Money Saving Tips On Good and Healthy Food
Want to fill your plate with delicious, healthy foods without breaking the bank?
Good Food on a Tight Budget— the first of its kind—lists foods that are good for you, easy on your wallet and good for the planet. Environmental Working Group’s health experts have chosen them based on an in-depth review of government surveys and tests for nearly 1,200 foods.
nearly 1,200 foods. Our food lists , shopping list, meal planner and price tracker are designed to help you save time and money. Our top picks are based on average food prices. Check for the best local buys. Variety is important for health and happiness. Our lists are a good start, but try other affordable foods, especially from the fruit and vegetable aisles.
Can’t find something? Ask if the store manager can stock it. Happy, healthful eating from EWG with thanks to Share Our Strength.
Before you shop
■ Plan and save. Make a meal plan (page 30) and shopping list.
Use the food you have and the deals you find in store ads
■ Add more fruits and vegetables to your meal plan. Fill half your
plate with fruits and vegetables. You can get your 5 to 9 servings of
fruits and vegetables a day for about the cost of a bus ride in most
■ Add beans and lentils to your meal plan. Pick beans and lentils
instead of meat for 2 or more dinners every week – lots of protein
for less money (see recipes).
■ Skip processed foods like frozen pizza, cookies and soda. They
usually cost more than fresh, healthy food. Canned foods are
convenient, but eat fresh or frozen when you can to lower your
exposure to toxic chemicals.
■ Cook and freeze large batches (see recipes). Save money by
cooking at home more and eating out less. Store food properly and
throw less away.
■ Grow your own. You can buy seeds with SNAP dollars. You don’t
need a backyard, just some containers, a sunny window and a little
soil. Community gardens are often free. Try cherry tomatoes and
At the store
■ Stock up to save money. Foods that last include rice, beans,
cooking oil and frozen foods. Buy extra when they’re on sale. Check
unit prices – bigger packages are often cheaper. Buy from bulk
containers if your store has them.
■ Spot bargains on fresh fruits and vegetables. Use the price
tracker (page 31) to find good deals on fruits and vegetables. Fresh
produce prices can drop when they’re in season, and they taste
■ Compare labels. Healthier foods usually have less saturated fat,
trans fat, salt (sodium) and sugar.
■ Look for deals at your farmers’ market. Some will give you
$2 worth of produce for every $1 you spend.
An affordable meal is never far away if you keep this list of 10 ingredients stocked. We’ve utilized these items throughout our 7 days worth of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners to show you how to always have inexpensive meals at your fingertips.
IN-SEASON FRESH FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Unfortunately, fresh fruits and vegetables, which tend to be among the healthiest foods for us, can also be the most costly ingredients. To guarantee savings, buy them when they are in season when they are at their least expensive price. Another benefit to buying fruits and vegetables in season is they tend to be the most delicious during this time period.
For guidance on when different vegetables are in season, see our handy Vegetables by Month Chart. You can also see big savings by ensuring that you are using up the produce you buy before it goes bad. Use our Produce and Shelf Life Guide to know how long produce stays fresh.
FROZEN FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
To enjoy produce when they’re not in season, buying them frozen is a great, cost effective way to go. They are typically just as good as fresh and having them on hand in your freezer means you can add fruits and veggies to every meal. Whip up frozen vegetables in no time by steaming or roasting them or adding them to a stir-fry, soup, or rice. Frozen fruits are great for smoothies or as a topping on many breakfast favorites (such as oatmeal, yogurt, and pancakes).
Dried beans are inexpensive and are ideal for feeding large groups of people or for leftovers. Dried beans can be cooked in a slow cooker with a Bay leaf or two to add flavor. Cover with 2” / 5 cm of water and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours, then drain. Make a large batch, separate them into serving portions, and freeze for a quick future meal! Canned beans are also a great option for a quicker, yet still inexpensive, meal. Use them to bulk up enchiladas, quesadillas, salads, soups, and rice. You can also flavor them with some spices and enjoy as a side dish.
Purchasing tomatoes (paste, crushed, or diced) in a preserved form (canned, tubed, or boxed) can save you time, money and add flavor to lots of dishes. If tomatoes are not in season, or even if they are, buying them canned is perfect for a quick spaghetti sauce or in a chili or soup.
GRAINS AND PASTA
Grains such as rice, farro, and quinoa and dried pasta are easy to buy in bulk at a reduced price and can generally be stored for long periods of time. They are also very versatile to cook with and can be used to bulk up an otherwise light meal, such as a soup or a salad. There are dozens of grain and pasta types which allow you to mix things up and never get bored! For greater nutritional value, opt for whole wheat varieties.
Potatoes often get a bad rap for their fry and chip form, but potatoes are actually a nutrient-dense vegetable that can be very good for you in moderation. They also happen to be very inexpensive and last a long time when stored right (in a dark, dry place away from onions – get more produce storage guidance in our Produce Shelf Life and Care Guide)! They can be baked whole, chopped and roasted or added to soups, or of course mashed and grated too.
Eggs are an excellent source of lean protein, with 6 grams of protein and less than 2 grams of saturated fat in a hard boiled egg. The best way to get a deal on eggs is to buy them in bulk. If it’s too much for just your family to eat, split it with a friend or neighbor – that way you’ll both save! And remember, eggs aren’t just good for breakfast scrambles and omelets. You can also use them to make a frittata, strata, in fried rice or in a sandwich.
Canned tuna is another great source of protein that can be purchased inexpensively or on sale. Albacore (known as “white” tuna) and skipjack (known as “light” tuna) are the most common types sold.
Albacore varieties tend to be somewhat more expensive, but some prefer the taste over light tuna. Light skipjack varieties generally have lower levels of mercury than albacore; something to consider depending on how often you are eating tuna.
Visit the FDA website for more information on how much mercury is safe to consume. You are also given the choice to buy canned tuna in water or in oil. Canned tuna in water has less calories and fat, although a majority of the oil in canned tuna provides healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Think beyond the tuna sandwich and add canned tuna to a pasta, casserole, or salad.
Buying rotisserie chicken on sale can feed your family for several meals and can be incorporated many different ways, from tacos to salads to sandwiches. It’s already cooked so it’s perfect for when you need to get dinner on the table quickly.
Rotisserie chicken is a great source of protein and key vitamins and minerals, but can also be high in sodium so be careful to eat it in moderation.
Tofu is a wonderful meatless source of protein and fiber and is much cheaper by the pound when compared to meats. Tofu is great in stir-fries, salads, or really any dish that you would normally add meat to. Watch our video on how to prepare and cook tofu the right way if you’ve never cooked with it before or you’ve had a poor experience with cooking tofu in the past.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but unfortunately a lot of people skip it. If you have just a few breakfasts that you habitually make and rotate through, you’re much more likely to enjoy a healthy breakfast. Select just 1 or 2 to make in bulk for the week and regardless of how chaotic your weekday mornings are, you know you’ll start the day fueled.
TURN YOUR DINNER INTO LEFTOVERS FOR LUNCH
Going out to lunch every day can be a bad habit for your health and bank account. If you’re gonna be cooking dinner, you might as well double and have some leftovers for lunch. Spend a little money on good lunch containers and a fun lunch bag to make your home cooked option something special. Plus, bringing your lunch saves you time from waiting in busy lunch lines. Use that extra time for a post-lunch walk with some coworkers!
COOK MORE VEGETARIAN MEALS
Animal proteins are definitely more expensive than vegetarian proteins. Find a small handful of vegetarian recipes that utilize beans, lentils, tofu, and whole grains together that the whole family will enjoy, and you’re sure to see savings on your grocery bill. Plus, eating more vegetarian meals is just better for the environment since raising animals is very resource intensive.
LET EACH RECIPE INFORM THE NEXT
Don’t just select a set of random recipes. Select one, look at the ingredient list and let that help you select recipe #2, and so on. For example, if recipe #1 uses half a head of cabbage, you might find another recipe that needed cabbage to prevent food waste. Or if you were going to make rice for recipe #1, try to find a recipe that used leftover rice for recipe #2, so you can make once and eat twice! If you need help finding recipes with specific ingredients, sites like Yummly or Foodily can be very helpful.
STORE AND COOK INGREDIENTS BASED ON PERISHABILITY
When deciding on order, use up your more perishable items earlier in the week. It also helps to store them so that they’re more visible too. Refer to our Produce Care and Shelf-Life Guide on the next page to make sure you’re storing and using up your produce optimally.
Eating Low-Fat on a Budget
Following a low-fat diet can help lower your risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and stroke. Eating low fat usually means eating fewer calories. High calorie intake may lead to an increase in body weight, and can cause the early onset of these chronic diseases.
A low-fat eating plan and daily exercise can:
• Lower your blood cholesterol
• Help you maintain a healthy weight
• Assist in maintaining normal blood glucose
• Lower your blood pressure
We will help you purchase, prepare and eat foods that are low in fat. These tips and recipes are possible on a limited income, so you can make healthy choices on a budget.
Shop Smart: Save Money at the Grocery Store
Buy fruits and vegetables in season. For example, apples in the fall, oranges in
the winter, strawberries in late spring and peaches in the summer.
Buy store brands and purchase family sized packages. Buy spices in bulk.
Buy plain canned or frozen vegetables. Avoid products with seasonings, sauces
and cheese sauces.
Buy dried beans and peas in bulk. Soak overnight before cooking. Use 3 times
a week in place of meat, poultry or fish. Beans cost less than meat, and are
also high in protein.
Limit buying sugary foods. These are expensive items with little nutritional
value and lots of calories.
Buy regular rice, oatmeal and grits instead of the instant or flavored types.
Non-fat dry milk is the least expensive way to buy milk. Buy fat-free or low-fat
milk in gallons or 1/2 gallons. Children under two should continue to drink
Buy chuck or bottom roasts. These cuts have less fat and cost less. They need
to be covered during cooking and cooked longer to increase tenderness.
Buy whole fryer chickens instead of already cut and skinned pieces.
Look for specials in the newspaper and use coupons for the foods you plan to
Shop at least twice a month and buy only the amount you can eat before it
Plan your meals ahead of time and make your grocery list from these menus
Smart shopping includes comparing prices of products: fresh or frozen,
canned or boxed, large or small, store brands or named brands.
Look at the unit price sticker, which is usually found on the shelf
below the item. You can compare the cost of products with this
sticker. Unit pricing tells you the cost per unit of similar foods.
In this example, the large box (22 oz) costs 17 cents per ounce
(oz = ounce). The smaller box (16 oz) costs 20 cents per ounce.
The larger box of Cherry-O's has the better price.
Five Steps to Low-fat Cooking
Here are five easy steps to help lower the fat in your meals:
1. Cut the fat off meat and take the skin off of chicken before cooking.
2. Bake, broil, grill, or poach your meat.
3. Eat only one serving of lean red meat (beef or pork) each day.
4. Use a non-stick skillet, you will need less oil/fat to cook. Use cooking spray
instead of oil, margarine or butter.
5. Replace high-fat foods with fruits, vegetables, grains, whole-grain breads, and
• One piece of fruit or 4 ounces of 100% fruit juice
• 2 grain servings (1 cup cooked cereal or 2 slices bread)
• 1 cup skim or 1% milk or other low-fat dairy product
• 1 egg
1 cup old-fashioned oats 1 T. brown sugar
1 cup 1% or nonfat milk 1/8 t. cinnamon
_ cup raisins 1/8 t. nutmeg
Bring milk to a boil. Add oats and cook, stirring constantly. Add the rest of the
ingredients. Cover and remove from heat until desired texture. 2 servings.
Cinnamon French Toast
1 large egg 1/2 t. cinnamon
2 egg whites 1/8 t. nutmeg
1/4 cup nonfat milk 8 slices bread
1/2 t. vanilla
Beat egg and egg whites until foamy. Add milk, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Beat well. Spray skillet with cooking spray and heat. Dip bread slices into egg
mixture and place in heated skillet. Cook until golden brown, turning once, about
1-2 minutes each side. 4 servings, 2 slices bread each.
• Cold cereal (with 3 grams fiber or more/ serving) with low-fat milk and fresh
• Fresh fruit in low-fat or light vanilla yogurt
• Flour tortilla with low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese and fresh fruit, warm in
• English muffin with low-fat or fat-free cheese melted in toaster oven
• Frozen low-fat waffle with fresh blueberries and maple syrup
• Scrambled Eggbeaters®
• Toast with peanut butter and sliced banana
Basic Lunch • 2 servings grain (2 slices of bread, 1 cup pasta or rice) • 3 oz. meat, chicken, or fish, or 1 cup beans • Fruit: 1/2 cup cooked, 1 piece raw • Vegetable: 1/2 cup cooked, 1 cup raw • 1 cup nonfat or 1%milk or low-fat dairy product.
Tuna Pita Sandwich
One - 7 3/4 oz. can water-packed tuna 1 T. crushed pineapple
2 T. low fat (2%) cottage cheese 1 T. chopped celery
1 T. low fat mayonnaise Sliced tomato
4 pita breads or 8 slices bread Sliced cucumber
Drain tuna. Mix together tuna fish, cottage cheese, mayonnaise, celery and
pineapple. Use as a sandwich spread with tomato, cucumber slices in pita bread
or on sliced bread. 4 sandwiches.
Per serving: calories: 221, total fat: 3 g, cholesterol: 17 mg, sodium: 523 mg
Split Pea Soup
1 3/4 cup dried split peas 1 T. olive or canola oil
2/3 cup carrot, grated 2/3 cup onion, chopped
1/8 t. pepper 1/2 t. salt
1/8 t. oregano 4 1/2 cups water
Bring water to a boil. Using a non-stick pan, sauté onion in oil. Add onion and all
other ingredients to boiling water. Return soup to a boil, reduce heat, cover and
boil gently until peas are tender (about 40 minutes). Add water if becomes too
dry, uncover and cook until mixture is thick.
Per serving: calories: 312, total fat: 1 g, cholesterol: o mg, sodium: 310 mg
• Homemade refried beans and salsa on a corn tortilla, warmed in microwave
• Peanut butter sandwich with fruit salad
• Baked chicken breast in a sandwich or on a salad with low-fat or fat-free
Basic Dinner • 3 oz meat, chicken, or fish or 1 cup beans • Vegetables: 1 cup cooked or 1/2 cup raw • 2 grain products: 1 cup of noodles, rice, or potatoes, or 2 slices bread • 1 cup 1% or skim milk • Fruit: 1/2 cup cooked or 1 piece raw
Chicken Macaroni Stew
12 oz. can tomatoes
1 cup frozen mixed vegetables
1/3 cup macaroni, uncooked
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1 cup low-fat chicken stock
seasonings: 1/4 t. oregano, 1/4 t. salt,
1/8 t. garlic powder, 1/8 t. pepper
3/4 cup cooked chicken, diced (10 oz. raw or 8 oz. cooked chicken breast)
Put all ingredients, except chicken, in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce
heat and boil gently, uncovered, until macaroni is tender (about 15 minutes). Stir
occasionally to prevent sticking. Add chicken and heat to serving temperature. 2
Per serving: calories: 286, total fat: 3.5 g, cholesterol: 23 mg, sodium: 540 mg
1/2 pound lean ground beef 1- 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 1/4 cup chopped onion 2-3 t. chili powder
3/4 cup chopped green pepper 1/2 t. dried basil
2 cloves garlic, minced 1/4 t. salt
3/4 cup dry kidney beans, or 1- 14 oz canned kidney beans
1/4. t. pepper
If using dry kidney beans, cook until soft and drain (about 2 hours). In a large
saucepan, cook ground beef, onion, green pepper, and garlic until meat is brown.
Drain fat. Stir in undrained tomatoes, kidney beans, tomato sauce, chili powder,
basil, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 20
minutes. 4 servings.
Per serving: calories: 375, total fat: 12 g, cholesterol: 43 mg, sodium: 985 mg
Stir-fried Meat and Vegetables with Rice
2 cups reduced sodium chicken broth 1/4 cup onion, minced
2 cups hot water 1 t. garlic powder
2 cups uncooked rice 1/2 cup canned mushrooms,
2 T. vegetable oil drained
2 cups frozen broccoli 1 lb 7 oz. ground pork, lean beef,
1 cup carrots, peeled and thinly sliced 4 T. soy sauce
In a saucepan, heat broth and water to a boil. Add rice and return to boil.
Reduce heat to low, cover and cook until tender, about 15-20 minutes.
Heat 1 T. oil in skillet. Add broccoli, carrots, onions, and garlic powder. Cook until
crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from skillet. Add mushrooms, cook for 1
minute and set aside. Heat 1 T. oil in skillet, add meat and cook until no longer
pink. Drain liquid. Add soy sauce and stir until mixed. Add vegetables to meat
mixture. Cook until heated, about 1-2 minutes. Serve meat and vegetable
mixture over cooked rice. Serves 4.
Per serving: calories: 860, total fat: 33 g, sodium: 799 mg (532 mg if you decrease soy sauce to 2
• Steamed rice (1 cup) with stir-fried vegetables and chicken breast or tofu
• Noodles with soft-boiled eggs and vegetables