Eating Healthy on a Budget

Eating Healthy on a Budget

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Do words like "whole grain," "organic" or "fat free" make you think that your wallet will shrink more than your waist line? Watching what you eat doesn’t mean you have to put your pocketbook on a special meal plan, too.

Crunch Time

The most effective way to prove this can be done is to put the numbers on paper. The average fast food meal costs about $4.00. If you do that at least 3 times a week for a year that adds up to $624! Order out or purchase a hot lunch every day, and then add in a few vending machine items and you are looking at easily spending $50-$75 a week, and that is just for 1 meal.

Check the Labels

There are a lot of products where the no sugar added, packed in its own juice, or fat free versions cost the same as the regular, same size item. Also, name brand verses store/off brand tastes just the same, so don’t be afraid to go a little cheap. Here are just a few items where the more healthy or organice option won’t cost a penny difference (or even less):

Mott’s Regular Applesauce vs. No Sugar Added SAME PRICE
Regular salad dressings vs. Light or Fat Free SAME PRICE

Hunt’s No Sugar Added Spaghetti Sauce vs. all Flavors SAME PRICE
32 oz container Stonyfield Organic Yogurt (all types) vs. equivalent amount of 6 oz individual Weight Watchers Yogurt containers CHEAPER
Kashi Go Lean cereal (14 oz) vs. CHEAPER
Original Special K cereal (12 oz)

Get Fresh

Eating fresh foods is a big part of a healthy diet. Contrary to popular belief, it is actually pretty easy to have a fresh snack “on the go” when you start getting those hunger pangs.

Here are a few cost saving ideas:

A 5 lb bag of apples costs $4.49, or about 45 cents per apple. A 6 count box of Slimfast bars costs $3.50, or 58 cents per bar.

Instead of buying travel size bags of trail mix, make your own with healthy items you might already have. Toss some granola cereal or shredded wheat together with some raisons and salt free nuts in a Ziploc bag for a purse size snack. Want a sweet and salty mix? Try some Berries and Yogurt Special K mixed with lightly salted nuts.

Chocoholic? If you need to have your sweet tooth soothed, try kisses—Hershey’s that is. A bag of Hershey’s Special Dark Kisses costs $2.99, just 4 cents per drop of chocolaty goodness AND a dose of natural antioxidants. Compare that with an 8 count bag of Weight Watchers mint-patties at $2.69, or 34 cents per patty!

Prepare Your Food

It’s been stated in financial magazines, online articles, and spewed across the television—eating out eats up your money. Sometimes we flat out just don’t feel like cooking (I like to refer to this as “Fast Food Friday”), but take advantage of all those other days that you do.

Leftovers aren’t always fun, but making a big dinner makes for an easy lunch the next day. They don’t have to be the same either—cube up an extra piece of chicken in a crisp salad, or shred it up with some salsa tucked in a low-carb tortilla.

Making your own meals does take a little more time than asking for the #3 value meal, but saving money is a definite pay off. It can also be as simple as portioning food out into baggies instead of hitting up the vending machine at work. Taking a few extra minutes can take off a few extra pounds!

Want proof? I went to the grocery store and crunched the numbers to show how much of your hard earned money you can save by preparing a fresher and healthier version of pre-made dishes or side items.

Example 1:

Tyson Frozen Chicken Stir Fry (1.7 lb, 2 servings per bag) $5.49

1 lb bag broccoli stir fry frozen vegetables $1.99
2 8 oz frozen chicken breasts $2.29

Add some soy sauce or other seasoning and you get a larger dish for less cost. Put it on top of some rice and you have an even heartier meal that is still cheaper.

Example 2:
Starkist Lunch-To-Go (3 oz of tuna) $1.69

1 6 oz can Starkist Tuna $.60
18 (1 serving size) All Bran Crackers $.32

Add a little light mayo or Miracle Whip and some relish and you get not only more tuna, but a healthier lunch by using light mayo and crackers other than the buttery, fat filled ones you get in the “on the go” pack.

Example 3:
Healthy Choice Lemon Pepper Fish Frozen Meal $3.29
(rice pilaf, broccoli florets, and apple cherry desert)

1 Gordens Frozen Lemon Pepper Fish Fillet $1.75
½ cup frozen green beans $.25
½ cup Uncle Ben’s brown rice $.22
½ cup sugar free/fat free pudding $.15

This takes less than 10 minutes to make, and once again you get more food, less preservatives, and less money out of your pocket.

Example 4:
8 count variety pack chips $2.99

1 bag Baked Lays $3.39

Portion into some cheap sandwich bags the Baked Lays into 10-1 oz servings and you save money and a ton of fat, all with the convenience of the snack packs.

Example 5:
16 oz bag Dole salad mix $1.50

1 head of lettuce $1.69

A head of lettuce weighs about 32 oz, which means you get twice the amount for 19 cents more. I like to chop up a head all at once and put it in a Ziploc gallon size bag or a large Tupperware storage bowl. I have found that it stays fresh just as long as the non-sealable bagged lettuce mix; and it’s just as easy to grab a handful and zip the bag shut or snap the lid back on.


Packing your lunch is one of the biggest ways to save your hard earned cash, but sometimes isn’t the most convenient. Invest a little on a thermal lunch box, which can be reused every day versus a brown bag. Get a freezer/ice block—this can also be reused over and over and keeps your lunch cool when a refrigerator isn’t around.

A 4 pack of store brand storage containers (different sizes) run about $2.50 and work just as well as the name brand. Also, the store brand sandwich bags are just as good as the name brand and you typically get more per box.

Now that you know you won’t break the bank eating just to eat healthy, there is no need to feel guilty when you buy new clothes for that smaller waistline!

Editor's Note: Veronica is well-versed in this topic as she is an avid client at Personal NEWtrition and works closely with the owner, Chrisy O'Connor, RD, to make practical nutrition choices.