10 Tips For Preparing Meals On A Budget

Yes, eating more nutritious foods can cost you more up front, but there are tips and tricks for upgrading your grocery list on a budget.  Here are my top 10!

1. Plan your grocery list before you shop.

I spend considerably less money when I shop with a grocery list. When I just try to wing it, my grocery bill is higher, and I buy unnecessary items. Chances are also higher that I’ll need to make multiple trips to the grocery store that week, thus spending even more money. I’m not type-A about anything else in my life, but when it comes to grocery shopping, I have to have a list, or my grocery budget feels out of control! 

2. Buy frozen produce.

Often times fresh foods in the produce section aren’t actually as fresh as frozen produce. That’s because most frozen foods are frozen at the peak of ripeness, thereby preserving the food when it’s packed with the most nutrients. Fresh produce is usually harvested before it’s 100% ripe, and then spend a few days in the shipping process before they get to your grocery store and into your kitchen. Don’t get me wrong—fresh is still fantastic, but frozen just might be better! 

3. Eat less meat.

Meat is one of the most expensive grocery items we buy. It’s expensive because you’re not just paying for the animal; you’re also paying for everything that goes into raising the animal, including the food used to feed the animal. It’s a lot more energy, time, and resource-intensive to raise meat than most grains and produce. Try switching to plant-based sources of protein like lentils, beans, quinoa, and tofu a few times a week to cut down your grocery bill extensively. (True life: When my husband and I cut back on meat, we freed up the money we needed to start buying even more fruits and vegetables!) 

4. Buy produce in season.

When you do buy fresh produce, make sure it’s in season. Prices drop on produce when it’s in season. *Bonus!* In season produce tastes better too! 

5. Pass on the supplements.

At best, some supplements like protein powder can be convenient. At worst, supplements are high-priced and possibly dangerous rip offs. If your budget is tight, it’s probably not worth it to experiment with expensive powders and supplements. You’re much better off putting that money into fruits, vegetables, and any real food for that matter. PS: Unless you have a deficiency, you do not need supplements to eat healthy and reach and maintain a healthy weight.  

6. Cook larger portions and freeze.

This tip saves time and money, and I know you could use more of both! Cook large batches of your favorite freezable meals like soups, pasta sauces, and other one-dish dinners. You can also freeze leftovers if a recipe made more than you expected! 

7. Keep an organized pantry and refrigerator.

Organize, clean out, and take inventory of your pantry and refrigerator on a regular basis. This helps you reduce food waste and remember what you already have on hand. Before I make my weekly menu and grocery list, I always “shop my kitchen” first, and try to create recipes that build on what I already have in stock. This also keeps me from buying something at the grocery store that I already have at home in the back of the pantry. 


Completely unfortunate cautionary tale about taking inventory of your pantry: I once ate pancakes made with mix that was expired by 4 years, leading to a severe allergic reaction, a shot in the butt, and two black eyes (from being so swollen). Check your expiration dates, people! 

8. Cook ahead of time at least once a week.

I could have named this tip “don’t eat at restaurants,” but that’s not the real problem. If I find myself eating out a lot, it’s because I don’t have any meals prepared at home. When I cook a few meals ahead of time, I not only save time, but I save a ton of money that I would otherwise be spending at restaurants.

9. Stick with simple recipes.

I love experimenting with new, healthy foods. But when the budget is tight, I can’t afford to buy five new spices and three new grains for one recipe. In my ideal world, I’d make the most delicious, extravagant foods all the time and post them on Instagram and be the next Chrissy Teigen! But I’m not Chrissy and that’s okay. Stick with recipes that require just a few, inexpensive ingredients.

10. Skip the beverages.

I like a good glass of wine as much as the next person, but if my budget is tight then the beverages have got to go. 

Take it one step at a time. 

If eating more nutritious meals seems overwhelming for both your brain and your budget, start small. Implement one change at a time until it becomes a habit. This will make tackling subsequent changes much easier, thereby increasing your chances of success! 

Ander Wilson, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and, the brunette half of the Hot & Healthy Habits team. With an M.S. degree in Sustainable Food Systems and a B.S. degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics, Ander knows what she's talking about when it comes to all things nutrition. In her spare time, Ander teaches university nutrition courses, obsesses over all things Hello Kitty, and actively recruits everyone she meets to move to Nashville.

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