I’m the first to admit I know the benefits of healthy eating – but man, oh man, do I know how hard it is to do when you’re on a budget! some weeks I can allot more money towards groceries and it doesn’t feel so bad, but there are other weeks I feel like I’m going to turn into a Ramen noodle if I don’t chill.
I’m not always the best with my money, but the one thing I always have people asking me is how I manage to spend so little on groceries. on average, I spend about $100 a month on my groceries. granted, my big meal of the day is lunch and I tend to snack around it – breakfast and dinner are generally small. but, for those of you that are looking how to make healthier choices and save a little extra money, here’s how I meal plan + prep around a tight budget.
b r e a k f a s t
cage free eggs. you could go above and beyond and go organic cage free, too, but that will cost you a little extra.
smoothies. I buy frozen fruit because it’s more cost effective and is often times more flavorful and more nutrient-filled as the produce is harvested at it’s ripest moment rather than being picked early to help it last through shipment + being at the store before it finally gets to your countertop.
nut milks. I do my best to avoid dairy (cheese is the hardest) so I opt for almond, coconut or cashew milks instead – most times I use it for my smoothies or protein shakes, but if you ‘re in the business of buying granola, it’s a healthier alternative to regular cow’s milk and even contains twice as much calcium.
granola. I love love love granola. it’s filling and great to add blueberries, bananas, or other berries to. just be weary of added sugars!
optional: protein shake + fiber. this is not something I’m in the business of buying on a regular basis (YET) but if you feel like you’re in too much of a rush in the mornings to get a good, filling breakfast, you might have some better luck with keeping a protein shake and even some fiber on hand to keep you feeling full until lunch. you probably guessed it – my go-to brand for both products is Arbonne (see: protein shake mixes – vanilla, chocolate, chai | fiber boost)
l u n c h + d i n n e r
the key to spending less on my groceries is making sure that what I get are foods that are going to keep me feeling full. this is why by dinnertime I’m usually only in the mood for a snack – I make sure my meal preps are well-rounded and filling. here are my usual staples when it comes to shopping for my meals:
brown rice. complex carbs are not your enemy! go for brown rice over white. I splurge for the 5lb bag whenever I run out because even though it might feel like more money in the moment, that bag will last you so much longer and will ultimately end up costing you less than buying 5 separate 1-lb bags of rice.
chicken. depending on how much I need or how much else I need during that particular trip will determine whether I purchase chicken thighs or chicken breasts. I do my best to get meats that are labeled as antibiotic/hormone free.
ground meat. I’m a little particular when it comes to my ground meats. I only purchase beef if I have the wiggle room to make sure I can buy organic, grass fed beef – I’m not really about that “pink sludge” life when it comes to buying cheaper, low-end beef. however, most times I purchase ground turkey for recipes that call for beef – it’s cheaper and tends to be healthier than red meats.
beans. beans are good staples because they are loaded with protein and vitamins + minerals… and I don’t mean bbq baked beans – black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, etc. they’re pretty filling so they make a good side, either by themselves or as a bean salad. you can buy them in bulk (dried) or canned (be sure to get reduced sodium and to rinse them).
salads. the thing I love about salads is that they can be a side, or they can be the main course by adding plenty of protein. it’s also a good way to make sure you’re getting produce into your diet if you’re anything like me and not always the best about remembering to add sides lol
frozen veggies. if you’re like me and you live life in a constant rush, frozen veggies are perfect for throwing on the side of any meal prep.
s n a c k s
I am currently on a gluten-free kick because I’ve recently made the connection between acne breakouts + weight gain to consuming mass amounts of gluten. that, and I now have a known case of hypothyroidism in my family, so these are the snacks I’ve been purchasing lately:
- veggie straws
- rice chips + hummus
- veggies + hummus
- natural popcorn
- kettle chips
- lightly salted almonds
- dark chocolate (plain or melted with strawberries for dipping!)
t i p s + t r i c k s
- plan meals accordingly. try and create as much overlap between ingredients as you can when planning your meals to avoid having to purchase a full list of foods for each individual meal.
- utilize grocery pickup tools. I personally like making my list online with Walmart’s grocery pickup but doing the shopping myself – but this way I get to see the exact prices so I can tweak my meals/brands/ingredients according to my budget.
- integrate fruit + veggies. I’ll be the first to admit I can be the worst about making sides to go with my meals. so, to make sure I get my servings of fruits + vegetables, I make sure the recipe calls for a topping or side of some sort. for example, one of my meal prep plans for this next week is chicken topped with salsa fresco.
- make it last. let’s be real – sometimes I’m not actually going to eat a whole chicken breast in one sitting, so sometimes I’ll slice the chicken breasts down the center, long ways, and freeze to have on hand later. this helps cut down on food waste and lets me get more use out of a package of chicken. for ground meats, I generally section it off into appropriate amounts for single meal use, bag them up and freeze until needed.
- split with roomies. sometimes when we’re cooking for ourselves, it can be hard when we become bored with what we’ve prepared. you feel like you eat the same thing day after day – so, if you have roomies who have similar eating styles/patterns – talk about sharing meals/splitting costs. it might help you save a few extra bucks and cut down on the monotony of meals + food waste if more people are contributing to the meal planning process.
q + a
- go to meals? i’ve created a new page with my favorite recipes, see it here!
- favorite places to grocery shop? right now I divide my grocery list between walmart and sprouts. but I feel like a kid in a candy store at sprouts, so hopefully one day I can afford to do all my shopping there. right now I live for double ad wednesdays!
- must need seasoning? I feel like I’m fairly basic in this area, but the seasonings I end up frequently using is garlic salt, onion powder, pepper, chili powder, and lemon pepper. not all at once, obviously, but those are the seasonings I see myself reaching for most! I want to work on expanding my horizons though.
- favorite way to cook chicken? my favorite ways are baked or grilled (I generally use a george foreman!) sometimes I’ll boil it if I’m in a rush – i.e. it’s still frozen but I need to get my cooking done.
- motivation to shop? if there’s ever a time I don’t want to do the shopping myself, I proudly take advantage of walmart grocery pickup. all you have to do is make your list and pick it up whenever it’s ready. you don’t even have to get out of your car! but if I’m ever feeling too lazy to even do that (which I rarely do) I tend to make myself think about how much more expensive eating out can cost, so I motivate myself to get it done by putting my budget into perspective.
- motivation to cook? if I don’t cook, I don’t really have food around the house to eat because most things I buy require assembly lol, which means I’m going to cave and eat out. not only is it expensive in terms of budget, but also my health. is it worth the $8 to lose the progress I’ve worked so hard on when it comes to my health? will it have any benefits for me, physically or mentally? I’m not trying to demonize eating out, but by not shopping or cooking, I’m forcing myself to eat out, which I try to avoid when I can.
- meal prepping without it getting bland? find recipes that excite you! but even the best meals can get boring after day 3. in that case, try finding a couple different meals to make for a certain week, cut the recipes in half so you don’t make too much, and alternate which one you take to work with you (or whatever your case may be!)
- is it cheaper to buy meat in bulk? in my experience, there’s not much of a difference in price per pound (i.e. buying a 1 lb package of ground beef vs a 3 lb package), the differences are usually in the cut and quality of the meat. meat is pretty much always the most expensive part of grocery shopping, so this is where I have to really dig for where the sales are so I don’t have to settle on the quality of my meat, but don’t break the bank either. this is where grocery pickup tools get really handy, because you can compare across different stores and see where you can save the most.