5 strategies for cooking healthy on a budget to meet your weight-loss goals

  • 2 Minutes Read
Sue Heikkinen
Sue Heikkinen, MS, RDN, CDCES, BC-ADM, ACE-PT - Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist

Cooking healthy on a budget is possible, though it takes extra work. Learn how to plan budget-friendly healthy meals while supporting weight loss, reducing stress, developing cooking skills, and more.

Cooking healthy on a budget

Cooking healthy on a budget and reaping the health benefits

Healthy cooking on a budget comes with challenges. Yet with planning and a few savvy strategies, you can eat well without straining your finances or waistband. Even if you are not in a financial pinch (though saving money is always a bonus), you will enjoy numerous benefits to planning budget-friendly healthy meals, including these below.

1. Plan to reduce mealtime stress

Imagine the end of last-minute "what's for dinner?" worries and frantic trips to the store. Instead, plan your meals for the week, shop with a grocery list, and do weekend meal prep to earn well-deserved peace of mind.

Budget-friendly recipes tend to use kitchen staples and fewer ingredients, therefore, simplified cooking. Less time shopping for obscure ingredients and cooking fussy recipes means time for a quick walk or other stress-busting activity!

2. Develop cooking and meal-planning skills

Typically, the more convenient the food (e.g., frozen entrees, pre-cut veggies), the more it costs. You will save money by doing more of the prep and cooking yourself. While some shortcuts may be worth the extra cost to you, you will discover value in developing cooking skills. For example, learning basic knife skills can change your whole approach to cooking.

Be creative with your cooking by substituting ingredients based on what you have on hand. For example, cauliflower can stand in for broccoli, and canned beans can replace some or all of the meat in a recipe. You may even find you like some of your substitutions better!

Focus on less expensive, in-season produce, which is always more flavorful and appealing.

3. Eat budget-friendly foods that support your weight-loss goals

Many aspects of cooking healthy on a budget go hand-in-hand with weight-loss strategies. Planning, portioning, limiting processed foods, using less meat, and eating more beans and whole grains can support your weight-loss goals. Stocking up on frozen veggies-which are just as nutritious as fresh-saves money and leaves no excuse for a meal without veggies. For instance, you may find yourself eating more soup for a budget-friendly healthy meal, and it serves as a filling and lower-calorie option.

Over one-third of US food dollars are spent on restaurant or take-out meals. Limiting restaurant meals will keep both your calorie and food budgets in check. When you eat out, save the leftovers as a bonus meal, stretching your food dollar and cutting the calories in half.

4. Be a wise consumer

Cooking healthy on a budget includes striving for the best nutrition "bang for the buck." Unfortunately, inexpensive foods are often nutrient-poor and processed. A food bargain is not a deal if it lacks nutrition value.

Don't fall for marketing gimmicks. There is a perception that more expensive foods are healthier, but a check of the Nutrition Facts label proves this isn't always true. Look past misleading labeling ("natural," for example, has no legal definition) for foods that provide good sources of protein, vitamins, and minerals. Costly organic toaster pastries have the same poor nutrition profile as the lower-cost version.

5. Reduce food waste

A staggering 30-40% of the US food supply goes to waste. Food waste and expensive packaging mean lost money and harm to our environment. Fortunately, many budget-cooking strategies reduce food waste and excess packaging.

Shopping with (and sticking to) a list reduces impulse buys and resulting food waste. Use leftovers within days or store them in the freezer, so they don't wind up in the trash. Make use of food scraps typically thrown away: vegetable peelings for soup bases, breadcrumbs from stale bread, etc.

Keep a close inventory of what is in the fridge, pantry, and freezer, so you can plan meals based on what you have. You will find fewer expired "surprises" in the fridge to be thrown out.

Buying food in bulk and avoiding processed food often means considerable savings. For example, a large tub of oatmeal will be less expensive (and healthier) than prepackaged envelopes of sweetened instant oatmeal. Then repackage your food in smaller, reusable containers to help with portion control.

Resources to help you eat healthy on a budget


How to make healthy food at home easier with these 6 techniques
Interested in creating make-ahead meals that are healthy and budget-conscious?

Good and Cheap

Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day is a free downloadable cookbook by Leann Brown.

Cooking Matters

Cooking Matters is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families make healthy and affordable meals.

Local Resources

See if there are nearby resources to support access to healthy food, including farmers' markets, community gardens, and local government and nonprofit organizations.

Still new to MyNetDiary? Learn more today by downloading the app for FREE.

Meal Planning & Diets->Healthy Eating Meal Planning & Diets->"Plan, Shop, Prep, and Cook"
Nov 24, 2021

Start Your Free
Food Diary Today

Sign up Devices