When you’re transitioning to a healthier diet, the cost of purchasing healthier food can be a big challenge and even stop people from eating healthier in the first place. As you focus on cleaner eating, it’s likely that you’ll try to cook more at home or buy better quality food out, which can come with a higher cost. But while eating healthier, cleaner food can up your grocery bill, eating healthy on a budget is totally possible.
There’s a great saying I like to share with the members I coach at Parsley Health: Pay the farmer now or the pharmacy later. What you invest in your health today can prevent costly disease in the future.
First things first, do you have a food budget? If you don’t know where to start, I recommend checking out the USDA cost of food plans , which are updated monthly. They share a variety of types of food plans (The Thrifty, Low-Cost, Moderate-Cost, and Liberal Food Plans) which can give you an idea of where you might aim your budget to be. You’ll find different weekly and monthly amounts based on the amount of people in your family and their age and it shares a range of what type of food plan may work with your income. Once you have an idea of what is optimal for you to spend weekly on food, these tips can help you stay within that range.
Community Support Agriculture (CSA) is when you purchase goods from a farmer at the beginning of the season, and participate in a weekly pick-up of those goods. By cutting out the middleman you can save a significant amount on organic vegetables and fruit, as well as meat and eggs. There’s an added bonus of the produce being nutritionally prime, given it is usually harvested the afternoon before or morning of your food pick-up.
A food co-op is a member based food cooperative that typically offers local and high quality products at a discount to its members. They may require a membership fee or a required monthly work exchange, but it comes with the benefit of saving 20-40 percent off their groceries. (Parsley Health members also save on market delivery service from Our Harvest and Local Roots .)
Before you go:
Most grocery stores have apps where they share their weekly sales (for example, Whole Foods has a sales app .) Take a moment to see what’s on sale and if it’s something you’d normally buy, come up with a recipe to utilize that ingredient that week (for example, if wild salmon is on sale, plan to make that one night with sides such as roasted sweet potato and a shredded kale salad). Need recipe ideas? Message your health coach through My Parsley or try one of these simple and delicious plant-based meals .
If you want to take it one step further, check out coupon apps such as Ibotta to see if there are any coupons you can use that week. Just be careful—many of the products on these apps are processed foods, so you’ll want to avoid those. That said, you can also find some great coupons to apply for high quality foods such as bone broth and nut butters!
Get clear on what you need so that you can stick to your budget. Grocery stores are designed to entice us into buying products we didn’t necessarily intend to buy (hello, chocolate bars and cute reusable water bottles at the checkout counter). I tend to pick a couple new recipes to try and then see what I need for staple items such as nut butters, olive oil, spices. Once I’m at the store I typically leave room on my list to purchase produce that looks the freshest.
At the grocery store:
This is a cardinal rule of eating healthy on a budget. It goes without saying, if you’re hungry when you food shop you’re way more apt to buy more food than you need, and food you may be aiming to avoid (like a fresh muffin in the bakery section).
The perimeter of the store is where the freshest food such as the produce section and butcher tend to be located. Aim to fill the bulk of your cart with food from the perimeter instead of food from the middle aisle, which has a longer shelf-life and is therefore more processed. There are some really great high quality packaged foods (i.e. Paleo crackers, gluten -free pasta, etc.) out there, but they are expensive and still processed, so should make up the minority of your cart.
These lists share the most important produce to purchase organic and the produce that tends to be less pesticide ridden. If you can purchase only organic, excellent, go for it! But since organic produce is more expensive, it’s great to have a tool that identifies what’s most important to prioritize as organic only.
The bulk section sells items such as nuts, seeds, beans, grains, and dried fruit by the pound, and the cost per pound is typically less than the cost per pound when you buy that same item already packaged.
Store brands tend to cost less than bigger brand names but often are the same level of quality. Always read the ingredient label to ensure there is nothing extra in the product that shouldn’t be (i.e. sugar added to peanut butter).
Frozen vegetables and fruit are often picked at their prime ripeness and flash frozen, leaving all of the nutrients intact. Not only can they be more cost effective, but pre-chopped frozen produce makes meal prepping and cooking that much quicker. A few of my go-to’s in this department are cauliflower rice, stir fry mix, and frozen peas.
There are many services out there such as Thrive Market , Fresh Direct, Food Kick, Amazon Prime, and Instant Cart that will deliver groceries direct to your door, sometimes within an hour! This is great for convenience but also great for eating healthy on a budget. When you’re at the store it’s not always easy to know how much items in your cart are adding up to, but when you shop online you’re able to see the totals in real time and adjust to stay within your goal.
If you’re not quite ready to go full-force into cooking your own healthy meals, but still want to eat healthy on a budget, meal delivery services can often be cheaper than ordering takeout every night. Parsley Health members get a discount on prepared meals from Sakara Life , Methodology , and Provenance Meals .
At Parsley Health, our health coaches can work with you to support healthy changes that are within your budget. We want your lifestyle to not only feel good, but also be sustainable.
Jackie is the Director of Coaching Services at Parsley Health. She has over eight years of health coaching experience, both in person and virtually, in functional medicine settings. Before joining Parsley Health she worked for Dr. Frank Lipman in his NYC practice. She holds a Health Coaching Certification from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition as well as additional training from the School of Applied Functional Medicine.