Frugal Friday- Eating Healthy on a Budget

I asked my friend Heather to guest post for me today about eating healthy on a budget. I am just starting my journey and she is my go to person with every little question I have about whole foods. I am her grasshopper.

When my clients or friends start transitioning into eating better, one of their first concerns is always cost: “Isn’t healthier food more expensive?”

Well, if we’re talking about Ramen noodles and off-brand macaroni and cheese, I’m not going to compete with that kind of budget. And if we’re talking about expensive processed cereals that say they’re organic or the substitutes we’re seeing on the shelves – like organic pop-tarts – then, yes, that food IS expensive.

But eating healthier doesn’t mean we just grab a different box of cereal because it has the word “organic” on it. When I see “eat healthier,” I mean getting back to real, whole foods – the ones found on the outside edges of the grocery store. This kind of eating is not only better for your body, but is also friendly to your pocket.

There’s so much information to discuss with this topic that I just want to scratch the surface with some very basic elements of eating well and doing it on a budget. I have outlined three categories to focus on when you start making good changes in your diet and lifestyle (because changes to your diet will also mean changes to the way you shop, the way you cook, and the way you eat).

1. Water – frankly, this should be its own category on the food guide pyramid. Most people don’t drink nearly enough water. In my house, this is our beverage of choice. And when you are drinking water, this means you are NOT drinking all the other sugary juice, pop, and tea that don’t do anything to hydrate you and will also strain your food budget.

2.  Vegetables – I will put it simply: eat more vegetables. We’re coming into spring and summer, the perfect time to get acquainted with the best vegetables of the year. During this time, you can buy fresh, local produce at farmer’s markets and even some grocery stores will sell locally grown foods. Have you ever tasted a just-picked-that-day carrot? Oh, the sweetness and the crunch…so delicious! Food is fresher and tastier the sooner you eat it once it’s been picked and buying seasonal produce is always cheaper (you’ll notice your grocery store will often feature sale items on produce because it’s in season – like oranges in the winter!). Better yet, purchase a share in a local farm, save even more money, and get a weekly pick-up of locally grown foods.

3. Whole Grains – this category can be confusing because even a box of Lucky Charms boasts that it’s made with whole grains. True, most foods start off as a whole grain…and this is where we want to stop. Heavily processed cereals are just that, processed. Eating whole grains means eating the WHOLE grain. I’m talking about foods like brown rice, quinoa, millet, oats, and barley. Any of those sound like Greek to you? It’s time to get acquainted. Visit your local health food store and ask for help. Most health food stores sell grains in bulk (which is much cheaper) and they can teach you how to cook and prepare the grains. A good online resource for recipes with alternative grains is wholefoodsmarket.com.

4.  Alternative Proteins – Whose husband is sick of baked chicken? Most of us learn how to cook dinner based around meat. What if, instead, you started with a vegetable or a grain or a bean? Think differently about the proteins that you cook with, especially at dinner. A meal with beans can be just as filling as a steak dinner. And, dried beans are much cheaper than meat! I am not necessarily advocating a vegetarian diet. I have plenty of friends who do well without eating meat, but my body is not made like that – I need some beef to keep the meat on my bones. But I don’t necessarily plan my meals around meat. When I added more variety and better vegetables and whole grains into my cooking – more creativity – I found I could use less meat. I often think about meat as a condiment rather than the main-stage production.

This is just a start to eating well on a budget. But we all have to begin somewhere, right? When I first started eating well, I didn’t think about replacing the foods that I was already eating, and I didn’t think about starting from scratch. Instead, every time I went to the grocery store, I decided that I would try one new vegetable. In this way, I kept things creative in the kitchen and was trying new recipes with new foods, but I also made slow, positive changes. After a few months, the make-up of my kitchen was very different and I was eating more whole, natural foods…these foods had crowded out the junky, processed foods I had been eating before and I barely noticed the transition.

For more frugal tips, head over to Life As Mom.


  1. Love your article. So easy, so simple; now to get my hubby on board. Any suggestions for that one? j/k
    .-= Shanna´s last blog ..ShannaHall: Love how things come together. Thankful for plugging away even though not sure what I’m doing… becomes clearer as I keep moving forward. =-.

  2. Great tips! I agree on the water. Not only is water cheap, it is much healthier than all the sugar filled drinks that people drink.

  3. Great post! I too am new into the whole food eating world..but I’m learing and I am trying! I have found trader Joe’s to be very helpful. But you are right..I do cook a lot of meals around meat, and nwo that I am buying hormone free/cage free meats it get more expensive..but I am trying to do pasta dishes too (whole wheat pasta of course lol) I look forward to reading your blog!
    .-= Jen-After the Alter´s last blog ..The Decision To Do Nothing =-.

  4. DeLinn says:

    I love this post! My 5-week old was diagnosed with a very severe milk/soy allergy at 2 1/2 weeks. (He can’t even have Nutramigen because he has severe reactions to that!) So, I have completely eliminated dairy/soy from my diet, which is easier said than done. Soy is in everything! I can’t rely on packaged and processed foods anymore, so I’m doing lots more cooking of whole foods. I appreciate the ideas she shared today–especially finding more protein ideas that aren’t meat.

  5. Love it. I am going to head over to Whole Living Gal and check it out.

    .-= LaVonne´s last blog ..My Very First Friday Follow! =-.

  6. Hey Jill! I wanted to let you know I “tagged” you in a post about Hershey’s Better Basket. They are donating money to Children’s Miracle Network for each blog post written about the Easter blog hop they are doing. If you’re interested, great. If not, no worries! I know you’re busy! Here is the link to my post:
    .-= Stacey´s last blog ..Give Back with Hershey’s Better Basket =-.

  7. DeLinn says:

    I know you posted about a bread book you are using and that you’ve been making your own bread. Would you mind sharing, again, the name of the book? I need to start baking our bread–all of the breads at the store have milk/soy, or they cost $6 a loaf…ick. I’d much rather be in charge of what goes into what we’re eating. Thanks!

    • Here is the book. If you don’t mind clicking through that link I get a very tiny kickback :)

      • DeLinn says:

        I will use this link! Thanks for re-posting, I couldn’t remember when/what post it was. My hubby is actually looking forward to doing the bread baking–LOVE HIM!!!! =)

  8. I just finished In Defense of Food and it made more sense than anything else I’ve read about eating health-ily. This post is a really good recap of what it took Michael Pollan about 300 pages to say :)
    .-= Jen @ BigBinder´s last blog ..Sharing Science and Nature With Young Children =-.

  9. I don’t think I spend really any more money now on food than I did a year ago. If so, it’s not much, and I do have another child to feed. Plus this year I’m going to be saving a TON by joining a CSA and canning a bunch of fruit and vegetables so that we can make use of all that local, in-season produce instead of having to buy the canned stuff commercially later. I expect our groceries bills to drop more this year. I would say the real foods lifestyle is more expensive initially as you are making swaps, but once you really get rid of processed foods and source good food at good prices and start to do a lot of cooking, it just gets cheaper and cheaper. And I personally find it fulfilling to source, purchase, and prepare excellent food for my family!
    .-= Kate´s last blog ..Thoughts on Children =-.

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