Eight ways to eat healthy on a budget

There's a prevailing myth in this country that eating healthy costs more, but you don't have overspend in order to eat well.

Mario Anzuoni/Reuters/File
Prices of pears are displayed on digital price tags at a 365 by Whole Foods Market grocery store ahead of its opening day in Los Angeles, U.S. (May 24, 2016).

There's a prevailing myth in this country that eating healthy costs more, but you don't have overspend in order to eat well.

I rounded up our best tips from the Brad's Deals staff and talked to Lilly Polivoda, the Crossfit L1-certified lead trainer at Stay Active Online Training, about how the average Joe can stay healthy on a budget.

Plan your meals (with health goals in mind) ahead of time.

"My advice for eating healthy on a budget is to figure out your macro nutrients for the week before you go shopping" says Polivoda, who recommends using health tracking apps like MyFitnessPal to figure out exactly how many grams of protein, fat and carbs you need to be eating every day in order to achieve your health goals.

"I create a weekly meal plan, and then make a list for exactly what I need to make these meals at the grocery store, and I am strict about buying only those things. My weekly grocery bill is under $50 and I'm in the best health of my life."

I've also found meal planning and prepping on Sundays can save me a ton of money on eating out throughout the week. If I have a healthy meal in the fridge ready to grab and go, I won't be so tempted to spend my hard-earned cash on a lunch or dinner out.

Polivoda agrees with this sentiment: "Planning my meals ahead of time helps me save massive amounts of money because I'm not spending money at restaurants or convenience stores," she says. "Plus, eating food from those places often has a negative effect on your health."

Don't shop hungry.

I can attest to the fact that shopping hungry leads me to spend WAY more money on random, unhealthy things I don't need, but you don't need to take my word for it. According to a 2015 study from the University of Minnesota, hungry shoppers spend more than 60 percent more money than satiated shoppers. The weirdest part? The hungry shoppers spent more even if they weren't shopping for food!

If you want to save consistently when you grocery shop and come home with healthier food, eat a little something before you hit the store. Those Oreos won't look so enticing on a full stomach.

Shop at night.

One of the best tricks I've learned is to hit the deli at night. When I lived in Michigan, I would visit Meijer at night and they would announce at 8 p.m. that everything in the deli was half off. I'd get a great choice of lunch meat and cheese at HALF the price! Other stores mark down produce and bakery items just before closing, as well. Next time you're grocery shopping, just ask an employee if they usually offer discount prices at night, it could end up being worth your while.

Stick with a healthy meat-to-veggie ratio.

It's no secret that meat purchases will make up the bulk of your grocery total, but you can make filling, healthy meals without overloading on meat. I sometimes buy packages of stew meat and freeze half and make kabobs with the other half. Vegetables and potatoes are a great way to beef up your dinner without any extra beef. You could also skip the meat altogether and go for a veggie stir fry. Brown rice is a healthy alternative to white, and you can throw just about any vegetable that is in season and on sale in a quick and healthy stir fry.

Polivoda saves money at the grocery store by avoiding most animal proteins: "I eat salmon, and sometimes I'll treat myself to a burger or something, but I like to stick with fish for my main diet," she says, adding that there's more to this dietary choice than just the cost benefits.

"In lean meats such as fish, chicken breast and turkey there is much less saturated fat content than in meats like as bacon and beef. If you're trying to cut weight, lean meats are generally better for you. But everyone's body is different, some may thrive on red meat. Generally speaking though, lean meat is considered healthier for you and may help you reach your goals faster."

Grow your own herbs.

I could never understand why dried herbs and spices were so expensive, when I could hardly taste them in my food. Casey Runyan, the managing editor here at Brad's deals, is a huge proponent of growing your own herbs.

"The taste difference from fresh to dried is huge," she says. "You can buy the plants from $3-4 and it is a much better deal because the plant will last longer."

Another Brad's Deals employee, Rebecca Lehmann, also grows her own herbs and told me that basil, oregano, rosemary, chives and sage are all very easy to grow. Even though you'll have to front the one-time cost of the plants, you'll get to reap the benefits of fresh herbs at your fingertips and stop wasting money on dried herbs that don't have as much nutritional value as fresh herbs.

Hit up farmers' markets whenever possible.

If you're not into the idea of growing your own herbs or produce, check out your local farmers' markets. To find one near you, visit Agricultural Marketing Service and search your zip code or the zip code of a town near you. Much like the late-night deli shopping, take advantage of the deals you can get just before the market closes. Vendors are going to want to clear their stock before leaving, so you could end up with a pretty steep discount on some fresh, local products.

Shop at discount stores like ALDI.

Polivoda recommends discount grocery store chain ALDI as a great resource for people who want to start eating healthier and spending less on food in general. ALDI's food is always cheaper than the stuff you'd find at your local supermarket, and the store's organic produce selection is quite robust. ALDI made headlines last year when it announced it was cutting all synthetic colors, partially hydrogenated oils, MSG and other trans fats from its products, which is something that most major grocery chains would never dream of doing. If you don't have an ALDI in your area, Polivoda suggests Trader Joe's as another, cheaper alternative to the traditional grocery store.

Get your groceries delivered.

We live in the 21st century, which means we don't even have to leave the comfort of our squishy couches to fill our kitchens with healthy food. Grocery shopping online or through an app on your phone can save you money and cut down on junk food impulse purchases. Most online/app services allow you to save a list of your frequent purchases, which can make grocery shopping literally as easy as one click. Here are our two favorite grocery delivery services and a few deals to boot:

  • Instacart -- $10 off your first order + free delivery with code JLAZUKA1
  • Peapod -- $15 off your first order with promo code BDEALS15

Some of the healthiest non-perishable foods (think whole almonds, oats, canned goods) can be found for a really great price at Amazon. Always price compare, but don't be afraid to branch out of your grocery store comfort zone and search online for deals on food.

If you're a frugal person to begin with, eating healthy isn't going to change that. You'll still be able to find sales on items that are going to keep you full, feeling great, and cost only a few cents more than your college cuisine.

This article first appeared at Brad's Deals.

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