Eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive!
How to eat healthy when you’re on a tight budget.
Healthy & homemade & on a budget: weekly meal planner for family of four. How to make cheap and nutritious meals from (mostly) organic ingredients on a budget. Awesome tips and tricks to make your shopping cheaper and healthier.
Weekly meal planner, example grocery list and recipes included.
I’ve been doing it for a while now: budgeting hard, creating meal plans and not compromising on quality. At the beginning, I was extremely price aware (*cough* cheap). Over the time I started to add more and more healthy stuff to my shopping basket. Now, my weekly grocery shopping list contains healthy (mostly organic) stuff. I make our dinners from scratch (with occasional guilty pleasure treat). The budget is $75 (£52) for me and my husband or $162 (112 GBP) for family of four.
There’s a lot of info ahead, but please read it carefully first. I made few printable graphics (with all the necessary info in the nutshell) that you can pin for later.
So how does it work?
1) I plan ahead
During a week, I write down (you can use your phone too) all the dinner and lunch ideas I thought of or spotted during link parties, web searches etc.
2) I adjust my notes to nutritional needs
If you don’t have any special nutritional needs it’s pretty straight forward:
-fish; as oily (rich in omega 3) as possible: mackerel, salmon – 3 times a week
-meat ( chicken and red meat ) – 2 times a week
-veggie dinner – 2 times a week
Please note : Listen to your body (and to your doctor). If you hate some foods (even when they are considered healthy), there may be reason for that. Don’t push yourself to eat stuff you hate, consult with the doctor instead. Ask for blood test results – they will show any deficiencies. Allergies, personal preferences and nutritional needs must be considered in the first place. Fun fact: one small portion of fresh salmon covers your weekly omega 3 demand. So, if you’re not a big fish eater, one portion a week will do too.
Always choose wild fish instead of farmed. You should find appropriate info on the package (or you can ask fishmonger directly). Even though it’s not on the example shopping list, please consider buying turkey meat. Turkeys don’t react good to antibiotics, therefore their meat is antibiotic free. If you can’t buy organic chicken, consider turkey instead.
3) I choose smaller portions, but better quality
Quality is important when it comes to meat, fish and produce.
It’s better to eat smaller portion (sometimes considerably smaller portion!), than eat a lot, but from uncertain source. It makes all the sense in the world to eat a cow or a chicken that was happy and healthy (not caged & stuffed with antibiotics etc).
If your portion of fish or meat seems too small, don’t sweat it –
just add more veggies! Even the smallest portion of awesome quality fish (with lots of veggies) is healthier than big portion of ‘drugged’ chicken or fast food.
If you have bigger family, fear not – you’ll fit in the $162 (112 GBP) budget. I created the post with family of 4 in mind.
A little guide to help you choose what to buy organic:
4) I use crockpot a lot
Preparing crockpot dish doesn’t take a lot of time. You can prepare freezer bags for the whole week ahead. Crockpot meals are super tasty & healthy (you make them from scratch and you know exactly what goes into the pot). You can add A LOT of veggies to almost every slow cooker dish, you can even cook whole pumpkin /squash in it.
5) I do my shopping online,
which helps control how much I spend. I spend an hour shopping, rearranging my basket to make it healthy and fairly cheap. It’s even quicker than real shopping and I avoid shopping temptations (I’m an impulsive buyer!).
If you, can’t shop online
for some reason or you get easily distracted while shopping online, here’s some tips to survive your weekly shopping and end up with fairly full wallet and healthy shopping basket :
– bring exact change
– ask someone else to do your shopping for you (they will buy exactly what you’ve asked for)
– avoid temptations (if you a sucker for a cake, don’t go near confectionery stand)
– leave kiddos/teenagers at home when possible (as, boy oh boy, we all know they want to buy stuff :))
– shop around (it’s tempting to buy everything in one supermarket, but if you’re not sure about quality of food, it’s good to split your shopping. Once a week buy: meat at your favourite butcher shop, veggies at farmers market. Once a week or once every two weeks buy: basics (milk, butter), cupboard fillers (pasta) & cleaning stuff in the supermarket. In the long run, you’ll save and you’ll be pleased with quality of food.
6) I’m prepared
Sometimes you simply don’t have time, or don’t want to think about preparing and balancing your meals. You just want to sit down, relax and enjoy your meal (balanced or not). I’m all for it. But, if you’re the type that regrets decisions like that later on, it’s good to be prepared.
– From time to time (when you have time to spare), froze something homemade as an emergency meal (already cooked slow cooker meal for example)
– Every excess from your weekly dinners should go to the freezer as well. Before you know it, you have a dinner or two extra. Don’t waste veggies and herbs. I buy whole bag of organic carrot. Whole bag can last you for a long time: you can eat some of it raw, make a smoothie, sliced it or mash it, put it in a microwave bag and then freeze it. Microwave bag cooking is the best way to cook veggies if you want the nutrition, but you hate steam cooking, like I do.
Freeze bananas that are about to get bad. You can use them later to make banana bread .
Even when there’s one chicken leg left – freeze it. You never know when it may come useful. Freeze leftover basil leaves, slightly fried mushrooms, leftover peas. In a week or too you might find ingredients for an awesome side dish or a pizza.
7) I don’t stress & balance is everything
I perfected my shopping list over the course of few months! First, I cut down the cost ( by buying only what’s necessary), then I started to add more and more healthy stuff into my basket. Willy nilly at first, then (after watching few tv programs and reading a book about nutrition) more consciously. Now it’s seems easy, but I was struggling at first, so please give yourself time. You might want to try to make changes really slowly (one/ two dinners at the time). The change would be easier to digest (ba dum tsss) and family may be more on board. Hubby wasn’t having it at first ( how come no cola??? ), but then I switched cola to pineapple juice (not from the concentrate), so he could get his sugar high. It’s his favourite now. It’s just as sweet as cola, but it’s all natural sugar (so let’s say it’s a lesser of two evils). Ideally, would be to eat pineapple not to drink it (you can drink much more pineapple and orange than you can eat, therefore you consume much more sugar while drinking). But hey, we’re slowly making progress. Obviously, your kiddos may be rebellious too. And please don’t be hard on yourself if you go off the track. Few naughty days won’t cross out the whole plan. Balance is everything! And you’re awesome for wanting to make a healthy change in the first place.
Weekly meal plan (example) :
1) oven baked salmon
(I would skip salsa for even healthier option).
2) baked butternut squash
(Please note, that I’ve changed that recipe over time. I skipped cream, onion, gorgonzola and parmesan. I barely sprinkle it with cheese now. It’s so tasty, I sometimes eat it bare (with no added ingredients, except olive oil that is needed for baking).
3) crockpot beef
Use fresh basil, peppers and plum tomatoes (they are on the shopping list) instead of corn, celery and carrots.
4) homemade enchiladas
I skipped onion and garlic (ibs) and used different herbs (oregano & basil) and regular peppers (because they were all already on the shopping list).
5) healthy leftover meal – pasta with chicken and spinach
Please, skip first recipe ( delicious & creamy spinach pasta with chicken & mascarpone cheese) and add the second one to your meal plan (it’s marked ‘healthier, vegetarian version’; at the bottom of the page). First one’s ingredients are (amongst others): butter & a lot of mascarpone cheese, so I won’t recommend that one if you would like to eat healthier.
6) stuffed zucchini
I skipped onion, garlic and rice.
7) guilty pleasure treat: pizza ( I chose pizza express – reduced fat & salt, but you can make your own at home from leftover ingredients or go totally low carb and make this one: Italian Polenta Pizza )
– when buying – choose better quality ( for example freshly made in store, reduced salt and fat)
– baking at home – add lots of veggies, basil & oregano & olive oil, skip salami, just sprinkle it with cheese, use low fat cheese when possible).
More meal ideas:
Please check out easy and healthy breakfast ideas.
If you like milk in the morning: porridge oats with goats milk and hint of stevia are always a good breakfast idea !
Desserts and snacks:
Baked rice with apples (you can skip the sugar or use stevia and use lighter cream substitute & olive spread for greasing).
Please note: based on our example weekly shopping list ( you can find it later in the post), you can make: healthy frittata – from healthy breakfast ideas: link, baked rice with apples, beetroot side dish, slow cooker pears (minus nuts, cloves, lemon juice). You can skip some ingredients (like nuts in slow cooker pears recipe) or add something you already have in your pantry.
More tips and tricks:
The tricks is to buy more wisely and consciously, so a) nothing goes to waste & b) you can use ingredients you bought in few different recipes. For example, if you plan to make baked butternut squash and baked zucchini – almost all the ingredients for that dishes are the same. So, if you buy a cheese block, peppers etc, you can split it between two recipes. One price, two recipes and nothing goes to waste.As I previously said, whole bag of organic carrots will last for a week or more. You can add carrot to cropckpot beef or serve on a side with fish. It also counts as your 5 a day (more on that later). Extra chicken from enchiladas can go to your pasta etc. Extra sauce from enchilada dinner can be used while making zucchini or pizza etc.
Before I show you my shopping basket, let’s compare UK and US food prices.
I compared variety of organic products. chicken, beef, milk, yogurts, tomatoes. Prices of organic products in both our countries are comparable. For example: $9 (for 1kg of organic chicken) is equal to £6.17 and price of the whole organic chicken in the UK varies between £6 and £7 (depending on the brand). It’s the same with other products – price range is generally the same. If you would like to read more about organic & non organic food prices in USA, please click here. Click here to see how prices of organic food vary from shop to shop.
So how much family of four should spend weekly on groceries?
According to United States Department of Agriculture, the weekly food cost for family of four, if it’s thrifty, is between $129.80 – $149.20, and if it’s liberal – between $254.10 – $297.00 ( obviously, prices may differ slightly depending on what state/town you live in). So, as you can see my $162 basket is very cheap. The only difference being, my basket is healthy! If you interested in how much families around the world spend on their weekly shopping, check out this article. Now on to my basket…
Example shopping list :
Shopping list comes in 3 versions. 1st version – whole list with dinner ingredients in bold. Second version – whole list with pictures of products & additional info. 3rd version: ingredients list to make dinners only.
Please note: Sainsbury’s link is not affiliate link, it’s just the shop where I make my grocery shopping online. They’ve got a range of organic products as well as regular ones.
1st version – WEEKLY SHOPPING BASKET ( DINNER ingredients in bold):
– organic ham (two packages) £5 ( $7.33 ) – 2x 100g
– 4X organic yogurt £2 ( $2.93 ) – 4 x 120g
– oregano £1.93 ( $2.83 ) – 7g
– organic beef mince £3.50 ( $5.13) – 500 g
– courgettes (zucchini) £1.75 ( $2.57) – 1kg
– organic spinach £1,60 ($2.35) -200g
– gluten free organic pasta £2.00 ($2.93) – 500g
– organic chicken mini fillets £11.48 ($16.84) – 2x 200g
– organic baby plum tomatoes £3.60 ($5.21) – 2 x 225g
– frozen mini corn cobs £1.20 ($1.76) -1kg
– beef goulash soup £1.45 ($2.13) -400g
– organic diced beef £4.50 ($6.60) -450g
– fresh basil pot £1.50 ($2.20)
– mature cheddar £3.50 ($5.13) -400g
– organic peppers x 6 £5.00 ($7.33)
– butternut squash x2 £2.78 ($4.08)
– olive oil 250ml £1.20 ($1.76)
– oat milk 1L 1.40 £2,05 ($3.01)
– free range eggs x15 £1,25 ($1.83)
– organic pears x4 £1.90 ($2.79)
– organic apples x10 £3,80 ($5.57)
– organic cucumber £1,10 ($1.61)
– bread £0,70 ($1.03) -400g
– cooked beetroot pack £0,80 ($1.17) -250g
– organic baking potatoes £3,00 ($4.40) – 2kg
– organic bolognese/pizza sauce £2,40 ($3.52) -500g
– butternut squash noodles £1,20 ($1.76) -300g
– coarse ground black pepper £1,65 ($2.42) -33g
– coarse sea salt £0,70 ($1.03) -350g
– salmon fillet 260 g x4 – £6,60 ($9.68)
– single cream alternative £0,70 ($1.03) 284ml
– ground cinnamon £1,35 ($1.98) 33g
– light olive spread £1,00 ($1.47) -500g
– organic basmati rice £1,80 ($2.64) -500g
– tropicana apple juice £2,50 ($3.67) -1,75L
– innocent smoothies £3,00 ($4.40) 4x 180ml
– still water £1,50 ($2.20) 4X2L
– rice and corn blueberry cakes £1,50 ($2.20) 131g
– mashed apple & mango pots £1,50 ($2.20) 4x95g
– carrot sticks snack £0,75 ($1.10) 20g
– banana rice cakes £1,00 ($1.47) -50g
– goats cheese £1,70 ($2.49) -100g
– organic cheddar £2,50 ($3.67) -270g
– pizza express £5,00 ($7.33) -350g
– organic vegetarian pate £2,15 ($3.15) -170g
– corn tortillas £1,50 ($2.17) 335g
= £111.83 ($161.38)
It’s an estimated shopping list. Obviously, basket content may vary depending on your likings. It’s just an example. Prices may differ depending on daily promotions, coupons/loyalty points you’ve used, a store you shop at and state you live in etc. Still, your total basket price should be between $155 and $163 (it may be even if cheaper if you already have coarse salt, cinnamon, cracked pepper or other necessary products in your pantry).
2nd version – whole basket with pictures of products & additional info.
Please note: I made print screens first, but then I ditched one cream and added one more pack of plum tomatoes.
3rd version: ingredients list to make dinners only.
Previously bought* means that this ingredient was already bought, as it was needed to make one of the previous dinners. I put it on the shopping list again, to make sure you’ve got everything you need, just in case you decide to make only one or few dinners from the list.
salmon 260 g x4
on the side: organic potatoes
butternut squash x2
sprinkle of cheese
organic beef chunks 450g
organic, low fat & sugar beef broth 400g
organic celery (optional)
coarse salt (previously bought*)
peppers (previously bought*)
basil (previously bought*)
on the side: organic potatoes (previously bought*)
or low fat fries or more organic carrot (sliced and cooked in microwave bags)
Please note: I skip onion, garlic & chilli (except sweet chilli) in all the recipes because of my ibs issues.
chicken 2x 200g
olive oil (previously bought)
peppers (prv bought)
basil (prv bought)
cheese (prv bought)
corn tortillas 335g
spices (salt & pepper – previously bought)
or enchilada kit (make sure to choose a low fat & salt one)
spinach (previously bought) 200g
gluten free pasta 500g
olive oil (prv bought)
tomatoes (prv bought)
spices (pepper & coarse salt –prv bought)
pinch of paprika (optional)
I skipped the rice, onion and garlic in this one.
3 large Zucchini
olive oil(previously bought)
ground beef 500 g
basil (previously bought)
spices (salt, pepper -previously bought)
spaghetti sauce (previously bought)
cheese (previously bought)
7- store bought, reduced fat and salt pizza
or homemade polenta PIZZA :
Again: without garlic and onion for me 🙂
You can also skip parsley and olives to cut cost and add ingredients you already have.
polenta (Corn Grits)
pepper (prv bought)
basil (prv bought)
Tomato (prv bought)
More tips and tricks:
Use coupons and loyalty points to make your shopping even cheaper.
Take advantage of promotions and BOGOF offers if it really makes sense for you. For example: cooking beef every week? You can use ‘buy one get one free’ offer and freeze some meat for later. Never buy stuff you won’t actually use.
If you can’t buy organic, here’s how to get rid of nasty pesticides.
If your budget is tighter than usual: use frozen fruits instead of fresh ones, use blender to make your own smoothies and juices instead of buying them.
Uk’s guidance is to eat at least 5 a day– that means 5 different fruit and veggie portions a day. Portion is: an apple or a carrot, 250 ml cup of juice or cooked / grated veggies.
In the UK, we’ve got traffic light system on the packages to control fat, sugar, salt and carbohydrates.
It shows you fat, sugar and salt levels in all the products. If you’re in the hurry, you can take one look at the package and you know!
Not every package is color coded though, some have only amounts, which may be confusing (photo below).
For example: 22,5 of sugar in 100 gram of product is the limit. If there’s more, it’s bad. Even if you don’t have traffic light system in your country, amount of sugar or fat (for 100g of product) should be printed at the back of a package.
Tinned fish from Germany :
Grow your own! It can be in a box on a windowsill, in the garden, you can also rent the plot. In the UK, we’ve got some awesome opportunities in our communites: we can apply for a community plots to grow our own. Check out what’s available in your area. You may find a community plot close to your home or workplace. Growing your own is the most organic you can get and it can be fun experience for the whole family.
Always read the label. For example: drink may be labeled as smoothie, but there may be a lot of added sugar in it. You can buy cheeper, supermarket brand of juice/ smoothie/ mash, but please always read the ingredients list before buying.
Switch it up! To satisfy all your nutritional needs you should eat variety of veggies, fruits and pulses.
From time to time, switch apples for mangoes, tomatoes for corn – that way you’ll take the most out of the fresh produce.
Organic certification seals:
*Disclaimer: I’m not nutritionist, health professional or dietitian.
This is based on my personal experience and research only. Please, always speak to health professional before changing your diet!
This post contains affiliate links from Amazon and Infolinks.
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