Keeping your nutrition on track everyday can often be an expensive venture with lots of people using this as an ‘excuse’ or barrier.
While a healthy diet can sometimes cost more, it certainly doesn’t have to be. The key is to build a healthy, affordable and sustainable plan you enjoy.
Fortunately, you can take different steps to ensure that you eat the right foods and right amounts of those foods without making a significant impact on your budget.
With these steps, you’ll be able to optimize your health and physique without going broke or quitting because it costs too much money. Here are 6 tips to optimize your nutrition on a budget.
Tip #1: Select The Necessities First
If you’re on a tight budget, it goes without saying that you should really focus on the necessities first and then the more pleasurable foods if you have money left over.
This often means finding lean sources of protein such as meat, eggs, dairy and beans plus all of the produce you can get your hands on. When you’re on a budget, you’ll want to ensure that you get all of the food you need while eliminating or reducing expensive foods that are not necessary.
Stocking up on high protein and fibrous foods will ensure that you’re getting all the nutrients you need, while also feeling satisfied after a meal since protein and fiber both reliably suppress appetite (1, 2, 3, 4).
Additionally, only buying necessities should include opting for generic, non-organic types of foods, unless you are doing so for ethical reasons. Based on the research, products labeled as organic often provide no real additional benefit but cost nearly twice as much (5, 6, 7).
Once you have all the staples in place, such as your healthy animal proteins, vegetables and maybe some healthy whole grain carbs such as rice, quinoa, legumes and potatoes you can then invest in other more expensive health foods if the budget allows.
Tip #2: Compare Prices & Do Your Math
Comparing prices is one of the best ways to make large bulk savings over weeks and months.
One of the best ways to do this is between brands, for example, the grocery store’s own brand vs a well-known brand. Normally, these taste exactly the same but the grocery store’s own brand is often 30-50% off.
Additionally, grocery stores will provide the same food, just packaged differently and mark them at different prices.
For example, if you want to buy ground turkey, this can often come in either fresh ground packs or pre-tubed versions. Despite being the same product and the same amount, these two products are often priced differently.
Another popular and efficient way of comparing these types of products is finding the price per oz. or per serving, which is often listed in small text on the price label.
Often one version will seem cheaper since the actual price is lower. However, once you see the label, it might reveal that if you purchase a slightly larger size, you’ll get a great deal, due to a lower price per oz. or portion.
Some grocery stores are transparent about their deals while others are not. It’s best for you to scan each detail and compare prices even when it’s the same brand and product. Remember, you only need to do it once and then you will know for future.
Tip #3: Buy In Bulk & Save BIG
Buying in bulk is also a great way to save BIG money in the long term.
Despite paying a bit more upfront, the end price will be far cheaper than if you were to buy each serving or meal individually. Even when you’re doing so with meat, you can simply freeze the foods that you don’t need immediately in order to preserve both the price and the meat.
Prime examples are pork chops. Pre-cut pork chops are often quite expensive.
For example, a quick search of a popular grocer revealed that a package of pre-cut pork chops came in at $2.88 / lb. The same store offered a full pork tenderloin of the same weight for 2.48 / lb. Simply buying the uncut version saved 40 cents per lb.
Over 6-10 lbs. that could really begin to stack up, especially when you multiply that every week and every month. For example, 10lb a month can save you $48 per year just for one food. If you applied this bulk saving for 15 foods, that would equate to $720 per year in savings just by buying in bulk.
I suggest after comparing prices, buy most of your food in bulk to help reduce the prices. It also saves time and helps you master meal prep which is a good long-term strategy.
Tip #4: Opt For Store Brands Over Popular Famous Brands
Opting for store brands is one of the oldest tricks in the book to save a lot of money every week.
Many times, name brand products really don’t offer any additional benefit/value over the cheaper store bought brands. Often, you’re simply just paying for the brand because it’s a name you trust and they have domination in that market.
A great example of this type of collusion is Heinz Ketchup or Greek yogurt.
Often, name brand Greek yogurt can be more than twice as much as the store brand. Not to mention, sometimes the store brand has a higher amount of protein in it!
Of course, some brands may taste far better and in this case, it may be worth the extra money depending on your budget. However, more often than not the famous brand isn’t any better quality. In fact, independent trials have tested this and often find that participants can’t taste a difference when provided with each food in blank containers.
While there are a few products where a name brand actually is superior, it is usually not the case. As such, I suggest opting for store brands whenever possible if you are trying to optimize your food budget and save money!
Tip #5: Choose Protein Wisely
Protein is one of the most essential nutrients the body needs. If you’re active and looking to improve your physique, it becomes even more essential.
However, this poses a problem for those with a tight budget because protein can often be quite expensive. Fortunately, that’s only true if you don’t know where to look.
If you’re on a budget, you can use most of the previously mentioned tips, which will provide you with great deals and savings; for example, buying your meat in bulk, etc., although, there are other ways you can find protein at even cheaper prices.
One of these ways is to opt for leaner cuts, especially with red meat. Whereas ground versions often increase in price as fat drops, the same cannot be said for normal cuts like rib eye, filets and New York strips.
In the realm of red meat, fatter cuts are often revered for their taste and softness. The leaner cuts are often a bit tougher to cook. Because of this, leaner cuts like sirloin are significantly cheaper than the likes of New York Strips.
Additionally, use products like whey protein and Greek yogurt to bump up your protein intake. Upfront these products seem expensive, but realistically, per gram of protein, they are not.
Even if you’re spending $5 per tub of Greek yogurt, you’re still getting upwards of 100 grams of protein per tub or per $5. Not many other products can say the same on a gram per gram basis.
Whey protein supplementation is even better and also very low in calories, aiding in weight loss. For $40, you can get upwards of even 75 servings of over 20 grams of high quality protein. Almost no other product on the market can match this price, so this can also be used strategically, along with a whole food diet, to keep costs down and protein intake up.
Choose your protein wisely and you’ll save money while getting all the protein you need. A mix of healthy whole foods like as meats, fish, eggs, dairy and whey is the best way to maximize your diet and budget.
Tip #6: Find In-Season & Regional Produce
Finding produce such as fruit and vegetables that are in season is probably one of the easier tips on this list.
It’s simple really, when produce is more abundant (in season) it’s often much cheaper then when it has to be specially shipped from somewhere or it’s grown in small batches.
Additionally, try to find produce that is local to your region. Chances are, it’s much cheaper than the ones that need to be shipped, for obvious reasons.
To avoid unnecessary charges, opt for produce that is regional and in-season to get the greatest discounts.
How to Optimize Your Nutrition on a Budget
Trying to optimize your nutrition while on a tight budget is no easy task.
However, there are quite a few tricks you can use to your advantage to ensure that you get everything you need within your budget.
By being thrifty and finding the best prices, comparing diligently and opting for the most bang for your buck, you’ll leave the store knowing you have everything you need and maybe even some of the things you want.
Remember, while healthy food may seem expensive, it often works out cheaper by the time you add in take-outs, meals in restaurants, alcohol etc.
Finally, while it may cost you slightly more to eat healthily, (although I doubt it if you follow these tips), you ultimately can’t put a price on your health and all the other benefits you get from being fitter, more confident, in better shape, etc.
- Veldhorst, M., Smeets, A. J. P. G., Soenen, S., Hochstenbach-Waelen, A., Hursel, R., Diepvens, K., … & Westerterp-Plantenga, M. (2008). Protein-induced satiety: effects and mechanisms of different proteins. Physiology & behavior, 94(2), 300-307.
- Bolton, R. P., Heaton, K. W., & Burroughs, L. F. (1981). The role of dietary fiber in satiety, glucose, and insulin: studies with fruit and fruit juice. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 34(2), 211-217.
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- Smith, B. L. (1993). Organic foods vs. supermarket foods: element levels. Journal of applied nutrition, 45(1), 35-39.
- Bourn, D., & Prescott, J. (2002). A comparison of the nutritional value, sensory qualities, and food safety of organically and conventionally produced foods. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, 42(1), 1-34.
- Bloksma, J., Adriaansen-Tennekes, R., Huber, M., van de Vijver, L. P., Baars, T., & de Wit, J. (2008). Comparison of organic and conventional raw milk quality in the Netherlands. Biological Agriculture & Horticulture, 26(1), 69-83.