Simple Tips for Eating Healthy When Food Prices are High

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Many of us worry about improving both our finances and our fitness. When it comes to what we eat, it can feel like those two goals are in conflict: we have to choose either affordability or good nutrition. However, eating healthy doesn’t have to break the budget.

In fact, fitness and finances have a lot in common. Some of the best habits you can develop will actually help you in both areas, including planning ahead before spending money, comparison shopping and avoiding impulse buys. Here are some tips to help you eat healthier without putting your budget in jeopardy.

Be Careful with Subscriptions

Subscription-based meal delivery kits have exploded in popularity in recent years, in part due to social media marketing. 

Chances are, you know someone who is already using a service like Hello Fresh or Factor. There is certainly nothing wrong with this, but you should weigh the pros and cons before taking on a new monthly financial commitment. 

Yes delivery kits are convenient, but here’s a chance your “healthy” meal kit isn’t all that healthy. It might be loaded with salt, for example, or require microwaving. 

On top of that, the price per serving (not per meal) can range anywhere from $4 to $20 or more, according to CNET’s comparison of meal delivery services, and each meal might consist of two to three servings. Depending on your subscription, that might not compete with the cost of home-cooked meals, especially if you batch cook.

If you’re looking for a cheaper way to plan healthy meals, try searching for an online meal-planning guide that’s catered to specific nutritional needs. Sites like YouTube can also be  great for nutritional tips and budget-friendly cooking demos, but you’ll want to make sure you’re getting your advice from qualified professionals.

Pros of meal delivery kits 

  • Save money on trips to the store
  • Save time on meal prep
  • Promotional discounts might be available
  • Learn to cook new dishes
  • Can add variety to your diet

Cons of meal delivery kits

  • Cost per meal may be higher than buying groceries
  • The food might not actually be healthy
  • Cost per meal can skyrocket after initial promotion ends

Upgrade Your Diet

There are a ton of formal “diets” you can choose from, whether it’s the Mediterranean diet, Keto, Paleo, a vegan diet or otherwise. Whatever your flavor, you can look for ways to keep the grocery bill on the low side while sticking within your guidelines.

For example, with the Keto diet, which involves low-carb/high-fat eating, you can run up your grocery bill if you eat mostly red meat and avocados. Instead, healthy food choices that can make any diet cheaper:

  • Buy in bulk
  • Shop at discount stores
  • Focus on in-season or frozen vegetables
  • Avoid pre-made, pre-packaged and pre-cut foods
  • Choose chicken thighs or other low-cost cuts of meat

Plan Meals Around Cheap but Healthy Food 

One piece of good news is that, while some prices have surged, the healthiest foods at the grocery store tend to be some of the most affordable. Here are just a few examples of foods that are often cheap and nutritional:

  • Root vegetables
  • Beans and lentils
  • Whole grains like quinoa
  • Chicken (usually much cheaper than red meat)
  • Frozen berries
  • Canned fish
  • Yogurt

Limit Junk Food

When you add new, healthier foods to your budget, you’ll probably cut out some other foods at the same time. You may no longer drink soda, eat sugary desserts or much red meat. If you’re still tempted to splurge, plan to do it as a special weekly or monthly reward rather than a daily treat.

Fast food restaurants, snacks next to the cash register and coffee shops can be a big temptation. To avoid impulse spending on overpriced and unhealthy options, carry healthy snacks that you can eat on the go. That can include anything from sandwiches to a piece of fruit, a handful of nuts or a coffee drink you made at home.

Compare receipts

Once you make changes to your grocery list, document how it impacts your budget. Keep your receipts and compare them to receipts from before you made adjustments. You can also use them to watch how prices fluctuate over time and compare prices between stores. Since you’re getting into a new rhythm and routine, you will also want to revisit your meal plans and make sure you’re getting a payoff for the changes.

Look for Discounted Grocers

For must-have foods that are very expensive, check your area for discounted grocery stores. Many localities have low-cost grocers. Aldi, for example, has become a popular option for many cost-conscious shoppers. 

But you should also check for discounted grocers like Grocery Outlet Bargain Market, which are essentially the food equivalent of scratch-and-dent stores. They sell slightly damaged food goods (think scuffed or dented packaging) at incredibly low prices. This might be an effective way to buy some of your favorite healthy foods at a major discount, like nuts or shredded coconut.

Time-Tested Shopping Tips Still Apply

If you stick to your new, healthy-eating routine, you’ll get used to looking for a different list of items and prices. In addition to our tips above, you can also use as many of the “normal” cost-saving strategies like shopping around at local stores to find the best prices, using coupons, membership cards and apps like Ibotta to reduce your grocery bill further. 
Most importantly, keep a budget and try to stick to it each month—for groceries and for all your other spending categories. If you’d like help creating and improving your budget, or working toward other financial goals, you can set up an appointment with an NFCC-certified credit counselor.