Six (Healthy!) Ways to Feed a Family on a Budget

Looking for ways to eat healthy and save? It can be done! We’ll show you how.

Healthful eating and saving money—you can do both at the same time! Eating for good health can be very affordable when you know a few simple ways to save. Here are six easy tips to make healthful eating affordable: 

Buy only as much fresh produce as you will use in a week to keep from having to throw out uneaten, overripe foods.
Wash and prepare it right away so it is ready to eat. For example, wash and snip bunches of grapes into mini bunches, then pack half-cup portions into containers, ready for lunches. Wash apples and oranges and put into a bowl in the fridge. Buy enough ripe bananas to eat the next day, some almost ready to eat, and some really green ones that will be ripe later in the week. Check the date on bagged salad greens so they’ll still be fresh when you are ready to use them.

Use frozen and canned produce as well.
Having these on hand makes it a snap to put together healthful meals. Frozen and canned produce have similar nutrients as cooked from fresh and are often less expensive. Look for “no added salt” and “no added sugar” versions. If you can’t find “no added salt” canned vegetables, drain off the liquid in a strainer over the sink. Rinse well to get rid of up to 40% of the sodium.

Shop the Co+op Basics for great deals healthy staples.
We love the Co+op Basics program—a selection of staple foods, including natural and organic, priced below the suggested retail. The Co-op is able to offer this program by working with a network of other cooperatively owned food stores across the country to negotiate lower prices and pass the savings on to you. Co+op Basics products are easy to find throughout our stores. Just look for the purple shelf tag. And if you want to stock up on healthy Co+op Basics products for your pantry, we recommend Field Day! We carry more than 100 items from Field Day, including non-GMO, all-organic pantry essentials, gluten-free foods, and more.

Use meat more as a condiment and less as the main attraction.
Meat, poultry, and fish are expensive, so use them as an ingredient in stir fries, tomato sauce, and stews where you can “stretch it” with vegetables, pasta, or rice.

Use the unit pricing information on the shelf tag.
This is the way to be sure you are getting the best deal for your money. The “you pay” package price/unit pricing label information is on the edge of the grocery store shelf. The unit price tells you the price per unit (ounces, pounds, quarts, or other measures of weight or volume). The “you pay” price is what that specific size package will cost.I’ll give you my favorite example, check out the unit price (per pound) on your favorite brand name spice or dried herb in the baking aisle and then check out the price per pound in the bulk foods department. Which is a better buy? Brand name dried parsley at $91.14/lb., “dollar store” dried parsley at $28.57/lb., or bulk department parsley at $11.99/lb.? You save 87% by purchasing your spices from the bulk department. Over all the items you purchase, you could save an average of up to 40% by using unit pricing to get the best deals on food. This is without coupons or sale prices.

Eat out less.
Eating out is more expensive, saltier, and fattier than what you may prepare at home, so set up your pantry and freezer with foods that can easily and quickly be made into healthful meals. Try these quick ideas for dinner: Parmesan-topped vegetable soup and whole grain rolls, spaghetti and frozen (cooked) veggies topped with pasta sauce, stir fried chicken and vegetables over brown rice, and whole grain pita pizzas- at a fraction of what you would spend at a restaurant.For the best savings, write up a grocery shopping list of items to have on hand during the week, but be willing to adjust if a great sale presents itself. And never shop when you are hungry. Hungry shoppers are impulse buyers, and spend more on food. Have a small snack, such as piece of fruit or peanut butter on crackers before shopping if you are hungry.

Eating in saves so much money! For example, you can buy a burrito at a restaurant for seven or eight dollars plus beverage, tax, and tip or you can make them at home for less than $1.50 each. Another benefit of making it yourself is that you can choose brown rice and whole wheat tortillas and low fat cheese if you wish and you can control the amount of sodium in the salsa you buy.

A few years ago I developed a presentation with a student intern to show how much money you could save by eating in for five days a week compared with eating out. We used regular local quick stop restaurants for comparison for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The savings were amazing. One person could save over $150 per month; over $1800 a year, simply by eating food from home instead of at fast food restaurants and quick stops for five days a week. Another amazing find– depending on the kind of bottled water you usually buy, you could save nearly $60 a month by drinking tap water in a reusable bottle instead of buying bottled water.

For more ideas on saving money on food check out these resources:


  • The Complete Tightwad Gazette: Promoting Thrift As a Viable Alternative Lifestyle by Amy Dacyczyn
  • Frozen Assets: How to cook for a day and eat for a month by Deborah Taylor Hough
  • Frozen Assets Lite and Easy: How to Cook for a Day and Eat for a Month by Deborah Taylor Hough


Nutrition Connection Recipe Finder

UNH Cooperative Extension

Ken Davis of the Co-op Outreach Department also contributed to this post.

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Allan Reetz is the Co-op's Director of Public and Government Affairs. Contact Allan at areetz at coopfoodstore dot com.