How to get good food on a tight budget

You don't have to choose between good food and staying within your budget. There are a few simple tricks to get more for your money every time you hit the grocery store.

Many families make a difficult compromise: How can we balance eating well with staying within our budget? Luckily for families, there are a few simple tricks you can use to make the money in your budget stretch further than you ever thought possible.

Before heading out to the grocery store, think about these five shopping strategies.

Shop with a plan

Shopping without a grocery list is a great start to finding healthy food on a tight budget. However, you can take the savings even further by shopping with a menu plan. Plan out your meals for the entire week, include plenty of fresh produce and lean proteins, and then build your shopping list around your menu. Don’t forget to plan for all three meals a day plus snacks.

Cook from scratch

Processed foods, ounce for ounce, come with a higher price tag than buying fresh, whole foods. You don’t have to be an amazing chef to learn a few fresh, quick dishes. Making your own meals from scratch will save your budget and it can save your health as you incorporate unprocessed foods into your diet.

Reduce the role of meat

One of the healthiest, most earth-friendly, and most budget friendly moves you can make is to go meat-less a few meals each week. You can make many family friendly meals without meat, such as spaghetti, homemade pizza, soups and chili. When you do cook with meat, consider cooking more casseroles and mixed dishes that incorporate meat without making it the main star.

Shop seasonally

Fruits and vegetables hit their peak seasons during different times of the year. When produce is in its prime season, the price drops significantly. Learn the produce cycles for your area, and pick fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season and on sale. This approach also helps you vary your diet throughout the year and keeps things interesting.

Look beyond the grocery store

Co-ops and farm-share agreements can save you tons on high quality produce. If you haven’t checked out a farmer’s market in your area, stop by and learn just how much you can save. Also, don’t discount the value in growing your own fresh food. Container gardening and square-foot gardening are great ways to get a huge yield in a small space.

You shouldn’t have to sacrifice everything else to feed your family well. Healthy food really is cheaper than processed food or eating out, but it does take more prep time on your part. Setting aside part of one day each week to chop, prep and prepare fresh foods will help you add whole foods to your diet without taking a huge chunk of time out of your daily life. Plan ahead for success by proportioning out healthy snacks and preparing a weekly menu.

These lifestyle changes take time to carry out, so don’t feel like you have to make the jump to an entirely whole-food based diet in one day (or ever, for that matter). Little changes can make a big difference in the health and habits of your family.

Heather Hale

Heather Hale is a fourth-generation Montanan and mom to three crazy boys.