Can You Really Eat Healthy On A Budget?

Is it possible to save money on food while cutting back on calories and eating healthier?  Absolutely.

I am always concerned with the cost of food, services and miscellaneous items.  I am the keeper of the budget and our whole family works hard to keep our expenses down.  With a family of nine, you can be sure that food is a large part of our monthly expenses.  Especially considering that John and I are blessed with five rapidly growing boys.  People often complain to me that it costs more money to buy healthy food than junk food.  I can’t quote statistics on whether or not that’s actually true, but I can share my experiences with you.

First of all, when thinking about this subject, I think it’s important to focus on foods you buy every week at the grocery store, and not on restaurant meals.  No matter what weight loss program you are following, you were probably initially told to get rid of the “bad” food in your pantry, and replace it with healthy alternatives.  However, once you got to the grocery store you probably couldn’t believe that apples were $1.39 a pound and a little bag of baby carrots costs $1.99.  Those boneless-skinless chicken breasts were $1.97 a pound!   You can’t afford that!  Or can you?  Look at this list:

  • Cost of 11 ounces of  Potato Chips – $3.4921
  • 14.5 ounce Oreo cookie package – $2.99 (on sale!)
  • 16 oz. Powdered Sugar Donuts – $2.59
  • 12 oz. box Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal – $4.09
  • 48 oz Canola oil (Kroger brand) – $3.99
  • 12 pack can Coke – $3.33 (on sale)
  • 1 package Nestle Toll House dough – $2.50 (on sale)
  • 1 pound sirloin steak $4.99

Okay, now what’s expensive?  Prepackaged food that has very little nutritional value, or wholesome fruits and vegetables?  Expensive steaks, or chicken breast on sale?

I often wonder why it was that when I was overweight I thought nothing of spending $2 – 3 dollars on a bag of chips, but balked at spending the same amount of money on a bag of apples?  Why was it okay to buy the $2.50 one pound bag of M&M’s that I would eat in an afternoon, but refused to spend the same amount of money on fresh veggies?

I didn’t value the fruits and vegetables as much as I did the junk.  The junk was fast, available and made me feel good when I ate it.  The fruit was fruit.  Salad was salad.  It had no pizzazz and I gained no emotional comfort from eating healthy food.  I wanted junk and junk I got.  As I gained more and more weight over the years, I ate less and less healthy foods.  I was careful with the kids diets – they ate decent foods at meals, but I didn’t.  I thought I couldn’t afford to buy enough apples and grapes for all of us, so I’d just eat cookies. :)

I used money to justify my bad choices, when in reality I was spending much more than I needed to buy purchasing foods that weren’t healthy.  Did you used to do the same thing and occasionally try to blame your food purchases on budget restraints? If you did and have changed, I applaud you! If you still find yourself in that mindset, I’d encourage you to look closely at how much you are spending each week on food that doesn’t fill you up, and next time you are at the grocery story, do a little comparing of your own.

What are your thoughts about the cost of healthy foods?   Diane

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  1. I believe strongly that one can save money while eating healthily. Especially where portion size control comes into play. You eat a lot less and thus don’t make so much food anymore = saving money. I see it every single month when I buy groceries.
    blackhuff recently posted…Friday – we all love it!My Profile

  2. It always makes me laugh/dismayed when I hear people say they can’t afford to eat healthy.. Please!! Go get a container of old fashioned oats and a box of cocoa puffs and compare the cost per serving….

    It’s also the reason people eat “free” food even though it may go against every one of their fitness goals. Can’t turn down free food now can ya? Well if you really consider the cost of that free food.. it’s no bargain. How long will it take you to work off those junk calories.. how much time in the gym… how many previous workouts are you negating with a 3000 calorie binge.. you never would have had. All because it was “free”.

  3. Yes, of course we can, but it does take planning and some research to do it. The food industry does not make it easy for us!
    Dr. J recently posted…What Are We Going To Do About It: Dr. J Reviews the Movie “Branded”My Profile

  4. I only wish the chicken breasts were $1.97 down here — at our grocery store (Publix), the regular price for those bad boys (fresh) is running about $5.00/lb. Ouch.

    So I either buy them on sale, frozen, at Sam’s, or stick with chicken thighs :)

    I also went through a HUGE bean phase, which I’m still in to a degree. Dry beans are negligible, cost-wise. Throw in some reduced sodium stock, a pack of frozen spinach, three thousand other vegetables and a boatload of black pepper and you’re set.

    Oatmeal’s cheap. So are eggs.

    I find if I stick with the recommended perimeter of the grocery store and only dart down the aisles for precious few items (I’m partial to the spice/ vinegar/ mustard aisle), I’m good to go and spend much less than I would if I considered the entire grocery store fair game.
    Amanda recently posted…‘Tis the SeasonMy Profile

    • deniseselah says:

      Healthy eating on a budget requires time and planning, and at first it can be really time-consuming. I find that I can save money if I shop carefully, but it takes TIME to cook – a lot more time than it takes to go to the drive-thru. (and of course that fast food $ adds up fast too!) At first I was overwhelmed at the amount of time it took to cook all the non-processed food I bought, but I am slowly getting used to it. Buying organic IS expensive, however. I’m not saying it’s not worth it for some things, but man it adds up FAST. And $1.97 boneless skinless chicken breasts are a STEAL! usually run $3.50-5 for NON-organic chicken where I shop!

  5. This is a great post Diane. I agree completely. I know a couple with 2 small children and they don’t use their own dollars to buy their groceries. The Federal Government gives them something called an EBT for SNAP. It used to be called Food Stamps. Anyway, they get over 600 dollars per month plus what they receive for WIC. Anyway, they were over at my house a couple weeks ago and I was slicing up fresh avacodos. I asked their children if they wanted some. They didn’t know what I was talking about. The 5 year old had never seen an avacodo. I was uncharacteristically without words. Speechless. But they always have bags of chips and little pretzels at their home. Sad, actually.
    Marc recently posted…Physical Friday – skating in the parkMy Profile

  6. This of course is relative to the definition of “healthy”. I’m on a budget all of the time — daughter in college. I buy frozen veggies, not fresh because they are much less expensive. I buy canned chicken from the Dollar Tree because it’s — because it’s a dollar. I make a lot of choices that my “healthy” friends cringe at because they aren’t organic or farm fresh. But I can say, unequivocally, that within my budget ($45) I eat better than anyone I know.
    Emergefit recently posted…Some Mixed Thoughts On Larger Purpose, Food Technology, Prejudice, And Change…My Profile

  7. “Saving money” is relative. “Saving money” relative to what? The cost of whole grain bread compared to white bread? My point is that how do you really measure this? Depending what I eat, I may spend more or less than you when we go to the store and buy what we like to eat – all of it being organic, whole, less-processed, etc. I may want grass-fed beef, you may want beans.

    That being said, I think the idea that one cannot eat healthy because it’s too expensive is an excuse. Too expensive for what? It’s about priorities and choices. It is not too expensive to eat healthy.

    And another thing, why do we think this healthy food should be cheap? We all know the things a farmer or food producer has to do to get food to be cheap and still stay in business. We don’t want those things done to our food. I don’t want shortcuts taken when growing and packaging my food. I want the workers who handle my food to be happy, educated and trained. I’m willing to pay for this. The value of someone growing, picking, washing, preparing, packaging and driving my food to a location less than one mile from my house is a great service! And it costs money to do this! Consider the indirect costs businesses have such as property, business, payroll and income taxes, insurances, vehicle maintenance and fuel. And that’s a short list.
    Stephanie G Travis recently posted…Why I Won’t Be “Telling My Story” Anytime SoonMy Profile

  8. Yes…you can eat healthier on a budget…it just takes more awareness when shopping. I actually started to do some comparison posts on Fridays (frugal food) to show what can be learned and that at first glance healthier may appear more expensive but there are still ways to combine the two…

    It has actually become fun for me to find new ways to eat healthier on a budget.

    jules- big girl bombshell recently posted…Frugal Food Friday: Ground MeatMy Profile

  9. No question about it. Eating healthy is not any more expensive than eating junk. You can get 2 pounds of chicken breast for the price of a bag of Doritos and dip. For a box of Hamburger Helper you can buy some broccoli. It’s easier to eat junk food that is for sure. Unprocessed healthy food takes time to prep where the junk food is usually highly processed and requires little to no prep.
    Joe recently posted…Another First Today On My Weight Loss Journey!My Profile

  10. I certainly am on a budget, with a child in college and retirement coming up pretty soon, but eating healthfully is a priority. I believe you can eat healtfully and cheaply but it DOES require some cooking. Sadly, some people don’t have the time or interest required to cook or to learn to cook. I am very pleased that my 22 year old son, living 2000 miles from me in an apartment while he’s in college, is cooking most everything from scratch as well. He calls occasionally with a cooking or shopping question. He uses his crock pot (a gift from his grandmother) when he’s particularly busy. I gave him recipes for a few of his favorites (a lentil soup, roasted chicken, a Thai curry, spicy fish cakes made from canned salmon) and made him watch while I made them so he would be confident he could make them himself.

  11. Our meals have become much simpler. Protein and veggies, fruit for snacks. It’s all really healthy and actually pretty affordable. We buy canned goods at Costco and some of our proteins we buy there and they last a long time in the freezer.
    Lisa recently posted…Current ObsessionsMy Profile

  12. I wish I could find boneless chicken breasts for $1.97 a pound! On sale ours is $4.50 a pound, but it is worth it to get the smaller farmed chicken and not corporate meat.

    Whole foods can be expensive, but they are cheaper than processed foods a lot of times. Plain rice is inexpensive to buy rather than something like a box Lipton rice mix. Rolled oatmeal is very inexpensive compared to the flavored packets of quick oats. Especially buying store brands of things.
    Lori recently posted…Thoughts on restrictingMy Profile

    • I’m talking about just regular chicken. You are right Lori – if we purchased organic chicken breasts they would be out of our price range and we would probably have to follow a vegetarian lifestyle. We already eat about 5 vegetarian meals a week.

      Whole foods can definitely be expensive but worth it!

  13. Great post! It is possible but I do think it does take a lot of planning as Dr. J mentioned….. some areas don’t even have access… but it is about choices & all we can do is do the best we can… :-)
    Jody – Fit at 54 recently posted…Breast Cancer Awareness/Healing Thoughts Appreciated; Workout Clothes & CharityMy Profile

  14. I’m eating far more meat and dairy products and far less empty carbs now, and yes, one is more expensive than the other. But the impact to our budget monthly is really pretty minimal. Some of that is regional – fresh is as expensive or moreso than processed/packaged because of the transit cost to get it up here in a timely fashion, which isn’t as big of an issue in the lower 48. Still, you’re absolutely right that it is what we value – I value nutrition and health more than tasty, cheap junk. Thus, I spend money on what I value :)

  15. I think people can value convenience over nutrition, especially if they feel their choice is somehow cheaper. For myself I prefer to spend a little more time and a little more money to get nutritious food.
    Siobhan recently posted…a balancing act …My Profile

  16. My husband and I have started buying organic chicken and grass fed beef , but it is totally worth it. The way I look at, we eat so much less than most people, so we get two to three times the serving as the average person would. We are also buying no processed foods, so basically just the protein and vegetables. I don’t know how you can place a price on health.

  17. I agree with you and all those who commented, and will add that when you look at the big picture, spending extra money on what I put in my body is a heck of a lot better (and tastier) than having to spend it on medications and being ill.
    KCLAnderson (Karen) recently posted…Experiencing Negative In A Positive WayMy Profile

  18. I very much agree with you: with some planning, healthy eating doesn’t have to be expensive and can very well be cheaper than pre-packaged foods.

    It does, however, require a bit more time. Potatoes, for example, are rather nutritious, coming with minerals and vitamins. Two pounds of them cost about $1, and that is more than most people can eat in a single meal. But of course you have to peel, slice and cook them, which takes longer and more effort than popping a TV dinner into the microwave.

    Siobhan hinted at it above: for many people, it’s a question of convenience. I have also noticed that these days a lot of women (not to mention men) never quite learned how to cook.
    evilcyber recently posted…How To Raise Your Positive FeelingsMy Profile

    • I definitely agree with this. Its easy in the UK to buy cheap apples, bananas, carrots, onions and potatoes, and cheap cuts of meat that taste great when they are cooked long and slow – but all these things require some prep, thought and cooking skills. Healthy ready meals ARE more expensive. I can understand why people say healthy food is expensive but with a little planning it doesn’t have to be.

  19. My 2 cents says:

    Eating “healthy” is extremely expensive in terms of time. When you’re working two minimum wage jobs just to keep a roof over your head and something–anything–in your family’s stomachs, taking the time to cook a meal from scratch is not necessarily an option.

  20. The key to eating healthy on a budget is not to eat out… I always buy local food brands. If there is produce you want to buy in bulk (so you can preserve it), be sure to see if local farmers will give you a discount for bulk purchases.
    Ted Wilson recently posted…Hints For Simple Fat LossMy Profile

  21. I think it is so workable to eat healthy on a budget. You can stretch a small amount of meat protein with lots of veggies and they don’t have to pricey ones either. It’s a learning curve like anything else. If it’s important you will figure out how to do it. Buying from the bulk bins, shopping in season, watching what is on sale, shopping at the cheaper no frills markets that have the lowest prices. There are many ways to make it work.
    Tami @Nutmeg Notebook recently posted…Favorite Food Finds & GadgetsMy Profile

  22. I LOVE this article! I was humbled some time ago with a pretty significant loss of income that forced me to look at every dollar spent at the grocery store. I was pleasantly surprised to see how full I got on fruits and veggies and healthy food where I had to spend and eat less and actually saved money on medical/medicine bills. I haven’t been sick in years!
    Mario Wilson recently posted…The Dangers of Diet SodaMy Profile


  1. […] other day I wrote about the possibility of eating healthy on a budget. There were lots of great responses to that blog post and I hope that you will read it […]

  2. […] other day I wrote about the possibility of eating healthy on a budget. There were lots of great responses to that blog post and I hope that you will read it […]