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How to Prepare Healthy Meals on a Budget

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Article by City Lifestyle

Photography by Stock Images

Eating healthy meals doesn’t have to break the bank. Preparation is key to saving money while eating nutritious food. It may take some more time, but the effort is worth it in the long run. Both your body and your wallet will thank you. If you follow this guide, you’ll find that preparing healthy meals on a budget is an achievable goal.

Shopping for Cheap, Easy and Healthy Meals

First, where you shop for groceries makes all the difference. If you’ve been shopping at specialty markets like Whole Foods, you’re likely not getting the best deals on groceries. 

Stores like Whole Foods have lots of extra amenities like bakeries and smoothie shops, and even dine-in areas with a bar. These extras increase the prices of items at the store.

Aldi

If you choose to shop at discount chains like Aldi, you’ll find that the selection of healthy products and organic produce is more than sufficient—and the prices are much more affordable. 

This is because more than 90 percent of Aldi’s offerings are Aldi exclusive brands. The Aldi exclusive products are backed by a quality guarantee, and 1 in 3 products is award-winning.

 You’ll find some national brands at Aldi, but private labels save you from the hidden costs of national brands, like marketing and advertising. 

Check to see if there is an Aldi location near you and learn more about how this grocer saves you money.

Trader Joe’s

Trader Joe’s is another great option for grocery shopping on a budget. This national retailer tests each product for quality and value to earn a spot on its shelves. Trader Joe’s doesn’t have sales, doesn’t offer coupons and doesn’t have a loyalty program or membership.

Trader Joe’s buys directly from suppliers whenever possible, and it doesn’t charge its suppliers any fees for featuring their products in stores. The grocer carries interesting and unconventional products as well as everyday staples, so take your time looking around at the unique offerings. 

Other discount grocery store options include: 

  • Food 4 Less – a no-frills grocery store owned by Kroger
  • Winco Foods – a warehouse-style grocery store that focuses on bulk items and simple options
  • H-E-B – a privately held Texas-based grocery store
  • Market Basket – a supermarket with locations in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine with the slogan “More for Your Dollar”
  • Fareway – An Iowa-based grocery company that sells high-quality meats and produce at low, competitive prices

Cash-Back and Grocery Shopping Reward Apps

There are so many apps that can save you money and earn you rewards while shopping. You can even get cash back through some of these programs! Here are just a few of the apps to check out:

Fetch Rewards

Take a picture of your receipt and upload it to the Fetch Rewards app. It will give you points on all participating products and special offers. There’s no need to scan individual barcodes or save or upload coupons.

Fetch does all the work for you. Refer your friends and earn bonus points. Points earn you rewards like gift cards, charitable donations or monthly sweepstakes.

Coupon Sherpa

Visit the website or download the app to view the top in-store coupons and promo codes. For example, you can get your first delivery for free with Instacart, or get coupons for grocery staples like cereal and yogurt.

Ibotta

Ibotta gives you cash back on everyday purchases when you shop online or in-person through the app. You can link your loyalty accounts in the Ibotta app, scan your receipts, and buy gift cards to earn rewards. Ibotta will also alert you of nearby deals when you are out and about so you never miss an opportunity to earn points.

Meal Plans that Won’t Break the Bank

Whether you’re cooking for just yourself, for you and your partner or for a whole family with kids, planning meals that are healthy and inexpensive doesn’t have to be difficult. By taking the time to research recipes, shop smart and prep food, your wallet—and your waistline—will thank you.

Healthy Kid-Friendly and Family Meals on a Budget

Parents have many challenges taking care of kids, and preparing meals can be one of them. After a tiring day, it’s easy to look for the nearest pizza delivery for the kids. But with a bit of forethought and planning, you can prepare kid-friendly meals that will keep your wallet in tact.

Characteristics of a Great Family Meal

  • Fast
  • Convenient
  • Simple
  • Filling
  • Reusable (leftovers!)

Try these Recipes:

Healthy Meals for 2 on a Budget

Couples don’t need the quantity of food that families do, but it’s nice to have enough for seconds. Add some extra herbs, spices and a dash of love, and you have the ideal meal for your partner. 

Characteristics of Meals for 2:

  • Shareable
  • Reusable
  • Romantic (but not required)

Try these Recipes:

Healthy Meals for 1 on a Budget

Cooking for one gets a bad rap, but it shouldn’t. With a bit more emphasis on quality over quantity, you can focus on the little things in the recipes that you cook. Hit a home run for your taste buds to enjoy throughout the day. Just cut back a bit on the portion size to keep leftovers to a minimum.

Ideal Meal Characteristics for Singles:

  • Highly Flavorful
  • Small Portion Size
  • Minimal Food Waste

Try these Recipes:

Healthy Meals on a Budget: How to Eat Well and Spend Less

Cooking nutritious meals without spending a fortune is totally possible. Now that you know the basics of where to shop for groceries and how to use reward apps, you can start your journey toward making healthy meals while sticking to your budget.

Here are some helpful tips for eating healthy without breaking the bank.

 Tip 1: Plan Your Meals

There’s nothing worse than looking at a refrigerator or pantry full of food but no idea how to put together a meal. Avoid this dilemma by planning ahead for your meals.

It doesn’t have to be complicated; look up some simple, healthy recipes that use inexpensive pantry staples like beans, rice or pasta that you can make for the week.

Take inventory of what you already have, then add what you need—like fresh produce and meat—to your list.

Tip 2: Make a List—And Stick to It

You’ve planned out your meals and snacks for the week, and you’ve made a list of the items you need. It’s easy to be tempted by all the choices in the grocery store, but try to stick to the items on your list so you can stay within your budget.

Tip 3: Buy in Bulk

Many pantry staples, such as rice, oats, beans and nuts, can be bought in bulk at a much lower price. These items have a longer shelf life when stored in airtight containers and can be used in a variety of healthy recipes. Invest in some clear canisters or jars that can be labeled so you can easily see what you have in your pantry at home.

Tip 4: Buy Frozen Fruits and Vegetables

Frozen produce is a smart choice because you’ll always have healthy options on hand. When certain fruits and veggies are out of season, they can be expensive. Frozen produce is just as nutritious and is great for soups, stews, smoothies and more.

Tip 5: Buy Foods that Are High in Protein and Fiber

Foods that are high in protein and fiber help create a balanced diet and will keep you feeling full longer.

They will also give you the energy you need to focus throughout the day without feeling sluggish. To aim for balance, try pairing protein with at least two other fibrous foods, such as fruits and vegetables or whole grains.

Examples of some simple meals include scrambled eggs with bell peppers and mushrooms, roasted chicken with broccoli and brown rice, or oatmeal with peanut butter and strawberries. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, then this recipe for vegan barbecue “pulled pork” tacos is full of fiber.

Tip 6: Always Make Extra for Leftovers

Make the effort of prepping, cooking and cleaning up a meal with your time by at least making enough for an extra serving or two.

You can eat the leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day, which means you don’t have to buy more groceries and cook again. Leftovers are also great for making into other meals like burritos and salads, plus switching up how you eat the leftovers makes mealtimes less monotonous. You can also freeze extra portions if you don’t want to eat everything at once.

Tip 7: Eat Less Meat

Meat is usually the most expensive item on your grocery list, so choosing to eat less of it will help cut down on costs. Try going meat-free at least once a week—participating in Meatless Monday is a great way to start—or buy meat alternatives like tempeh, tofu and beans. Eating less meat can also leave more room for fruits and vegetables in your diet!

Tip 8: Buy Store Brands

When you buy name-brand items, you’re paying for advertising and marketing costs for those products too. Reach for the store brand instead; you’ll definitely notice the difference in cost, but you likely won’t notice the difference in quality.

 Tip 9: Stock Up During Sales

When one of your go-to items goes on sale, buy a bit more than you usually would to pinch some pennies. Just be smart about what you choose; frozen produce or canned goods are smart choices because they won’t spoil, and meat can be frozen for later.

Use your best judgement when purchasing fresh produce on sale and only buy as much as you’ll use before it spoils.

Tip 10: Buy Whole Foods

Convenience comes at a cost. Items like pre-sliced fruit and shredded cheese are more expensive than whole fruit and blocks of cheese. The same applies to meat; consider buying a whole chicken instead of individual parts to get a better value.

Yes, shredding your own cheese and slicing your own fruit takes time, but it saves you money in the long run.

Meal Prepping 101: How to Eat Well All Week, Every Week

Now that you know how to shop for groceries while sticking to your budget, you’ll need to know the best ways to turn what you bought into healthy meals! Having a few go-to recipes that come together quickly with few ingredients is always a great way to start, but meal prepping takes things to the next level. 

We’ve already talked about planning ahead and making extra for leftovers, but what’s the best way to do this? Meal prepping takes the guesswork out of what to eat, but it does require some time. We suggest setting aside several hours of your day on a set day of the week—Sundays work for many people—to prep your meals for the next few days.

Bonus Tip: You can always double a recipe and freeze half of it for later if you prefer to have some more variety in your meals. Lots of recipes are freezer-friendly, meaning they taste great even after being frozen!

Slow Cooker and Pressure Cooker Meals

Slow cookers and pressure cookers are great tools for meal prepping because they allow you to make a lot of food at once without dirtying multiple pots and pans. Everything from soups and stews to casseroles and even breakfast can be whipped up in a slow cooker or pressure cooker.

Pressure cookers are a bit more hands-on when operating, so it’s best to use this appliance on days when you’re in the kitchen prepping food as opposed to the “set it and forget it” approach to slow cookers.

 Freezer Meals

If you really want to get ahead of the game, try making a bunch of freezer meals. The prep does take some time, but the payoff is worth it! You’ll spend several hours rinsing, chopping, measuring, bagging and labeling each recipe for later use, but your future self will thank you when dinner can be ready in a snap.

Freezer meals are especially handy for use in slow cookers and pressure cookers; just dump the ingredients into the cooker, turn it on and dinner will be served in no time!

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