There are many ways that a limited food budget can include items that are both delicious and nutritious. Here are five tips that low-income families and adults can use to help save money while eating a variety of healthy foods.
Many of us are used to eating our favorite fruits and veggies all year round, but you’ll often save money buying produce when it’s in season—not only are the base prices lower, but these foods often go on sale during their peak growing months. For instance, at my local supermarket, berries of all kinds are on sale throughout the summer, so I regularly save $1-2 per box compared to winter, when these foods are not in season. In the cooler months, you can find deals on apples, oranges, winter squashes, and clementines, which are great for snacks and lunchboxes. The USDA’s Seasonal Produce Guide can help you plan your shopping trip around what is in season.
Try Frozen Fruits and Veggies
Frozen fruits and veggies can be cheaper than buying fresh. Plus, research shows that they have the same or greater nutritional value as the fresh version found in supermarkets. This is because produce chosen for freezing are usually processed at their peak ripeness, a time when they are most nutrient-packed. By contrast, produce destined to be sold fresh are picked before they are fully ripe, which gives them less time to develop a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals.
An additional benefit to buying frozen is that it can be a huge time saver! Frozen fruits and veggies are already washed, peeled and cut. Be sure to read the ingredients label: the USDA recommends buying frozen veggies without added sauces or butter, which can add empty calories and sodium to your diet.
If you’re looking for tasty recipes that include frozen veggies and fruit, there are plenty online. Just google “frozen vegetable recipes” or “frozen fruit recipes.” For example, this One-pot Chicken and Vegetable Skillet is both nutritious and simple to make. Frozen veggies also make great soups, stir-fries, and pasta dishes. Perhaps the simplest thing you can do with your frozen veggies is to roast them with a drizzle of your favorite oil and a dash of spices.
Stock Up During Sales
Save money by stocking up on healthy foods, like fresh fruits, veggies, fish, and lean meats when they are on sale. Dry beans, canned veggies, low-sodium vegetable broth, and other shelf-stable items can last for weeks or months in your pantry. Stocking up on these long-lasting items is a smart choice when they are on sale.
If your sale item is a perishable food, try using it in multiple dishes and snacks throughout the week. You can also freeze fresh produce, fish, or lean meat—before or after cooking—for later use.
For tips on how to properly and safely freeze and defrost a variety of foods—from soups and meats to fruit and casseroles—check out this user-friendly guide. If you’re wondering how long you can safely freeze different foods, this one-page refrigerator and freezer storage chart from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sums it all up for you.
Plan and Prep
You can save money by planning your meals ahead of time and making a grocery list. Sticking to your list can prevent you from buying items you do not need or that you already have at home.
Don’t have a lot of time for meal planning? ChooseMyPlate.gov has easy-to-use tools to help families meet their nutritional needs on a budget. Their site offers a sample two-week menu and grocery list, as well as a Pantry Staples Checklist to ensure you have the basic shelf-stable ingredients on hand for a variety of recipes your family will enjoy.
Another great resource is the What's Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl, a one-stop site to help with healthy meal planning, cooking, and grocery shopping. The site features healthy recipes and options to create a cookbook and shopping list that will help you stretch your food dollars while creating tasty meals that meet your health and nutrition goals.
Grow Your Own
You can grow your own food for fresh and budget-friendly additions to your meals…in your yard, on your porch, or even on your windowsill. According to the USDA, $1 dollar spent on seeds and fertilizer can grow an average of $25 worth of produce! Plus, kids love to garden! Many studies have found that children are more likely to eat their veggies if they helped grow them.
If you are a SNAP recipient, you can use your SNAP benefits to buy food-producing seeds and plants! To find a retailer near you that accepts SNAP, use the SNAP Retailer Locator. If your favorite store does not sell plants or seeds, consider asking them to place a special order. If you have a seed or plant catalog, bring it to your store manager, and show them exactly what you would like them to order for you.
If you are new to gardening, you can find several home gardening guides and resources here. Your local Extension Office can also provide fact sheets, seasonal gardening guides, and gardening classes, tailored to your region’s climate and environment.