10 Cheap and Fast Tricks to Eat Healthy without Draining Your Wallet

Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D



Published on

30 January 2018


Fast or slow, limited or unlimited budget, eating well is about focusing on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, omega-3-rich foods, legumes and other foods that lower the risk of developing long-term health problems. Here’s the low-down on how to cut your food budget and boost your health. (3-6)


Redefine Protein

Bean it up. Americans average almost nine ounces of meat per person per day, accounting for a third of your food dollars. (31) Switch to beans - kidney, navy, garbanzo and more - a couple of times a week and you’ll save hundreds of dollars over the course of the year! Plus - legumes are rich in fiber, B vitamins, minerals, and protein! (32)         

One exception is omega-3-rich seafood, including the omega-3s EPA and DHA in the diet, which support heart, brain and eye health. Many foods are fortified with EPA and DHA. Read labels and look for deals. (7-28)

Processed = Pricey

Highly-processed items aren’t as inexpensive as they look.  Next time you are at the grocery store, do a little cost comparison. You will find that a pound of potatoes in the produce section is cheaper than a pound of frozen hash browns. A small bag of potato chips seems cheap, but price those chips by the pound and they add up to the cost of a steak! If you’re a typical American, you may contribute to the 1.5 billion pounds of potato chips eaten each year in the U.S.  Switch to oranges and you’ll save money on snacks alone! Even with vegetables, choose the least packaged. For example, a head of leaf lettuce is less expensive than a bag of prepackaged salad mix. (29,30)  

10 Cheap ‘n Fast Tricks 

  1. Follow these tried-and-true cost- or time-saving tips and you might just shave enough money off your yearly food bill to take a vacation!
  2. Buy less expensive produce. Apples, oranges, bananas, carrots, cabbage and onions are usually less expensive year around. Use the more expensive mangos, arugula, or papaya to garnish an occasional dish.
  3. Buy in bulk. Oatmeal, rice, nuts, tea, dried fruit, spices and seasonings, sugar, and many other dry goods are available in bulk bins at supermarkets, health food stores, discount groceries, and food co-ops. You can buy the exact amount you need AND cut costs.
  4. Buy in season. Raspberries might cost $10 a basket in March, but enjoy them for as little as $2 in July. Or, freeze extra in the summer for winter use.
  5. Think quantity. Make extra servings of a stir-fry, stew, soup, or grilled chicken and freeze in individual containers for future quick-fix instant dinners. Freeze batches of basic sauces, such as tomato-based sauce or low-fat creamed sauces. These can be thawed and seasoned for instant meals.
  6. Grow your own. If you have the space and time, there is nothing fresher and more rewarding than lettuce, carrots, corn, or other vegetables straight from the garden. You’re also likely (and so are the kids) to eat more produce when you grow your own.
  7. Visit farmer’s markets. Locally grown produce often is less expensive and fresher than store bought.
  8. Bring food with you. Pack your purse, briefcase, glove compartment, diaper bag, or desk drawer with low-fat cheese, peanut butter, whole wheat breads, oranges, apples, carrot sticks, cartons of omega-3-fortified milk, and other nutritious, low-cost foods so you’re less tempted by expensive junk at the vending machine or drive-up window.
  9. What will you really eat? Take a hard look at your food wastes. If you buy fresh pineapple or peaches, but throw out more than you eat, then purchase canned fruit (in its own juice), which can sit on the shelf longer. Bottled lemon juice might be more cost-efficient than the real thing if you usually end up tossing the moldy lemon.
  10. Eat at home. We’re spending 44 percent of our food dollars in restaurants these days, where food choices are higher in calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, salt and/or sugar and far higher in cost than homemade food. (33)  
  11. Store it right. Store vegetables, such as peppers, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, green onions, and lettuce, in the crisper bin. Artichokes, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, corn, and mushrooms should be stored in the refrigerator, not the crisper.

Enjoy That Vacation!

You’d probably jump at the chance to save on your taxes this year. Well, you can do the same on your annual food bill, even when you buy nutritious items. The benefits to your health and waistline mean you will spend less on medical bills, too.  That means you’ll have more money and energy to enjoy that vacation!



  1. Per 2017 Ipsos Research, which states that nearly half of survey respondents (total population: 14,449) say it is difficult to stay healthy, mostly because of the expense and time related to preparing healthy food.
  2. Americans average less on food than almost any other country:  https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/03/02/389578089/your-grandparents-spent-more-of-their-money-on-food-than-you-do
  3. Davis C, Hodgson J, Woodman R, et al: A Mediterranean diet lowers blood pressure ad improves endothelial function. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2017;105:1305-1313.
  4. Song M, Fung T, Hu F, et al: Association of animal and plant protein intake with all-cause and cause-specific mortality. JAMA Internal Medicine 2016; August 1st.
  5. Veronese N, Stubbs B, Noale M, et al: Adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with better quality of life. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2016; 104:1403-1409.
  6. Satija A, Bhupathiraju S, Rimm E, et al: Plant-based dietary patterns and incidence of type 2 diabetes in US men and women. PLoS Medicine 2016; June 14th.
  7. Conquer J, Holub B: Supplementation with an algae source of docosahexaenoic acid increases (n-3) fatty acid status and alters selected risk factors for heart disease in vegetarian subjects. The Journal of Nutrition 1996;126:3032-3039.
  8. Schwellenbach L, Olson K, McConnell K, et al: The triglyceride-lowering effects of a modest dose of docosahexaenoic acid alone versus in combination with low dose eicosapentaenoic acid in patients with coronary artery disease and elevated triglycerides. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 2006;25:480-485.
  9. Pounis G, Panagiotakos D, Chrysohoou C, et al: Long-term fish consumption is associated with lower risk of 30-day cardiovascular disease events in survivors from an acute coronary syndrome. International Journal of Cardiology 2008; 136:344-346.
  10. Marklund M, Leander K, Vikstrom M, et al: Polyunsaturated fat intake estimated by circulating biomarkers and risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality in a population-based cohort of 60-year-old men and women. Circulation 2016;132:586-594.
  11. Minihane A, Armah C, Miles E, et al: Consumption of FISH oil providing amounts of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid that can be obtained from diet reduces blood pressure in adults with systolic hypertension. The Journal of Nutrition 2016; 146:516-523.
  12. Tukiainen T, Tynkkynen T, Makinen V, et al: A multi-metabolite analysis of serum by (1)H NMR spectroscopy: Early systemic signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Biochemical & Biophysical Research Communications 2008;August 9th.
  13. Tanaka K, Kon N, Ohkawa N, et al: Does breastfeeding in the neonatal period influence the cognitive function of very-low-birth-weight infants at 5 years of age? Brain & Development 2008; July 18th.
  14. Henriksen C, Haughholt K, Lindgren M, et al: Improved cognitive development among preterm infants attributable to early supplementation of human milk with docosahexaenoic acid and arachidonic acid. Pediatrics 2008;121:1137-1145.
  15. Virtanen J, Siscovick D, Longstreth W, et al: Fish consumption and risk of subclinical brain abnormalities on MRI in older adults. Neurology 2008;71:439-446.
  16. Leaf D: Omega 3 fatty acids and coronary artery disease: More than a fish tale. Postgraduate Medicine 1989;85:237-244.
  17. Kaur P, Heggland I, Aschner M, et al: Docosahexaenoic acid may act as a neuroprotector for methylmercury-induced neurotoxicity in primary neural cell cultures. Neurotoxicology 2008; June 20th.
  18. Haapala E, Eloranta A, Venalainen T, et al: Diet quality and academic achievement. European Journal of Nutrition 2016; September 9th.
  19. Wu D, Feng L, Gao Q, et al: Association between fish intake and depressive symptoms among community-living older Chinese adults in Singapore. The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging 2016;20:404-407.            
  20. Sarris J, Murphy J, Mischoulon D, et al: Adjunctive nutraceuticals for depression. American Journal of Psychiatry 2016;173:575-587.
  21. Khajehnasiri F, Akhondzadeh S, Mortazavi S, et al: Are supplementation of omega-3 and ascorbic acid effective in reducing oxidative stress and depression among depressed shift workers? International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research 2016; May 10th.
  22. Song C, Shieh C, Wu Y, et al: The role of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids in the treatment of major depression and Alzheimer’s disease. Progress in Lipid Research 2016; January 4th.
  23. Chhetry B, Hezghia M, Miller J, et al: Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation and white matter changes in major depression. Journal of Psychiatric Research 2016; 75:65-74.
  24. Heras-Sandoval D, Pedrraza-Chaverri J, Perez-Rojas J: Role of docosahexaenoic acid in the modulation of glial cells in Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Neuroinflammation 2016; March 10th.
  25. Nishihira J, Tokashiki T, Higashiuesato Y, et al: Associations between serum omega-3 fatty acid levels and cognitive functions among community-dwelling octogenarians in Okinawa, Japan. Journal of Alzheimers Disease 2016; February 16th.
  26. Oulhaj A, Herneren F, Refsum H, et al: Omega-3 fatty acid status enhances the prevention of cognitive decline by B vitamins in mild cognitive impairment. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 2016; January 6th.
  27. Li F, Liu X, Zhang D: Fish consumption and risk of depression. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health 2015;September 10th.
  28. AHA recommendations to eat 2 servings weekly of fish: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/HealthyDietGoals/Fish-and-Omega-3-Fatty-Acids_UCM_303248_Article.jsp#.WJEd2WczXcc
  29. 1.5 billion potato chips: http://nppga.org/consumers/funfacts.php
  30. Bird J, Murphy R, Ciappio E, et al: Risk of deficiency in multiple concurrent micronutrients in children and adults in the United States. Nutrients 2017;9(7):655.
  31. Putnam J, Allshouse J: U.S. per capita food supply trends. Food Review. USDA Economic Research Service, September-October 1998, pages 2-11. 
  32. Average US meat intake: 8.7 oz/day. https://www.google.com/search?q=average+daily+meat+consumption+in+US&sourceid=ie7&rls=com.microsoft:en-US:IE-Address&ie=&oe=&gws_rd=ssl AND https://www.pri.org/stories/2015-12-01/global-meat-consumption-will-soar-2024-what-meat-eaten-makes-big-difference
  33. 44% of food dollars spent eating out: https://www.forbes.com/sites/alexandratalty/2016/10/17/millennials-spend-44-percent-of-food-dollars-on-eating-out-says-food-institute/

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