Maybe you would like to eat a healthier diet but can’t afford it. After all, fresh-squeezed juice, cage-free eggs, and cheese from grass-fed cows can cost twice as much as the cheaper and less-healthy alternatives.
Fortunately there are ways to cut the cost of healthy foods by half or more. You’ll find tactics for a few specific foods here, but don’t worry if you don’t see your favorites. There are also strategies you can apply to a variety of foods.
1. Use Receipt Scanning Apps.
This is probably one of the easiest ways to save money on groceries. Over 10 different apps have been created that give you cash back when you take a picture of your grocery receipt. Earn anywhere from $.10 cents to $5 per offer.
Unfortunately, when it comes to healthier foods the options are limited, yet you can still find a few offers on fruits and vegetables. Just be sure to take a clear picture of your receipt in order to get your account credited. Here are some of our favorite receipt scanning apps:
- Ibotta (earn a $10 bonus when you register using code qFTVA and claim your first offer)
- Checkout 51
2. Buy Fresh Fruits and Vegetables in Season
One of the simplest ways to save money on fruits and vegetables is to eat whichever ones are in-season. At the height of the season they can cost less than half of what they cost at other times of the year.
There are other reasons to buy fruits and vegetables in-season. Melissa Tamargo, from the University of California, points out environmental costs to shipping produce long distances just so we can eat it out-of-season.
Time on those ships and trucks also means out-of-season produce is less nutritious. Tamargo says, “The nutritional content and freshness of fruits and vegetables decrease from the moment they are harvested.” In-season means more vitamins.
How often are things at their cheapest when they’re also at their best? Take advantage of the opportunity, and don’t worry; everything is in season eventually.
3. Try Canned Wild Salmon
The verdict is in and the experts agree; wild salmon is better for you than farmed salmon. In fact, the Cleveland Clinic lists five reasons to go wild, including less saturated fats and fewer contaminants.
But wild salmon is expensive! That’s true whether you buy it fresh or frozen. Fortunately you have a third option; canned salmon.
That’s right, there isn’t much evidence that fresh salmon is healthier for you, and some doctors think canned salmon may be more nutritious. That’s because you get a lot more calcium from the canned variety, which is processed with the bones still in it.
The bottom line: Canned wild-caught salmon is cheaper than fresh or frozen, and you can save even more if you watch for sales. I often see canned salmon (make sure it says “wild” or “wild caught”) on sale at Walgreens drugstores for around $2 per can.
4. Skip the Juice
Fresh-squeezed orange juice is expensive! And have you seen how much fresh carrot juice costs, even at Walmart? Is here a less expensive alternative?
There is and it’s healthier too: Just eat fresh fruits and vegetables.
Doctors at the Mayo Clinic say “Juicing is not any healthier than eating whole fruits and vegetables.” More than that, you lose the fiber, and juicing concentrates the sugars (and yes, even natural sugars are bad when consumed in excess).
Have you noticed that fresh-squeezed juices rarely go on sale, while fresh fruits and vegetables are on sale every week somewhere? Save yourself some money and skip the juice.
5. Buy Cheese From Grass-Fed Cows at Walmart
My wife and I eat a mostly vegetarian diet. We also prefer dairy products from cows that eat grass instead of grains and food pellets. Cheese from the milk of grass-fed cows has a different chemical makeup, and there is good evidence that it’s better for you.
This is another product that gets marked up because of the label “health food.” The last time I saw cheese from grass-fed cows in a health food store it was $14 per pound!
There are two places to get it for a lot less. Most Walmart’s carry cheeses made by Kerrygold. It’s an Irish brand, and if you look closely at the label you’ll see in small print “made from the milk of grass-fed cows.” It’s usually sold in small blocks that work out to under $8 per pound.
You can also find cheese from New Zealand that’s made from the milk of grass-fed cows. It’s available for less than $7 per pound at at Trader Joe’s, which brings us to our next frugal health food strategy…
5. Try Trader Joe’s for Cheap Health Foods
I would never say that everything in Trader Joe’s is healthy. They often load up their products with sugar, for example. But the healthy foods they have are often very inexpensive.
For example, I buy raw sunflower seeds there for $1.99 per pound — a dollar less than at Walmart! All of their nuts are priced right. Hummus is $2 a tub, and cage-free eggs cost less than $3 per dozen.
If you’ve shopped at Whole Foods but haven’t yet been to a Trader Joe’s, you’re in for a fun and frugal surprise.
6. Go to the Right Kind of Farmers Market
We have a wonderful farmers market nearby, but we rarely buy any fruits or vegetables there. It’s wonderful because it’s colorful, lively, and in front of a nice pub during happy hour. Otherwise it’s just too expensive.
Some farmers markets are as much a craft fair as a place for farmers to sell off their excess produce cheaply. That’s because the vendors are selling “craft” fruits and vegetables and related products. I have nothing against “vintage variety” apples — except paying three times as much for them.
On the other hand, there are markets where regular farmers sell their produce. They can sell it for less than what you pay in the grocery store because they’re cutting out the middlemen.
By the way, that’s your clue to which type of farmers market you’re at; prices should be less than at the grocery store. And there probably won’t be many vendors selling handmade soaps and other crafts.
Check the USDA Farmers Market Directory to find one near you.
8. Shop at Stores With Bulk Sections
Sometimes foods are inexpensive even at expensive health food stores — when you buy them in bulk. You bet I’ll put the rice in a bag myself to save 30% or more!
Of course the cheapest bulk sections are usually at the stores with the lowest prices in general. Here in Tucson that’s Sprouts, where I just bought raw walnuts for $3.99 per pound (half the price of any other store). Check all the nearby stores with bulk sections to see which is cheapest.
9. Buy Healthy Food at Dollar Stores
I thought I would never buy food at dollar stores. I didn’t trust the sources and they never carried healthy options in any case. But that’s changing.
For example, 99 Cents Only stores (which also carry higher-priced items despite the name) have many healthy foods. I regularly buy fresh strawberries there for a buck when they’re double that everyplace else in town.
I generally don’t trust the standards for foods imported from China, but there are many good domestic products. So read those labels for country-of-origin, and for ingredients.
For example, several of the dollar stores around here are carrying vegetable samosas in their frozen foods department, with no preservatives or artificial ingredients. At two of our local dollar stores frozen wild blueberries from Maine cost less than half the Walmart price.
10. Be a Frugal Health Food Opportunist
I mentioned buying whatever is in season to save money. That’s opportunism, and you can apply the approach to healthy frugal eating in general.
For example, most whole grain breads taste pretty good, so why buy any particular one as a habit? Instead buy whichever of the good ones are on sale.
Use coupons for healthy foods, buy nuts at drugstores, help your neighbor in their garden at harvest time — you get the idea. Get away from the habit of buying certain items or brands and just go for the cheapest healthy foods you can find. You’ll get plenty of variety and spend a lot less.
11. Forage for Wild Foods
There are two good reasons to learn about wild edible plants and to start foraging for them. The most relevant one here is that they cost you nothing (other than gas for the car if you drive to a foraging location).
But there’s more good news, which is that those free wild foods might give you vital nutrients you’re missing in farmed foods — even organic ones.
Constant farming of the same land drains it of nutrients, and fertilizers typically replace only a few of the many minerals that have been depleted. As a result, fruits and vegetables are less nutritious each year, according to research reported on by Scientific American.
Wild plants grow in soil that hasn’t been mineral-depleted, so, although we’re waiting for the research to prove it, they’re probably really good for you.
Depending on the particular plants they can also be very tasty. I had a batch of boiled nettles a while back that tasted better than any spinach I’ve eaten. And wild blueberries definitely have more flavor than domestic ones.
You can find foraging locations near you on FallingFruit.org.
12. Challenge Your Assumptions
We tend to be creatures of habit, both in our actions and our thinking. But if you challenge those habitual thoughts you might save a lot of money on healthy foods.
For example, it’s common to believe fresh is best, but studies show frozen fruits and vegetables can be healthier. That’s because flash-freezing shortly after fruits and veggies are picked may preserve vitamins that are otherwise lost when they sit for days in train cars, trucks, grocery stores, and your refrigerator. Fortunately, frozen varieties are often cheaper.
Think organic is better for you? A review of studies concluded, “The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods.” They may have less pesticide residue, but with limited evidence of any benefit, how much more are you willing to pay for organic?
If you read up on healthy-eating myths you might find a few that are costing you money. Challenge those assumptions!
If you know some more strategies for saving money on healthy foods, please share them below… and keep on frugaling!