Can you eat healthy on a budget? The short answer to this question is “Absolutely!” I hear you, though. It’s easy to assume that eating healthier is more expensive. Heck, I was already spending $6.00 a day on a frigging Starbucks! On top of that, I was shocked at spending the money all at once when I decided to jump into a 30-day program, rather than spend the money throughout the month like I was used to. But, after looking at what I spent in a month on fast food, snacks, Starbucks, energy drinks, quick stops at the gas station, it added up to a lot more than eating healthy on the 30-day program. Besides, it’s not about money on a 30-day program. It’s about a lifestyle change. I’d like to set the record straight on some common misconceptions and provide you with practical tips for eating healthy on a tight budget.
One of the most comprehensive studies about the cost of healthy food appeared in the British Medical Journal in 2013. The study analyzed the average price of both healthy and non-healthy foods from 6 different food categories in more than 27 studies in 10 separate countries. When all of the studies were combined and broken down, they found that the average daily (increased) cost of healthier foods was $1.48 per day ($0.29 per serving). Additional studies have done a great job of putting this higher cost into a broader perspective. While the average cost of healthier foods are slightly higher, the difference doesn’t apply to every single healthy and unhealthy food.
Studies have also shown that food budgets very widely. In a 2012 Gallup poll:
- 22% of families (the largest single group of households) estimated a weekly food budget of $100-$124 per week
- 17% of households estimated $50-$99 per week, and
- 21% of households at $200-$299 per week.
If you look at the numbers, it would seem reasonable to say that, on average, a U.S. household spends approximately $15 per day on a food budget, plus an extra $1.48 per day to convert unhealthy choices to healthier ones.
Below are 10 tips for eating healthy on a tight budget
- It’s a misconception to think that eating healthier foods costs a lot more money.
- It’s a misconception to assume that spending more money will guarantee healthier food choices.
- Make your vegetable-purchasing decisions based on a vegetable-by-vegetable and season-to-season basis. In any season, you might find that some vegetables cost a small amount more, but it won’t break the bank.
- Buy in-season vegetables to maintain a tighter budget.
- Purchase whole foods and prep them yourself. Pre-washed, pre-sliced, and ready-to-eat are all linked to higher food costs.
- If the price difference between organic/non-organic is too much, consider buying local, seasonal foods that have been grown in the same way as certified organic foods. You can find local, seasonal foods in your area by visiting USDA Local Food Directories or LocalHarvest, Real Food, Real Farmers, Real Community.
- Consider growing your own herbs. You only plant them once and can use them year after year.
- When following a strict food budget, it makes sense to look into options available in your community such as coupons, specials and membership co-ops. Many retailers offer member-only sales and other discounts.
- Buy (sweet) potatoes and onions in bulk, as they keep for longer periods of time.
- Plan ahead! Make a list and check it twice. This will avoid impulse buys and it makes for amazing leftovers for the week.
Healthy eating on a tight budget takes practice. You won’t accidentally just stumble upon a healthier diet. Get organized with your food purchases and make the most out of what you buy.