Nine ways to eat well on a budget

Even when on a budget, there are plenty of easy and innovative ways to eat good meals.

Kendra Nordin/The Christian Science Monitor
A staff member at the Silverbrook Farm stall in the new Boston Public Market waits to greet customers. Boston Public Market is a year-round indoor market that features more than 35 New England vendors that sell locally sourced food ranging from produce, meat, fish, dairy, flowers and even honey.

Want to eat healthier and save more money in the New Year? Contrary to popular belief, those two things aren't mutually exclusive. It's possible to make better food choices without spending a fortune; you just have to know where to look.

Join a CSA

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a great way to get high-quality, nutritious food at a cheaper price than you'd find at the grocery store. The way it works is, you buy a share of a local farm's harvest up front (usually $400 to $700 per year), and then pick up a weekly box with fresh, seasonal produce.

When it comes to CSAs, you'll only save if you use everything in the box. If you're cooking for one, are a picky eater, or aren't a skilled cook, it might not be worth the investment. If an entire share seems overwhelming, most farms offer half-shares, or you can try splitting a full share with a friend.

Eat Cheaper Protein Sources

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts may be the quintessential healthy protein, but they're one of the least economical. Whole chickens — even rotisserie ones — are cheaper by the pound, and can be stretched for more meals. The same goes for large cuts of beef, pork, or lamb, which are great for the slow cooker.

Thinking beyond meat, fish and poultry can save you some money as well. Beans are cheap and filling, and dried ones are even cheaper than the canned version. Cutting the meat in a curry or chili by half and supplementing with beans or lentils is a great way to add fiber to your meals while also cutting down the cost.

Eggs are also less expensive than many meats, and are a versatile protein source, even if you're buying organic. They can be added to vegetable stir-fries and casseroles to make them more filling, and a frittata is a great, fast weeknight dinner.

Join a Co-op

Your local food cooperative is often a great way to save money, but you'll probably have to work a shift or two each month. If you have the free time, it's a great way to get high-quality food on the cheap and support your community — a win-win.

If you do join a co-op, make sure it's in a location that's convenient, otherwise you might be tempted to shell out more cash for food that's closer to home.

Buy Store-Brand Organics

Whole Foods may be nicknamed "Whole Paycheck," but there are some deals to be had with their store brand, 365 Everyday Value. In fact, in 2016 they're launching affordable stores in some urban areas called 365 by Whole Foods, with plans to double them the year after.

Many supermarkets now have their own organic brands. Stop & Shop has Nature's Promise, Aldi has Simply Nature, and Kroger has Simple Truth; the price tags with these organic lines are often much lower than competing brands.

Buy Healthy Staples in Bulk

Stock up on healthy whole grains, canned and dry goods, and frozen produce, and you'll be able to create inexpensive meals on the fly. You can buy big at your local grocery store when items are on sale (bonus points if you can combine sales with coupons), join a warehouse store like Costco or Sam's Club, or try online sources like Amazon pantry.

It's worth shopping around for the best deals on the things you buy most often, and buying a lot when you find the right price.

Buy Produce in Season

Your local farmer's market may not be the best place to save money on produce, but your grocery store is probably stocking local produce and offering deals on it during peak times. Load up on seasonal fruits and vegetables when they're on sale and freeze them for later. In-season food isn't just cheaper, it's also more flavorful and nutritious.

Grow Your Own Produce

You don't have to have a huge backyard to grow produce. Container gardens are great for items like tomatoes, peppers, and lettuce. If you cook with a lot of fresh herbs, growing them yourself is a great way to reduce waste and save money.

Grow Your Own Produce

You don't have to have a huge backyard to grow produce. Container gardens are great for items like tomatoes, peppers, and lettuce. If you cook with a lot of fresh herbs, growing them yourself is a great way to reduce waste and save money.

Shop at Ethnic Markets

Many people think of ethnic markets as specialty stores, or places to get hard-to-find ingredients. While it's true that you probably won't find a Kroger's worth of merchandise at your local Asian market, you're likely to find a lot of the items you shop for regularly, and at a much lower price.

If organic isn't your top concern, you can likely find produce and meat at rock-bottom prices, along with pantry staples like rice, beans, and spices. Plus, you can discover new foods, which is always fun.

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