“I would love to eat healthy, but I just don’t have the budget or time for that right now.”
With all the expensive juices, powders, and superfoods that people think they need to be “healthy,” I don’t blame people for saying that! But as a nutrition student applying to get my master’s degree and become a registered dietitian (RD), I’ve been living that college budget life for quite some time.
One of the most common questions I get asked is: “How can I afford eating healthy on such a tight budget?” Well, I’m here to share with you helpful tips I’ve picked up along the way and a couple of easy, affordable recipes (that come out to under $3.00 per serving) just to show how tasty low-cost, healthy eating can be.
1. Shop in season
Almost 100 percent of the time, in-season produce will be cheaper. So research what’s in season during the time of year and stock up! You can always freeze what you don’t use and just pull it back out whenever you need it again. (But just check the expiration dates for meats and vegetables, because they don’t last forever!)
2. Buy in bulk or frozen
Bulk foods (grains, nuts, etc.), canned goods, and frozen fruits and vegetables are fairly inexpensive. In fact, frozen fruits and vegetables are actually picked when they’re perfectly ripe and frozen within a couple of hours, so they’re still packed with all the nutrients and flavor. They last a long time and are easy to add into any meal.
3. Find sales and use coupons
There are sales constantly going on throughout grocery stores and a lot of stores have coupon booklets available to help save you a ton of money. Don’t be afraid to grab extra for additional discounts on your next purchases as coupons often last a while.
4. Plan your meals and stick to your list
Planning helps you stay on track. Buy only what you need and repurpose ingredients for other recipes. For example, cooked quinoa can be used for dinner as well as morning porridge.
5. Hit up the farmers market
Local farmers markets are great places to buy seasonal produce for less than what’s sold in a regular grocery store. Plus, they’re most likely fresher as they’re coming directly from local farms.
6. Bring cash when shopping
Using cash forces you to only spend a specific amount of money for the items you genuinely need and prevents you from buying that random bag of sprouted wild goji berries.
7. Shop only on the perimeter of the stores
Yep, grocery stores strategically planned. Fresh, whole foods are normally placed on the outer rings of your grocery store. By sticking to the outside, you’re more likely to avoid the temptation of buying foods that are typically more expensive and processed.
8. Buy a variety of protein sources
Adding in plant-based protein sources to your diet can be significantly cheaper than animal products, which in turn can help you save some serious cash. Just a few examples are:
Simple chickpea curry
For 4 servings, price estimate per serving (not including spices or garnish) is $1.80
- 1 15 oz. can of chickpeas
- 1 15 oz. can of coconut milk
- 1 15 oz. can chopped tomatoes
- 1/2 an onion, chopped
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1-2 tsp. grated ginger, to taste (could substitute ground ginger)
- 1 tbsp. curry powder
- 1 tsp. cumin powder
- 1 tsp. ground coriander
- 1 tsp. ground paprika
- 1/2 diced red chili pepper, optional
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1/2 a lime, juice and zest
- 1 bunch of cilantro
- precooked quinoa (or rice) for serving, around 1 cup dry
- Heat a medium-sized pot or deep pan on medium heat with a little oil or non-stick spray. Throw in your onion and garlic.
- Next, grate your ginger into the pan followed by the diced chili pepper. Once that has cooked for a little bit, add your spices and cook for around 30 seconds.
- Then toss in your chickpeas, coconut milk, and chopped tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper and let cook for 5-10 minutes.
- Stir in some fresh cilantro, lime juice and zest, then serve with your cooked grain of choice.
I love serving mine with avocado and some fresh greens as well!
PB banana quinoa porridge
For 2 servings, price estimate per serving (not including toppings) is $1.75
- 1 cup quinoa, dry (or use leftover cooked quinoa)
- 2 cups water
- 1 mashed banana
- 1-2 tbsp. maple syrup (or any liquid sweetener)
- 1-2 tbsp. peanut butter (or your favorite nut or seed butter)
- 1/3-1/2 cup almond milk (or milk of choice)
- pinch of salt
- Bring quinoa and water to a boil while covered.
- Turn it down to a low heat and continue cooking for around 10-15 minutes until fluffy and light. Check package for specific instructions.
- Then, add in your almond milk, mashed banana, maple syrup, peanut butter, and salt. Continue cooking until desired texture is reached.
- Serve in a bowl and top with anything you like.
I love adding fresh or frozen fruit with — of course — some more nut butter.
Sweet potato black bean tacos
For 4 servings, price estimate per serving (not including spices or garnish) is $2.02
- 3 medium sweet potatoes cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1-2 tsp. paprika
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- avocado oil or your choice of oil, optional
- 8 corn tortillas
- avocado, sliced or made into guacamole
- 2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp. cumin powder
- 1/4 tsp. chili powder
- 1/3 cup water
- juice of 1 lime
- Toss the sweet potatoes, paprika, salt, and oil together. Add in some cayenne if you like it spicy.
- Bake everything at 425°F (220°C) for around 30 to 40 minutes.
- Over medium heat, heat a small pot for the black bean part of the dish.
- Coat the bottom with a little oil and toss in the onion and garlic with a sprinkle of sea salt.
- Cook until soft, then add your spices. Keep cooking for about 30 seconds.
- Throw in your beans with the water and simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and smash some of the beans to create a texture difference.
- Add the juice of a lime with some more salt and pepper for taste and you’re all set!
Put your tacos together with the corn tortillas, using any additional toppings you might like. Ideas for toppings include: fresh cilantro, cashew sour cream, salsa, pumpkin seeds, hot sauce, sauerkraut, etc.
Now you have some tools and ideas on how you can start living a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle. It’s definitely not about being perfect. But by taking baby steps you’ll start to notice how much better you feel, how amazing real food can taste, and it will start to become a whole lot easier as it becomes a part of your lifestyle.
J.J. Beasley is the man behind the Instagram and Facebook accounts @BeazysBites. He recently graduated with an undergrad degree in Business Management and International Business. He’s in the process of getting a master’s degree in nutrition and becoming a registered dietitian (while working part-time at a hospital as a nutrition assistant). He wishes to help others pursue a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle, and cannot wait to make his passion into a lifelong career.