How to Eat Healthy on a Budget

By: Emily Hamric, University Recreation & Wellness group fitness instructor

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Eating healthy on a budget may not seem easy. Fruit is expensive, yet french fries are cheap. Chips cost very little, yet nuts seem to break the bank. And what’s worse — we’re students, so we’re already running on low funds.

I’ve always considered myself to be a healthy eater. Over the last few years I’ve tried to step it up and pay more attention to how I fuel my body. And little by little, the payoff has been better sleep, more energy, a fitter body, and a clearer mind.

Below are some tips that I use to help me eat healthy without spending my entire paycheck:

  • Buy in bulk. If you have a Costco/BJ’s/Sam’s Club membership- use it! If you don’t have one, find a friend or family member who does. I buy big boxes of granola bars, bags of almonds, oatmeal, tubs of Greek yogurt (they last a while), larger containers of berries, and boxes filled with several pouches of quinoa/brown rice mixes for far less than I would pay at a typical grocery store. Whole Foods has a great bulk section. You can bring your own reusable container and get as much or as little of each food that you want (they also have compostable bags available). You avoid paying for expensive packaging or buying more than you need of something, AND it’s good for the environment! They have beans, lots of grains, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, spices, trail mixes, and sweets.
  • Buy in season fruits and veggies. They’ll taste better and are more likely to be on sale. Here’s a handy guide illustrating when certain produce is in season in Maryland. You can also buy frozen fruits and veggies which are typically just as nutritious, are sold in larger quantities, and won’t go to waste since they’re already frozen.
  • Use coupons and watch for sales. Make sure you’re signed up to receive coupons with the grocery store that you visit most often. You probably have some version of a loyalty card, so register online with your email and they will email and mail coupons that will add up and tend to cater to what you buy most often. There are also great coupon apps for smartphones and other services that offer ways to save money by scanning items you’ve purchased, sending photos of your receipts to research agencies, etc.
  • Choose generic. Most grocery stores offer a generic version of popular items that are cheaper than the name brand option. Just check the ingredient list to compare and make sure you’re not getting any unwanted synthetic ingredients. Ethnic markets also tend to offer a wide variety of goods at cost effective prices.
  • Cook in larger portions and freeze your leftovers. You’ll appreciate that you’re not only saving money, but that you’ll also have a ready-made meal in the freezer for those days that you just don’t have time to cook.
  • Limit eating out. I think I can confidently say that one of the top expenses for young people our age comes from restaurants, fast food, and bars. It’s okay to get out every once in a while, but you are paying far more than you would to cook at home. Limit yourself — you’re also most likely consuming more calories than you would if you cooked at home!

The University Health Center offers free nutrition coaching where you can learn even more strategies for eating healthy on a budget.

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