Healthy Eating on a Budget

By Charlyn Fargo

September 27, 2019 5 min read

My mom was the queen of doing her meal planning based on the grocery store flyer sales. When the flyer arrived in the mail, she would sit down and decide her menu for the week.

Canned vegetables (at 3 for $1) were gathered to make a healthy chili for football season. When a bottom round roast went on sale, she would put it in the slow cooker and use the leftovers in a vegetable soup (using those canned veggies on sale).

I still marvel at her planning skills and flexibility to use whatever was on sale that week. It forced her to be creative and try new recipes.

Here are a few other tips for eating healthy on a budget, gleaned from watching her over the years:

No. 1: Eat first, shop later. If you go to the grocery store hungry, you're likely to be an impulse shopper. Mom always went with a list in hand.

No. 2: Look at your cupboards first so you don't buy what you already have.

No. 3: Think about getting two recipes out of a purchase. Mom would put a whole chicken in the slow cooker for one meal, then use the leftovers for a white chicken chili or chicken quesadilla.

No. 4: Shop what is in season when it comes to fruits and vegetables. Mom would often buy extra tomatoes (if we didn't have enough from our garden) at the farmers market and then turn them into sauce or homemade tomato juice. This time of year, grapes and melons are in season — and reasonably priced.

No. 5: Eat and cook at home instead of going out. Maybe because we lived in the country, going to a restaurant was a big deal and didn't happen very often.

No. 6: Buy items like oatmeal and rice in bulk rather than in instant packets. It's always cheaper and usually healthier if you add your own ingredients.

No. 7: Limit soda and fruit drinks. Choose milk or water from the tap.

No. 8: Limit chips, cookies and high-calorie foods that are high in fat, sodium and sugar. If we had a cookie, it was because Mom made it from scratch.

No. 9: Try a meatless meal every now and then. Meat is usually the biggest expense. Try substituting kidney, pinto, black or other beans, or eggs when they're on sale.

Q and A

Q: Can you eat ground flax seed and/or walnuts instead of fish for good heart health?

A: Fish and shellfish contain the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which have been associated with heart health benefits. The omega-3 fatty acid in plants, alpha-Linolenic acid (ALA), is a shorter-chain fatty acid and doesn't appear to have the same properties as the forms found in fish and shellfish according to Alice Lichtenstein, director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at Tufts University. "Humans have a very limited capacity to convert ALA to EPA and DHA," writes Lichtenstein in Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter. "So, for heart health, the benefits are not equivalent." But don't give up eating seeds and nuts, as they have many other health benefits. You just want to make sure to eat your fish and shellfish, too (at least twice a week).


Here's a quick and easy family meal for those days when you don't think you have time to make dinner. Pair this Barbecue Chicken Sandwich with fruit, fresh vegetables and dip. The meal is a good source of protein and fiber, and provides 100% of the daily value of vitamin A.


2 cups shredded, cooked chicken

1 cup shredded carrots

8 tablespoons barbecue sauce

8 teaspoons light ranch dressing

4 small whole wheat sandwich buns

4 leaves romaine lettuce

Combine chicken, carrots and barbecue sauce in a bowl. Spread ranch dressing on the bun. Top with chicken mixture and lettuce. Serves 4.

Per serving: 324 calories; 26 grams protein; 39 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams fat (2 grams sat); 63 milligrams cholesterol; 4 grams fiber; 657 milligrams sodium.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Illinois, and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRD. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Photo credit: cattalin at Pixabay

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