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12 Ways You Can Eat Right on a Budget

by JJ Virgin

Eating right can be expensive.

Times are tight, and you probably don’t have an extra few hundred dollars lying around every month to spend on organic produce or driving across town to a designer health food store.

Readers frequently tell me they want to eat healthily but can’t always afford grass-fed beef or wild-caught salmon. They ask me whether spending three times as much on organic broccoli is really worth it.

As a working mom with two teenage boys who really like to eat, I understand their concern. First I ask how much they spend every week at bodegas, quickie marts, vending machines, and five-dollar designer coffee drinks. Once they’ve tallied it up, many people express dismay that these convenience foods hit the triple digits budget-wise every month.

eat right

Another thing to consider is that processed and fast foods, while cheap and ubiquitous, are hardly bargains in the big picture. The “value” menu at a burger emporium isn’t such a value when you consider the long-term effects on your health, waistline, and well-being.

Related: 6 Foods High In Healthy Fats

When you center your meals on lean & clean protein, lots of leafy greens, high-fiber starches like sweet potatoes and legumes, and healthy fats like nuts, seeds, and avocado, and berries, you’ll probably find your grocery bill shrinks. You feel and look better. You spend less money on doctor visits and take fewer sick days.

The only added expense is the new wardrobe my clients purchase once they lose fat, although few mind that “inconvenience.” That lean, toned physique? Priceless.

I’ve employed these 12 strategies myself and with top clients to healthily eat like a king or queen and budget like a pauper.

How To Eat Right on a Budget

1. Buy in season

Asparagus peaks in spring, while blueberries are the ripest in summer. Besides being fresher and more likely to be locally grown, produce is more affordable in season.

Related: Why You Should Eat Monk Fruit

2. Buy frozen and stock up

Ever regrettably tossed a three-dollar head of Romaine that sat in your fridge for a week? Frozen foods eliminate that problem and save you money. You can literally buy months of veggies and other foods to store in your freezer, so you always have organic frozen spinach to toss into soups, stews, or to use as a side dish.

3. Less meat, more plant-based foods

Grass-fed beef and wild-caught salmon are worth the extra money. They aren’t cheap, and they can strain your budget when you’re trying to feed a family of four or more. Rather than buy lower-quality, conventionally produced meats (sorry, but farm-raised salmon is just gross), load your plate with less meat and more green veggies, good fats like avocado, and starchy high-fiber carbs.

Related: 4 Reasons To Eat More Plant-Based Foods

4. Start your day with a protein shake

Load plant-based (but not soy), low-sugar protein powder with unsweetened coconut or almond milk, berries, kale, and flax or chia seeds. For less than you’d spend on a grande dark roast or fat-storing muffin, you’ll have a fast, easy, nutrient-rich shake that keeps you full and focused for hours.

5. Don’t snack

When you do your meals correctly, you don’t need to snack. Every time you eat, you raise insulin levels. Constant grazing takes a toll on your digestive system and doesn’t allow your body a break to reach into your fat stores.

Related: 11 Ways To Make Your Snacking Healthy

Many people snack from boredom, stress, or even thirst, so address your underlying urge to munch and step away from the vending machines.

6. Join a farmers’ collective or co-op

More cities now have food co-ops where you volunteer your time for reduced-cost produce and other locally grown and raised foods. Farmers’ collectives provide similar opportunities with grass-fed beef and other pasture-raised foods.

You probably have a farmers market during the warmer months, although some cities now conveniently have indoor year-round farmers markets.

Related: 6 Reasons To Shop At Your Local Farmers Market

7. Shop warehouse stores for bulk buys

Make a list and stick to it, since warehouse stores love to lure buyers with serendipitous bargains.

8. Load your plate with high-fiber foods

Fiber delays gastric emptying, balances blood sugar, curbs cravings, and makes you full faster. Aim for two or three high-fiber foods at every meal. Excellent choices include avocado, lentils, and other legumes, nuts and seeds, and leafy greens.

Related: 5 Benefits Of Avocado

9. Prepare ahead of time

If you know you’ll be stuck late at work tomorrow, prep dinner ingredients and you’ll be far less tempted to spike your credit card bill ordering in or grabbing take-out.

Related: 12 Ways to Make Healthy Choices When Eating Out

10. Make your own

Could you imagine if a little hidden gluten in your favorite spice blend was stalling your fat loss and holding your health hostage? Likewise, many packaged dressings, sauces, spice blends, and other condiments have added sweeteners including high-fructose corn syrup as well as trans fats. Make your own: you’ll save money and know exactly what you’re getting.

11. Try my stoup recipe

My hybrid of soup and stew, called stoup, makes the perfect fast, economical hearty meal. Simply load lean protein, lots of veggies, slow-release high-fiber carbs with chicken or vegetable broth in a crockpot. You can even toss leftovers into the slow cooker and voila! You have dinner waiting when you get home from work. Portion and refrigerate leftovers for office lunches.

12. Brew your own

Coffee and tea, that is! Those fancy coffee drinks really add up, especially when you pair them with a blood sugar-crashing stale pastry or low-fat muffin (aka adult cupcake).

Related: Coffee Nutrition Facts: 7 Things You Didn’t Know

Become your own barista and brew a cup of organic coffee or green tea for far less than what you’d spend at a coffee shop. If you need extra incentive, keep a jar with what you would spend at your favorite coffee place and treat yourself to a massage or family outing.


jj virgin

Celebrity nutrition and fitness expert JJ Virgin is the author of The New York Times Bestseller The Virgin Diet.

Featured photo by Tax Credits

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