Healthy Foods on a Budget: 23 Ways to Save Big

by Merissa on January 17, 2014

in Budgeting, Food Budget, Frugal Living Tips

Healthy Foods on a Budget - 23 Tips to Save Big! Little House Living

Healthy Foods on a Budget

Four years ago my pantry looked completely differently than it does today. I had processed Mac and Cheese, cans of all kinds of things, and a very large stash of Milky Way Bars.

Then after a few very scary episodes, I got the diagnosis I wasn't expecting, I was allergic to dozens and dozens of foods. So I did what any rational, mature woman would do. I went to the grocery store, walked down every aisle, and cried my eyes out over the foods I could no longer have.

From then on it's been a journey. We cut out processed sugars, preservatives, most processed foods, and I cut out wheat. We aren't "super healthy" and eat a perfect diet, but we do eat real, unprocessed foods, provide our bodies with healthy fats, and make everything from scratch. September of this year will mark four years since I've eaten anything that I haven't made myself (no eating out). I won't say that I don't have occasional cravings, but I can see how much our health has changed over the years and I wouldn't give that up for any Twinkie. Now I'm able to eat everything I had issues with in moderation. Amazing how foods can change your life!

Real, unprocessed foods are expensive. Or at least that's what you may think. One thing that we've learned since starting our journey is how to keep our grocery budget low and still be able to afford our yummy healthy foods. It takes a bit of work, but it is possible! Here's a list of my top 10 ways to buy healthy foods on a budget.

1. Plant a garden, as big as you have room for. Yes, homesteading 101, plant that garden! Even if you live in an apartment you can plant a garden, it just takes a few flower pots or totes. Our goal this year is to have to buy as little produce as possible over the next winter, so my garden is going to be as big as I can manage.

2. Start buying your meat in bulk. There are many sources to buy meat in bulk; from the membership stores to local farmers. Check the newspaper, Craigslist, or ask in Facebook groups to find someone that might be selling meat. Here's a great detailed post on Buying Meats in Bulk.

3. Don't buy "healthy junk food". I buy the occasional crackers and snacks for my hubby's lunches ONLY when I can get them for 75% off the retail price or more. (Aka, less than the cost and time of me making it myself)

Healthy Foods on a Budget

4. Search for deals in random places. I find some great deals on healthy and organic foods in odd places, the discount grocery stores, the bread outlet store, even the regular local grocery store sometimes has great markdowns on organics. You really truly never know until you look! Make sure to shop these places in the early morning while the discounted items are more plentiful.

5. Keep it in season. When buying your produce, make sure to look for what is in season at the time to find the best prices. Raspberries aren't going to be cheap in the winter but you should be able to get a great deal in the spring, stock up then and freeze extras for later.

6. Forage your area. If you don't have any edibles in your own yard, ask neighbors if they are going to use all the fruit on their trees or berries on their bushes. There is also a great website called Falling Fruit where you can search for great foraging areas in your neighborhood. I learned that I can pick fresh mulberries in my town! Hunting or fishing is another great way to "forage".

7. Ask your grocery store what they do with old produce. Call your local grocery store and ask for the produce manager, ask what they do with old food and if you can pick it up. Many times the food is too wilted to be able to salvage but it still makes great animal feed and I don't turn down free animal feed!

8. Buy pantry staples in bulk when it makes sense. Not everything is good to buy in bulk, but with many dry goods and things you go through quickly, it just makes sense to save money by buying larger amounts. My favorite foods to buy in bulk are: Beans, Brown Rice Flour, Rice, Oats, Raw Sugar, Olive Oil, Minced Onion, and Minced Garlic. You can read all about buying in bulk and storing bulk foods on our Buying in Bulk page.

9. Buy the cheaper per pound produce. We love all kinds of fruit at our home but it doesn't make sense for me to buy a $4.99 per pound container of strawberries when I can buy organic bananas for $0.99 a pound. It's still fresh, healthy produce.

10. Have fun in the frozen foods aisle. Buying frozen organic produce is one of the best ways to save, especially in the winter when cheaper fresh produce isn't available. Frozen foods are generally picked at the peak of ripeness and flash frozen so they have all the nutrients in tact. We are frequent buyers of frozen peas and broccoli especially!

11. Know when the best sales will be on specific items. Stock up on butter in the months when it's going to be the lowest price all year, buy blocks of cheese and shred and freeze them when you find them on sale. If you sign up for our weekly newsletter I will send you a free printable with all the best months to buy certain items!

12. Make your list ahead of time. As with ANY grocery budget, make your shopping list ahead of time (based on your Meal Plan!) and know what you are buying when you get to the store. Don't be tempted by items that aren't on your list and don't fit into your budget. Take cash with you in the amount that you can spend and leave your cards at home.

13. Make yourself a promise before you go into the store that you will only walk around the perimeter of the store. All the aisles in the middle are just filled with items that you don't need to be filling your cart with anyways!

14. Have several meatless meals each week. Meatless doesn't have to mean less filling or less protein. Have breakfast for supper (eggs, French Toast Casserole, and hashbrowns) or a big bowl of lentil soup. Some of our personal favorites are bean bowls and loaded baked potatoes.

15. Harvest bone broth. One of the most healthy foods you can add to your diet is bone broth and it doesn't cost anything to make since you take it from food you've already purchased for other things! We eat bone broth every day added into meals.

16. Shop farmer's markets. In the summer when the produce is plentiful, add to your healthy foods stockpile by shopping at the farmer's markets. Even if you grow a garden they are great for things that didn't produce as well as you though they would or plants that didn't grow. Before you go, read this post on Making the Most at the Farmer's Market.

17. Cook one pot meals. One dish meals and crock pot meals are a blessing! You can add cheaper cuts of meat to meals and soups and no one will be able to taste the difference. Plus they save time in the kitchen so they are a double bonus!

Healthy Foods on a Budget

18. Look for a CSA or bulk buying source. I shop for about 90% of my monthly groceries from Azure Standard, a coop that delivers to my area. Ask around for what comes to your area or see if there are any great CSA's available at Local Harvest. You can often get much better prices by shopping this way AND by not shopping at the store you are removing the temptation to add extras to your cart.

19. Buy the whole food instead of the other versions. At various points during the year, apples may be cheaper than applesauce, strawberries may be cheaper than jam. Buy the whole food version and make your own at home!

20. Use coupons and store discounts when possible. Since my local stores don't really do much for coupons I've already found other ways to save. For example, when I buy fresh produce I get discounts on gas. Not a direct savings on my grocery budget but another way to save that comes about from buying food!

21. Re-grow food you already bought. Many foods can be regrown on your kitchen counter and you can reap the benefits over and over without having to buy more food! Check out this post on Re-Growing Store Bought Veggies.

22. Make a deal in your household that nothing goes to waste. Yes you can always feed scraps to the chickens but it would still be better on your grocery budget if you used those scraps in your own diet. Here are some ways to Use Up Food Scraps and how to make Garbage Soup.

23. Finally, don't feel like you need fancy, expensive meals. Yes, we do eat the occasional steak but it's very very occasional. As in Christmas, or someone's birthday. Try to focus on healthy meals you can make for Under $1 Per Serving.

The list may look a little overwhelming at first, specially when you are new to buying healthy foods. But start by trying a few things and see what it does for your budget, add in a few more and watch your grocery bill shrink down! One of the biggest things to remember is to make sure you are Meal Planning so when you do bring all the food home, you know what you are going to do with it and don't let it go to waste.

What are some of your best tips for getting healthy foods on a budget?


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{ 52 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tejas Prairie Hen January 17, 2014 at 8:46 am

We eat mostly vegan/organic these days. I make most all of our breads/bars/desserts from scratch and make my own biscuit mix each week. Organic basics are very expensive. Most of my main dish recipes call for a lot of expensive spices. I do grow what herbs and spices I can. We also buy all our own water, which is distilled. I save all cooking water from veggies and pastas. It will keep for at least a week in the fridge. It can be used to cook beans, soups, and stews, and the pasta water is great for thickening sauces. We don’t buy/use high fat milks, butters, or shortenings. We only use plant-based fats for health reasons. I buy only the occasional “emergency” prepared frozen organic pizza or meal. Our diet is very expensive, but 3 of us have at least two chronic autoimmune diseases, and I feel it’s very important to do my best with our food consumption. We do eat lots of leftovers.
I do get loyalty discounts and coupons at two stores. In my situation, I’ve found that buying in bulk is actually more expensive than shopping around for the cheapest local source because I don’t have the shipping cost. Our local regular grocery stores are carrying more organic products and they are cheaper than at the natural food stores. Thank goodness I love to cook and have found (thru trial and error) wonderful vegan recipe sources online that use mainly basic ingredients that I normally have on hand. Unfortunately, they are all very labor-intensive for someone who has systemic inflammatory arthritis, as well as the common osteoarthritis. But the rise in autoimmune diseases/conditions is coming from somewhere, and many believe it’s from all the food additives and genetically modified foods in the past 50 years.


2 ida February 2, 2014 at 5:35 pm

We buy mainly in bulks at local farmer’s market and if you go at the end of the day and ask for bulk price. You will get AMAZING deals! Farmer’s don’t want to go back with their produce, and give good discounts on very ripe produce, which are usually very yummy and have more nutrients!


3 Sarah January 17, 2014 at 9:23 am

This is all so helpful and informative! I could spend days perusing your site!! Thank you so much!


4 Julie January 17, 2014 at 4:58 pm

Thanks for this post. I’ve begun to do almost everything on your list with few exceptions. I lost my job with an undiagnosed illness that doctors never could help me with. Almost a year later, I found the GAPS diet. It was a huge change for me as I’ve had 50+ years of eating habits, some good and apparently some not so good. Of course when I was working I could afford to buy almost whatever I wanted but now I have very little money so I’m learning to build up a larder and am volunteering for a worker share at a local csa. Thanks again.


5 Jeddi January 17, 2014 at 6:28 pm

Hello! Does shredding and freezing change the consistency of, say, cheddar cheese? I don’t freeze cream cheese for that reason, but I just bought a huge block of cheddar at a warehouse for a great deal, except we’re just not getting to it fast enough!


6 Merissa January 17, 2014 at 6:38 pm

Shredded and sliced cheese both freeze well. I always buy the blocks πŸ™‚


7 Teresa January 18, 2014 at 7:24 am

Merissa, this is very helpful. I applaud you for not eating anything outside of your home for 4 years. Wow, how do you do it? What about vacations? Do you pack your own food? Do you ever stay in a hotel or are you in an RV mostly? I am amazed and curious. Good for you!!!


8 Merissa January 18, 2014 at 1:45 pm

We don’t always take our rv on vacation so I pack foods. I’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out easy meals that we can take on the road and I just pack a cooler πŸ™‚


9 Dianne January 19, 2014 at 7:20 am

What a great post, a number of years ago I became lactose intolerant and this marked the end of my love of milk. However I have come to love soya milk, it is just a matter of your tastes getting used to the change. All our favourite foods are just so because of habit. Our tastes can change with time so why not for the better. x


10 Kathy January 20, 2014 at 7:59 am

How to thaw cheese so that its not crumbly: Let it sit unopenned on the counter for 24 hours to thaw at room temp, and then (I think) what it does is reabsorb its oils.


11 Jen January 6, 2015 at 11:49 am

Thanks for the tip. I will try it.


12 Loren January 20, 2014 at 12:57 pm

Loved this article! Thanks Merissa!


13 Jocelyn Manley January 23, 2014 at 8:53 am

Thanks for the helpful information… we are starting a new healthy life as well. Growing our own foods and healthy healing threw herbal remedies. What you do is great!! Thanks again

Manley Family


14 melanie February 3, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Awesome!!!Makes life easier knowing I wasn’t the only one who didn’t have a plan before changing my diet and lifestyle!!!


15 Grace February 4, 2014 at 5:56 pm

This post was great- very helpful and informative, thank you!


16 Kirsteen February 27, 2014 at 11:47 am

I LOVE this!! I try to buy fresh what I can when I can but also reesort to frozen when necessary. We do grow a garden but the growing time is short due to being in Canada. This year, our garden will be much better planned..what freezes well, not soooo much lettuce, etc etc. Thank you sooo much for all your wonderful tips and encouragement. It can be done and you make it real and possible for us all to see.


17 Marie April 10, 2014 at 3:21 pm

I have recently started following you on Pinterest and I find your pins and your blog very interesting and informative. Thank you for sharing!
In one of the comments above you mentioned that you pack food when you go on vacation. This is where I struggle the most, and seem to end up with the same stuff all the time. I could not find a post on this, but if there is one could you please direct me to it?


18 Merissa April 10, 2014 at 3:42 pm

I don’t have one yet but we definitely do this each time we go out of town, I will work on a post πŸ™‚


19 Carie Spence April 24, 2014 at 1:41 pm

Wonderful post. We try to do all of these things as well. I’m clicking through a lot of your links in this post. Really liking your ideas. Thanks!


20 Joyce @ It's Your Life April 24, 2014 at 7:00 pm

Visiting from Friendship Friday, we also buy once a month from Azure. I love that I can buy both my bread and ground turkey in bulk saving money. Stop by and check out Real Food Fridays going on now.


21 Simple Nature Decor April 24, 2014 at 7:58 pm

Thanks so much in coming to my party! I was really thrilled you came!
I love your blog.. its so informative and healthy! Its very inspirational for me.. Have a great weekend! Hugs Maria


22 christine April 24, 2014 at 10:22 pm

Thanks so much for linking this at The Wednesday Roundup this week. I’m going to share it on my FB page tonight


23 Starla J April 24, 2014 at 10:24 pm

Thanks for the tips!


24 Christina @ Juggling Real Food and Real Life April 25, 2014 at 10:44 am

Hi Merissa. I’m stopping in from Let’s Get Real today. This is wonderful information for all of us. My family is still working on not wasting food. I have gotten pretty good at figuring out how to use every last bit, but then my husband decided that he wanted to start helping out with meal planning. That seemed to create more waste. It makes me cranky to throw out good organic food. I have never bought my meat in bulk. That is something I need to look into.


25 Julie Jamison April 25, 2014 at 7:43 pm

Great tips Merissa! We are really evaluating our eating habits and thinking on how we can eat healthier so your post comes at the perfect time!

Thanks for sharing. Stopping by from TwelveSkip linky party.


26 Sharon Wong April 25, 2014 at 9:10 pm

Great Tips!! Next time I go buy food, I will be sure to use these tips. πŸ™‚


27 Kelly April 27, 2014 at 9:42 am

Very helpful post – pinning now
Thanks for sharing,


28 Rachel G April 28, 2014 at 7:33 am

These are all such great ideas to keep the grocery budget low while still eating good quality food!


29 Natosha Zachary April 28, 2014 at 3:03 pm

Thank you so much for all the tips. My son and I are currently phasing into a whole foods lifestyle and are getting rid of all processed foods, except for the occasional organic treats. These are all really helpful tips and suggestions.


30 Shannen April 28, 2014 at 8:01 pm

Hopping over from Mom’s the Word blog hop! Wow, what a great list! Our family has a variety of allergies, and my little frugal heart tries to cut corners wherever I can. I never thought of asking the store about their old produce. Nice tip! I’m kind of in love with your blog. Hope to “see” you again soon!


31 Kelly April 29, 2014 at 1:38 am

Thanks so much for sharing all these great tips. I’m looking forward to putting them to use when we move back to the US!


32 Tanya @ Mom's Small Victories April 29, 2014 at 9:10 pm

Thanks for sharing with #SmallVictoriesSundaylinky! These are such great tips. We really try to eat healthier and avoid preservatives. Pinning!


33 Antionette Blake April 29, 2014 at 10:40 pm

All great tips, thanks for sharing and linking up with us at the #WWDParty.


34 Nicole April 30, 2014 at 10:09 am

Great list here! Wish I could try #1 but our space is small.

By the way, thanks for linking up with Let’s Get Real Party!


35 Gaye @CalmHealthySexy May 1, 2014 at 11:18 am

Excellent tips! Thanks for sharing with the Let’s Get Real party.


36 Theresa @DearCreatives May 1, 2014 at 3:12 pm

Hi Merissa, Your being featured this week at DearCreatives! Thanks for sharing at the party & hope to see you again soon. Grab a featured button & drop by to see the changes in progress on the site!


37 Trinity May 1, 2014 at 5:19 pm

Thanks for sharing such awesome tips. Whatever green vegetable (spinach, kale, etc.) I buy will be used the whole week until it is gone. I find that it doesn’t go to waste. I will use it for salads, stir frying veg. with rice, meatless tacos or smoothies. I also include several meatless meals throughout the week and we drink a lot of water which saves money.


38 Raia May 1, 2014 at 8:03 pm

Great tips! Thanks for sharing them at Savoring Saturdays. πŸ™‚ I used to order from Azure all the time, then we moved last year – outside of their delivery zone. πŸ™ The closest one is now hours and hours away. Gotta work on getting them down here….


39 [email protected] Food Mom on a Budget May 3, 2014 at 5:18 am

Thanks for sharing such awesome money saving tips! You have been featured at Savoring Saturdays this morning. Congrats!


40 Melissa French, The More With Less Mom May 6, 2014 at 12:33 pm

I love making my own stock. It makes me feel like I’m feeding my family health food, even when it’s comfort food like a rich chowder. Greetings from the Let’s Get Real Friday Party.


41 dawnstar July 7, 2014 at 8:45 pm

Thanks so much for posting these tipss! I really enjoy reading them! Keep up the good work!


42 prolexin review August 11, 2014 at 5:23 pm

What’s up, just wanted to tell you, I loved this post.
It was practical. Keep on posting!


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44 Rose Molinary January 7, 2015 at 1:47 pm

There are great ideas! It’s always a struggle to buy healthy food and not spend a ton!


45 Angela January 7, 2015 at 2:09 pm

While I’m not allergic to anything (just a milk intolerance and an apple allergy) I switched primarily to unprocessed foods. And it literally changed my life. I had more energy, got better sleep, my skin looked great and I haven’t gotten sick in 8 months (I used to get sick every 3-4 weeks). I lost weight and just overall felt better. I really wish I could convince my parents to switch over!

I buy a lot of frozen produce. And what I do buy fresh I prep and freeze so it doesn’t go to waste. Its just me so its hard to go through a bunch of stuff in one week!


46 Sydney @Tastefully Frugal January 8, 2015 at 10:51 am

These are all GREAT tips! One of my favorite places to buy our meat in bulk is Zaycon… you can’t beat the prices and it tastes so much better than the grocery store. Thanks so much for sharing this I’ll be pinning and sharing. I would love to have you share this with us at Talented Tuesdays.


47 Nicky January 14, 2015 at 1:45 pm

These are great ways to save money. Thanks for sharing them with us at Let’s Get Real. You are one of my featured bloggers for this week’s party.


48 Marla January 16, 2015 at 7:52 am

Love your ideas and suggestions. I do most of these – buying in bulk, buying locally, growing a much as I can myself, absolutely no processed foods. I also have many food allergies so believe me I totally understand how difficult it can be to find food that you can eat and are tasty. It takes experiencing, work and learning to substitute foods. Come join us at Real Food Fridays blog hop – we would love to have you. It is every Thursday evening through Monday at noon.


49 Samantha @ Stir the Wonder January 17, 2015 at 9:06 pm

Great ideas! Thanks for linking up at the Thoughtful Spot Weekly Blog Hop! We hope you stop by again next week!


50 Bets June 19, 2015 at 10:08 am

1st – I want to say how much I enjoy reading & learning from your articles.

I’ve been on a special diet for over a year and where I live it is very hard to get Organic produce – have had to order online. So I began checking out growing my own – which we’ve just begun doing.

I’ve also found out there is at least 10 foods that can be grown Inside. – Just the other day, I decided to check out the green onion I had in the refrigerator & was about the throw away – instead I put it in a glass of water. I noticed the next day that it had sprouted a new stem(green), yesterday I noticed it continued to grown from morning to evening. I’ve been like a kid watching things grow……. And saw just how easy it will be to grow some things inside.


51 Carol January 4, 2017 at 7:15 am

I buy from a small farmer’s market in my area where local growers sell produce they grow in their yards w/o chemicals. I also buy somethings at Aldi which has a small organic section and is very low cost. Some pantry items I buy online at Vitacost and have delivered to my door.


52 [email protected] January 8, 2017 at 8:42 pm

Ok girl this post is rock solid awesome. A lot of your ideas I already do but some I do not and it truly did inspire me. I have simply gotta Pin this to share with others. I am so happy to find your post via the blog hop today. What a blessing. I love your blog.


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