How to Eat Healthily On a Budget

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Thu Aug 24 2023.

Shopping for vegetables.

As a family caregiver, preparing nutritious meals and snacks is one of the easiest ways to support your loved one’s well-being. But with inflation soaring, clogged supply chains, and labor shortages, groceries keep getting more and more expensive. 

These and other economic factors can make staying on budget particularly challenging. But not all hope is lost. There are various things you can do to stock up on healthy foods without breaking the bank. 

To learn more about eating healthily on a budget, we reached out to registered dietitian, Johna Burdeos, RD, and board-certified bariatric surgeon Dr. Rene Armenta. Below, we highlight some of their recommendations and explain how to plan nourishing meals without going into the red. 

What You’ll Need

All you need to eat healthy on a budget is a little bit of planning and a willingness to try new things. You might also want to sign up for your local grocery’s customer loyalty program so that you can get bigger discounts on certain items. 

Steps to Eating Healthily On a Budget

Step 1: Buy in Bulk

Buying in bulk lets you save on items that you and your family regularly use. The price can seem like a lot up front, but studies show that people who make bulk purchases save an average of 25%

Bulk purchases aren’t ideal for every type of food, but they make a lot of sense when it comes to pantry staples. 

“Beans and rice, for instance, are incredibly filling and cheap,” Burdeos says. “They can fit into a healthy diet and make a complete meal when combined with a vegetable. Oats are also cheap and nutritious. And, frozen fruits and vegetables last much longer than fresh.”

Dr. Armenta agrees, noting that “essentials like rice, oats, and canned produce are usually affordable and can be used in various recipes to create delicious and nutritious dishes.” 

Step 2: Make a Grocery List and Plan Ahead

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” - Alexander Graham Bell

Planning ahead is an important life skill, but it can also help you stay on budget. Before visiting the grocery store, take time to make a list.

“By shopping with a clear list and goal, you avoid impulsively buying ultra-processed foods that are tasty but not nutritious,” Burdeos explains. “Stick to your grocery list and don’t shop when you’re hungry or stressed out.”

Dr. Armenta agrees, adding that “the grocery store is one of those places where impulse buys are just too easy to make. Prepare your list of items so that you can stick to it and save money. Don’t go down each aisle, just go for the items on your list.”

Likewise, try to “shop the perimeter” of the grocery store where fresh produce, meat, and dairy abound. Fresh foods are generally healthier and more affordable than processed items in the middle aisles. 

Step 3: Use Coupons and Discounts

Many grocery store chains have loyalty programs that offer discounts and rewards. Sign up for these programs if you regularly shop with a specific chain. 

Loyalty programs typically don’t cost anything and the benefits extend beyond groceries. For example, Safeway and Kroger both offer 10 cents off per gallon of gas with every $100 spent. Download your grocery’s digital app, f you’re tech-savvy and enjoy shopping with your smartphone. You can take advantage of even greater savings there. 

Step 4: Try Shopping at Dollar Stores or Big Box Retailers, like Walmart

“Try picking up groceries at the dollar store and stores like Aldi and Walmart which tend to have cheaper prices,” says Burdeos. “Some people think cheap must mean not healthy, but that’s nonsense. These stores always carry a variety of staples and healthy foods.” 

Discount stores are especially helpful if you’re trying to stock your pantry. Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at the peak of ripeness and offer the same nutritional value as fresh produce. The difference is that they last longer and you don’t have to worry about spoilage. 

Step 5: Cook Meals at Home

The average American household spends $3,500 a year eating out. That might not seem like a lot in the grand scheme of things, but if you’re on a fixed income, it quickly adds up. 

“Limit or avoid eating out,” Burdeos says. “Not only does this save you money, but restaurants tend to pile on the salt, sugar, and fat in their meals. It’s important to limit these ingredients, as they increase the risk of chronic diseases and other health problems.” 

To make things a little easier on yourself, Dr. Armenta recommends “preparing larger meals, such as soups, stews, and casseroles. These items will not only save you from having to cook every single night, but they also ensure that you always have something healthy on hand when you’re feeling too lazy to cook.”

Step 6: Focus on Nutrient-Dense, Filling Foods

You don’t need to buy expensive ingredients to maximize the nutritional benefit.

“Choose items that are high in protein, fiber, and healthy fats, such as chicken breast, eggs, lentils, fish, beans, whole grains, and nuts,” Dr. Armenta explains. “These types of food can keep you full for longer and provide essential nutrients needed for good health. You’re also less likely to overspend on these items since they are more affordable than processed or pre-packed foods.” 

Step 7: Consider Enrolling in a Food Assistance Program

There are several government programs designed to assist low-income individuals and families with affordable food access. These programs have specific requirements, but if you’re on a fixed income, you likely qualify. Some of these programs include:

Visit a local food bank if you don’t qualify for these programs. Feeding America has a complete list of food banks by state. Simply enter your state or zip code to find one in your area. 

Step 8: Look Beyond Brands

Brands like Green Giant and Libby’s have name recognition, but they aren’t necessarily any better than similar generic products. 

“If you’re trying to save money, go with the generic option,” Dr. Armenta says. “The quality is often just as good at a fraction of the price. However, before trying a product you never have before, I suggest asking friends or reading online reviews. That way you don’t end up making a bad purchase.” 

Step 9: Use Dried Seasonings and Herbs

Seasonings and herbs are an easy way to add flavor to your meals or snacks, but they don’t have to be fresh. “Try to get staple dried seasoning blends instead of buying a bunch of single-ingredient seasonings,” Burdeos says. “Dried seasonings last longer, are usually cheaper, and you don’t have to worry about spoilage.”

Step 10: Shop Around

You might have a favorite grocery store, but that doesn’t mean you have to buy all of your food there.

“If you find a better deal elsewhere, take it!” Dr. Armenta says. “Compare prices and Buy items in bulk when they’re on sale. This will help you save money in the long run. Just be sure to check the expiration date on any items, so you can use them before they go bad.” 

How to Eat Healthily on a Budget - Commonly Asked Questions

1) Are there ways to make healthy foods last longer?

Yes. There are several things you can do to make healthy foods last longer. Burdeos recommends:

  • Storing fruits and vegetables in cool, dark places

  • Storing bread, nuts, and seeds in airtight containers

  • Storing leftovers in the fridge and eating them within three days

  • Freezing foods

  • Canning or pickling fresh fruits and vegetables to extend their shelf life

2) What are some healthy staples that are also relatively cheap?

Dr. Armenta recommends stocking your pantry and freezer with the following staples:

Whole grains

“Whole grains, like brown rice, quinoa, oats, and barley are good to have on hand, as they provide fiber and other essential nutrients,” he explains. “These items are relatively cheap and can form a base for many healthy dishes, such as salads, soups, and even desserts.”

Canned beans

“Canned beans, like black beans, chickpeas, lentils, and kidney beans are a great source of protein and fiber. They are also very affordable and can be used to make multiple dishes, like salads, tacos, chili, curry, and even hummus.” 

Nuts and Seeds

“Nuts and seeds, such as almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and chia seeds are a great source of healthy fats and can be added to various dishes for extra crunch,” Dr. Armenta explains. “You can buy them in prepackaged portions or bulk and store them in the fridge if you don’t plan on consuming them right away.”

Frozen produce

“Frozen fruits and vegetables are usually cheaper and longer lasting than fresh produce. They usually come chopped and preportioned so you can just grab what you need for a recipe and store the rest in the freezer.”

3) How can I stay on budget if my loved one is a picky eater?

Caring for a picky eater can present challenges, but it’s still possible to stay on budget.

“Try to make sure your loved one has a say in what foods you buy and meals you make,” Burdeos says. “Gently introduce new foods, but never force or use threats to make them eat it. Talk to a doctor or registered dietitian if you’re concerned about nutritional deficiencies or your picky eater’s overall behavior towards food.” 

Need Grocery Shopping Advice? Get In Touch!

Sticking to a nutritious food budget can be challenging as a caregiver. Our Care Specialists regularly assist family caregivers with their shopping needs. Whether you have questions about specific food products or want to know more about saving money with Autoship, we’re here to help! Call (800) 696-CARE or send an email to

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.