Eat healthy and still save money on groceries? Seems like a total contradiction, doesn't it?
Unfortunately, one of the biggest barriers to healthy eating is not being able to afford healthy groceries... Of course, there's always the fear that you'll be able to afford the groceries, but you'll be stuck eating plain iceberg lettuce out of the bag while crying over your reheated, unseasoned chicken breast. No one wants that!
I completely get it. When I overhauled my diet and went paleo, I was still a full-time college student working part time. I lived alone and paid my own rent. Through some sort of crazy ninja magic, I was able to positively change my diet and even join a CrossFit gym. All the while, I was eating meals my friends envied and my tastebuds became my bff.
Budgeting wasn’t always easy and I certainly didn’t have a lot of leftover cash, but I was determined to make healthy changes in my life.
And before we even get into the 7 tips to save money on groceries, I think that’s an important point. If you’re dead set on eating healthier, you’re going to find ways to make it work for you.
Frankly, junk food is cheap. Realistically, your grocery bill may climb a little if you fill your pantry and fridge with real, healthy food. There's also the caveat that without paying for convenience, you might have to devote a little more time to cooking or meal prep. But, I truly believe that most people can fit healthy eating into their lives. Here are my 7 tips to save money on groceries and still eat damn delicious healthy meals.
One more thing. As the name of the blog implies, I eat paleo most of the time (but certainly not all the time). If you're unfamiliar, read more about that here. Most of my tips are based around that. But you can easily adapt these nuggets of advice to work for whatever form of healthy eating fits for you.
1. Eat Simply
This tip is overlooked way too often. Eat simply! Healthy, real food meals don’t have to be fancy or involve a ton of ingredients. Steak, baked sweet potato fries, and a salad is a well-rounded meal. Chicken thighs with roasted broccoli and potatoes. Beef stew full of veggies. Hard-boiled eggs with raw fruits and veggies plus an easy dip.
It doesn’t have to get more complicated than that, and you'll save money on groceries by skipping all the marked up pre-packaged junk.
BUT I’m not saying meals have to be bland. Spice it up. Use aromatics (onions, garlic, etc.), spices, and herbs to add flavor to your meals. Don’t eat plain chicken breast and steamed broccoli (unless that’s your thing, of course)—add a simple spice rub of salt, pepper, oregano, and chili powder to that chicken. Roast your veggies with a little olive oil, salt, and whatever spices you want. Make some simple sauces and marinades like chimichurri or pesto. Simple does not equal boring.
Back when I first changed my diet, my favorite meal was steak, sweet potato fries, and whatever veggie I had on hand. I bought a family pack of cheap steaks and ate them throughout the week. Easy. Delicious.
2. Meal Plan
Nowadays, meal planning is my trusty sidekick. If you aren’t planning out at least your dinners for the week, you're probably buying food on the fly. That leads to either severely overloaded grocery bags or an empty fridge. Neither of those outcomes sound good.
Meal planning starts with assessing what you already have. Is there anything you have left over that still needs to be eaten? What’s in the freezer that could be used for a meal next week?
Once you’ve determined that, schedule out your meals. Refer to #1—keep it simple! Even as a food blogger who’s constantly brainstorming new recipes, the majority of my meal plan stays the same every week. We have tacos, roast a whole chicken, and have cast iron chicken thighs. There you go, three meals already planned out, every single week.
3. Stick to the List
I walk into the grocery store with my dinner plan for the week, along with the groceries I need for that plan.
And by and large, I stick to that list.
I don’t waver—much. If I find a crazy good deal on something, I might make an adjustment to my meals and throw it in the cart. But note that that’s part of my process. I keep my meal plan with me, and write down adjustments if I have any.
For example, if I plan to buy brussels sprouts to pair with a meal but when I get to the store, I see that green peppers are on sale, I’ll buy the green peppers and cross off the brussels sprouts.
My other exception is when I see a new product on the shelves that I really want to try. I allow myself ONE extra item not on my list per week. When our budget is less tight, I’m more flexible with that rule. But right now? Stick. To. That. Damn. List.
4. Stock Up When Staples Are On Sale
The groceries that drive up my bill are healthy fats and condiments. Let’s face it—good quality extra virgin olive oil is way more expensive than vegetable oil.
So when my preferred brand of EVOO is on sale, I stock up. A lot.
My local grocery store had my brand of EVOO on sale a couple months back for about half off. Seriously! It was a 3 day sale, with a limit of 8 bottles. You bet your bottom dollar I bought 8 bottles.
Sure, I spent a little more that week, but I won’t be buying olive oil for a while, which saves me money in the long run.
I also shop online for nonperishable staples, because they're usually much cheaper than in-store prices. My favorite option? Thrive Market! Think of it as the Costco for healthy groceries. You pay a yearly membership fee (which helps them keep their prices near wholesale) and you get budget-friendly prices on healthy pantry staples. I can get coconut aminos and some of my other favorite flavor boosters at Thrive Market, where I might otherwise have to pass them up due to cost.
Annnnd if you sign up through my (affiliate) link, you get 25% off your first order! Pretty sure that membership fee is going to pay for itself!
5. Waste Not, Want Not
Meal planning and sticking to your list should help with this, but it bears mentioning.
Don’t waste the food you already have!
I’m dismayed whenever I hang out with my friends, watch them fill their plates with ginormous portions, and then throw away what they don’t eat. What? Why?
Even if I wasn’t on such a tight budget, food waste is an issue that’s near and dear to my heart. Don’t throw out your leftovers, folks. Use those greens that aren’t perfectly crisp. Use the limp veggies. Use the browned or spotted bananas (banana bread, duh)!
Too much food is wasted, needlessly.
Obviously, there are exceptions. Burnt burgers to a charcoal brick? Yeah, might not want to eat those. Left raw meat tucked into the back of the fridge for too long and opening up the package made you gag? I get it.
But for the most part, everyone (me included) could be better about using the food they have before it spoils, and eating your leftovers instead of tossing them out.
(Side note: if you’re completely opposed to leftovers, learn to cook so you don’t end up with them.)
6. Scale Back Where You Can
I should have put this one as #1, because it’s huge. Save dollars in other areas of your life to free up money for healthy groceries.
Really look at what you’re paying for each month. Maybe you can make a simple change like canceling your Spotify premium subscription or skipping a few weekday coffee shop visits. Or maybe you make more drastic moves like reevaluating your phone plan or switching insurance companies.
Regardless, I think most people realize they’re overpaying somewhere in their lives.
This goes back to what I said at the beginning of this post: if you truly want to make healthy living a priority, you’ll find ways to make it happen.
My man spouse and I cancelled our Netflix subscription. We rarely buy clothes (like, once a year), and when we do we either shop at thrift stores or use Ebates to get cash back on our purchases. Side note: I love Ebates because it’s totally free! I’ve never been much of a shopper, but when I do shop online I always check Ebates first to see if I can get cash back on something I’m already going to buy. (Psst...join through my affiliate link and get $10. Just like that. Hooray!)
Now, I'm not dictating what you spend your money on. Instead, look at your overall spending habits and see where you can cut back. Be more intentional with your dollars. Every little bit helps!
7. Make It Yourself
Yes, this one takes a little time investment, but the payoff is huge. Learn how to make staples yourself. When you buy healthier pre-packaged dressings, sauces, and condiments, you’re paying for convenience and shelf life. To save money on groceries, buy the ingredients and go homemade.
But it’s freakishly easy to make some of that stuff at home.
Ghee, nut butters, salad dressings—you might be surprised how simple they actually are!
For example, I make my own nut butters. My favorite is sunflower seed butter. I can buy 2 pounds of sunflower seeds for $3-$4, roast ‘em, and blend them into a gargantuan quart jar brimming with creamy sunflower seed butter. On the flip side, I can buy a jar half that size for $6. It’s a no brainer.
Some of the staples I make myself:
- Sunflower Seed Butter (and other nut butters)
- Nut milk
- Paleo Tortillas
- Salad Dressings and Marinades
The list goes on.
I have one last piece of advice to squeeze in here. When I went paleo, I gradually learned how much of an impact food quality has on my health. When possible, I opt for organic, grass-fed meats, free range poultry, and organic produce.
Frankly, if your budget allows, I suggest you do the same! It’s better for your body and the planet.
That said, don’t beat yourself up if you’re making changes for your health but can’t afford the highest quality foods. Your best is good enough.
Increasingly, the paleo and real food community rallies around the importance of sustainable agriculture and meats. Unfortunately, some folks have gotten their undies in a bunch and outright shame others for not eating this way. That's stupid. Especially when you're already on a tight budget.
Eating healthier isn’t a matter of swapping everything you already eat for an organic label. That’s just paying more for junk food.
Eating healthier is changing what’s on your plate. More vegetables and fruits. An appropriate amount of meat. Healthy fats. Well-rounded meals full of flavor, designed to nourish your body and mind.
So there you have it—my tips to save money on groceries while eating paleo!
Is there anything I missed? Let me know what your strategies are in the comments.