Thrifty Tips

Eating healthy on a budget
Summer 2013: Eating Healthy on a Budget

Let’s be honest for a moment. Eating healthy foods and feeding a family are two things that are extremely hard to do on a tight budget. We all have (or know) those kids (and husbands, too) who will eat you out of house and home, so it feels impossible to give them something healthy without spending a fortune.

A little background here: I grew up with a mom trying to feed three ravenous teenage girls and a husband on a tight budget. Whether you are feeding a family of two or a family of 50, I promise you that these techniques for shopping healthy on a budget do work. You just need a few things to get you started.

First, you need a realistic budget that specifically fits your family’s income. You want this number to be only edible food items, putting your household necessities and personal hygiene items in a different budget category as they are purchased more sporadically. Second, you need the weekly ad from your favorite grocery store(s). Make sure you check for special ads and digital- or online-only ads, too. Third, you need a notebook and a pen. Fourth, you need to look at your schedule and decide when your set shopping day will be. Finally, if you have a stash of coupons, you will need those, too.

Now that you have all the tools a money-conscious shopper needs, you’re ready to get started!

Step 1: When was the last time you really looked through all your cabinets? Do you know exactly what you have on hand in the back of that pantry or in the dark recesses of your deep freeze? Take an inventory of everything you already have because if you already have it, you don’t have to buy more.

Step 2: Make a meal plan for the week, outlining each day and exactly what your family will eat that day. Be sure to be specific by listing what recipes you will use, or if you will be having leftovers or just making sandwiches, for example.

Hint: Produce is generally cheaper than most meats. Save money by cutting back on the number of meat dishes you make each week and replace them with a vegetarian main course.

Step 3: Save money by making your meal plan based around items in the sale ads. Pick out items that are on sale and look good to you. Now, look at that inventory list of what you have already in your pantry. Do you have something already that you can pair with a sale item to make a meal? Is there something in the ad that looks interesting but you have no clue what to do with it? Google it and find a recipe.

Step 4: Now that you know exactly what you are going to be eating for the week, it’s time to make a grocery list based on your meal plan. In your notebook, list out each ingredient you need to make each recipe that is on your meal plan. Don’t forget to add your snacks items and side dishes for your meals, too. Double check your pantry to make sure that you don’t buy something you already have. 

Hint: To save time when grocery shopping, organize your grocery list by department so you know you’re getting everything from the section you’re in while you’re there.

Step 5: Before heading to the store, check out your huge stash of coupons that I know you have. See if you have any coupons for any of the items you are shopping for and put them in an envelope with your grocery list.

Step 6: Stick to your grocery list. This is the most integral part to keeping that budget. If you stick to your list, you won’t make those impulsive purchases that drive up grocery bills.

Step 7: When you’re at the grocery store, keep a running tally of how much each item is and add as you go. This is a great opportunity to teach simple math to children or to draft an older child (or spouse) to be the official calculator operator. This will help you stay within your allotted budget.

Step 8: If you get to the end of your shopping list and you are over budget, this is where you should assess your items and ask yourself some questions. Am I buying something that I really don’t need? Can I cut out a snack purchase that may not be very healthy and find a cheaper, healthier option? Can I substitute something in one of my recipes for something cheaper? Is it okay for me to spend a little bit more this week and try to spend a little less next week? 

Step 9: If you are finding that you are consistently going over budget, despite cutting things down, you may need to reconsider how much you’ve allotted for groceries. 

Step 10: Come home and marvel in your newly acquired super-human abilities to feed your family healthy food on a budget!

Cris Swaters
About author:

Cris Swaters is the communications coordinator at White River Valley Electric Co-op and a lover of extreme couponing, frugal living, social media and healthy home cooking. Get more tips and healthy eating recipes from Cris at

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