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What to Do When You Can’t Afford Healthy Food

Do you feel like you can't afford healthy food? If you want to eat healthier but think your budget is too low, here are some steps to take to make sure you can do your best!

For some people, the new year means a new start.

They’re going to start exercising and eating a healthy diet to lose weight.

They load up their shopping cart at the grocery store with all sorts of organic chicken, fresh fruits and vegetables, and other expensive health foods.

Their bill racks up to an insane amount.

And then you look at your cart, with just enough food to last the rest of the week before you get paid again. There might be a few vegetables in there, but there’s a lot of PB&J and convenience foods because you know that’s what your kids will eat without wasting food.

The truth is, you probably want to be like the first person. You want to live a healthier lifestyle, get a fresh start. And stop buying all the “junk food”.

But money seems to hold you back. Food prices are going up. Maybe it’s a job loss, or a very low income. You feel like you can’t afford to eat healthy food and get a nutritious diet.

I’ve been there. And I want to encourage you today with some suggestions and steps to take to make sure you can eat the best you can with what you have in a (hopefully) temporary situation.

Decide what “healthy” means to you

The word “healthy” is so subjective. Ask 10 different people what “healthy eating” is and you’ll get 15 different answers. Whether it’s avoiding all meat or buying only organic produce, you have to decide the best options for your family.

The Bacon household’s definition of healthy is eating a little bit of everything in moderation.

Organic isn’t necessary; we eat lots of meat, mostly chicken and ground beef; and I try to make at least one or two vegetables with every meal. Many of the grains we eat are whole grains. All around, I try to make 80% of our diet whole foods.

And we’ve always got some sort of candy or sweets in the house and eat a little bit of it every day. And we have zero problem eating Kraft macaroni and cheese, a so-called “unhealthy food”.

This may look completely different from you, and that’s okay! There’s no right or wrong when it comes to healthy meals; but having an expectation of what you want your family to eat will help you in deciding whether you can afford to eat completely in this manner right now.

Figure out your budget

Do you already have a grocery budget? If not, you’ll need to make one right away. Whatever your financial situation may be right now, having a budget will keep you in check and will help you spend less money.

Our current grocery budget is $100 a week. During the hard times, we’ve had to live on $37 a week and $30 a week; the first number was after our baby formula budget, and the second number was me cutting our budget in half after John temporarily lost his job in 2016.

We are a family of 3, so you may have to adjust your own numbers if your family is bigger. But if you’re in a rough financial spot, less is better right now.

Even on those low budgets, we were still able to eat mostly nutritious meals using these tips.

Also, there is no shame in accepting food stamps if you need it. That’s what it’s there for. But you can also factor that into your budget as well. You can also do a Google search for a food bank in your area. Many churches and organizations offer it; so take advantage if you need it!

Focus on sale and clearance items

Depending on how you choose to eat, you can find some awesome deals if you know where to look.

A lot of people think that you can’t buy good food on sale; or that most things on sale are “processed food”. And that’s not true! While you do find a lot of snacks and other things on sale, you can just as easily find produce. Less money does not always equal poor diet.

  • Marked down fresh produce: Some stores, like my local Kroger, have a small stand of produce that’s right on the verge of going bad. They’re crazy low prices; but because they’ll go bad pretty soon, buy only what you need for the next couple days. You can always come back for more in a few days, as long as you’re disciplined enough to only buy what you need and not wander the aisles. Honestly, I think this is the cheapest way to get produce.
  • Meat section: During our low-budget times, I didn’t buy quite as much meat so I skipped this part. But you might be able to find really good markdowns on meat, especially chicken and ground beef as the cheapest options. If you have any extra money (which you may not depending on your budget), you can buy a little extra and stick in your freezer for later. Meat freezes very well!
  • Dairy section: My local Kroger also has a small fridge dedicated to clearance dairy products. I like to buy yogurt here; I’ve also seen cage-free eggs and other organic dairy items here, too.
  • General clearance: Some stores have a display or endcap with all of their clearance items that don’t fit in the above categories, like cans, cereal, crackers, coffee, leftover holiday candy… and it’s not usually that these items are about to expire. Some are just being marked down to make room for new stock, and some items are damaged, like dented cans. This is really a great way for me to stock up on snacks.

Do you feel like you can't afford healthy food? If you want to eat healthier but think your budget is too low, here are some steps to take to make sure you can do your best!

Make a Meal Plan Every Week

When you don’t have a lot of money, planning and preparation is key. The best way to do this is to create a meal plan every week.

Sometimes having a shopping list is enough to keep us from spending more money. I like to create a Master Meal List, which has 30-60 meal ideas so I can never say I can’t come up with a dinner to cook.

If you’re new to meal planning, I highly suggest you read my guide on Meal Planning for Beginners! It’ll teach you how to come up with meal ideas, create a grocery list, and more.

Do what you can, don’t freak out, and don’t feel guilty

I can’t stress this enough: Don’t feel guilty about how you choose to feed your family! Nobody knows your financial situation or lifestyle choices better than you do, and your opinion is the only one that matters.

Your friend on Facebook may post a picture of a week’s worth of homemade, organic baby food and you suddenly wonder if your baby will grow up unintelligent because you can only afford a store-brand jar of mashed peaches.

Trust me, that baby’s going to grow up and eat his own boogers too; so don’t worry about it!

If all you can do right now is buy Kraft mac and cheese with hot dogs because your kids won’t eat anything else and you can’t afford to waste food- go for it!

I had no problem buying Kraft mac and cheese when we were on a tight budget; and I still buy it, even after being told I was “poisoning my family” by feeding that to them.

If nothing else, just take a breath and relax. You want the best for your family, but maybe you just can’t afford it right now. And that’s okay! Your food choices are your business and no one else’s.

When we had a low grocery budget on two separate occasions, we prayed daily. And God carried us through. He’ll do the same for you, so learn to trust and know that though times are hard now, there will be an end. And you can get through this.

Do you have any tips on eating nutritious food on a very low budget? Please share in the comments; I know someone needs to hear what you have to say!


Thursday 22nd of September 2022

These are my top tips. Check what items are in your pantry and fridge etc. Make a printed list that is colour coded for your ease of reference. Then go shopping with that list. Use the internet in order to find different recipes (try sites like as well. Store spare copies of them in a safe place. Good luck. You can even find a lot of free cookbooks at your closest library. Or visit a local bookshop on your own to buy some cheap ones too. Read the reviews carefully. Bread can be used to make platters of sandwiches. You can use farmhouse cheeses and tomatoes in your sandwiches. Go to the supermarket to locate ingredients to use for fun meals. Have fun. Meal planning is a fun exercise in mental simulation. Well at least this is how I like to view it.


Thursday 12th of August 2021

I recently started to lose weight and I'm finding ways to save money while losing weight until I read this article, this is very helpful to me. Thanks a lot!


Friday 2nd of July 2021

Thank you for this post. God knew I needed to read it today.

Even though my children are grown and gone, I now find myself as a single older woman who has never had to worry about how she was going to eat cheaply, but who now is in that very same situation.

God has seen me through some rough times these last seven years and I know He’s not leaving me now. (I’m just trying to figure out how many boxed Mac and cheeses and hot dogs I should buy)!


Saturday 3rd of July 2021

Wow Susan, you are a warrior! I just said a prayer for financial stability for you.

Lindsey :)

Saturday 19th of June 2021

Jamie, I wanted to let you know this post was very helpful but also a good message to remember not to give up just because you’re going through a really, really, hard time right now. I wanted to share a bit about my life and how money plays a big role in being able to afford getting healthy food etc. *Warning: Just a fyi to those who read this please be sensitive and be respectful if you do respond or etc.* I have several mental health illnesses and I can’t even explain to you how much I hate it when someone talks about my weight when in reality they should be worrying about their own weight. I eat anything and everything I want,..why? Because since I have several mental health illnesses as I said before I could careless about myself. People with mental health illnesses don’t give two pennies about their health or about anything really. People that go through this should NEVER be body shamed for how they look, or their weight, or even their body figure, etc. I’m so sick of having to live a life to someone else’s standards just because they think I’m not “good looking” or I’m not “good enough” like dude I don’t give AF what you think lol. People are way to quick to judge and jump to conclusions when they aren’t even 1. The real judge. And 2. They have never been in my shoes or in someone else’s shoes that is going through a really rough time as well. So they should be the LAST person to assume or come to conclusion like they really “know me”or know someone else. It’s not that I don’t want to get back to feeling “healthier” and improving my overall health. It’s just one I'm having a financial crisis and being a young adult sucks! Therefore I can’t just go out to the grocery store and get what type of fruits I would like and vegetables and etc. if you get what I’m saying. This adds up and I have to get gas, and get oil changes, and more. My life has NEVER BEEN EASY. I’m praying to god though that something great happens before the end of the year for me. But I just wanted to share a bit of my struggles and opinions about this. But I will definitely take in consideration about what you said about looking for the prices that are knocked down to a low price. Where I live we use to have a Kroger but sadly they left :,( and I wish they would come back because you’re correct on the fact that they have amazing deals.

Thanks! :)


Saturday 19th of June 2021

Wow Lindsey, thank you for sharing your story! I'm so sorry you're going through this right now. You're right, people shouldn't judge others- for any reason. I can't claim to understand what you're going through with mental illness, but I do know it has a HUGE impact on what/how you eat and it's not as easy as saying "Just buy healthier food!"

You do what you need to in order to survive, and you, my friend, are a warrior!

Marvin Zinn

Monday 3rd of February 2020

I was raised with healthy food, mostly organic. As a teenager and a few more years I ate junk. I studied more about nutrition and returned to what I began with. (Sugar is the most dangerous addictive drug in the world!) The most common subject is weight, but mine has not changed 5 lbs in 50 years. Now with the subject of cost, I live only on social security and can barely afford meals, but still avoid junk. However, I am a bit upset when I give rides for help to someone in welfare who can buy a lot more with food stamps than I can afford. Also she pays nothing for any medical care which I have to avoid. They do pay me more than the cost for rides I give them, so that helps.


Saturday 2nd of May 2020

You have that right. I am a sugar addict and I went cold turkey. I do not drink, smoke or do drugs, however, I know how those addicts feel when they go off their drug!!!

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