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Eating Well on a Budget

by Crystal Rushing, Garland County Extension Agent - March 20, 2023

image of grocery list coins and dollars fanned across a table

Making the most of your money by eating right on a budget may seem easier said than done with the cost of groceries these days. However, with just a little extra planning, getting the most for your money can be easier than you think. Here are a few budget-friendly tips for eating right when money is tight.


Why should I cook more and eat out less?

When eating out we tend to spend more money and eat more calories than we would eating at home. Eating a home cooked meal costs less and is typically more filling than eating out. Pre-packaged foods, like frozen dinners and convenience foods add up when you calculate the cost per serving so making your own meals can cut your food budget tremendously. Each week, prepare a few simple recipes you know your family enjoys and save eating out for special occasions.


How do I start eating at home more?

When you want to eat at home more, planning is key. Deciding what you are going to eat for each meal and snack before you shop will save you time and money at the store. Make a list of snacks and meals then use your recipes to create a list of ingredients needed. Shop your pantry and refrigerator first to see which items you have on hand and mark them off your list. Whatever is left on the list are the items you’ll need to buy. Sticking to your list will help you steer clear of any additional impulse buys.

Decide how much you plan to cook. Not a fan of cooking every night? Doubling a recipe will save time in the kitchen later in the week. Extra portions can be used for lunches or other meals. Freezing leftovers in individual containers can provide a quick meal later in the month.

Read pricing labels in the store to see if buying in bulk really is a better deal. Many times, purchasing in bulk is often cheaper per unit. Though it can be worth it to compare prices when you notice a lot of sale tags throughout the store.  

Decide where to shop by checking local ads online or in the newspaper for sales and coupons especially when it comes to more expensive ingredients such as meat and seafood.

Buy fresh produce when it’s in season and you’ll find it’s usually less expensive. Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are excellent year-round options and often more affordable than fresh.  Look for fruits that are canned in 100% fruit juice or water and canned vegetables that are labeled “no salt added or low in sodium” for healthier options. If low sodium options are not available simply drain and rinse your canned veggies to reduce the amount of salt in a dish.


How can I save money when eating at home?

Your number one way to save money when eating at home is to build your meals and snacks around simple foods such as fruits and vegetables (fresh, canned, or frozen), grains and whole grain breads, nut butters, beans, lean protein, low-fat milk and yogurt. If it doesn’t taste good, you won’t stick with it. Start with a few favorite recipes then branch out as you gain confidence in the kitchen.

Make your own snacks because convenience costs money.  Buy larger tubs of low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese and divide them into smaller containers. Make your own snacks such as trail mix using dried fruit, air-popped popcorn, and cut up fresh fruit.  

Start a garden or visit a Farmers Market as a family. It’s a great way to spend time together while growing and picking out your own food. Locally grown produce is usually available for less than shopping at the local grocery store, as well as you are supporting local producers.

Lastly, quench your thirst with water. Tap water is low cost and a great way to stay hydrated. Save calories and money by choosing water over buying sweetened beverages.