5 ways to eat healthy on a budget

by Kaiser Permanente |
Person reading canned food label

A healthy, balanced diet gives you nutrients that fuel your body. Those nutrients help keep your heart beating, your brain active, and much more. Eating healthy can also help you prevent and control many health issues, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

We all want to eat healthier. But it’s sometimes easier said than done. This is especially true when you’re sticking to a budget. According to the American Psychological Association, 83% of adults are stressed about inflation. And 66% of adults are stressed about money.1

So, what can you do to improve your diet and stay within your budget? Here are 5 tips you can use to eat healthy and spend less when you’re on a budget.

Shop for in-season produce

Did you know that carrots are a spring vegetable? Or that it’s best to buy pears in the fall?2 Fresh fruits and vegetables usually cost less when they’re in season. When produce is in greater supply, it’s sold at a lower price. Off-season produce can be more expensive because it’s shipped in from different regions. You can cut down on your grocery bill by making a list of in-season produce before you go to the store. To find out when certain produce is in season, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s seasonal produce guide.

You can also shop for in-season produce at your local farmers market. Certain produce may be more affordable than it is at your grocery store.3

Buy frozen foods

Frozen foods are often less expensive than fresh foods. And they can help you make fast and healthy meals. Some frozen foods also have more nutrients than fresh foods.4 Take fruits and vegetables. They’re usually picked at their ripest and frozen soon after. This locks in their nutrients and flavor.4 Fresh foods can lose vitamins and minerals the longer they’re on the shelf. So try adding frozen edamame, berries, and turkey meatballs to your shopping list.

Stock up on canned food

Canned foods are a lower-cost way to get your fruits and vegetables. They’re usually cheaper than fresh or frozen foods and can be just as nutritious. Like frozen foods, canned fruits and vegetables are picked at their freshest. This gives them good flavor and nutrient quality.5 And if you’re worried about food waste, canned foods are your best bet. The canning process gives most foods a shelf life of at least 1 to 5 years.5 Beans, olives, and tuna fish are also good canned options to try.

Don’t forget to read the labels

When shopping for both frozen and canned foods, make sure to read labels. Some frozen foods can have high levels of saturated fat or added sugars. For example, peaches canned in heavy syrup can include 16 grams of added sugars per serving. So, make sure you read the Nutrition Facts and ingredients lists on the package. Try to pick the frozen food with the least amount of saturated fat, sugar, and salt. Frozen foods high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals are usually better for you.4

When you shop for canned fruit, choose ones canned in water, 100% juice, or their own juices. Try to stay clear of fruits canned in light or heavy syrup. They usually have more added sugars.5 And if you’re shopping for canned vegetables, look for ones without added salt. They’ll usually say "no salt added" or "low sodium" on the label. You can also drain and rinse canned beans and vegetables to get rid of some salt.

Buy in bulk

Buying more food may cost more money in the short run, but you can save money over time. If one of your healthy favorites is on sale, consider buying a little extra. You can stock up on less expensive canned goods or frozen foods that can last for longer periods of time. Some can last for months or even years. Just check the expiration date on the package. If you buy in-season produce in bulk, you can freeze it to use in smoothies, soups, and other recipes later in the year.

Pick vegetarian and vegan protein

Your body needs protein to create energy and to build and repair cells. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends adults with a 2,000-calorie diet get 50 grams of protein each day.6 But you may need to add more or less protein than 50 grams to your diet. You’ll especially want to eat more protein if you’re very active. While meat, fish, and poultry are good sources of protein, they can be expensive. And they may not fit everyone’s diet.

Fortunately, many vegetarian and vegan foods have the protein you need. A half cup of most bean varieties has 6 to 9 grams of protein.7 And one cup of cooked Brussels sprouts will add 4 grams of protein to your meal.7 For your next meal, you can try making a grain bowl that includes these high-protein foods. Add lentils, black beans, or a big scoop of Brussels sprouts to your bowl. Another option? Try tofu. It’s a great meat substitute and source of protein. You can add it as the main protein to a grain bowl or cook it in a sweet red pepper sauce.

Other high-protein vegetarian and vegan foods include:

  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Green peas
  • Tofu
  • Edamame
  • Wild rice
  • Nuts
  • Hemp seeds

You can also find more recipe ideas on our Recipes site.

More resources to support your total health

Eating healthy can be tough without access to healthy food or a safe place to live. We know these things are an important part of improving the total health of our members. If you need help with food, housing, and more, there are many community resources available.

American Psychological Association, "Stress in America 2022: Concerned for the Future, Beset by Inflation," APA.org, October 2022.

American Heart Association, Seasons of Eating Infographic, Heart.org, accessed February 8, 2023.

Renée Onque, "Why Rising Inflation Means You Should Ditch Supermarkets for Your Local Farmers Market," CNBC.com, July 24, 2022.

Esther Ellis, "Frozen Foods: Convenient and Nutritious," EatRight.org, October 25, 2022.

Esther Ellis, "Are Canned Foods Nutritious for My Family?", EatRight.org, October 3, 2022.

"Protein," FDA, October 2021.

"13 of the Best Vegetarian and Vegan Protein Sources," ClevelandClinic.org, January 29, 2021.