How To Eat a Balanced Diet When Your Budget Sucks

Let’s face it! At least once in a lifetime, you will hear somebody saying “eating healthy is just too expensive”. I have heard that countless of times and I used to believe that myself, until I was forced to try when facing a tight (very tight) budget. Today I want to share with you some tips and recipes ideas so that you can eat a more balanced, healthier diet even if your budget sucks (with bold capital letters!)

Eating healthy is easier than you think

I get it! I also used to think that “healthy and balanced” meant “fancy stuff” that were often overpriced. Eating that way can be extremely difficult and overwhelming for a lot of people. It is also expensive and more often than not, you realize you can’t keep up. We all love times of bonanza, but economic crisis and personal finance struggles can happen to anyone, and during such times, you don’t have to trade your health.

Before I start I want to note that I understand “eating healthy” has such a broad meaning. For you it can mean eating paleo, or keto, or going vegan; but for the matters of this post, and in general terms, when I refer to “eating healthy” I mean “natural, less or non-processed food”. Whatever that you cook yourself that is made with natural ingredients (aka: not boxed ingredients) and that doesn’t involve deep frying or massive amounts of butter can easily falls within this category.

It doesn’t matter if you do paleo, keto, vegan or something else, as long as you eat as natural as possible, and take into account your own dietary requirements, you are all set (my condolences to those yummy Paleo cookies out there labeled as healthy and all).

Processed Foods cost a fortune

You probably have a friend that love junk food and that same friend thinks eating healthy costs a lot because he or she eats a over-processed burger for $5. Or, maybe, just maybe, you are a junk eater yourself, maybe it is time for you to make some math. Eating processed foods is costing you way more than you think.

One visit to the store is more than enough to find out how expensive processed foods really is. I mean, a bag of crackers or chips can easily cost $2 and I can buy pasta or rice plus some veggies for the same price and have a decent meal on a mega tight budget.

Let’s take apples as an example. They are nutrient dense while a bag of chips is full of sodium, additives and other stuff that are simply not good for you. So, my first recommendation when you are trying to make healthier choices while your budget sucks will be to consider the real value. In other words, not just focus on “the cash value”, which is obviously important, but also focus on the real value which takes into account the nutrition you get versus the cash you pay.

Understanding the Real Value

Understanding the real value of the foods you eat can sound overwhelming at first but it is actually very easy concept and so important to understand.

When you are on a tight budget, finding the balance between eating healthy and stretching your cash can sound difficult, but it really isn’t if you so the following exercise:

When you do this exercise the top factor should be the nutritional value. Apparently, you have to pay more for a bag of apples but you are actually getting a whole lot of nutritional benefits that you obviously won’t find in a bag of chips, and for so little cash. So, focus on the real value and eat real, natural, whole, non-processed foods, that makes you feel great, bright and satiated on the long run.

How to actually eat healthy on a budget

Look for sales first; then plan.

I’ve read this a million times: “plan your meals” and then, “stick to your list” and I tried and tried and tried really hard to do it, for years!, but IT. JUST. DIDN’T. WORK. FOR. ME. Sigh!

It is important to understand the value of meal planning, but when you are on a tight budget you can often plan an amazing budget friendly menu for the week and then find out in the store what you are looking for is sold out or too expensive. It’s the most frustrating thing ever! It has happened to me enough so now I do the exact opposite and I advice you to do the same: first look for sales in your local grocery store; then, plan your meals around what you’ve found.

Use your freezer

When going to the grocery store or farmer’s market you can sometimes find a really good deal on seasonal fruits and vegetables. This is a great opportunity to get those veggies prepped for the freezer. This make it really easy to prep a healthy meal on a budget, and will be available to you at not extra cost.

Cook with less

Pure and simple; learn to cook with less ingredients. This sounds pretty obvious, but I think is worth mentioning. We all have  those favorite recipes that call for a huge list of ingredients, but you can actually make the same thing with minimum ingredients and great results.

When on a tight budget I found out I could make most of my favorite recipes with 5 ingredients or even less, so I started to simplify. Most foods don’t need a lot of ingredients to taste good, they just need some extra minutes so the flavor merge. For example, you can make a delicious rice with spinach with 5 simple ingredients: onions, salt, pepper, spinach & rice. The secret for it to taste yummy? Caramelize the onions very well by cooking on low flame and longer time, before adding the rest of ingredients.

Or, you can make an incredible easy Chickpeas Curry that tastes just as good with just curry powder and coconut milk, if you you heat up the curry powder on low flame for a few seconds.

If at any time you are out of ideas, just go to google and type: “3 ingredients ——” (fill in the blanks). You’ll be surprise how many people have had the same struggles and ideas that you have and shared a way out so you can take that path. Just be creative and open to new culinary experiences.

Buy on the Farmer’s Market

Going to the farmer’s market has its challenges (like, when you go with kids and they want pretty much everything they see, lol) but it can also be a great way to save, so take your time and explore your local farmer’s market.

When I started going to my local farmer’s market, I found out that in the entrance prices were higher; but if I went to the tents on the back, I would find the same amount or sometimes even more for less, or even half the price; so, go straight to the back of the farmer’s market and explore prices there first.

Paying attention to every inch of your FM can save you money on the long term. In my local FM there is a stand were they sell everything at $1 or less that I wouldn’t have discovered without some exploring. They sell mostly baked products and sweets that expired the day before, but on that same spot I have found a box of quinoa (500gr) and 1Kg Spelt flour for 50 cents each (usually priced $2.99+ each on the supermarket).

Check out the nearest ethnic grocery store

Don’t be afraid to enter that ethnic grocery store around the corner. Maybe you can find cheaper produce or special ingredients for an affordable price.

There are also more budget friendly grocery stores like Lidl & Aldi where you can find great deals on fruits and veggies, plus, they often sell whole grains and alternative GF, and organic ingredients (like quinoa or seeds) with a reduced price tag.

Learn to use those stems and leaves

In my country people say: “necessity is the mother of invention” and this applies so much in the kitchen! Now that you found those great deals on the FM, please, don’t throw half that in the garbage in the form of leaves, stems or even skins! Be creative with what you bought. Our Apple Peel Chutney for example, was the result of having huge amount of apple skin after preparing an Apple Crisp for Rosh Hashanah last year, and let me tell you, it was delicious!!

Broccoli stems for example, are a great addition to stir fries. I usually remove the roughest outer skin of the stem with a potato peeler, and chop. It taste delicious and I love it for added texture and crunch in soups, curries and stews. Broccoli and cauliflower leaves are a great addition to stir fries and soups. With onion and garlic peels you can make a delicious broth and you can use the carrot skin on that yummy carrot soup as well. Just think out of the box.

Re-Purpose your leftovers

If you have been following for a while, you have probably read this post and this one, where I talked about food waste and re-purposing leftovers.

I used to be so mortified when I had leftovers but now I actually plan to have some to play with. Yes, I am a fan! For example, with leftover spinach you can make some rice or fritatta; with mixed veggies you can make stews, curries, veggies nuggets, or simply add some soy or tamari sauce to make fried rice, and with leftover apple crumble you can make a delicious cake.

Hopefully I just convinced you that re-purposing leftovers is fun!

Eat more veggies!

Veggies are the way to go when eating healthy, and specially on a budget because meats and fish can be really expensive.

Vegetables are so incredibly versatile and should always be on the top of your shopping list. You can eat them as salad or as a main dish. You can blend them as a smoothie or as a creamed soup, and just that can be your next satisfying meal! Or you can serve roasted as a snack and even sneak some on sweet treats, if you are into that!

Worried about where to get your protein from? Legumes, like beans, lentils or chickpeas are a great source as well as nuts & seeds.

Easy Healthy Recipes for a Tight Budget

We said this already, shopping healthy foods on a tight budget can feel overwhelming at first but with a little bit of patience and planning, you can do it. These are my Top 5 budget meals for tight budget situations:

Brown Rice Stir Fry

I think I’ve just made this Simple Vegan Blog recipe exactly how is written once, but I have made countless versions of it with every bit of veggies I may have in the fridge.


Apart from legumes, eggs (even organic) are very affordable and an excellent source of protein.

Chickpeas Curry

This combo of chickpeas + curry + coconut is DE-LI-CI-OUS and so satisfying! Excellent for tight budgets! 😀

Veggies Rice Noodles

Rainbow Rice Noodles from My Fussy Eater is a great alternative for those who loves noodles (like me!) but want to escape from the same pasta and sauce combo. You can also substitute noodles for zoodles (zucchini noodles)  😉

Veggie Slider

I love love love this Minimalist Baker’s recipe for Veggie Sliders. It is so full of flavor and so easy to make and you just need 7 ingredients. Looking for a nut-free option? Try our Ultimate Vegan Meatballs. 

Well, this is all for today, guys. Hopefully now you are more relieved knowing that eating balanced and healthy is possible even on tight (sometimes *very tight*) budget. Have a trick that we didn’t mentioned? Share it on the comments section below! Looking for more ideas and inspiration? Follow our brand new Pinterest Board, Healthy Eating on a Tight Budget, and don’t forget to follow on instagram to keep up with other easy recipes and adventure.

Until next time! 😉