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Healthy eating on a budget

You don’t have to spend more to eat well. Try these tips from our dietitian.
A man shops at a supermarket.

Eating a healthy diet is one of the best things you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. It doesn’t need to be expensive. There are many foods that are both nutritious and well-priced!

These tips will help you shop, prep, cook and make recipe substitutions with lower-priced foods.  

Get set to shop: The first step to saving money and staying within budget is to have a little snack before you go grocery shopping. Shopping on an empty stomach makes you more likely to buy more, plus you may spend extra money on impulse purchases – like a bag of chips, or a chocolate bar in the check-out line. And try not to shop on payday when you feel like you have more money to spend. Instead, make a grocery list and stick to it.
 
Choose wisely: Plan your meals to fit the healthy plate. That means you fill half your plate with vegetables (and some fruit), a quarter with grains, and the remaining quarter with protein-rich foods. Here are some affordable buys: 

  • Vegetables and fruit: Economical choices include cabbage, potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, squash, broccoli, apples, bananas, oranges, canned tomatoes, store brand frozen vegetables.
  • Most of the time, local and in-season produce is more affordable than imported vegetables and fruits.  
  • Grains: Choose oats, pot barley, whole grain pasta, brown rice, whole wheat flour.
  • Protein: Try eggs, lentils, beans, tofu, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, canned fish, peanut butter, chicken thighs, flank steak, ground beef, stewing meat, white fish, evaporated skim milk, store-brand plain yogurt in large tubs.

Peel it yourself: Buying foods in their close-to-natural state will always save you money. A one kilogram bag of whole unpeeled carrots costs about one-third the price of the same size bag of pre-cut baby carrots. Convenience comes with a higher price tag. 

Use your freezer: It also helps to buy frozen vegetables and fruit. Or buy seasonal produce such as berries, spinach and peas in bulk and freeze them. (Yes you can freeze spinach; Google can help you learn how.) Produce can be stored in your freezer for up to a year, and reduces food waste. 

Take care with coupons: Using grocery store apps, flyers and coupons can also add layers of savings. But remember, only use coupons for foods you’d usually eat anyway. It’s not a bargain if it’s a food you don’t like, or if it’s ultra-processed and provides no nourishment. 

Be label smart: Savvy grocery shoppers also know this secret: store brands are usually made by the big food manufacturers, and are the same quality as the name brands but cost less. 

Get cooking: Cooking at home is better for you and your wallet. If your kitchen is stocked with some of the staples mentioned above, here are budget-friendly meal ideas to try:

Use smart substitutes: Let’s say you find a new recipe in a magazine, on an app or a cooking show. You want to make it, but one (or more!) of the ingredients is too expensive. Here are some ideas for affordable substitutions:

  • Instead of quinoa, choose brown rice.
  • Instead of acai or goji berries, choose frozen blueberries or dried cranberries.
  • Instead of canned albacore tuna, choose canned skipjack or yellowfin tuna or pink salmon.
  • Instead of almond butter or cashew butter, choose peanut butter.
  • Instead of hemp seeds, walnuts or pine nuts, choose sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds.
  • Instead of halibut, choose haddock.
  • Instead of omega-3 eggs, choose regular eggs.
  • Instead of granola, choose oats.
  • Instead of meat, choose tofu or lentils.
  • Instead of ricotta cheese, choose cottage cheese.
  • Instead of chicken breasts, choose chicken things.
  • Instead of fresh plum tomatoes, choose canned plum tomatoes.

Browse our recipes for hundreds of heart-healthy choices.
Try our Healthy meal-planning toolkit for three weeks of tasty dinners.