Ask the Experts: Budget-Friendly Tips

by in Ask the Experts, October 26, 2011
healthy food cheap Living a healthy life doesn’t have to cost more.

We’re always reminding you that a healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to break the bank. How about some expert tips to back that up? We polled nutrition experts across the country for their best tips for eating smart and exercising on a budget.

Brown Bag It
Our September Brown Bag Challenge was a huge success. If you missed it, it’s never too late to start bringing your lunch to work or school. Annette Schottenfeld, MBA, RD, CDN, President of Nett Nutrition, Inc. says:

“Packing your own lunch not only saves money, but also guarantees much needed nutrition to get you through the day. Select lean meats and veggies on whole grain bread with a side of seasonal fruit for a delicious and satisfying lunch. Additional savings can also be had by making your own single-serve snack bags.”

Packing up single servings goes for dinner leftovers too. Karen Ansel, MS, RD, CDN tells us:

“Wrap leftovers into single-serve portions immediately after dinner. Not only will you save money because you’re not throwing out perfectly good food, you’ll have a single serve, healthy homemade meal in the freezer waiting for you next time you have no time to cook.”

Shop Smart
How you grocery shop can make or break your budget. Start by making a shopping list and sticking to it. Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RD, CDN, founder of Nutritioulicious reminds us not to forget good old coupons:

“Don’t be shy to use coupons when shopping. But be careful – just because you get a coupon for something doesn’t mean it’s a healthy item. Many people are enticed by coupons for less healthy foods that they wouldn’t normally buy.”

Food and nutrition writer Sharon Palmer, RD also warns shoppers to steer clear of processed junk:

“The more simple and unprocessed a food, the less expensive—and more healthful—it is, typically. That’s because it requires less food production to get from farm to fork. Less production steps mean less money and resources went into that food, which means a lower price at the check-out.”

Want to get the healthy nutrients like omega-3 and vitamin D from fish but think it will bust your weekly budget? Kate Geagan, MS, RD author of Go Green Get Lean, shows us it’s possible:

“Some of the very best options we have are in the INNER AISLES of the grocery store: Canned sardines, anchovies, pink salmon, mussels, clams and oysters are relatively cheap  and are available nearly everywhere and to everyone at all economic levels. Make a salmon burger or a salmon melt from canned salmon or mash 2 sardines into your favorite tomato sauce recipe to add a hefty dose of flavor and nutrition to your next pasta night. Frozen fish filets are usually significantly cheaper than fresh, and when they go on sale you can load up your freezer: No waste, no spoilage”

Steer Clear of Supplements
We’ve been warning you about the potential dangers of taking popular supplements and they also cost a pretty penny. Lisa Dixon, MBA, RD says put food first:

“Focus on getting your nutrition from food, not supplements. Place more emphasis on food, rather than nutrients. By choosing whole foods naturally high in nutrients you should be able to get your daily needs from food alone.  Supplements can be expensive (and sorry to say, a waste of money).”

Spice Things Up
The right seasoning can make all the difference for a light but flavorful meal. Kait Fortunato uses spices to liven up her meals on the cheap:

“You can buy cheaper cuts of meat and spice it correctly to create unique flavor. Spices last a long time and are healthier than dressings or marinades.”

Where’s the Beef?
Beth Stark RD, LDN uses this tip to cut down on money and bulk up portions:

“I replace some of the meat in my favorite recipes with drained and rinsed canned beans in order to stretch portions, reduce cost and boost the nutrient quality of the dish. I add black or pinto beans to enchiladas and taco meat, cannellini beans to lean ground turkey for pasta and meat sauce and extra kidney beans to chili.”
You can also save by ditching meat all together once a  week – opt for Meatless Mondays.

Move It
Let’s not forget about exercise. There are plenty of ways to burn calories without burning cash.

Sheila Campbell PhD, RD points out the importance of having someone else hold you accountable:

“Get an exercise buddy. You are accountable to your buddy to show up when and where you promised and to exercise for the time you agreed on.”

The gym isn’t the only option. Kathleen A. Siegel, RD, CDN Co-founder, NutritionBabes, LLC says:

“Exercise classes at a gym can empty your pockets quickly. A budget-friendly solution is to borrow exercise DVD’s from your local library. Other options are starting a DVD swap with friends and rotating with each other for a greater selection. You can also check out your cable guide for classes to take at home on your own TV. No gym or studio needed!”

How about forgetting about indoor exercise and getting outside? Maria C. Mahar MA RD CD suggests:

“Visit your local park or playground; admission is free! Not only will you and your family be able to participate in calorie-shedding activities such as walking, hiking and cross country skiing, but parks are also a wonderful opportunity to meet up with friends, make new ones and bond with your family. Being active outdoors lifts your mood, helps you think more positively and feel more internal calm thus reducing your stress level.”

Get Baking
Pound for pound, store-bought baked goods can be some of the priciest items in your kitchen. Sherri Nordstrom Stastny, PhD, RD, CSSD, LD says:

“Dig out your bread machine.  Making bread from scratch is a huge cost saving (and tastes better) than store-bought bread.”

Don’t have a bread machine? You can get a decent one for less than $75 and you can recoup that money after a couple of months of buying less commercially-prepared breads. You can also save moo-lah buy storing bread in the freezer — when lightly toasted you’d never know the difference, but you will notice that you’re wasting less bread.

Tell Us: What’s your best budget-friendly tip?

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Comments (300)

  1. Dr Barb says:

    As Jessica points out, making a shopping list BEFORE going to the store can save a bundle and can hopefully reduce impulse buys. When making your list, think about family favorites, review store circulars to see what's on sale, and consider what's in season. Look for more helpful tips and strategies, as well as low cost recipes at

    • priscilla blais says:

      Make sure you do not shop on an empty stomach. Check out your farmer's market for great deals on veggies which are often less expensive than the supermarket when in season. Or better yet, grow your favorite veggies and get in touch with nature.

  2. […] a Comment Ask the Experts: Budget-Friendly Tips via Healthy Eats – Food Network Healthy Living Blog by Dana Angelo White on 10/26/11 Living a […]

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  4. EatUrVeggies says:

    The canned fish idea is interesting…however, I had heard that the high temperatures used in canning destroy the omega-3 fatty acids. Is This true?

  5. Cheyenne says:

    Thanks for all the great suggestions, but I have personally seen a spike in my grocery bill when I decided to go vegetarian and decrease my intake of processed and packaged goods. In the world I live in, healthy food=expensive food, especially if you go organic. I justify the extra expense with the comfort that I will save on medical bills as I get older.

    • aVUonFood says:

      I completely agree that fresh food can be very expensive. Some of the cheaper vegetables where I live are potatoes, mushrooms or leeks. Check out how I've done mushrooms three ways ( My husband who claims he is a meat-a-tarian loves my mushroom stroganoff :) Also, a (canned) corn and potato chowder can really fill you up! If you have leftover meats, just add it in and garnish with some fresh green onions!

    • lisa says:

      also if you are eating healthier you dont have to eat as much

  6. MEW says:

    don't forget to keep an eye on salt levels – especially in canned items. many of us need to (or just plain should) keep our salt levels down, too. also, I frequently find myself having to choose from the lesser of 2 evils; do I buy whole grain, OR low fat? sometimes, you have to buy a prepared food for various reasons, and I'd love to find just ONE item that is whole grain, low fat and low sodium.

  7. Lola Dee says:

    Re-purpose foods throughout the week, such as, sunday dinner could be pot roast, roast pork loin or roast chicken, which are great values. Use leftover meat throughout the week for soups, sandwiches, tacos, salads, etc. By changing up the seasoning, and adding rice, noodles, quinoa, & veggies you have a whole new delish dish for your family.

    • priscilla blais says:

      I made chicken meatloaf, chicken burger after I had roasted a chicken. You can really stretch your meals out.

  8. Lola Dee says:

    Serve vegan meals a few times a week, much cheaper to eat beans, brown rice, yams, salads and veggies than meat. Home made soups are healthy & cheap. I buy Quinoa, flax meal, barley, & other "pricey" vegetarian foods, plus gourmet oils, vinegars, spices, teas at discount stores like Big Lots, Ross, & Marshalls for a fraction of the cost of retail.

  9. Bobbie says:

    Check your local Goodwill store for bread makers…I routinely see 2 or 3 that hardly look used.

    • Jenny says:

      You shouldn't need a breadmaker. Bread on sale costs a lot less. Baking cupcakes or cake is not a bad idea, it costs less than at the store, the same can be said for muffins. I've eaten canned tuna for years and have never hard a problem with it. A good idea is canned beans as analternative to meats which are soexpensive. Beans are high on protein. Tuna fish should have omega-3 without buying supplements. Supplements are expensive, it's better to spend the money on the food instead.

  10. Definitely believe that which you said. Your favorite justification seemed to be on the net the easiest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I definitely get irked while people think about worries that they just do not know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top as well as defined out the whole thing without having side effect , people can take a signal. Will probably be back to get more. Thanks

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