Purchasing and Preparing Healthy Foods on a Budget


Today, it is generally accepted that adding more fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, and low fat dairy to your diet will make your diet more healthful. One of the most common reasons stopping Americans from eating a more healthful diet is the perception that a healthful diet is more expensive than the standard American diet of high fat, processed foods [3]. Studies have shown that, in general, healthful foods are less expensive and are attainable at both middle-class, and poverty level incomes [2]. You can save money by shopping for healthy foods and cooking at home.


While it is true that you can get French fries or a hamburger from a fast food joint for under a dollar, you can also get good quality produce for the same price. Often, you can find good produce for even under a dollar a pound. There are many ways to save even more money on fruits and vegetables. Here are a few:

  1. Buy in season. Fruits and veggies that are in season are going to be the lowest cost per pound. If you need something that is out of season, frozen or canned will be the cheaper option.
  2. Look at the grocery store ad for further discounts and savings. Some grocery stores will even price match a competitor’s sale on produce if you ask.
  3. Not everything you buy needs to be organic. Organic produce can drive up a grocery bill fast. Studies have shown that regular fruits and vegetables vs their organic counterparts still hold the same nutritional value [4]. If you are inclined to purchase only organic, you can skip the organics that have a peel since you will be pulling off the outside anyway. Only purchase organics that you will be consuming the peel along with the produce.

You can find more tips and tricks for saving money not only on produce but throughout the entire grocery store at: www.choosemyplate.gov

Now that you can see buying healthier foods from the store can be beneficial to your wallet, there is one more thing to be aware of. Don’t let the price of convenience fool you. It can be tempting to buy a $4 salad from a convenience store or fast food chain, but instead of buying a pre-made salad, you can usually buy the ingredients for that same salad at the grocery store for around the same price for the single serving. You can make multiple servings with the ingredients by setting aside a little time for prep work. Now, instead of having the salad one time, you can have a salad all week and save money.


Stretch your dollars by using up leftovers. People often have good intentions of eating leftovers but those good intentions go bad, along with the leftover food! According to a 2010 USDA report, consumers in the United States were responsible for wasting 90 billion pounds of edible food, costing the consumer, on average, $371 per household. That averages out to about 9.7% of every dollar spent on food that goes wasted [1]. And, in another study, the most common reason stated for tossing out food was not using ingredients within the appropriate amount of time [5]. That is a lot of money wasted on good intentions gone bad. Leftovers don’t have to be boring. You can spice them up by making them into completely different meals. For example, you can buy a whole chicken and vegetables for a roast for one night’s dinner, and then use the leftovers (the meat, vegetables, and bones!) for a soup the next night. The options are endless and you can essentially make multiple meals out of the same ingredients. For recipes and more information on stretching your meal budget, visit choosemyplate.gov or eatright.org.

Written by Idaho State University Dietetic Student, 

Jenifer Massengale 


  1. Buzby, Jean C., Hodan F. Wells, and Jeffrey Hyman. “The Estimated Amount, Value, and Calories of Postharvest Food Losses at the Retail and Consumer Levels in the United States.” EIB-121, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. (Feb. 2014) n. pg. Web. 31 Jan. 2017
  1. Luedke, Catherine Elizabeth, Janelle Walter, and Suzy Weems. “Healthy Eating for a Low-income Family: SNAP.” Undergraduate Research Journal for the Human Sciences 11 (2012): n. pg. Web. 31 Jan. 2017
  1. McDermott, Andrew J., and Mark B. Stephens. “Cost of Eating: Whole Foods Versus Convenience Foods in a Low-income Model.” Family Medicine (Apr. 2011): pg. 280. Web. 31 Jan. 2017
  1. McWilliams, Margaret. Foods: Experimental Perspectives. 8th, Pearson, 2017.
  1. Qi, Danyi, and Brian E. Roe. “Household Food Waste: Multivariate Regression and Principal Components Analyses of Awareness and Attitudes among U.S. Consumers.” PLOS ONE Journal (21 July 2016): n. pg. Web. 31 Jan. 2017
Posted by Rachelle Ausman, RDN, LD, CHC – Idaho Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Social Media Chair 
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