It Really Is Possible to Eat Healthy on a Budget—Here's How

kkWhen I first moved to New York, I thought it was impossible to eat healthy on a budget. The boutique organic products at Whole Foods were startlingly expensive, my local East Village farmers markets charged $7 for a small punnet of blueberries, and I just couldn't fathom waiting in the 30-minute line at Trader Joes.

After spending a month subsisting on bagels, iced coffee, and any carb-heavy meal I could find, I noticed subtle but serious changes. My skin looked dull and sallow, I struggled to sleep through the night, I was constantly bloated, and I couldn't get through the day without copious amounts of caffeine.

Aware that I needed to boost the nutrients in my diet, I decided to switch my approach to shopping. Rather than focus on organic, boutique products that would devour my paycheck, I searched for the healthier canned and frozen alternatives that are readily available at any store. I realize they don't rival fresh, organic produce, but they're a good, realistic compromise. I researched nutritionist advice about selecting and prepping these foods and was able to dramatically reduce my grocery bill without resorting to takeout or processed food.

Here's how I managed to improve my diet, save money, and skip the line at Trader Joes.

Buy Canned Food in Bulk

Prep: Canned food is a great alternative to fresh produce—but only if you rinse it thoroughly. Manufacturers add a medley of sodium and preservatives such as calcium chloride to canned beans to help maintain their firmness and color, which can be transferred to your cooking if they're not washed. A 2009 study found that simply draining and rinsing beans can lower the sodium content by 41%, so it's an important step.

Storage: Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine found that people who eat two or more canned food items have 54% higher concentrations of BPA in their system than those who eat fresh food. To minimize the health risk, always decant canned goods into glass or BPA-free containers when you get home.

Shopping List:

  • Chickpeas
  • Corn
  • Black beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Wild-caught salmon
  • Pinto beans
  • Tomatoes
  • Sardines

If You Can't Buy Fresh, Buy Frozen

Prep: The way you choose to defrost and cook frozen food can alter its nutrient content. For example, overcooking broccoli lowers its antioxidant content. It's much easier to overcook vegetables when you're also defrosting them, so take extra care on the stovetop or opt for the microwave and check it at intervals. According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, leafy greens like turnip greens and spinach should be partially thawed to ensure even cooking. 

Storage: Frozen food can last for months, if not years, so it's important to develop your own labeling system so you know when each item was purchased and opened. Use our USDA-informed guide to find out how long you can keep meat, fish, and bread in the freezer before it goes bad.

Shopping List:

  • Mixed berries
  • Mango
  • Edamame
  • Peas
  • Broccoli
  • Green beans
  • Brussels sprouts

Shop Seasonally

Prep: It's no secret that fresh produce is much cheaper when you purchase in-season, so keep the list below on hand when you go shopping. When buying non-organic produce, it's important to thoroughly wash or brush the skin to remove surface pesticides. Peeling fruit can also help limit your exposure to bacteria and pesticides. 

Storage: According to Keri Glassman MD, LG ambassador, the way you store fresh produce can also inspire you to eat healthy. "Take the prep time, slice them and then organize them in beautiful glass containers," she says. "When you open the fridge and you see bright red and yellow fruits and vegetables you're so much more inspired to eat those—even if you thought you were craving something unhealthy."

Shopping List: Spring fruits and vegetables

  • Apricots
  • Asparagus
  • Carrots
  • Leeks
  • Mangoes
  • Peas
  • Rhubarb
  • Spinach

Do you buy non-organic food? Share your prep and storage tips below.