Eating Healthy on a Budget


By Shawna Birman, Dt.P

Healthy eating doesn't have to be complicated or expensive. A limited budget doesn't mean you can't enjoy a diet rich in nutrients. There's no need to chase the latest trendy, expensive superfood, as lots of ordinary ingredients are packed full of nutritional value. By following some easy steps, you can ensure a varied diet that's both good for your health and your wallet.

Plan ahead
Take some time before hitting the grocery store to prepare a shopping list. This will make your visit more efficient, prevent you from adding random items to your cart and help you stick to your budget. Before making your list, check what you already have left in the fridge and plan around those items to avoid food waste. Take a look at store flyers to incorporate sale items into your weekly recipe plan.

Shop smart
Never enter the grocery store hungry or without your prepared list to prevent impulse buying. Remember to fill your cart as if you were filling a balanced plate: half vegetables, a quarter protein, and a quarter quality carbohydrates. Here are some budgetfriendly examples:

  • Vegetables: Buy veggies when they are in season. Choose raw items to cut and prepare yourself (opt for whole carrots instead of baby carrots). Note that frozen vegetables are equally nutritious as fresh ones. You can even include some canned options to supplement fresh, but look for those labeled low-sodium and make sure to rinse to remove excess salt.
  • Protein: Incorporate more plant-based options like legumes (chickpeas, beans, lentils) and tofu into your diet. Get the extra mile out of your meat by adding legumes; make a shepherd’s pie using half the usual meat portion and replace the rest with lentils. Save on chicken by purchasing pieces with skin and bones still attached to cut apart yourself. Don’t shy away from canned fish like tuna, salmon, and sardines. Eggs are also an easy, inexpensive and nutritious source of protein.
  • Carbohydrates: There are many complex carbohydrates that are both inexpensive and full of fibre. Examples include potatoes with their skin and simple whole grains like brown rice, barley, buckwheat, and oats. If you are really eager, buy whole-wheat flour and bake your own bread.

Get cooking
Make time to cook at home instead of dining out. At a fraction of the cost, homemade meals are also better for your health since you can include fresh ingredients and control the amount of added salt and saturated fat. Cooking is also a great way to spend quality time with family or friends. Cooking in bigger batches will save time and allow you to buy in bulk which also saves money. Create a list of five-minute meals you can make when you are pressed for time. Easy go-tos include an omelet, toast topped with peanut butter and fruit, a tuna sandwich with pre-cut veggies, or a simple stir fry with frozen veggies and tofu served over pre-cooked brown rice.

Don't forget the freezer
Transfer items in the fridge that are beginning to spoil to the freezer in order to extend their life. You can also buy sale items in bulk and freeze to use at a later date. Freeze leftovers or batch-cooking so you have a stock of healthy backup meals to heat up when you are in a rush, rather than spending money on takeout.

Implementing a food budget is not easy and can take some time to get right. The results, however, will be particularly rewarding for both your health and your bank account. And that's something worth getting excited about!

Shawna BirmanShawna Birman is a registered dietitian with experience in diabetes, heart health, geriatrics and other specialties. She currently works in family medicine at GMF MDCM, part of the CIUSSS Centre Ouest de l’Ile de Montreal.


Summer 2020, Vol 12 N°3

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Summer 2020
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