Practical tips to budget your clean eating needs

Photo of author

| Published:

Eat healthier, budget more responsibly and live better. Easier said than done, right? It doesn’t have to be.

A woman is holding a shopping cart full of vegetables.
While the definition of clean eating varies, everyone can agree eating healthy and delicious food shouldn’t break the bank. Photo credit: Depositphotos.

Everybody wants to eat healthier — but does a clean diet have to break the bank? If you’re feeling torn between your health and your wealth, then keep reading. Here goes breaking down game-changing secrets to eating clean on a budget, from where to find the best budget-friendly staples, to embracing in-season produce and even recreating your favorite snacks at home. 

Classically, January is the time to decompress from the indulgent holiday season and reflect on the year ahead. But as anyone with an unused gym membership knows, resolutions are more easily made than kept. It’s especially challenging to stick to goals that can feel diametrically opposed, like eating clean and saving money. Don’t get discouraged — there are plenty of practical ways to eat clean without breaking the bank.

What is clean eating? While this term has no official definition, a 2021 survey by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) revealed that almost half of people who identified as clean eaters considered this term to include foods that were not highly processed. Clean eaters emphasized the importance of eating fresh produce, organic foods and items with simple lists of ingredients. A clean eating diet is often seen as a way to boost health and wellness.

Navigating the clean eating grocery aisle on a budget

On the journey to clean eating, does the first stop have to be Whole Foods? Not necessarily. High-end grocery stores, although beloved by influencers like Emily Mariko and celebrities like Bella Hadid, aren’t the only places to find good quality ingredients. 

While there’s nothing wrong with using social media for inspiration, many high-profile influencers tend to emphasize fancy products in a way that can make clean eating feel inaccessible. In reality, it’s possible to find healthy staples at more affordable prices. To avoid getting distracted by expensive celebrity-endorsed superfoods, make sure to approach grocery trips with a plan: opt for a simple printable clean eating grocery list to stay focused on the essentials.

One of the best ways to eat clean on a budget is to buy in bulk. Check out local wholesale grocery stores, bulk food stores or zero-waste stores to assess what options are out there. When shopping, consider stocking up on healthy dry goods like dried fruits, nuts or legumes as an alternative to processed snacks. Compare nutrition information for other foods, such as pasta and rice, to see if they are as healthy as the products at the grocery store. Buying dry goods in bulk minimizes the risk of food going bad before it can be used.

In addition to bulk stores, scout out healthy, international grocery or smaller grocery stores to compare prices and products. Often, alternatives to mainstream supermarkets can have surprisingly good deals. When shopping at bigger stores, be sure to take advantage of their loyalty programs. The truly committed may even want to switch to a credit card that offers rewards just for going grocery shopping.

Embracing fresh produce affordably

Fresh produce such as leafy greens, hearty veggies and flavorful fruits is an essential part of a clean diet. But eating fresh can be a daunting task for many. Fresh produce is priced by weight, which can lead to unpleasant surprises at the cash register. And, of course, produce only stays fresh for so long. One wilted bag of spinach or moldy tomato can be frustrating enough to make some shoppers wish they’d never bothered.

Despite these challenges, there are still ways to work fresh fruits and vegetables into a clean diet without going over budget. The biggest game-changer is understanding seasonal and regional availability. Simply put, fruits and vegetables that are in season and grown nearby will almost always be cheaper, healthier and tastier. 

Other tips to maximize savings include shopping sales and putting soon-to-expire items in a notable place in the refrigerator. For example, one popular TikTok hack is storing produce in the fridge door instead of the crisper drawer. Although the drawer preserves fresh food for longer, putting produce in the door keeps it top-of-mind so it can be used before it expires. 

There are many more ways to reduce waste in the kitchen and get the most value out of groceries. Think about buying in bulk and then creating several different dishes out of the same grocery item. This requires slightly more time in the kitchen, but avoids the problem of eating leftovers for a week straight or throwing away excess food. 

For example, say your goal is to make a modest amount of cranberry sauce, but there’s a sale on bulk cranberries. Why not make dehydrated cranberries or cranberry muffins with the rest of the bounty? Similarly, get into the habit of freezing extra produce before it goes bad. For example, unused celery ribs and carrots can be chopped up, frozen and later added to stews and soups.

When it comes to frozen produce, why not fill the freezer? Although it’s always a good idea to check the nutritional information, frozen foods are often equivalent or superior in nutritional value to their fresh counterparts. Since frozen fruits and vegetables are pre-chopped and pre-washed, they can be a faster and more accessible option for many. Even if frozen foods are slightly more costly upfront, they may yield better value since they are less likely to spoil before they can be used.

Creating clean eating staples at home

Pre-packaged items set off the sirens of the grocery aisle when it comes to clean eating. Although many pre-packaged items can be high in cost and low in nutritional value, the allure of a delicious snack in a convenient package can feel irresistible. Luckily, there are a wealth of DIY recipes that can one-up any pre-packaged product. And while embracing DIY might require a little more effort in the kitchen, the health and financial benefits are well worth it.

For example, pre-packaged favorites like instant oatmeal packets can be recreated at home for a much lower price. Instead of buying pre-packaged variety packs — which can include artificial preservatives or food coloring — buy oats in bulk and add spices, dried fruit and toppings like cacao nibs and fresh berries. Missing the convenience of grabbing a package out of the box? Consider portioning out servings into small glass jars. Not only will they look aesthetically pleasing on the kitchen shelf, but they’re also a better choice for the planet.

And why stop there? Mastering the art of making sauces, dressings, pickles and snacks at home not only brings down grocery costs; it’s also a way to avoid unknown and unwanted additives that are put in pre-packaged food. For example, instead of potato chips, why not try salty, crunchy and crisp dehydrated cucumber chips? Learning how to create chips out of any vegetables on hand — like kale, radish or even broccoli — is another great way to reduce waste in the kitchen, saving money in the long run.

Anyone can eat clean

Since food intolerances, dietary needs and taste preferences vary from person to person, it’s perfectly fine to have a personal definition of what it means to eat well. Indeed, an overly restrictive approach to clean eating can lead to missing out on important nutrients or developing an unhealthy relationship with eating. It’s never a bad idea to consult a nutritionist, dietician or doctor before making significant dietary changes.

Zuzana Paar is the creative force behind her websites Low Carb No Carb, and Best Clean Eating. As a content creator, food recipe developer, blogger and photographer, Zuzana brings diverse skills to the table with a dedication to sharing delicious, healthy recipes and helpful tips with the readers.

Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The contents of this article are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice. The content presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or dietary changes. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.