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The Broke Person's Guide to Healthy Grocery Shopping

Want to eat healthy but think you can't afford it? Believe it or not, it is possible. We have a few simple tips to help you select and prepare healthy meals and snacks while sticking to a budget.

If you’re one of the many people who wants to eat healthy but worries about the supposed high cost of healthy food, you’re in luck. It is absolutely possible to eat healthy on a budget and still enjoy fun, flavorful foods.

Cook at Home

Prepare your meals and snacks at home as often as possible to not only save a boatload of money, but to also slash sugar, fat, and sodium. When you cook at home, you’re the chef and can control what goes into your meal and how much you serve yourself. Restaurant meals and fast food fare is notoriously high in calories and doesn’t do your wallet any favors either.

You may not notice it, but little by little all of those times you grab lunch with a friend or opt to get take-out instead of home-cooked meals, the cost adds up. You can literally save thousands of dollars each year and consume many more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, all of which are often MIA from the menu when dining out. And after all, dining out should be reserved for special occasions, not a part of your everyday routine.

Make a Beeline for Beans

Beans may be called the musical fruit, but they should really be referred to as the magical fruit because of how nutritious they are. Beans are packed with plant-based protein, phytochemicals, and antioxidants. One serving of beans (1/2 cup, cooked) provides about 100-126 calories (depending on type), 7-10 grams fiber (both soluble and insoluble), and 0-1 gram fat. Beans are an excellent source of folate and a good source of potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron.

An added bonus: beans provide numerous disease-fighting nutrients but contain little to no fat or sodium. However, if you use canned beans, opt for no-salt-added varieties or rinse them well in a colander to rinse away about 40 percent of the sodium content.

Whole Roasted Chicken

You can purchase a whole roasted rotisserie chicken and pick off the meat to use in a variety of ways, including pulled chicken sandwiches, chicken salad, BBQ chicken wraps, chicken noodle soup--the possibilities are endless! It is so much cheaper than buying individual cuts of chicken such as boneless, skinless chicken breast (healthy but costly). Additionally, you can save the bones and make your own homemade chicken stock (throw in a pot with water, roughly chopped veggies such as carrots, onions, and celery, herbs and spices, and then simmer for several hours, strain, and refrigerate or freeze.

Canned Fish & Chicken

Without a doubt, you’ve heard that you should be eating more seafood, particularly fatty fish. In fact, the American Heart Association, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and other experts in the nutrition and medical fields recommend that you eat fish at least twice a week (minimum). Fatty fish, including salmon, albacore tuna, lake trout, rainbow trout, mackerel, herring, anchovies, and sardines, are rich in heart- and brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. However, the high cost of fresh, or even frozen, seafood, is often a roadblock if you’re watching your budget. Opt for canned seafood and chicken and be sure to drain and rinse it well to cut down on sodium.

Moderate Meat Intake

Meat is oftentimes the most expensive part of any food budget, and there are plenty of non-meat sources of protein that are more affordable, healthier for you, versatile, and delicious. Economical eggs, beans, peanut butter, peas, lentils, and tofu are all significantly cheaper than meat, and most are shelf-stable (aside from eggs and some forms of tofu). Additionally, each of us throws away hundreds of dollars worth of food each year because it spoils before we can use it ($490 per person, to be exact), and a large portion of food that is thrown out is meat and seafood that has gone bad.

Grow Your Own Food

If you have the space or belong to a community garden, you can grow your own food for the mere cost of seeds and some basic gardening supplies. Gardening allows you eat more fruits and vegetables while also providing you with enjoyable exercise.

Shop at Dollar Stores

It may come as a surprise to some, but you can actually find a lot of healthy pantry staples at your local dollar store. Here are some ingredients you can snag for super cheap: herbs, spices, canned/dry beans, canned/frozen vegetables, fruits (canned, frozen, and dried), whole grains, nuts, seeds, canned tuna and salmon, frozen fish, condiments, vinegar, olive oil, coffee, tea, baking supplies and popcorn kernels (air pop them at home for a filling, whole-grain snack!). Some items cost even less than a dollar. You can save on average 20-50 percent on these items by stocking up at discount stores.

Plan Meals Around Weekly Sales

Don’t toss those weekly store flyers in the recycling before you glance over them. If you plan your meals based on what is on sale at your local grocery store that specific week, you’ll end up saving a lot of money over time.

Buy in Bulk

If you are lucky enough to have a bulk section at your local grocery store, take advantage! Buying ingredients from the bulk bin saves you tons of money, and you can find healthy staples such as whole grains, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, herbs, spices, beans, lentils, and others.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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