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.
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!
Jaime is a Nutrition Coach and professional writer. She enjoys cooking easy meals, running, and learning more about food.
Jaime specializes in helping women with ADHD learn to meal plan and cook healthier meals without getting overwhelmed.