As my parents told me growing up, “food ain’t cheap.” I grew up and, sure enough, this fact became even more apparent to me (I’m sure it did for you too)! Food can be the biggest expense for some people and almost certainly for a big family. While food can take a big chunk out of your monthly/weekly budget, there are ways to have easy meals on a budget and minimize the size of that “chunk.”
Although, if you’re not careful, only buying the cheapest food can mean buying something with fewer nutrients. For example, a bag of chips and twinkies compared to a bunch of bananas and a loaf of wheat bread. Both options are fairly cheap, but one offers many more nutrients (is more nutrient-dense) than the other (bananas and wheat bread being more nutrient-dense).
The decision between the nutrient density of food and their price is vital to keep your body running in tip-top shape and to feel full longer, all with as little money as possible. Think of it this way, if you’re feeding your body good, nutrient-dense food you’ll be full for longer, that means you’ll be eating less food in the future, thus saving money! In the rest of this blog, we’ll further discuss nutrient density along with a second factor to consider while eating on a budget: protein. Also, stick around to the end for our dietitian-approved, budget-friendly grocery list (and recipes)!
You want to buy foods that are energy-dense as well as nutrient-dense so that your body is getting the calories and nutrients it needs to continue conducting all of its basic functions. Firstly, energy-density is used to describe how much energy (calories) is stored within a food or serving size. Secondly, nutrient-density is used to describe the amount of beneficial nutrients in a food in proportion to the amount of energy it provides. Think of a chocolate chip cookie. It is energy-dense but is not very nutrient-dense (fairly high calorie with little nutrients).
For example, energy and nutrient-dense foods are healthy fats. Some healthy fats are cheese, peanut butter, and avocados. These help you feel full longer while also getting a ton of nutrients your body needs!
2. Getting enough protein
Unfortunately, protein items like poultry, beef, and seafood can be the most expensive items in our cart. But protein is incredibly important for the body! It relies on protein for growth and development, ensuring the proper structure and function of cells, storing nutrients, and keeping the immune system in check. Protein is an essential part of everything that our body does and it is pivotal that we have an adequate amount of it. So, while you may be changing the way you spend your money on a budget, your body’s need for protein doesn’t change.
Although, when times are tough, what can we do instead of buying those expensive items? Check out our tips below!
Easy meals on a budget gets even easier with meal planning!
The Prudent Penny Pincher’s 150 Dirt Cheap Recipes is very helpful and packed with creative ideas for basic food items!
Check out this blog for meal planning tips from our own dietitians!
Budget-Friendly Grocery List + Recipes
Now, on to the full grocery list for easy meals on a budget. We compiled this list with rough estimates of prices (mainly from Giant) so this can give you an idea of what items are best for your budget as well as some tasty recipes! Unsurprisingly, the cheapest items are usually the generic option.
Fun fact, while compiling this list we found that Safeway usually had the highest prices and Aldi had the lowest! Happy shopping and cooking!
Items with an * indicate that they are WIC approved. If you qualify, be sure to look at the WIC Shopping Guide before you head into the grocery store as there are some specifications as to the size and brand of items.
Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Mozzarella | 16 oz block for $4.89
- Cheddar* – Broccoli Cheddar Mac & Cheese with Chicken Sausage
- Monterey Jack* – Salsa Verde Chicken Enchiladas
- Mozzarella* – Mini Pizzas
- Mozzarella* – Zucchini Pizza Bites
- Mozzarella* – Mediterranean Chicken Panini
Legumes (plant protein)
Cereal | 10-20 oz for $1.88-$4.88
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Amaris completed a Dietetic Degree and Business Minor from the University of Maryland. Amaris loves blogging and is our Student Director of Social Media. She was also a Peer Nutrition Coach at the University of Maryland Health Center her Junior year.