How much does it cost to eat healthy?
The answer to that question is surprisingly complicated. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a single adult can eat a “nutritious, practical, cost-effective diet” for around $260 to $360 a month, however other estimates put the figure closer to $420.
The truth is that food expenses vary a lot based on your age, access to grocery stores, local food prices and your dietary restrictions and preferences. Regardless of your situation or your monthly food bill, these are some strategies anyone can use to eat healthy and save money at the same time:
1. Buy in-season produce (and freeze it)
Fruits and vegetables are great sources of fiber, but they’re more affordable when they’re in season. Save money on these dietary staples by purchasing in-season produce and freezing it right away, when it’s at its freshest.
Not sure which produce is in-season? Try using this handy seasonal food guide.
2. Limit your dining out
Restaurant prices went up by over 5% in 2023, which means dining out is likely to put a big dent in your food budget. On top of that, the food you eat outside of home is more likely to be high in saturated fat, sugar and sodium and low in fiber and micronutrients than the food you cook at home.
Before you go out, look at your budget and decide how much you can reasonably afford to spend on restaurants. To reduce the cost, consider going out for lunch instead of dinner, since lunch menus tend to be less pricey.
3. Grow your own produce
Growing your own produce can be good for your budget and your waistline. Plus, gardening has been shown to reduce stress and improve mental health. These are some of the easiest vegetables you can grow at home from a seed:
- Green beans
4. Look for local deals
You might find better prices by switching up your grocery shopping routine. For example, you could save money by driving to a bargain grocery store in another neighborhood on the weekends instead of stopping into a pricier corner store throughout the week.
You might also be able to look online and compare prices on healthy items, find coupons, and set up a member account so you can get special discounts when you shop.
5. Buy meat in bulk
Chicken and other meats, such as turkey and pork, come cheaper when bought in bulk. While it might not be as tasty as other options, chicken is also low in fat and high in protein. Whichever option you choose, you can freeze the extra portions to use for future meals.
6. Use a shopping list
When you shop with a list, you’ll cut down on unplanned purchases and you can focus on buying healthy foods for meal preparation or batch cooking.
Instead of choosing whatever looks good at the store, set a time each week where you’ll sit down for a few minutes and plan meals. Don’t forget to include the food you already have at home in your plan, especially if it’s going to expire soon.
7. Go for cheap but healthy staples
Some foods are excellent at delivering nutrition for a low price. When you’re planning ahead for meals, try to incorporate these value-packed ingredients on a regular bases:
- Beans and lentils
- Brown rice
- Frozen chicken and produce
- Oatmeal and other whole grains
8. Get assistance
If your budget is stretched too thin to afford healthy groceries, check to see what resources are available to help. Depending on your situation, that might include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which you can use at some farmer’s markets, WIC, Meals on Wheels or your local Salvation Army food pantry.
You can also meet with a certified credit counselor to get help creating or reviewing your budget and to discuss strategies for managing all of your expenses.