You’ve heard the old excuse before: Healthy eating is expensive. I can confidently call my food choices healthy — at least most of the time — but I’m also a cheapskate at heart. Luckily, I manage to eat healthy on a budget, thanks to a few simple swaps — some of which save calories, too!
- Too pricey: Fresh berries
- Smart swap: Frozen berries
Fresh berries are often very expensive, especially when they are out of season. Frozen berries cost much less and they’re just as nutritious for you. Plus, with frozen berries, you don’t have to worry about eating them before they go bad. Throwing away rotten food is like wasting money!
- Too pricey: Instant oatmeal
- Smart swap: Quick oats
Instant oatmeal is great in a pinch, but buying a huge canister of quick oats is a much more cost-effective option. If you compare unit price on the two items, it’s much more economical to purchase the quick oats.
For an on-the-go option, I portion out 1/2 cup of quick oats, put them in a Tupperware container, and add hot water when I get to my destination. Plus, instant packets are often packed full of added sugars (and calories!). I prefer to sweeten my bowl with more natural options, like thawed frozen berries.
- Too pricey: Vegetable chips
- Smart swap: Kale chips
As a salty snack, homemade kale chips are a great swap to expensive veggie chips. And at fewer than 50 calories per cup, they’re just a fraction of the calories as the store-bought stuff.
While they do require some prep work, kale chips are incredibly easy to make. Just spray washed kale with cooking spray, season with sea salt, and bake at 350 F for about 15 minutes. They taste just like potato chips!
- Too pricey: Fresh salmon fillet
- Smart swap: Canned salmon
We all know we should eat more fish, as it is rich in omega-3s, but buying fresh fish is not always friendly on my wallet. Instead, I swap fresh salmon for canned salmon, which is much less expensive, and I am still able to get those healthy omega-3s in my diet. Plus, salmon salad makes an über-tasty packed lunch.
- Too pricey: Whey protein powder
- Smart swap: Tofu
Tofu sometimes gets a bad rap due to its mushy texture and bland taste, but swapping it with expensive whey protein powder in my smoothies saves me quite a few dollars. As a healthy, hunger-fighting protein source, tofu blends right into my smoothies, but for a fraction of the price.
- Too pricey: Lärabars
- Smart swap: Nuts and dried fruit
Lärabars are one of my favorites snacks, but buying them every week definitely takes a toll on my budget. Instead, I eat dried fruit, like dates and prunes, and nuts, like almonds and walnuts, and save my Lärabars for a special treat. Eating dried fruit and nuts together makes a very filling snack that also satisfies my sweet tooth.
- Worth the splurge
Even though I make a number of budget-friendly swaps at the grocery store, there are some items that are worth the splurge to me. Greek yogurt and almond butter, in particular, are pricey, but I can’t seem to live without them. I rationalize their high price by saving money in other ways at the grocery.
Here are my five favorite tips and tricks for stretching every last grocery dollar:
- Plan a week's worth of meals
When it comes to saving money at the grocery store, much of it happens before I even leave my house. Typically, on Sunday afternoons, I take the time to meal-plan for the week.
- Poke around the fridge
The first thing I do in my meal-planning process is take stock of what I already have in my kitchen. I take the time to move things around in the refrigerator and scour the cabinets to see what I have on hand. Most of the time, I am surprised by what I find — a jar of marinated artichoke hearts, a can of pinto beans, a half-used bag of coffee. Instead of buying these items again or letting them go to waste, I incorporate them into the coming week’s menu.
- Consider your schedule
Before I visit the grocery store, I look at my calendar as well as my husband’s for the upcoming week and create meals around when we will be home for dinner. We typically plan a meal for each night at home and make sure to take into account meals with lots of leftovers — like casseroles or homemade pizza. I keep in mind that Fridays and Saturdays are usually "wing it" nights because we’ll often end up going out to dinner or meeting friends for appetizers and drinks, so I don’t buy extra food for those nights.
- Don't be afraid of bruised produce
I always check out the reduced produce area with the hope of finding some good deals. Usually, this produce has a single bump or bruise that can easily be cut off. But, I only buy produce that I plan to use right away or have something in mind for. It’s not worth buying damaged produce if I don’t end up using it. Lately, I’ve been buying a bunch of bruised produce that I immediately peel and freeze for smoothies.
- Stock up on staples
Sure, you’ve heard of the “make a list and stick to it” tip when grocery shopping. It’s a great piece of advice, and I usually keep it in mind. However, I also make sure to stock up on my favorite products when they go on sale. My husband and I plow through peanut butter and oatmeal like it’s our job, so when they go on sale, I make sure to buy them even if we haven’t run out yet. I know that we’ll use these items at some point, so I might as well stock up and save a little money.
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