Cedars-Sinai Blog

Tips for Healthy Eating on a Budget

budget, shopping, food, healthy choices

The current pandemic presents many challenges to eating healthy meals and staying on budget. The Cedars-Sinai Healthy Habits program has some tips to make healthier meals that will also save your family money. 

"Of all our tips, the most important thing to remember is to make mealtime a family activity," says Premere Session, associate director of Community Health at Cedars-Sinai. "With children no longer in school and many people feeling disconnected, mealtime can serve as an important, interactive opportunity to spend time together and get hands-on experience in the kitchen."

Our experts have these tips to help make healthy meals for yourself and your family. 

Tip 1: Turn to Proteins and Fiber-Rich Foods

To ensure balance at mealtimes, and to stay fuller for a longer period of time, try pairing a protein with at least two other foods—such as a vegetable, fruit or grain. 

Kelly Issokson, a registered dietician and clinical nutrition coordinator at Cedars-Sinai, says examples of fibrous, filling foods include: 

  • Proteins: eggs, chicken, fish, beans, cheese, yogurt, tofu, tempeh, nut butters
  • Vegetables: artichoke, arugula, asparagus, bok choy, collard greens, kale, carrots, broccoli
  • Fruits: berries, orange, tomatoes, peppers, squash, apple, banana
  • Grains: rice, pasta, bread, tortillas, quinoa, oats, barley
  • Oils for dressing or cooking: olive oil, sesame oil, grapeseed oil, avocado oil

Tip 2: Eat Seasonally and Look for Sales

When making your shopping list, be aware of what's on sale or in season, because seasonal produce is always cheaper and fresher. When creating a meal plan, try to incorporate those seasonal ingredients to cut costs. 

Some of the most well-known seasonal produce and ingredients in spring include asparagus, avocados, broccoli, carrots, cherries, cilantro, citrus, green beans, lettuce, oranges, peas, potatoes, snap peas, strawberries and tangerines. 

To find sale items, Premere recommends browsing online to find coupons, searching newspapers for useful discounts and using store apps to download coupons before shopping. 

"Don't trash the ads you get in the mail," says Premere. "Browse through them and take note of what's on sale to create your shopping list. Taking extra time to search, save and organize coupons can save you a pretty penny."

Tip 3: Rely on Canned and Frozen Foods as Needed

When fresh fruits and vegetables aren't available, canned and frozen foods are great alternatives. When selecting canned foods, make sure fruits are packed in their own juices (not a sugar syrup) and canned vegetables and meats are canned without other additives—such as tuna or green beans packed in water. 

Whenever possible, choose low-sodium options and products without added sauces. 

Tip 4: Make a List and Stick With It

When planning meals, it's important to write down recipes you are interested in trying, as well as the ingredients you will need to make each item. 

"The key is to buy only the things on your list," says Premere. "This will help keep your costs down."

And while it can be tempting to add other items to your list—or start grabbing for non-essential items while in the store—Premere reminds shoppers that marketing companies purposely place "easy-grab," unhealthy items at convenient places, such as at checkout. 

"Stay mindful and committed to your list," says Premere. "Try not to give in to the creative marketing throughout the store."

Tip 5: Think Beyond Traditional Grocery Stores

While many of your go-to items may suddenly be hard to find at the store, try turning to restaurants for standard pantry items, Kelly suggests.

Many restaurants throughout Los Angeles are now offering grocery items—such as eggs, milk and toilet paper—as well as traditional to-go menu items. 

These places are often less crowded than traditional grocery stores, making it easier to maintain social distancing. 

Tip 6: Always Make Extras

One of the best ways to save on food costs and get more out of healthy cooking is to plan for, and use, leftovers. The best types of meals for making leftovers include things such as one-pot meals, soups, stews, salads and pasta dishes. These meals can easily double in size. 

"Create two meals in one by using leftovers to make lunch or breakfast for the next day," encourages Premere. "It's also an opportunity to think creatively and have fun improvising how you can use already-made food."