Tips for Eating Well on a Budget
Terry Passano RDN, LDN, CLT –University Dietitian
- Get comfortable in the kitchen. Cooking and eating at home will save money and provide cleaner meals when done right. See The basics of Simple Cooking below for more.
- Save money on protein. A balanced plate is about 1/4 protein and can be the most expensive part of your plate. Including plant proteins such as beans and lentils will stretch your food dollar and support your health. Reduce or eliminate the amount of meat in a stir fry and add canned beans to up the nutrition and reduce cost. Go a step further and make black bean or chickpea burgers in place of a hamburger, and you've saved more $. Both approaches make your body happy.
- Balance your plate with proteins, whole grains and make 1/2 your plate vegetables. Eating cheap doesn't mean doing without foods important to health.
- Grow some herbs. Fresh herbs are pricey and are easy to grow. Basil, rosemary, oregano, parsley, cilantro, and more grow easily in Maryland.
- Make a shopping list. Take an inventory of what foods are in your house. Write down what you would like to eat and make a list of what you need. Keep a running grocery list on your phone or notepad. Check out some grocery list apps here or find more grocery list apps here. For tips on what to put on your grocery list, check out this grocery list checklist.
- Buy store brands. They are usually cheaper than name brands.
- Buy seasonal and local fruits and vegetables. They often cost less and taste better.
- Use coupons and look for specials. These can save you $$$ but make sure it's an item you want and will eat. Spending money on something that gets thrown away is no bargain.
- Compare prices: frozen vs. fresh, large bag vs. small. Let's look at red skin potato prices at Walmart as an example. 5lb bag fresh 89c per pound, Steamables red potatoes $1.99/lb, 3lb organic $1.49/lb,1 1/2 lb bag fresh -$2.50/lb. The 5lb bag is the best bargain......unless they rot before you eat them. Potatoes have a longer shelf life than other vegetables and are easy to transport home at the end of the semester. You might also consider splitting that 5lb bag with a friend or two. Make the choice that best fits your habits.
- Speaking of waste, as much as 14% of fruit and 19% of vegetables are thrown out in American kitchens. Buy fresh only what you will eat before it goes bad. Keep frozen or canned fruits and vegetables on hand. Check out this site for perishability and storage guidelines of fresh fruits and vegetables. Download the Produce Storage Guide PDF. Or visit my office for a hardcopy.
- Repurpose leftovers. Have a leftover burger (bean or meat) or cooked chicken or vegetables? Add them to a quesadilla, salad or stir fry.
- Save time by planning ahead. Meal prep for the week or just cook extra of any dish to freeze for a later, quicker meal. Meat or bean balls or burgers can be frozen for later use. Cooked rice/grains can be reheated. Cleaned and chopped vegetables shave meal prep time.