Tips for a healthy diet on a budget

This is an excerpt from CNBC’s Make It weekly newsletter. Subscribe here.

There are a few pounds of fresh produce right now, including potatoes, clementines, spring onions, an eggplant and bag of ginger, and a dozen baker’s bagels in my fridge and freezer, all for under $ 12. For Manhattan, that’s a pretty good deal.

I picked up the two grocery bags with Too Good to Go, a food waste app, after reading this SFGate article. Users typically pay $ 5.99 or $ 6.99 for a surprise bag of prepared food or products that would otherwise be thrown away at participating restaurants and grocery stores at the end of the night.

Like SFGate’s Tessa McLean, I was shocked at how much food I was given (I even had to leave some products behind because I couldn’t carry everything into my apartment by myself). I immediately cooked some of the potatoes, carrots and onions and frozen the bagels. I’m still trying to figure out what to do with all of the ginger.

I got about half of the products for $ 5.99 with Too Good to Go.

Alicia Adamczyk

The app was a pleasant find during my self-imposed no-spend month where I try to only spend money on essential categories like groceries, though I’m looking for ways to cut those costs as well. I got 13 bagels for $ 5.99 from a restaurant where a single, simple bagel is typically $ 1.50, which effectively reduces the price to 46 cents per bagel.

As the SFGate Rundown noted, the app works best if you don’t have any food allergies because you never know what you’re going to get, and your schedule is flexible enough to be able to pick up food within the window given by each restaurant. It’s also only available in a few locations and depending on your store, plan to use the groceries quickly as they are close to spoiling (or have plenty of freezer space).

Groceries and dining out have always been the hardest categories to budget for for me. Even more difficult: Eat healthy and save money at the same time. I try to cook, but I’m not very good at it, and I find it hard to say no when a friend wants to meet over dinner or a drink.

I got the bagels for $ 5.99 with Too Good to Go.

Alicia Adamczyk

And when you consider that groceries are the average US household’s third largest monthly spend after housing and transportation, with households spending an average of $ 367 to over $ 1,000 a month on groceries, many of you can understand that.

But I’m trying to cut my costs. Aside from using Too Good to Go, here are a few other tips and tricks that will work for me.

Frozen works

For many years I thought frozen fruits and vegetables were less nutritious than fresh produce. It turns out that’s not true. In fact, “fresh” products shipped to your local grocery store from another state or country are often less nutritious than their frozen counterparts and are likely to be more expensive.

I now have a couple of bags of pre-frozen fruit on hand – usually strawberries, peach slices, and blueberries – in case I don’t have time to shop but want a healthy snack. I’ll pick them up when they’re on sale: While a box of fresh strawberries in New York can easily cost $ 5 to $ 6, I can get a freezer bag for $ 1 to 2.

Just do it

Nothing keeps me from cooking more than dishes that require 10 steps and 12 different ingredients. It’s great if you enjoy this, but allowing me to forego those complicated recipes in favor of simple meals changed the game.

This may seem absurd, but one of the best things I’ve done for my grocery budget lately is to buy a small rice cooker. It cost me $ 20, but it made such a difference in my meals. I now add half a cup at a time to a full cup of rice and go back to what I was doing before while it was cooking. A bag of rice costs less than $ 1 a pound in the grocery stores I frequent and I can use it for meals for weeks.

Then I roast or sauté a handful of vegetables and add some soy sauce and I have a simple, healthy, inexpensive meal. When it comes to snacks, I like hard boiling eggs to have on hand and pre-cutting my favorite fruits like strawberries. I’m not the best at meal planning, but I’ll roast a few potatoes, carrots, and other vegetables for a few days of meals in a row. For my busiest days (or laziest, let’s face it) it’s a lifesaver.

Other things that made cooking easier: a really good chef’s knife, plastic containers of various sizes for leftovers or ready meals and a cast iron pan. All versatile and actually encourage me to cook.

Engage with others

Sometimes saving money is as easy as letting someone else develop an inexpensive recipe for me. There’s no shortage of blogs and other cooking communities geared towards promoting cheap, nutritious cooking.

I’ve found Reddit to be especially useful for finding easy recipes and learning from others. Here are some of my favorite sites:

Got a couple of standbys

The best thing I’ve done in the past few years, by far, has been making a list of recipes that are easy, healthy, and inexpensive. When I’m lacking inspiration I can turn to one of these instead of ordering take-out.

For office meals, this often means rice and beans as a base with various types of vegetables and occasionally also meat (I’m not a vegetarian, but have tried to reduce my meat consumption for cost and environmental reasons).

It’s also easy to spice up simple meals by investing in a variety of condiments and seasonings. I have found that Asian and African grocery stores have incredible condiments, often at lower prices than my local market (they are often fresher too). If you don’t have a specialty shop nearby, you can order them online.

What are your top grocery saving tips? Send me an email at [email protected]

Join Now: Get smarter about your money and career with our weekly newsletter

Do not miss: How and why to try a no spend month

Comments are closed.