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How to Eat Healthy on a Budget: 80 Top Tips for You

For many, healthy eating on a budget seems almost impossible. If you browse social media, it’s easy to think that eating well looks like something that’s only accessible to celebrities and influencers with tons of free time, money, and a personal nutritionist on hand for every meal.

But the truth is that eating healthily doesn’t need to cost a lot. And, even better, it doesn’t have to take up hours of your day with grocery shopping and meal prepping. 

In this guide, I’ll share 80 tips for eating healthy and saving money at the same time. 

You’ll learn how to make the most of the resources you already have to live a healthier, more fulfilling life – without worrying about blowing your weekly grocery budget. 

How to Use This Guide

  1. Don’t feel like you have to do everything at once. In fact, it’s much better to make small changes, and once they’ve stuck, introduce something else. Pick the tips that you feel most drawn to and implement them first. This will make the change more manageable and increase your chances of sticking with it.

  1. Bookmark this page so you can come back anytime for new tips. There’s a lot of info to work through.

  1. Print the visual guides and keep them in your kitchen. Or if you’re more of a digital person, download them to your phone and create a healthy eating images folder. That way, you’ll always have these tips and recommendations right at your fingertips. 

Healthy Habits on a Budget

When you build healthier habits, you can help create a better lifestyle all around – from what you eat to pretty much everything else.

By creating solid routines and picking up healthy new habits (and ditching the bad ones), you'll soon start seeing improvements in your health, cooking skills, and how you shop.

1. Plan and Prep Your Meals

When it comes to maintaining a nutritious diet without breaking the bank, nothing beats the power of planning your meals in advance and cooking meals in bulk.

The way you plan and prep your meals is the foundation of every other step covered in this guide, from your weekly grocery budget to how often you indulge in dining out. Plus, it's a massive time-saver, giving you more freedom to enjoy other (healthy) activities throughout the week.

Practical Steps

  • Carve out a dedicated time once or twice a week to plan out your meals for the next 4-7 days. Personally, I find Sunday evenings perfect for this, as it’s a natural time to plan for the week ahead. You can turn this into an enjoyable process rather than a chore by listening to music or tuning into your favorite podcasts while researching recipes.

  • Break it down by preparing 3 different protein-heavy dishes (such as chicken, fish, or a plant-based protein like tofu or beans) alongside four vegetable and side dishes. This way, you'll have the flexibility to mix and match throughout the week, and you won’t get bored eating the same thing. 

  • Consider letting a service do the planning for you. If, like me, you hate the meal planning stage, meal delivery services can be a lifesaver. Browsing a menu and deciding what you fancy each week is the extent of your weekly planning and shopping. There’s no need to read through recipes or check the cupboards for ingredients!

2. Take Lunch with You

If you work outside of your home, grabbing lunch out and snacking often go hand in hand with a busy day at the office. However, relying on unplanned dining out and unhealthy snacks will eat into your budget. Not only that, but it can be hard to stick to a healthy diet depending on what quick lunch options are available.

To save money and stick to eating healthily, make packed lunches a staple in your meal prep routine.

Practical Steps

  • Develop a collection of wholesome and hassle-free packed lunch options that you can bring with you whenever you leave the house.

  • Incorporate these lunch ideas into your meal planning and prep sessions. This might even include cooking more for dinner, so you have healthy leftovers for the next day.

  • Invest in high-quality, reusable, and microwave-friendly food containers that you can take anywhere without worrying about leaking.

3. Drink Plenty of Water

A healthy diet isn’t just about food. You also need to stay hydrated. Sometimes, when we feel hungry, we’re actually just dehydrated.

And what you drink matters, too. Soft drinks, alcohol, and a lot of caffeine can actually make you more dehydrated. Plus, all of these options cost way more than water.

The best way of staying hydrated throughout the day is also the most simple –   with some refreshing H2O. It may not sound exciting, but you’ll quickly notice the difference in your overall health. 

Practical Steps

  • Aim to drink between 1-3 liters of water daily, depending on how active you are. 

  • Buy a reusable water bottle and take it everywhere you go. Keep it filled up, so you’re never tempted by a soda when you get thirsty. Some water bottles have markers showing how much you should have consumed by a specific time in the day.

  • Set reminders on your phone every couple of hours, so you never forget to regularly drink small amounts. There are apps dedicated to this you can download also.

  • Add some natural lemon, mint, or orange extract to give the water a pleasant, light taste. 

4. Ditch Fast Food 

We're all well aware of the detrimental effects of fast food, so I won't drag out the data on carbs and fats. However, there's another reason why fast food isn’t great for you – it doesn’t keep you full.

Most fast food offerings are nothing but empty calories with low nutritional value. Your body quickly processes these empty calories, leaving you hungry again in no time. When you’re hungry, you find yourself reaching for more fast food, leading to a vicious cycle of empty calories and unsatisfied cravings.

To break free from this cycle, it's time to say goodbye to fast food and swap in nutritious meals that will keep you fuller for longer.

Practical Steps

  • Avoid grabbing fast food or junk food when you're in a hurry. If you know you have a busy day coming up, or a day where you’ll be traveling, try to plan ahead to ensure you always have healthy food options readily available.

  • If you’re caught short and end up ordering fast food, make a conscious effort to complement it with a side salad and some protein-rich chicken or tuna. This way, you’ll be adding more nutrition to the meal, which should keep you more full.

5. Pick Healthy Snacks and Treats

Thoughtless snacking is a surefire way to break your healthy food habits. 

But snacks can be healthy, too! There are plenty of healthy, delicious snacks you can make at home or buy in the store that will satisfy your appetite and cravings, without damaging your health. 

When you feel like reaching for a packet of chips or a bag of candy, pause, and grab a healthier snack instead. 

Practical Steps

  • When prepping your meals for a week, make sure you plan some healthy snacks, too. Add them to your packed lunches, so you have something to nibble on between meals. 

  • Fill your cupboards with some of the following snacks when you next go shopping:

    • Dark (unsweetened) chocolate with almonds

    • Apple slices with peanut butter

    • Nuts (plain, roasted, or lightly salted)

    • Crunchy vegetables you can cut into sticks

    • Natural yogurt, honey, and mixed berries

    • Smoothies

    • Kale chips

    • Coconut chips

    • Olives and sundried tomatoes

    • Trail mix and granola

    • Cheese and crackers

6. Learn How to Read Nutritional Values

Let's face it – the nutritional values listed on food packaging can be overwhelming. There are so many tiny numbers, it's no wonder many people simply gloss over them. However, taking the time to understand what those numbers and figures mean can be a game-changer when it comes to picking out truly healthy foods.

All packaged and processed foods sold in stores are required to provide clear and visible nutritional information, including calorie counts and more. So by familiarizing yourself with the meaning behind these values, you'll be able to make wiser decisions while shopping and steer clear of unhealthy foods. 

Practical Steps

  • Before buying any packaged or processed foods, take a moment to examine the nutritional information provided and decide if they align with your current health goals.

7. Consider Intermittent Fasting

In recent years, intermittent fasting has gained immense popularity as a means to promote a healthier lifestyle by limiting the hours within a day that you consume food.

In simple terms, you establish a daily eating schedule, such as from 10 am to 8 pm, during which you can enjoy your meals. Outside of this designated time window, you refrain from eating anything at all.

When practiced responsibly, intermittent fasting can offer numerous health benefits. It can help create a thoughtful eating routine and can significantly curb those unhealthy evening snacking habits.

However, it's important to note that intermittent fasting requires careful planning and preparation to ensure it doesn't have a negative impact on your well-being. 

Practical Steps

  • Research intermittent fasting and find a schedule that works for your health profile and lifestyle. Consult with your doctor or GP to ensure there are no risks to your health from pursuing a fasting schedule. Make sure you understand the risks involved and never risk your health by pushing your fasting too far.

  • Start with small steps and gradually build your fasting window. For example, you might choose a specific time in the evening, such as 8 pm, after which you refrain from consuming meals or snacks.

  • If you regularly eat out with friends, factor this into your plans. You can arrange dinners with friends earlier in the evening or make adjustments to your fasting schedule to accommodate later mealtimes.

  • Download free tools like the Zero app, which can assist you in monitoring and adjusting your fasting schedule according to your specific health needs and lifestyle preferences.   

8. Consider Eating Less Meat

While meat is a staple in many dishes, high-quality meat can be expensive. There are also a lot of environmental and ethical concerns surrounding cheap meat, including its origin and the treatment of animals.

While you may want to set aside some of your budget to put towards high-quality meat, you can make up for this expense by cutting down overall, as there are plenty of healthy, filling (and more affordable!) alternatives to meat.

Practical Steps

  • If all of your go-to meals contain meat and you’re not sure where to start, looking into a vegan meal delivery service can be an easy way to try out unfamiliar plant-based ingredients and new recipes.

  • Use the guide below to find cheap, healthy alternatives to your usual meat. Swap these into your favorite dishes and meal planning.

9. Cut Down on Eating Out

Did you know that the average millennial in the USA spends $2,000 annually on dining out? That's almost equivalent to their grocery expenses – and it equates to a lot less food!

Sure, dining out can be enjoyable, social, and sometimes more convenient than cooking at home, but when it makes up the bulk of your meals, it’s not just expensive, it can be bad for your health too. 

Even if you try to eat at relatively healthy restaurants, it’s challenging to monitor what you’re eating or to keep track of your calorie intake. Plus it’s much harder to resist a tempting glass of wine or a delicious dessert when the option is right in front of you. Basically, you need a lot more self-control in a restaurant than if you were cooking from your own pantry!  

That’s not to say you have to make big sacrifices. As you navigate through this guide, you'll discover that reducing your reliance on eating out doesn't equate to missing out on time with friends or settling for dull and uninspiring food.

Practical Steps

  • Track your spending habits for a few months and learn how much you spend on eating out. We all have a budget, even if we’re unaware of it. Use this as a guide to see if you can cut down on eating out and cook at home more. 

  • Speak to your friends about cooking together and hosting social events at home. By sharing the cooking responsibilities, you can reduce the need to dine out each week. Plus, after hosting a dinner party – you’ll have plenty of leftovers to enjoy throughout the week.

  • Consider enrolling in a cooking class to learn how to prepare your favorite cuisines at home. You don't have to break the bank either – there are plenty of cost-effective options available online. Follow cooking classes on platforms like YouTube, Instagram, or Tasty to expand your repertoire without blowing your budget.

If you’re eating out for convenience or to save time, I recommend signing up for some healthy meal delivery services instead. You can choose between DIY meal kits or ready meals, depending on how much time you want to spend cooking. 

10. Learn to Store Food Properly

Food wastage might be costing you a lot of money, but it’s not something we often think about. By some estimates, 30-40% of all food purchased is dumped in the bin. 

Let’s do some quick math. What’s 30-40% of your grocery budget? Because that’s how much money you’re throwing in the trash each week!

The quickest way to reduce food waste is to make sure you’re storing your food correctly so it doesn’t go bad before you eat it. The less food you throw out, the less you’ll buy replacing the waste. 

Practical Steps

  • Print out the guides below and stick them up in your kitchen somewhere they’re noticeable. (Mine are on the fridge).

  • Always check your food purchases for individual storage guidelines. The fine print will let you know what can be frozen and for how long. 

  • Any time you put something in the fridge or freezer, label it to know precisely when it expires. This is especially the case for food in tupperwares where you’ve removed the original packaging.

11. Regrow Foods From The Roots

If you feel like channeling your inner gardener (or farmer), there are a few foods you can re-grow by hanging onto the leftovers.

This is one of my favorite ideas. It feels so wholesome while also saving you money. 

It’s really easy, too, so long as you hang onto the roots. Celery, basil, and spring onions are just some examples of veggies and herbs that can all be regrown. You’ll only need water and a bit of soil, and most can be grown indoors.

See the guide below for more information. 

Practical Steps

  • Hang onto the roots of vegetables. Set up a mini-garden in your home to replant some of them and grow veggies and herbs yourself. It’s satisfying, and it’ll save you money, too.

12. Take Stock of Your Kitchen

Decluttering isn’t only for your wardrobe!

If you don’t regularly check what you have in your pantry and fridge, groceries can quickly start piling up. Old food can go bad and spoil other food, while taking up cupboard space and making it even harder to see what you have.

Practical Steps

  • Set aside time once a week to clear out your fridge, freezer, and pantry. 

  • It’s great to do this before your weekly meal prep session or grocery shop, as it will influence your cooking and shopping decisions for the next week.

Why Eating on a Budget Matters: War, Inflation, and Energy Costs

The money-saving benefits of adopting healthy eating habits are especially relevant in turbulent economic times. Wars and natural disasters can wreak havoc on global food markets, especially when they happen in places that traditionally export commodities. For example, the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 caused food and fuel prices to be pushed to all-time highs through mid-2023. 

The reasons for this are fairly straightforward: both Russia and Ukraine are major global exporters of important products such as wheat and natural gas, and the war has impacted both of their supply chains.

While sanctions haven’t been imposed directly against Russian grain, sanctions against key banks, companies, and individuals have made it more difficult for Russian exporters to arrange both shipments and payments. Many countries have also made efforts to reduce their dependency on Russian natural gas, which has strained other suppliers.

The war has had a more direct impact on Ukrainian exports. They’ve suffered labor shortages and been cut off from major export hubs in Odesa, Mariupol, and Kherson. According to David Beasley, former director of the World Food Programme, Ukraine used to produce enough food for 400 million people, and provided as much as 40% of the World Food Programme’s wheat. The sheer volume of its harvest makes it a difficult supplier to replace. 

The challenges brought by the war in Ukraine have been compounded by drought in some nations and floods in others, leading to food shortages and causing global food prices to spike. This threatens vulnerable families everywhere, but especially in countries such as Egypt, Libya, and Lebanon, whose wheat was largely supplied by Ukraine and Russia. 

These effects are limited neither to wheat nor to poor countries. For example, in the United States, 85% of the food supply is grown domestically but large volumes of the fertilizer used to grow it typically come from Russia. Continued disruption could cause food shortages in the future, with wheat, corn, canned food, bread, and vegetable oil being the most at risk. 

Unfortunately, high prices affect low-income households much more severely than high-income households. This is because necessities such as housing, energy, and food use up a far larger portion of a poorer family’s monthly income. Households that can barely pay their expenses in stable economies find themselves in dire situations as conditions become less predictable.

In January 2023, a survey by Food Foundation found that nearly 18% of households in the UK reported skipping meals or even going hungry for an entire day because they couldn’t afford food. In 2021, over 10% of US households were food insecure — meaning they didn’t have enough nutritious food to give their family a healthy lifestyle.

No one can predict how high food prices will rise, or how long the current shortages will last. But making healthy food choices that are within your budget is a smart way to limit the impact of unforeseen circumstances on your lifestyle. 

How to Grocery Shop on a Budget

Few things are more critical to maintaining a healthy diet than your grocery shopping. The food you buy will dictate what you cook and eat every day. 

And what you eat dictates how you feel (both physically and emotionally), how productive you are, and how much energy you have throughout the week. 

Groceries are also one of our biggest expenses, whether they’re healthy or not, and it's easy to lose control of how much you’re spending every week. 

Follow these steps to maximize your groceries for a healthy diet without breaking your budget.

1.Use a Strict Grocery Budget

Plenty of studies show that creating a monthly budget has a positive impact on your spending. 

This includes your groceries. Creating a budget for how much you can spend every month reduces the risk of overspending and helps you prioritize your purchases. 

Practical Steps

  • Create a grocery budget at the start of each month and use this to plan all your grocery purchases and meal planning. Review your budget regularly and adjust when necessary.

2. Research Prices at Supermarkets

Different products cost different prices in various stores. 

If you’re buying everything in one place, you could be spending way more than necessary. Comparing the prices for different products at your favorite supermarkets can save you a lot of money.

Practical Steps

  • Choose a list of the products you buy most often and make a table with a price comparison for each. Fill in the prices from every store you shop at. 

  • You'll know where to buy your veggies, your non-perishables, and other purchases for the lowest price.

3. Buy Groceries Online

There are many benefits to grocery shopping online: 

  1. It’s quicker and more convenient (you don’t even need to leave home). 

  2. Products are often cheaper online.

  3. You save money on fuel.

  4. You’re less likely to buy more than you need. 

  5. Sweets and junk food won’t tempt you as you shop.

  6. You can buy in bulk without worrying about carrying large stocks of groceries. 

  7. You get faster access to promotions.

  8. It's easier to find alternatives if what you were looking for is out of stock.

Practical Steps

  • Check which online retailers deliver in your area. Compare the prices online to those in physical stores and adjust your purchasing accordingly. 
  • If possible, switch to using online retailers as your primary source for groceries. Set time aside every week to buy your groceries and have them delivered at a convenient time.     

Bonus Tip: Save your most regularly purchased items so they’re automatically added to your shopping cart to speed up your online grocery shopping. 

4. Understand Expiration Dates

The following is a breakdown of the most common expiration dates on food. 

  • “Sell by” - Tells the stores how long to display a product. Sell-by dates are used for internal stock control purposes. Most foods can be consumed for a short period after their sell-by date. 

  • “Best before” - Best before dates are used for quality, not safety. Most foods can be eaten after Best Before dates, but they may lose texture and flavor. 

Always do a smell test and check the surface and inside of the food before using it. Some foods, like yogurt, can be used up to a week after its best before date.

  • “Use by” - This is the most important date. If a food product has a use-by date, this means it spoils quickly after that date and is no longer safe to eat. 

  • “Closed or coded date” - A packing number used by the food’s manufacturer. You can ignore this unless products are recalled for safety reasons. 

Regardless of a food’s expiration dates, always inspect it before use in case it has spoiled. 

Note: Sell By and Use By dates on meat, poultry, and fish should be strictly followed. These foods spoil very quickly and if eaten once they do, will make you severely ill. You can freeze meat, poultry, and fish to extend its expiration. Use our guide to learn how long they can each be safely frozen.

Note 2: Once food is opened, expiration dates don't apply anymore. You need to check on your own (smell & look) to make sure the food hasn’t spoiled.

Practical Steps

  • Learn what the different expiration dates mean on various foods and use these to 1) find bargains when shopping 2) cut down on your food wastage. 

5. Buy Perishable Produce in the Evenings

Now that you know how expiration dates work, you can use them to find plenty of bargains. 

Supermarkets often sell foods at heavy discounts the evening before their expiration dates. This way, their shelves are always stocked with fresh produce - and they cut down on food wastage. 

The same is true for bakeries and butchers. 

Practical Steps

  • Visit supermarkets, bakeries, and butchers in the evenings to find the best deals on fresh produce nearing their expiration dates. Just make sure you consume or freeze the food quickly, so it doesn’t spoil. 

Bonus Tip: Shop for fresh produce on Wednesdays. Many supermarkets rotate their stocks mid-week. That means Wednesdays are the biggest days for discounts, as they clear out the previous week’s expiring foods. 

6. Shop at Ethnic Stores

If you live in a medium-sized city, you probably have a few Asian and other ethnic food stores in your area. 

Often serving lower-income and immigrant communities, these shops are a goldmine for cheap, delicious food from all over the world. 

If you enjoy experimenting with international cuisines, make sure you’re getting your ingredients from ethnic stores before going to bigger supermarkets. 

You’ll also be supporting small, independent businesses. 

Practical Steps

  • Look for ethnic stores to buy all your spices, sauces, and specialty ingredients. You can often buy produce in bulk, and many ethnic stores support online shopping. 

7. Buy Fresh Produce at Farmers’ Markets

Conventional wisdom tells us that everything is cheaper at big stores, due to economies of scale and market share. 

But that’s not always the case. Before buying your fresh produce at a supermarket, check in with any local farmers’ markets in your area. They can actually be cheaper than supermarkets, and the quality of the produce is almost always much higher. 

You’ll also be supporting local business owners, helping protect the environment, and enjoying healthier food - it won’t be full of preservatives to keep it fresh as it travels.

Practical Steps

  • Learn what vendors are your local farmers’ markets stock and decide if they provide better value than supermarkets. 
  • Include a weekly trip to the markets in your grocery shopping plans.
  • Check online. When I lived in Rwanda, Kigali’s largest farmers market had an online store where you could order produce from different vendors delivered to your door. 

8. Use Local, Seasonal Produce

Buying and cooking with fresh produce is a great way to eat healthy on a budget. 

However, buying fruit or vegetables that aren’t in season in your region - or have to be imported - is expensive. 

For example, when I lived in Eastern Europe, I stopped buying bananas because they were expensive. Also, whatever process the bananas went through when imported from South America gave me severe digestive issues. 

Practical Steps

  • Don’t buy fresh produce when it's not in season for your region. Learn about seasonal produce in your area and plan your grocery shopping and cooking accordingly. Local markets are the best place to learn what’s in season at any time of the year. 

9. Embrace Ugly Produce

Farmers’ markets and ethnic stores are great places to pick up delicious fruit and veg rejected by bigger supermarkets and retailers. Such produce is considered too ‘ugly’ for retailers and sold off at a discount. Or it's dumped in the trash. 

If you don’t care what your fruit or veg looks like before you cook it, ugly produce is a bargain!

There are also online grocery stores specializing in ugly produce. If you’re in the US, check out Misfits Market and Imperfect Foods, which deliver ugly produce to your door on subscription plans. Other countries have similar companies and offers, such as Intermarche in France, Loblaws in Canada, and Oddbox in the UK.

Practical Steps

  • Look for retailers and farmers’ markets selling ‘ugly’ fresh produce and purchase these before going to supermarkets. Check online for ugly produce retailers in your region also. 

10. Share Groceries with Friends

When I was in college, my housemate Kevin and I both loved to cook - and we were both broke. 

To get around this predicament, we joined forces to coordinate our groceries and cooking, so there was a lot of overlap in the ingredients we bought. 

If you don’t have roommates, ask another single friend or colleague if they want to share grocery trips - it's also a great excuse to hang out regularly.

Practical Steps

  • If you live with housemates, talk to them about splitting the cost of buying groceries and ingredients you all regularly use in bulk. 
  • Bonus Tip: Bulk order your meals and keep them in the fridge for extra convenience. Sign up for meal prep subscription plans to save even more. 

11. Buy Non-Perishable and Frozen Products in Bulk

Always buy any food with a long shelf life in bulk. It saves you time, money, and convenience by drastically cutting down your shopping trips. 

Also, non-perishable and frozen produce are almost always cheaper when bought in bulk. 

This rule doesn’t just apply to food groceries. You can also buy toiletries, cleaning supplies, pet food, diapers, school and home office supplies, and much more in bulk (usually heavily discounted). 

Just make sure you have enough space to store it all!

Practical Steps

  • Anything that lasts a long time - and you often use - buy it in bulk and store it somewhere warm and dry. If you have enough space, stock up your freezer too. 
  • If something is TOO BIG (maybe you don’t need 20kg of pasta), split the purchase with friends or family. 

12. Shop at Wholesale Warehouse Supermarkets

The best places for bulk shopping are big wholesale supermarkets. These warehouse-style retailers are often looked down on for being ‘cheap.’ 

And they are! 

But just because they sell brands you’ve never heard of in huge quantities doesn’t mean it's not good quality food. 

Costco and Woodman’s Markets are two famous examples in the US; Lidl, Aldi, and Metro are just some of many examples operating in Europe. 

Practical Steps

  • Before visiting big name brand supermarket chains, check out any cheap wholesale warehouse retailers in your area to bulk buy non-perishable food and household goods.
  • As always, check if they offer online shopping and home delivery.  

13. Buy Generic Food Brands First

Just like anything you buy, food produced by well-known brands is often more expensive for no reason, only due to their reputation and marketing. 

However, there’s often no real difference in quality. In fact, less known brands can actually be tastier. And healthier. And cheaper. 

Practical Steps

  • Don’t automatically buy a product because a big brand produces it. Generic, non-brand products are often just as good (sometimes even better).
  • The same is true for the stores where you shop. There’s nothing wrong with shopping at retailers known for being ‘cheap.’ They usually offer the best value. 

14. Stock Up With Sales and Coupons

Speaking of buying in bulk, sales are the best time to stock up on your non-perishable groceries. 

Every food retailer uses sales to offload overstocked items in bulk, making them a bargain for savvy shoppers like you. 

While less effective, store coupons are also handy for shaving a few dollars off your grocery bill. It may not seem like much at checkout, but over time coupon discounts can save you a lot of money. 

Practical Steps

  • Look out for regular sales at your favorite grocery retailers and use these to stock up on non-perishable foods. Sign up for newsletters and alerts, so you’re notified of sales in advance. 
  • Don’t ignore coupon offers. They’re an overlooked way to save money.

15. Sign Up For Meal Delivery Services

If you want to eat fresh, healthy dinners and lunches but don’t have time to cook them yourself, meal delivery services are a lifesaver. 

The best meal delivery services offer a wide range of healthy dishes prepped for you to cook at home with minimal effort. Or you can go a step further and have cooked meals delivered, ready to eat. 

Practical Steps

  • See what meal delivery services operate in your area and integrate these into your grocery shopping plans. 

16. Buy Cheaper Cuts of Meat

Bigger, fancier cuts of meat are usually the most expensive (think about a big steak). But if you plan on chopping them up into small pieces, why waste money buying fancy cuts?

If you’re only using meat as a filling ingredient for burritos, casseroles, soups, stews, stir-fries, pasta dishes, etc., go for cheaper cuts instead.

They might not look as impressive and require a bit more work, but you’ll save a ton of money. 

Practical Steps

  • If you’re buying large portions of meat to use small amounts, don’t buy expensive cuts. 
  • The cheapest meat per kilo is usually chicken, followed by fish, pork, and beef. Use this information to guide your shopping. 

17. Buy Whole Foods

No, I’m not talking about the Whole Foods store.

“Whole foods” in this case means food that comes in their original, unprocessed form. Think of a block of cheddar cheese. It’s cheaper, tastier, and healthier than buying packaged shredded cheese. And all you have to do is grate it at home. 

The same is true for meats, cereals, beans and legumes, and many fruits and vegetables. Breakfast oats are far cheaper per kilo than processed cereal brands - and significantly healthier. 

Practical Steps

  • Don’t go for overly processed, packaged foods just because they’re convenient. Buy whole foods like vegetables, cheese, and cereals and prepare them for cooking at home. 

18. Don’t Shop When Hungry

If you wait until you’re hungry to grocery shop, you’re more likely to stray from your shopping list and budget. 

Your hunger will make you crave foods that might be momentarily satisfying but ultimately unhealthy and unfilling. You might be tempted to pick up processed fast food rather than healthier food that takes longer to cook. 

Practical Steps

  • Plan your grocery trips ahead of time and schedule them in advance. Keep your kitchen well stocked with ready-made meals and healthy snacks. Don’t wait until you're hungry to go grocery shopping. 
  • If you’re about to go grocery shopping and you feel hungry, have a quick, healthy snack before going to the store. 

Why Eating on a Budget Matters: Supermarket Inflation and Food Deserts

That a few huge food-producing companies dominate the markets all over the world is one cause of inflation. The lack of competition and regulation means they are answering to stakeholders whose interests are in seeing profits rise, not consumers who are interested in keeping their own costs low.

For example, in the United States, just one food production corporation sets the price for most of the nation’s seed corn. This means that when it increases the price, all of the manufacturers and brands the corn filters down through also raise their prices. 

And the way inflation affects consumers isn’t always easy to spot.

One way companies are responding to current shortages and supply chain disruptions is to decrease the portion sizes of their products, without adjusting their price. For example, a 9.75-ounce bag of potato chips might suddenly and silently become a 9.25-ounce bag. This technique is called “shrinkflation.” 

Its purpose is to earn for a company the same amount of profit that a price increase would, but without the negative publicity of raising prices. To spot shrinkflation, you have to keep an eye on the net weight of a product, or its price per unit. 

Shrinkflation can happen to most products. Here are some prominent examples you may have missed:

In all these cases, the product size decreased while the price remained the same. However, you can help mitigate the effects of shrinkflation by following our tips for price-savvy supermarket shopping. By looking at different brands, shopping at different venues (including online), buying in bulk, and being aware of how both prices and sizes are changing, you can help keep your costs as low as possible.

Dealing with Food Deserts

According to 2023 data published by the USDA, in the United States, around 18.8 million people live in what are known as “food deserts.” This refers to rural areas more than 10 miles from the nearest store, or urban environments where fresh food is scarce in comparison to fast foods and junk foods. 

If fresh food isn’t available at a convenient distance, it adds extra costs to obtain it. First, extra monetary costs from transportation, and second, the amount of extra time it takes to complete a grocery run. Due to the lack of competition, the existing fresh food stores are also able to charge higher prices.

High prices and lack of availability make it much more difficult to avoid the effects of inflation. However, you can improve your situation by making changes to the way you plan and budget your meals.  

And if you live in a food desert, implementing some of our grocery store budgeting tips can help lessen the impact of expensive fruit and veggies. Online shopping can also be a great way to access healthy foods without the added costs of driving yourself or paying through the nose at local (and overpriced) supermarkets.

Healthy Cooking on a Budget

You might think that healthy dishes have to be boring (like raw veggies) or complicated and expensive (like all the healthy food you see on cooking channels).

That’s simply not true. 

Without much skill, you can quickly master plenty of delicious dishes that only require a few minutes and simple tools to prepare. From there, it's up to you how much you experiment and develop your cooking abilities. 

The tips below will help you cook healthier, keep costs to an absolute minimum, and have plenty of fun. 

1. Build a Supply of Staple Ingredients

Every good kitchen is well stocked with a repertoire of non-perishable ingredients you can use in a wide range of recipes. You can usually buy them in bulk and safely store in them the pantry, fridge, or freezer for long periods. 

Keeping stocked up with herbs, spices, tinned beans, grains, seeds, sauces, oils, and much more means your food will never get bland. Such ingredients are usually cheap (especially when bought in bulk), so you can also save a ton of money by reusing them over and over again in different dishes. 

Practical Steps

  • Make space in your kitchen for a wide range of staple ingredients you can use in various dishes. 
  • Make sure you store them properly, so they never spoil or lose their flavor. 
  • Learn how each one can effortlessly add flavor or texture to any recipe. 

2. Plan Meals Around Ingredients You Already Have

Rather than choosing meals to cook and basing your grocery shopping purchases on these, take the opposite approach. 

When planning your meals for a week, take stock of what ingredients you already have at home. Use these to guide what dishes you’ll cook without needing to buy a ton of new groceries. 

You’ll save time and money while learning new and exciting combinations of ingredients. 

Practical Steps

  • Use the food you already have to guide the dishes you’ll cook each week. Plan your grocery purchases around topping up your pantry or fridge as necessary to finish off any recipes and restock essentials.
  • You can download cooking apps that use what you have left in your fridge/pantry to suggest recipes you could cook.

3. Learn to Cook Healthy One-Pot Dishes

You’ll be amazed at how many healthy dishes you can cook in a single, large pot. 

Risottos, pasta, soups, pork chops, curries, shakshuka, couscous… The list goes on.

One-pot dishes give you a chance to experiment with creating healthy, delicious meals that are relatively easy, filling, and require minimal cleanup or space.

Practical Steps

  • Look online for healthy ‘one-pot’ recipes and bookmark them. 
  • You can go for traditional stovetop meals, or use modern appliances like slow cookers for the best (and easiest) results.

4. Learn How to Use Leftovers

Cooking at home usually means lots of leftover food lying around in your fridge and pantry. Usually, this food gets thrown out, discarded, or left to spoil.

But you can probably reuse much of this food in various ways to create even more healthy, delicious dishes. 

Practical Steps

  • Before dumping leftover food, think about how you could use it in something else you like to cook. Burritos, stews, soups, broth, homemade pizza, salad, stir-fries, and sandwiches can all be made from leftovers.

5. Cook With Friends

If you enjoy the social aspect of eating out but don’t want to spend a lot on restaurants, there is a solution. 

Studies have shown that people who cook with friends or family have increased happiness, higher satisfaction with life, and stronger relationships. 

Practical Steps

  • Find some friends that enjoy cooking (at a similar ability to you) and plan special evenings where you cook together at home. 

6. Eat Oatmeal for Breakfast

It’s true what you’ve been told: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

And few breakfasts are healthier (and cheaper) than a bowl of oatmeal. 

Simply put, oats are one of the healthiest grains on the planet. They’re packed with nutrients and have a wide range of proven health benefits. They’re also filling and provide slow-release energy that keeps you going well into the afternoon. 

There are few better alternatives to starting your morning.

Practical Steps

  • Overnight oats are a quick and fun way to prepare tasty, healthy breakfasts in advance. The ingredients usually stay fresh for up to 5 days, so make them in bulk for a weekly supply of breakfast. 
  • You can also use a couple of spoonfuls of oats to bulk up some smoothie recipes. 

7. Use Lots of Whole Grains

Breakfast oats aren’t the only grains that keep you energized, healthy, and satisfied throughout the day. They’re just one of many whole grains you can easily incorporate into your diet in a wide range of sweet and savory meals. 

Brown rice, corn, buckwheat, quinoa, chia seeds are all nutritious, tasty, and versatile whole grains that add flavor and texture to any dish.

Practical Steps

  • Learn which grains are healthy whole grains (warning: plain white rice is not one of them) and add these to a wide range of dishes. 
  • They’re a quick, cheap, and easy way to add flavor and texture to your food, along with plenty of nutrients. 

8. Smoothies and Soups Are Your Best Friends

Maybe you run on a busy schedule. Or perhaps you don’t enjoy cooking (that’s me!).

Either way, you probably want a quick, tasty, and varied solution to stay healthy without spending too much time in the kitchen. Well, you’ve got two!

Soups and smoothies can be made in very little time, with minimal appliances (a pot, a mixing bowl, and a blender) and deliver delicious snacks and quick meals you can enjoy anywhere. 

Practical Steps

  • Buy a blender and learn how to make a wide range of healthy, tasty smoothies and soups for breakfast, lunch, and healthy snacks. 
  • Invest in flasks and Tupperware containers to take your smoothies and soups to work (or anywhere else). 

9. Grow Your Own Ingredients

Growing herbs, vegetables, and fruits is not just a fun hobby. 

You’ll save a lot of money in the long run; it gives you greater control over the food you consume (you don’t have to worry about GMOs, etc.); and it’s better for the environment. 

Not everyone has the space to grow food at home, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to maximize the space you have. 

Practical Steps

  • Set space aside in your garden home* to grow some basic produce yourself. Focus on plants that are easy to maintain and grow produce you can use in various dishes. 
  • Use Google to find solutions that best fit your living space. 
  • *preferably close to a window in case of insects or strong fragrances. 

10. Learn to Cook Eggs

Eggs are cheap, versatile, and healthy. 

They’re packed full of nutrients and protein, without many fats and calories. 

You can cook them alone (like an omelet) or use them to add texture and protein to a healthy dish (like breakfast burritos). 

They may not seem the most exciting staple for your diet, but with very little time and effort, you can easily make eggs surprisingly tasty - and filling. 

Practical Steps

  • Learn a few different ways to quickly cook a simple egg and incorporate these into your diet for healthy on the go meals when you’re busy.
  • Add eggs into other dishes like breakfast burritos for a staple source of healthy protein. 
  • But don’t go overboard. Eggs are high in cholesterol and can become quite unhealthy if you eat too many.

11. Make Your Own Sauces and Juices

What’s the best way to ensure the ingredients going into your food is healthy?

Making everything yourself. 

This isn’t always possible when cooking on a budget. However, there are some products you probably buy at the store that you could be making yourself. 

Sauces and juices are two great examples. They’re both easy and cheap to make at home, but most people buy them ready-made in supermarkets - where you have no real idea what’s going into them.

Practical Steps

  • Before stocking up on ‘cheap’ processed foods like sauces and juices, learn how you can make them at home first. 
  • Tasty sauces and healthy juices often need little more than a few cheap ingredients and a blender. 
  • If you don’t plan on using them immediately, freeze them for later.

Why Eating on a Budget Matters: Food Production and Food Safety Scandals

Energy price hikes, such as those caused by the war in Ukraine, can also cause food production disruptions. With higher energy prices, agri-food companies in Europe have struggled to maintain operations, forcing them to pause production, lay off staff, or close completely.

Rising prices for natural gas, fertilizers, electricity, and packaging caused production costs to skyrocket during 2022. This caused a domino effect of high prices that eventually reached the consumer, who had to pay enough to ensure the retailer still made a profit. 

Some factories worked to reduce costs by pausing production during peak energy times. While in some areas this can lower energy bills, it can also cause delays. 

The food production process begins with natural gas that’s extracted through wells that are drilled deep into the Earth’s surface. Natural gas has a high hydrogen content which, when mixed with nitrogen from the air, makes ammonia that’s used for fertilizer.

Fertilizers, of course, are used to grow crops that eventually enter the manufacturing process to become food products that are packaged and distributed. 

Products with extra processing need to go through even more stages. For example, the extra time, transport, labor, energy, machine maintenance, and packaging used to turn a head of lettuce into a bag of pre-cut lettuce adds a lot of extra time to the process and extra cost to your purchase.

At a local grocer, you can buy bags of processed shredded lettuce, or you can buy a head of lettuce, both for $1.98. However, the bags of lettuce are only 8 ounces, but the average head of lettuce is 10.5 ounces. Even after discarding the core, you’ll get more lettuce per penny if you buy the less processed head.

Inflation and Food Safety Scandals

Another side effect of inflation is food scandals, which are unfortunately on the rise due to the increased costs of ingredients, labor, and energy. 

For example, in the UK, chocolate from unknown sources was purposefully mislabeled under big brand names and contained allergens not reported on the packaging. This is highly dangerous for consumers with allergies and could easily cause accidental deaths. 

In Italy, quality-tested and approved milk was contaminated during transit. Modified transportation trucks pumped water into the milk to dilute it; water whose origin was unknown, undocumented, and untested. 

When authorities catch on to fraud like this, the food products are usually destroyed on site – that’s how serious the matter is.

These side effects of inflation are completely outside of your control as a consumer, but you can still limit their effects by sticking to a well-planned budget. 

Eating Out on a Budget

I’m not going to tell you to stop eating out at restaurants. Because you don’t have to!

If you’re following this guide, you’re already saving $100s on groceries without sacrificing much. Now, I’ll show you how to keep eating out without stressing about money or overspending. 

1. Budget for Eating Out

After you’ve budgeted for all essential expenses and groceries, allocate a percentage of your income for fun things like eating out. 

Determine how much of your budget you’re comfortable spending on restaurants in a month and use this to guide your choices each week. It will stop you from overspending without sacrificing eating out entirely. 

Practical Steps

  • The portion of your budget dedicated to restaurants is entirely up to you. Some people like eating out more than cooking, so they allocate a smaller amount of money to weekly grocery shopping to make up for this. 
  • The right balance should accommodate your tastes, preferences, and financial circumstances. 

2. Check a Restaurants Menu Online

When choosing a restaurant, check their menu first to see how much dishes cost and if they’re within your budget. 

Doing some basic research saves you any awkwardness when you arrive at the restaurant - or regret if you end up overspending. 

You can also decide if it's worth splashing out on an expensive meal, but waiting until you have a little more disposable money to do so.  

Practical Steps

  • Check a restaurant’s website to read an online version of their menu before booking a table or turning up without a reservation. 
  • If they don’t have a menu online, see if it's listed on any food delivery apps instead. The prices should be the same as in the restaurant. 

3. Look for Restaurants with Half Portions

Some restaurants offer half portions of main courses, catering to solo diners, people on a budget, and those who like to share dishes with the whole table. 

Indian restaurants are great for this, as it's a cuisine that’s meant for sharing. 

If you don’t want to spend money eating out because you feel the portions are too big and too expensive, half portions are a great compromise. In my experience, they’re often filling enough by themselves, and you don’t feel like you’re getting the scraps. 

Practical Steps

  • Use Google to find restaurants in your area that serve half portions of their main courses. Check reviews to make sure people who ordered half portions were satisfied with the dishes’ size and quality. 

4. Eat a Snack Before Going Out

If you’re eating out with friends, or just to get out of the house, but you don’t want to spend a lot of money, have a small snack at home before leaving. 

You get the enjoyment of meeting your friends (or a simple change of scenery), but without a full appetite, you’ll be satisfied with a smaller, simpler meal. You might only end up ordering a starter. 

It’s a great way to pre-empt cravings, peer pressure, or hunger without spoiling the experience by coming home hungry. 

Practical Steps

  • If you’re planning an evening out at a restaurant, eat a healthy, filling snack at home first. You’ll still have enough appetite to eat something small and have an enjoyable time without overspending. 

5. Go for Meals You Can Share

Eating out with friends and family is one of the most fulfilling ways to socialize and share with people. 

One way to make it even more enriching - and fun - is by sharing all your food. This usually already happens when you eat together at home, and it always feels more intimate. 

To replicate this feeling eating out, go for cuisines that encourage communally sharing dishes between everyone at the table. You can all then split the bill evenly and save a little money at the end of the night.

Practical Steps

  • Indian, Chinese, Korean, Ethiopian, Middle Eastern, BBQ. These are just some foods best enjoyed when shared with others. 
  • Instead of everyone eating from a single plate, next time you’re eating out with friends, go somewhere you’ll all be sharing. Then, split the bill evenly (excluding drinks, of course). 

6. Split Your Meal

Even if a restaurant doesn’t explicitly encourage sharing, you can still often split meals between numerous people. 

Think about pizza. It’s quite common to order one pizza between two people. Now, just apply that to everything else!

This works well on date nights when neither of you has a big appetite. But don’t do it on the first date - they might think you’re just cheap. 

Practical Steps

  • Don’t be afraid to split a single main course between 2 people. They’re often big enough to share anyway, and you can save money while cutting down on waste. 

7. Take Your Leftovers Home

If you’ve left loads of food on your plate, don’t feel bad about asking your server to put it in a box so you can take it home with you. 

Some people are too embarrassed to do this. But guess what, restaurant staff do it when they eat out! 

If you don’t eat it, the food just gets thrown in the bin. If you don’t think you’ll eat the leftovers before they spoil, consider giving it to a homeless person.

Practical Steps

  • Whenever you have leftovers on your plate when eating out, ask your server to put it in a box for takeaway. 
  • Even better, take a small reusable food container out with you just for leftovers, so you cut down on packaging. 

8. Join Programs for Discounts and Rewards

Plenty of restaurant chains and independent food and drink businesses offer incentives to customers. 

These range from exclusive discounts to loyalty schemes and brand partnerships. If you want to avail of such offers, you can:

  • Sign up for newsletters for restaurants or food blogs in your area

  • Follow them on social media

  • Join restaurant rewards programs, memberships, and loyalty schemes

  • Sign up for credit or debit cards offering cashback and rewards for money spent at restaurants

Offers will vary depending on where you live and what kind of restaurant you like to eat in, but with a little snooping, you should be able to shave off a few dollars from your next meal. 

Practical Steps

  • Follow the steps above to find restaurants offering discounts, rewards, and loyalty schemes in your area. When signing up for financial products, see if they have partnerships for rewards with popular restaurants. 

9. Look for Student Meals

If you’re still studying, chances are your student ID can get you A LOT of discounts at restaurants and bars. 

Many colleges and universities provide guides to the best student offers around their campus, but these are usually incomplete. You can find even more deals and discounts if you look around yourself. 

Practical Steps

Ask other students about good student meals in your area, look online, and join Facebook groups to keep up-to-date with the latest student deals offered by restaurants close to your campus. 

10. Don’t Drink Alcohol With Your Meal

Having a few drinks with your meal is the fastest way to drive up your bill. Without realizing it until too late, you can double the cost of dinner with just a few glasses of wine. 

The best way to avoid this is by skipping alcohol altogether. 

Stick to water when you eat out, and you’ll save so much money. I stopped drinking alcohol in 2017 but probably eat out even more now. That’s partly due to all the money I save not drinking alcohol with my meals, which I can then spend eating out more often.

Practical Steps

  • It might sound boring, but try eating out without alcohol. Most people quickly discover that they don’t miss alcohol at restaurants. And few things bring more joy than having the cheapest bill at the end of the night.  

11. Dine at BYO Restaurants

If you still want to have a glass of wine or a beer with your meal, but you don’t want to pay exorbitant amounts of money, try BYO restaurants. 

At BYO restaurants, diners can bring their own alcohol to accompany their dinner. This can happen for many reasons (religion, culture, personal preferences of the owner) and doesn’t mean the restaurant is lacking in any way. I’ve eaten in plenty of BYO restaurants that are amongst the best in their area. 

Also, you get to bring your favorite drinks with you to dinner, rather than picking from the restaurant’s list, so you know you’ll enjoy them. 

Practical Steps

  • Look online for BYO restaurants in your area. Buy a bottle of wine or some beers at the store on your way to dinner to enjoy drinks without the usual restaurant price tag. 

12. Indulge in Buffets

I love buffets. And I take “All You Can Eat” as a challenge. 

Why do I love buffets? For one, you can eat as much as you like for a fixed price. Win! 

But when you gather a group of friends together and eat out at a buffet, it's always a fun and relaxed experience, completely different from regular restaurants. There’s just a different, more laid back atmosphere. 

And buffets can be incredibly varied, from Koren BBQ to breakfast brunch. 

Practical Steps

  • Look for buffet-style restaurants in your area. Hotels that welcome the public to join their buffets are good choices too. Gather a group of friends and plan on spending a few hours eating and drinking together. 
  • If you like sushi, you know it’s expensive. All-you-can-eat sushi buffets are a great deal to save for your money.

13. Look for ‘Pay as You Feel’ Restaurants

‘Pay as You Feel’ restaurants are exactly what they sound like. You decide the value of the meal and pay accordingly. 

I’ve seen examples of this model in cities as diverse as Manchester, Melbourne, and Kuala Lumpur. Pay as You Feel restaurants are usually run by NGOs and religious charities focused on feeding low-income communities. Any payment is treated as a donation to support their social work. 

They’re often run by professional cooks and restaurant staff who volunteer their time to support the cause. So you don’t have to worry about the quality of your meal or the service. 

Practical Steps

Use Google to find Pay as You Feel restaurants in your area. When eating at them, use the cost of regular restaurant meals as a benchmark for how much you should pay. 

14. Don’t Eat Out on Weekends

Most restaurants are busiest on the weekends. To match the demand, they often have separate menus with higher prices on Friday and Saturday evenings. 

When there’s less demand during the week - but the restaurants still need income - they’ll switch back to a cheaper menu. 

If you’re happy to eat out any night of the week, you can save a lot of money doing so midweek. 

Then, on the weekends, consider hosting small dinner parties amongst your friends or family, so you still get to socialize. 

Practical Steps

Treat yourself mid-week by eating out on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. There’ll be less demand for tables, it’s a nice way to end a long workday, and you might save some money too!

15. Don’t Order Bottled Water

Depending on where you live, you should be able to drink tap water in most restaurants.

However, if you don’t specify when ordering, the wait staff will presume you mean bottled water - and then charge you for it. 

In such instances, bottled water is a needless expense that is also incredibly harmful to the environment.

Practical Steps

  • When ordering water with your meal, ask if tap water is available and safe to drink. If so, choose it every time and order as many (free) refills as you like.

16. Eat at Ethnic Restaurants

Like shopping at ethnic stores, ethnic restaurants are great for eating delicious food on a budget. 

Look for small, family-owned restaurants serving the immigrant community in your area, and you’ll find incredible hidden gems serving fantastic food at affordable prices. 

These are great for trying out new cuisines, experiencing cultures you may otherwise not be familiar with, and learning about the people living in your area that you might not interact with often. 

Practical Steps

  • See if there are any small, family-owned ethnic restaurants in your area catering to immigrant populations with affordable, authentic food. Go for dinner at these restaurants instead of higher-end restaurants serving the same cuisine at higher prices. 

17. Become a Mystery Diner

How about eating for free? Or even better, getting paid to eat?

Restaurants hire mystery diners (through an agency) to test their businesses’ customer experience, without waiting for good (or bad) reviews. As a mystery diner, you’re secretly sent to restaurants to check that specific standards are being met, such as cleanliness, customer service, quality, etc. 

The cost of your meals is covered, so you get to eat at popular restaurants FOR FREE. If you build up a good reputation as a mystery diner, some agencies will even pay you for your time.

Practical Steps

  • Sign up with a mystery dining agency in your area to enjoy free meals. Successful mystery diners can get over $100 a month in free meals at excellent restaurants. 

18. Skip The Dessert

I love dessert. It might be my favorite thing about eating out. 

But recently, I’ve realized that it's an expensive, unhealthy love affair. Desserts in restaurants are not just incredibly expensive. 

Most restaurants don’t make the desserts they sell. They’re ordered from a supplier. The desserts are produced in a factory, just like all junk food, and they’re incredibly unhealthy. 

So, these days, I usually skip dessert and save $3-6 per meal. 

Practical Steps

  • Enjoy your meal, skip dessert, and stop at an ice cream parlor on the way home if you still want something sweet after. 

19. Get the Service Charge Removed

This one will be controversial, but hear me out. 

Many restaurants add a service charge on the presumption you’ll be satisfied with the service you received. But sometimes, the service is terrible, and you’re still charged 15% on top of your meal. 

Most people don’t realize you can ask for the service charge to be removed if your restaurant experience was genuinely terrible. I don’t recommend doing this every time you eat out, but keep it in mind next time you’re unhappy with a meal. 

Practical Steps

  • If you’ve had a terrible experience at a restaurant, you can ask for the service charge to be removed.
  • If you do this but don’t feel your server was to blame, consider tipping them directly. 

Healthy Eating on a Budget While Traveling

Food is one of the best things about traveling. 

You get to try something new, experience local cultures, and enjoy delicious cuisines - all at the same time. 

But maintaining a budget and healthy diet when traveling can be challenging. Without planning ahead, expenses can spiral out of control - while you start packing on the holiday weight. 

I’ve traveled extensively to over 40 countries in the last decade. 

Here are a few things I’ve learned that can help you stay healthy and within your budget, while still experiencing the joys of international cuisines. 

1. Budget for Food Expenses and Eating Out

Just like at home, creating a budget for eating out when traveling will keep you disciplined. 

Most people overlook this vital part of a trip and wind up shocked at how much they (over)spend while traveling. 

With a little bit of research, you can quickly figure out how much food costs in most parts of the world and factor this into your overall budget. 

For example, Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Vietnam are renowned for their cheap, delicious street food. You can often eat out for under $2. 

But Paris? Not quite. 

Traveling in European cities, you might want to mix eating out and self-catering - or you could end up spending a small fortune. 

Practical Steps

  • When planning your trip, research how much food costs in your destination (both groceries and restaurants) and make a daily budget just for that. 

2. Shop Local

Make the most of local markets and supermarket chains to do your grocery shopping. 

There may be a language barrier in some countries. Still, I find that with some sign language, a phone calculator, and lots of smiles, you can usually communicate with vendors enough to make basic purchases.

These days, Google Translate also goes a long way. 

Practical Steps

  • Buy your groceries in local markets, small, family-run grocery stores, and budget supermarkets. 

3. Eat Local

Wherever you are in the world, you can find small family-owned restaurants and cafes selling cheap local dishes. Seek these out. 

Not only can you save money, but they also offer a more authentic experience than bigger, fancy international restaurants selling dishes made with expensive imported ingredients.

Again, you might experience a small language barrier, but ask for English language menus or learn the names of some standard local dishes to avoid any shocks.

Practical Steps

  • Stick to small restaurants selling local dishes. Food halls and markets are also good options. 

4. Choose Self-Catering Accommodation

Staying in an apartment, hostel, or guesthouse with a kitchen is the best way to save money when traveling. 

While it might not be as exciting as eating out every night, it’s way cheaper. Also, you can still experience plenty of local culture shopping for ingredients. 

If you don’t want to share kitchen facilities with other travelers, consider renting apartments on Airbnb and similar sites. If you’re traveling as a couple or group of friends, they often offer the best value anyway. 

Cooking at ‘home’ also makes it easier to monitor what you’re eating and stick to healthier foods. 

Practical Steps

  • Choose accommodation with kitchen and self-catering options. You can filter for these on all hotel booking websites and Airbnb.

5. Learn Some Basic, Universal Dishes

Ingredients for an omelet are the same all over the world. All you need is eggs, cooking oil, and salt. 

The same is true for rice, pasta, some salads, and many simple, healthy dishes. 

Before you start traveling, master some basic dishes to cook with simple ingredients available anywhere in the world. If you’re staying somewhere with a kitchen, you can fall back on these to stay healthy without too much hassle. 

Practical Steps

  • Master a handful of simple, healthy dishes you can quickly cook anywhere, with even the most basic ingredients and kitchen supplies. 

6. Don’t Skip Breakfast

Yes, even traveling, breakfast is still the most important meal of the day.

In fact, it might be even MORE important. 

If you have a packed schedule of sightseeing and tours, you’ll need plenty of calories to keep going. 

Load up in the morning with a big, healthy breakfast of oats, fruit, and cereal. 

Try not to drink too much coffee, so you don’t crash halfway through a tour. 

Practical Steps

  • Wherever you are in the world, make time for a good, healthy breakfast at the start of the day. 

7. Carry Healthy Snacks

Snacking is the quickest and easiest way to fall into bad food habits while traveling. 

The lack of routine, constant sightseeing, and long days mean you can easily wind up depending on junk food and unhealthy snacks to keep you going. 

To avoid this, set aside some time to make quick, healthy, and filling snacks you can carry around in your bag or backpack and eat on the go. 

This is also a great way to avoid snacking on cheap food when you’re in transit on buses or trains. 

Practical Steps

  • Pack some reusable Ziploc bags or lightweight Tupperware in your luggage for DIY snacks when you travel. 

8. Bring a Refillable Water Bottle

Buying bottled water when you’re out and about is not just expensive - it's terrible for the environment. 

By packing a refillable water bottle, you’ll save money and help to protect the environment. 

If you’re in a country where you can’t drink tap water, buy one big 5-10 liter bottle you can keep at your accommodation and use this for your refills every day.

Practical Steps

  • A mettle refillable water bottle can withstand damage from traveling, doesn’t leave a bad taste, and keeps your water cool. 

9. Don’t Over-indulge in Alcohol

For many people, travel + alcohol go hand-in-hand. 

How are you supposed to enjoy yourself without trying out the local beers, spirits, wines, and cocktails as you travel the world? What about the nightlife?

Well, since quitting alcohol in 2017, I can tell you that traveling without alcohol is fantastic - and in many ways, more fun. 

And it doesn’t matter how cheap you think a country's booze is. If you’re drinking it every night and with every meal, it quickly gets expensive. You also end up spending a lot more on food, taxis, late checkouts, and other unexpected expenses. 

Not to mention, you miss out on so much when you’re spending half your holiday hungover. 

So, consider the unimaginable and try doing your next holiday (almost) teetotal.  

Practical Steps

  • Cut down on the amount of alcohol you drink when traveling. While it can seem cheap (and fun), the costs quickly add up. 

10. Avoid Airport Food and Drinks

We all know that airport food is insanely overpriced. 

But it's also, generally, very unhealthy. If you wait until you get to the airport to eat, you could end up paying $10 for a stale, processed sandwich with no nutritional value. 

Instead, plan ahead. 

If you’re traveling by air, take a packed lunch with you to the airport. You may not be allowed to take the food with you into the departure zone, but you should have time before going through security to eat a quick snack just in case. 

Practical Steps

  • Load up on filling and healthy foods like bananas, nuts, oats, and carrots to stay satisfied for as long as possible. 

11. Use Local Restaurant Reviews

If I’ve learned anything about traveling, it’s this: ignore Tripadvisor restaurant reviews. 

Not only is the site full of fake reviews (both positive and negative), the best-rated restaurants usually cater to tourists rather than locals. 

As a result, they’re usually overpriced, inauthentic, and crowded with tour groups.

Instead, use Google reviews, sites like Yelp, and Instagram to find local favorites.  

Practical Steps

  • Don’t use Tripadvisor for restaurant recommendations. It's full of fake reviews and overpriced touristy restaurants. And occasionally, fake restaurants. 

12. Ask Your Hotel or Hosts for Tips

Hotel receptionists and Airbnb hosts are goldmines for restaurant and food shopping recommendations. 

They know cities better than anyone, and if you ask politely (when they’re not busy), you can often get excellent recommendations that you’d otherwise never know. 

If you’re taking a walking tour, the same applies to tour guides. 

Just make sure they’re not sending you somewhere so that they can get a kickback. 

Practical Steps

  • Hotel receptionists, Airbnb hosts, and tour guides are the best people to ask for tips on cheap, authentic places to eat. 

13. Eat Out and Cook with Friends

When you’re traveling solo, eating out alone is expensive. 

It can also be just a little bit lonely. 

To save money and have more fun, hook up with people you meet traveling and go out for dinner together.  

Once you get to know one another, you can even start cooking together. 

Communal BBQs are great for this. You save money, make friends, and don’t have to worry about cooking ‘proper’ food to impress people.

Practical Steps

  • Take every opportunity to eat with other people when traveling. It’s more enjoyable and reduces the cost of eating out. 

14. Look for ‘Menu of the Day’ and Lunch Menu Options

Restaurants often use lunch menus and ‘menu of the day’ specials to use up ingredients in the kitchen. As a result, they’re usually much cheaper than the regular menu. 

But don’t worry. That doesn’t mean you’re getting the scraps and leftovers. 

In fact, in my experience working in restaurants around the world, these dishes are often the most exciting and interesting - they give the chef a chance to experiment and be creative. 

Practical Steps

  • To save money eating out while traveling, stick to lunch menus and ‘menu of the day’ specials. For dinner, think about self-catering.

15. Buffets Are Your Best Friend

Just like at home, buffets are a great way to eat out (and eat a lot!) when traveling - without spending too much. 

In some countries, buffets are an essential part of their food culture, and you can find great options that aren’t just overpriced tourist traps. Korean BBQ buffets are just one example. 

Practical Steps

  • Buffets offer a chance to load up on lots of food for a set price. They’re also a fun way to eat out with friends and get to know people you meet traveling. Ask the staff at your accommodation for recommendations. 

16. City Tourist Cards

Many cities around the world - especially in Europe - offer tourist cards with discounts for museums and attractions. Most tourists don’t realize they often also include local restaurants. 

If an official discount card isn’t available, backpacker hostels often have similar programs with restaurants in their area. Ask at reception if guests get any discounts or promotions. 

Practical Steps

  • Look online or visit a tourist office to see if the city you’re visiting has any discount cards for restaurants.

17. Look Out for ‘Breakfast Included’

Over the last couple of years, I’ve started staying almost exclusively in hotels, guesthouses, and hostels that offer breakfast included in the price. 

While they initially look more expensive, you usually end up saving money. 

Having a big breakfast at your accommodation, especially if it’s buffet-style, is quicker and more convenient than making your own (which requires grocery shopping) or eating out for breakfast (potentially expensive and time-consuming).

Not to mention, you really feel like you’re on holiday when you just roll out of bed and go straight for breakfast, with no effort required.  

Practical Steps

  • Save time, money, and effort by staying in accommodation with breakfast included in the price. If the breakfast includes fruits and other portable snacks, save them for later and take them out when you go sightseeing.

18. Stay in Cheaper Accommodation

So far, this list has focused on reducing the cost of food when you’re traveling. But there is another option. 

By cutting down on other expenses, you can afford to spend more on food without breaking your budget. 

Accommodation is often the biggest expense by far when traveling. But if you switch to staying in cheaper accommodation - like backpacker hostels, campsites, RVs, BnBs, etc. - you can afford to spend more on food. 

Practical Steps

  • Spend less on accommodation, so you can budget more for food expenses when you travel. 

19. Combine Food + Entertainment

On a trip to Ethiopia, I decided to check out a traditional dance performance in the capital, Addis Ababa. The performance took place in a huge tent, with a dinner of traditional Ethiopian dishes served to the audience. 

Not only was it a great introduction to Ethiopian culture, but I enjoyed a massive, delicious (and cheap) dinner included in my ticket price. 

Cities all over the world offer similar experiences - combining cultural events with food. They’re often better value than touristy restaurants and certainly more memorable. 

Practical Steps

  • Look out for cultural events and activities that offer meals as part of the ticket to save money and enjoy the experience.  

20. Join Food Tours

Once in Sofia, Bulgaria, I joined a free food tour. For 2 hours, they took us to a handful of local Bulgarian restaurants to sample various dishes. At the end of the tour, we tipped the guides as we saw fit. 

Not only was it a great way to fill up on tasty food (almost for free), but I also got to learn about Sofia’s history and culture. After the tour, I went back to the first restaurant for a proper lunch that cost less than $4.

Practical Steps

  • When planning your sightseeing, see if there are any tours based around food. You’ll save time and money, and learn loads about the local culture. 

Conclusion

I’ve packed a lot of information into this guide. It might seem like a lot. But hopefully, you can see now that eating healthily on a budget is quite easy. 

By changing your habits slightly, investing in the right equipment, and planning ahead, you can take control of your diet and live a healthier, happy, and more balanced life.


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