Eating healthy starts with breakfast

10 Tips on How to Eat Healthy on a Budget

Chances are, many of the tasty foods that are currently in your pantry may not be doing your health any favors. Those cookies, crackers and potato chips may satisfy your food cravings, but plenty of research has found that highly processed foods can wreak havoc on more than just your waistline.

Ready for some good news? You don't have to give up on taste to eat healthy. Healthy recipes abound, and let's not discount the sweetness of a crisp, fresh apple, or the satisfying crunch of a shiny bell pepper. The only catch? Choosing nutritious options to stock your shelves can get pricey.

But, fear not! We've put together 10 tips to help you "eat clean" and stay on budget. Let's dig in!

What is clean eating?

"Eating clean" means choosing foods rich in nutrients that have a positive impact your overall health. Your body needs more than calories as a form of energy; it requires nutrients like vitamins and minerals that support the many biological processes that power your muscles, organs and other tissues. Conveniently, healthier foods also tend to be more filling, so you'll be less likely to overeat.

Specifically, you need foods that are rich in:

  • Protein—Amino acids like arginine, leucine and valine are essential for the body to use for supporting lean muscle, hormone balance and even healthy immune function.
  • Healthy fats—Fish, avocado, cheese, seeds and nuts are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that play a crucial role in heart, brain, eye and joint health (and so much more).
  • Complex carbohydrates—Foods rich in fiber and starches—such as peas, sweet potatoes, brown rice—provide your body with more lasting energy and nutrients than the simple sugars found in white rice, pasta and processed foods.
  • Vitamins and minerals—Vitamins A, C, D, E, K and B vitamins, as well as calcium, sodium, potassium, magnesium, iron and zinc (to name a few). Your body uses these nutrients to power your circulation, breathing, metabolism, muscle contraction…even thinking and learning.

As the saying goes, you are what you eat—so it makes sense to eat strategically to become the best, healthiest version of you possible!

Why a well-stocked pantry is key to good health

It pays to become a grocery store "regular" to make sure you always have healthy, nutrient-dense foods on hand. Fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, dairy and lean protein are great places to start, but as anyone who's found green fuzz developing on an orange can attest, timing is everything with fresh food!

To avoid spoilage—and without ever running out of healthy nibbles—shop for only enough perishables that you can reasonably consume before they spoil, while filling your freezer with easy-to-thaw veggies and meats.

Meanwhile, pack that pantry to the max with clean, healthy staples! Here are our suggestions:

Pasta, grains and legumes (beans)

  • Lentils (green, black, yellow, red—take your pick)
  • Garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
  • Peas (canned or frozen)
  • Kidney, black, navy and pinto beans
  • Brown, jasmine and basmati rice (these may contain more calories than white rice, but they also have more nutrients)
  • Quinoa (so many colors to choose from!)
  • Barley and bulgur
  • Pasta made from black beans and red lentil are great alternatives to white pasta (and rich in protein!)

Canned and packaged foods

  • Crushed, diced tomatoes and tomato paste
  • Marinara or your favorite sauce
  • Canned coconut milk
  • Almond, oat and cashew milk
  • Canned tuna
  • Canned beans
  • Vegetable, chicken or bone broth

Pro tip: Make sure the canned goods you choose don't have added sugars or excess salt.

Healthy fats: nuts, seeds, non-dairy

  • Shaved or whole almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios (so many choices; choose pasteurized and raw nuts and avoid additives)
  • Chia seeds
  • Flaxseeds
  • Hempseeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Shredded coconut
  • Nuts/seed butter (almond, peanut, coconut, tahini, etc.)

Condiments, spices, oils & vinegar

  • Avocado oil
  • Cold press coconut oil
  • Extra virgin olive oil for cooking or salad dressings
  • Apple cider, balsamic, rice or red wine vinegar
  • Ghee (a butter alternative)
  • Mustard
  • Coconut amino acids (soy sauce alternative; make sure they are low in sodium)
  • Cumin, smoked paprika, chili, black pepper, curry, turmeric and other colorful spices
  • Sriracha
  • Honey, agave, monk fruit extract and other healthy sweeteners

Shelf-stable fruits and veggies

  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Yellow, white and red potatoes
  • Squash or butternut
  • Bananas, apples, lemons, limes, oranges, grapes, blueberries
  • Avocado
  • Tomatoes

Pro tip: Eat the rainbow! Mix and match all the colorful produce and fruits you can.

Baking essentials

  • Almond, oat, coconut flours
  • Flour (all-purpose, coconut, almond, whole wheat, gluten-free)
  • Coconut sugar and honey
  • Dark chocolate chips
  • Baking soda/baking powder
  • Vanilla and almond extracts

Take this list with you the next time you go to the grocery store and fill your cart with everything you need for a well-stocked pantry! And be sure to shop the outer perimeters of the store for healthy fruits, vegetables, dairy and protein, too.

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10 tips to eat healthy and stay on budget

Now that you understand clean eating a little better, let's go over some ways you can make it more affordable! Here are 10 tips to help you get started.

1. Plan your meals for the week:

Knowing the food items and other ingredients you need before heading to the grocery store can really pay off, especially if you're on a budget. Make a detailed grocery list to keep yourself true to your plan. That way you'll stick to your budget without missing any ingredients.

2. Spice it up!

As you're meal planning, make sure you include some flavorful entrees. Using different spices to add color and flavor to your meals is an excellent way to create different foods with the same ingredients, so you won't get "meal fatigue." Have curry chicken one night, and chicken fajitas the next!

3. Cook at home:

Put your meal plan (and grocery list) to good use by actually using the foods and ingredients you buy. Eating out is fun, but it is not budget friendly. Plus, cooking at home empowers you to own your wellness. You'll know every ingredient that's in the meals you eat—no fillers or artificial flavors, added sugars or any processed ingredients.

4. Use your leftovers (zero waste):

This one is a must, and an opportunity to get creative. Leftover ground beef from dinner? Have it for breakfast with some veggies and sauerkraut or as a topping for your salad (or pizza!). Make your own vegetable stock with your veggie scraps.

5. Buy foods in season:

When you buy in season, you are choosing foods that are fresher, tastier and with an optimized nutritional value. Plus, it's more eco-friendly. If you're shopping for a big family, you can buy in bulk and freeze what you're not using right away (just be sure to wash and dry your produce thoroughly beforehand).

6. Price check on different stores:

This one may sound like a lot of work, but thanks to the internet, you can compare prices online before shopping. A few dollars add up on things you buy consistently. Coupons and BOGOS are also an excellent way to save.

7. Storage and fridge organization:

Okay! This one may be questionable, but a huge part of eating the healthy meals you cook (and not waste food) is to organize your fridge in a visual way and store foods properly. An organized fridge allows you to see what you have and what you need to use before it spoils. And your produce will last longer when stored correctly.

8. Freeze foods you're not using:

This is another way to avoid wasting food. Whether you cook in bulk, or you're simply tired of a dish you made, you can freeze it and have it later in the week.

9. Never shop on an empty stomach:

It's easy to buy too much food (and not-so-healthy treats) when we're hungry. Plus, you're more likely to go over budget if you listen to your cravings.

10. Choose store brands:

Buying generic or store brand items can save you a pretty penny! You can find everyday staples that are usually available at lower prices when you buy store brand versions. Pro tip: Always read the label of any product you buy. Limit food items with added sugars, processed ingredients, high sodium, trans fats, artificial flavors and colors.

Healthy eating will look different in every household. The key is to choose nutrient-rich foods and find healthy swaps for snacks. If you have specific health needs, then you can talk to your doctor or nutritionist to help you choose foods that will address those needs.

Your journey to a healthier you

Choosing to eat clean brings so many benefits to your overall well-being. Above all, it's about how the foods you consume make you feel, and the nutritional value they add to your daily activities—so you can live your best life and fine-tune it as you go along.

Remember: it's about balance, not restriction. Eating healthy isn't about swearing off foods that aren't nutritious; while you don't want your pantry to look like a kid's birthday party spread, it's okay to have that donut or finish your bag of Cheetos on occasion.

As long as you're eating more nutrient-rich foods than junk food, you'll be able to sustain a healthy way of eating. And a smart, focused supplement plan helps fill in any dietary gaps—so that you can nurture your body so that it functions optimally.

About the Author: Jessica Monge has a bachelor's degree in biological sciences & neuroscience and a master's degree in comparative studies and related languages from Florida Atlantic University. She worked as a tutor, freelance writer and editor before joining Life Extension, where she is currently a Digital Content Writer.