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8 secrets to make healthy meals on a budget

Accomplishing all that we are “supposed” to can often feel like a balancing act, between maintaining our health, becoming fit, eating healthy meals on a budget, advancing our careers, cultivating meaningful relationships, taking advantage of educational opportunities, getting in the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep and 10,000 steps per day…

In short, living your best life is, well, exhausting. That’s why, at Academy, one of our goals is to help you decode some of the difficult-to-understand jargon around personal finance to help you achieve your financial goals. 

Make healthy meals on a budget

Learning how to make healthy meals on a budget is an excellent way to boost both your physical and financial health. The average adult spends between 15% and 35.1% of the income on food, and folks of lower income countries tend to spend an even higher percentage of income on food.

Maximizing the bang for your buck for this essential is a great way to trim spending and stick to a budget, like the 50-30-20 budget strategy. Other than that, follow these simple tips to keep up with your nutrition without braking the bank:

1. Meal prepping

Making your coffee at home, and packing snacks for work, school and the days when you plan to be out and about is an often-recommended strategy to eat healthy meals on a budget. Eating out can cost at least five times as much as cooking for yourself, and eating out may lead us to order less-healthy options and portions larger than we need.

While it might sound intimidating for less experienced cooks, planning meals and snacks can be easy with a bit of forethought. 

2. Meal planning

While “meal prepping” may invoke images of bodybuilders on YouTube showcasing how many tupperwares of boiled (tasteless and not fun) chicken they plan to eat in the week, meal prepping doesn’t have to be a drag. It’s important to recognize that there are as many meal-prep strategies out there as there are people.

If the boiled chicken approach works for your lifestyle and palate, use it. However, other meal preppers recommend different methods, like preparing a variety of ingredients and mixing and matching throughout the week to keep meals interesting. It’s important to hone a strategy that lets you make healthy meals on a budget.

3. Shop with a plan

Your list is your best ally at the grocery store to help you eat cheaply and healthily. Writing a list requires you meal plan for the week, which is an excellent money-saving strategy in and of itself.

Plus, you can organize your list according to where you can get the best deals on your groceries. Buy non-food items (and maybe even some food) at dollar and discount stores and figure out where produce and other necessities are the cheapest.

4. Opt for cheaper ingredients

In order to prepare healthy meals on a budget, swap out prime rib for chicken, expensive name brand cereals for generic oats, or ground beef for chickpeas. By becoming picky and buying cheaper cuts of meat, less meat and generic whole foods, you can put a dent in the cost of your diet.

5. Eliminate overly processed foods

Overly processed foods contain more sugar, salt, fat and additives than we need, and are linked to an increased risk of developing many diseases. Plus, they take an unnecessary bite out of your food budget. Buying overly processed foods doesn’t support your goal of making healthy meals on a budget.

6. Eat more sustainably

Consider swapping out animal protein for beans, legumes, etc. in order to cut down on costs. Reducing animal protein can also be a way to improve your health by consuming less fat, losing weight and reducing your risk for different types of diseases.

Additionally, cut down on exotic food purchases at the grocery store; while often tasty and healthful, they can be expensive and may be produced in ethically-questionable conditions.

Limiting your intake of exotic and luxury foods and swapping them out for local options can translate into big savings, reduce your carbon footprint and help you make healthy meals on a budget.

7. Consider buying generic brands

Generic brands can be cheaper than name brands and of equal quality. Even professionally-trained chefs often prefer generics on a range of products, although not for all types of foods.

8. Buy in bulk

Many financial gurus recommend buying food in bulk online to avoid in-person temptations and to cut down on costs. While bulk-buying isn’t recommended for fresh produce, veggies, and other foods that spoil quickly, many products have a long shelf-life that makes bulk-buying a great way to help you make healthy meals on a budget. 

The bottom line

Eating healthy meals on a budget is important for your body, mind and wallet. While it might seem overwhelming and financially challenging at first, a bit of planning, dietary adjustments, and meal prepping can help you achieve your health and financial goals.

Plus, saving money on essentials like healthy meals can help you set aside money for savings and investing. Remember, as chef Paul Prudhomme reminds us, “You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food.”

Bon appétit! 

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