If you’re like me, your biggest challenge in life is eating healthy while keeping the food budget within your means. I lead an active lifestyle, leaving little time to do home-cooked meals. But I was jolted to my senses when my food expenses ballooned in proportion with my waistline.
So, I began this quest – a cheap grocery list approved by a dietician: just $100 per week.
Many hours of reading later, I formulated two simple maxims to meet my objectives. First, I can save a lot if I base my eating habits on my needs, not my whims. And second, I’d be able to stay on budget when I eat only what’s in my pantry.
So, if you’re also looking for a cheap grocery list approved by a dietician, read on. Here are 6 guidelines you can use to create your own list.
#1. Plan Your Menu
Never underestimate the value of meal planning. It’s the best way to stick to your budget and make your dietician happy at the same time. Your list should consist only of what you will consume between grocery days.
Use free apps like Big Oven and Veganized so you can visualize what you’re going to eat for the week. These apps also offer features for creating a grocery list. With just one look, you can ensure variety and prevent boredom or monotony. These apps also feature various interesting and simple recipes that are also healthy.
Follow the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. The Health Secretary recommends you to consume vegetables, fruits, grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy, proteins, and healthy oils each day. Limit your daily calorie intake as prescribed below:
• Added Sugars – less than 10%
• Saturated Fats – less than 10%
• Sodium – less than 2,300mg
• Alcohol – 1 drink for women, 2 drinks for men (adults only)
#2. Exploit What’s in Season
All produce is cheaper when in season simply because they’re abundant. This applies to fruits, veggies, herbs, and seafood. But the price isn’t the only good reason for choosing what’s on hand.
Nature’s bounty is diverse for a purpose: It gives what your body needs when you need it, and where you are. Ever wonder why pineapples won’t thrive in the North Pole and salmon can’t survive in Africa? It’s due to the varying climates and terrain. Whatever grows in your backyard takes in the optimum nutrition of the locale at any given time.
We have watermelons and cucumbers in the summer to cool our bodies and fight heat-related illnesses. During the cold months, winter squash and beets provide us warmth when used in soups and vitamin-rich casseroles, keeping the flu at bay.
#3. Hit the Farmers Market
When it comes to price and freshness, nothing beats your local farmer’s market. You can also find organic stuff there, including grass-fed meat and dairy. Not to mention the assurance of no processing, no additives, and no preservatives. That itself is a triple bonanza for good health.
What I love about these markets is that I can use washable bags and cut down on wasteful packaging consumption too.
#4. Patronize Local or Less-Known Brands
It used to be that big brands (i.e., corporations that can afford TV ads on nationwide channels) monopolize quality.
But not anymore. Go to the deeper aisles of your grocery store and check the lower shelves. The nutrition information on labels will tell you how the new kids on the food block are now on par with or even better than their famous counterparts.
#5. Frozen? Don’t Let It Go
When you’re too busy to drop by the farmer’s market, snap-frozen and vacuum-packed veggies and fruits are a great second choice. Their nutrients are kept intact and they’re not expensive. Plus, you save time in food prep. All that’s left for you to do is open the package and pour the contents into the pot.
#6. Consider Healthy Canned Goodies
Some healthy options can be found in cans. Fish is one of them. Canned tuna, sardines, and herring are much cheaper than a fresh catch, even the ones in season. Meat substitutes like chickpeas, lentils, and beans are more affordable than chicken, beef, or lamb. Just make sure you choose the varieties in water over those in oil or brine.
What Should You Buy to Stay Healthy and Within Budget?
Now that we’ve covered the how’s of creating a cheap grocery list approved by a dietician, let’s get down to brass tacks. Here’s what you can buy for a week’s worth of healthy food for only $100.
Whenever possible, start your shopping at the local farmer’s market. Otherwise, your first stop at the grocery should be the fresh section.
Tea leaves and coffee beans are best consumed freshly steeped or ground. Making your own is definitely cheaper than buying at the coffee shop. It also gives you the freedom to mix in whatever you fancy, like lemon or honey in tea and nut milk or nonfat cream in coffee.
Potatoes and sweet potatoes are two of our most common sources of carbs. We eat them at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even for snacks. It’s difficult to get bored with these tubers when you can cook them in a myriad of ways, from hashed or French fried to baked or steamed. They’re heavy on the tummy, too, so you need just a few pieces to keep you sated.
You can add a couple of corns on the cob to rotate with your tubers.
Eggs are breakfast staples we can’t live without. So, make sure they’re on top of your list. Personally, I prefer those found at farmer’s markets as the yolks are tastier and I can ask the farmer what they feed their chickens.
Garlic and onion are basic ingredients in many dishes, so be sure you always have them in your pantry.
Herbs are a great source of nutrients, taste, and aroma. Try to stay away from salt by planning your meals around the herbs in season. While they taste wonderful even when dried, the fresh versions inject an unmatched and refreshing tang to salads, pasta, and roasted meat.
Tomatoes (yes, they are fruits) are so nutritious and versatile that you’ve just got to have them around. In raw form, they’re an indispensable addition to sandwiches and salads. For cooking, they up the ante in pasta, soups, and sauces.
Fruits in season are a must. A healthy breakfast or snack when you’re in a hurry, these natural sweets are also a healthier dessert alternative.
Citrus fruits and berries are never out of season. They come in a wide variety of tastes, colors, and textures. Eaten raw or cooked, squeezed for a refreshing juice, or blended into smoothies, they are your most affordable source of vitamins and antioxidants.
Avocados, while seasonal, grow from February to September in California and around the year in Mexico. Add them to your cart or basket when available. These delicious fruits are a powerhouse of nutrients, and with healthy fat content, they can substitute for butter. They’re also filling enough to eat alone for breakfast or in a smoothie blend meal.
Green leaves come in all shapes, sizes, and shades, though the rule of thumb is “the darker, the healthier.” Spinach, lettuce, kale, or arugula, they’re the cheapest veggies you can get your hands on.
Squash is also available in various forms, depending on the season. Many vegetarians and vegans use it as a meat substitute. It doesn’t hurt that it costs a fraction of the price!
Other veggies that are top-rated in terms of taste, nutrition, and affordability are cucumbers, peas, bell peppers, and the cruciferous group (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts).
Additional Healthy and Inexpensive Food to Balance Your Diet
When you’re done with the above, head over to the non-fresh aisles of your grocery store. Here’s a rundown of your options:
Bread. The healthier whole wheat and whole grain varieties are a tad more expensive, but they’re more filling, so you end up eating less and make up for the extra amount spent.
Cooking and salad oils are must-haves in your kitchen. If you don’t use these often, you can spread out the cost over two or three weeks. My top choices are coconut and olive oils.
Milk can be dairy or non-dairy depending on your lifestyle. But if you want to cut down on fat consumption, nut milk is the way to go. You also have a wide variety to choose from, including soy, almond, and oat. As a bonus, they are all lactose-free.
Orange juice is also an integral part of our lives. It caps a healthy breakfast and boosts our immunity. I prefer buying fresh OJ at the farmer’s market where I can get a discount for bringing my own container.
Beans and legumes are rich in protein and cheaper than animal products. And with many, many types available, it will take you months to try all of them if you buy just one kind each week. We’re talking about chickpeas, black beans, lentils, kidney beans, pintos, lima beans, and black-eyed peas, among others.
Nuts are protein-rich, low-cost meat alternatives as well. They’re good for endless uses: homemade peanut butter, pseudo cheeses, salad dressings, dips, and sauces. Most stores and markets offer an irresistible assortment of walnuts, cashews, almonds, pecans, and more!
Seeds are small but incredible protein sources. Most contain fiber, healthy fatty acids, and a host of vitamins and minerals as well. Two tablespoons a day is all you need to reap all their nutritional benefits.
As for meat, the turkey would be your best bet in terms of price, compared to other meats.
Indulgences on a Budget
Grains, used as alternative carb and fiber sources, may replace potatoes, corn, bread, or pasta. They also come in various types like rice, oats, quinoa, barley, and millet. You can have one of these once a week as part of a special meal which you can prepare when you have extra time.
Fruits already provide the sugar you need to fuel your energy, and most carbs can be converted to sugar as well. But honey is a sweet treat you can indulge in every once in a while. Your immune system will thank you for it.
DIY Spreads, Dips, and Sauces
Store-bought versions of these items may be more convenient to use, but they are also more expensive. Most are processed, high in sodium, and filled with additives and preservatives as well. With just a blender, you have the means to concoct your own recipes for dips and sauces. You can even make your own almond and peanut butter.
Instead of buying ready-to-drink bottled juices, why not squeeze citrus into tea and cool it with ice? Or blend fruits with honey for a refreshing beverage.
A Sample List of What to Buy in $100
Using the 6 guidelines above, start your list with fresh produce. The items on that list provide most of your daily nutritional needs. They’re also the cheapest you can find in any market or grocery store.
Next, pick one item from each group of the additional food section. Keep in mind that you don’t have to buy all of them in one week. Here’s a sample:
• 2-3 pieces of sweet potatoes
• Half a dozen eggs
• 5 heads of garlic and 5 onions
• 3 different herbs
• 100g of cherry tomatoes, 100g of berries, 3 pieces each of citrus and seasonal fruits
• A bunch of green leaves, 1 small squash, and a bouquet of broccoli
• A loaf of bread
• 1 bottle of milk
• 1 carton of orange juice
• 100g each of beans, nuts, and seeds
• 200g of lean turkey meat
It’s also a good idea to buy oils, coffee, and tea in bulk and budget for each one weekly.
Creating your own cheap grocery list approved by a dietician may be a daunting task, but it’s not impossible. Follow the 6 guidelines above, study the products offered at your local farmer’s market, and observe the seasonal patterns. In no time, you’ll achieve your health and budget goals.
Let this be your daily mantra: It’s easier to resist temptations when they aren’t there.