some remodeling that was disrupting our lives. I hope to get started with one again next year!

  8. Elizabeth Storie says:

    This is great! I do many of these things already, but it’s always great to have an encouraging reminder! I absolutely love my CSA, in fact I’m pretty sure all my friends are tired of me talking about how great it is! HaHa. Another thing we do (Because we (i.e. my husband) are big meat eaters) We buy a 1/4 of a cow at a time and then we always have meat in the freezer. It is totally cost effective and then you know how the animal was raised and fed. Keep it local, right?!!!

    1. Totally agree Elizabeth! The local meat option is a great one too – you know so much more about it than random meat you buy a the grocery!

  9. I am continually impressed with my husband’s reaction to the vegan / vegetarian meals I make. Meat is a budget killer! Beans are super cheap (esp. in bulk) and can hang out in the pantry. I made 3 vegan meals this week (and didn’t realize it til after I made them) and he’s been complimenting my cooking. Winning. 🙂

    1. I love hearing that Calee! I’m trying to make more vegetarian meals for my family. It’s tough coming up with meals that everyone (including 2 teenage boys) like, but I’m working on it!

  10. These tips have saved me over the years. My big issue is finding the time to cook, and I don’t even have kids! 😉 Will share with my networks!

    1. I totally understand Lindsay – especially when you’ve worked all day – it’s tough to find the energy to cook! Maybe try doing some meal prep on the weekends? A big pot of soup you can tap into during the week?

  11. Barbara Richards says:

    For my BIG birthday (70), I told my daughter I didn’t want anything expensive. I said I would like a good moisturizer that I could wear under makeup but not too oily since I have the T zone issue. Well she gave me two of the Andalou products. I have ultra sheer daily defense and also the serum so I am new to all of this. I am hoping to see some good results. I am now checking out your page on healthy living on a budget. I am looking forward to starting this journey. I don’t expect miracles but to have skin that is healthy and fresh is my goal.
    New Friend,

    1. Happy birthday! Natural skin care products sound like the perfect birthday gift to me! I’m so glad you found my blog – a healthy living journey can start at any age!

  12. Joyce Patterson says:

    I enjoy your comments but I am a senior living alone and I have Celiac Disease so I am limited in what I can eat. Also, I live in Canada and we don’t have Trader Joe’s and such places. Thanks for your comments.

    1. Hi Joyce – Sorry to hear you are having trouble finding the healthy, gluten-free foods you are looking for. You might want to consider a membership to Thrive Market – they have so many healthy foods and natural products and they deliver directly to your home or apartment! Here’s my affiliate link if you are interested in checking them out at a discount!

  13. This post reminded me a lot of growing up. My parents had two main goals for their kids. Homeschool them and feed them healthy. I really grew up kinda hippie (though they would never admit it!) We pretty much shopped at Aldi, food coops and then grew the rest. Once a year (around xmas time) my Dad would use his bonus check from work to buy junk food as a treat for us.

    1. Love that your parents prioritized healthy eating! And junk food as a special treat is fine – it’s all about moderation!

  14. Susan Crawford says:

    Those are some amazing tips! You can also buy from your local bulk bin with mason jars if you have one.

  15. As a student, I would always split up my grocery shopping – I really enjoy Whole Foods as a grocery store, but some things there were too much price-wise… I couldn’t pay $6 for shredded cheddar! I’d divide my list into 3 grocery stores (yes, 3. It took up my Sunday mornings but it’s how I saved!) and know what I could buy for where for less. I loved Whole Foods for their bulk buys and in-store offers – like their 365 organic canned goods and their in-house packaged smoked salmon that was always cheaper. I’d hit up the produce market for bulk fruit and vegetables that were always priced in season – and stock up on whatever berries cost $1/pint that week. All that I couldn’t find for less here (toilet paper, for example) would be found at the “regular” grocery store.

    1. Great tips! Sounds a lot like what I do! I stock up when I see deals at different stores and of course try to shop seasonally as much as possible.I also use Thrive Market to get low pricing on a lot of my healthy staples.

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