As someone who’s currently walking the path of a physical health goal, I’ve learned over the years the large role proper nutrition plays into that. Yes, I know it’s good for me, and that eating right will possibly give me more energy, help me sleep better, and improve my mood. All good things, so why is it so hard to just do it I suppose? I’ve made many New Year’s resolutions, have joined various fitness programs, read plenty of books, looked in the mirror saying “today’s the day,” only to be found on my couch five hours later chugging down that Cherry Coke and eating some M&M cookies. Now on the one hand, I don’t mention these things in an attempt to pass judgment on myself. I work very hard and am a very busy person. It’s important to set a realistic expectation that my life circumstances do not afford me the proper structure to eat nutritiously 24/7.

Like with any recovery from any addiction (mine being food), it is incredibly important to create healthy spaces in your life that promote overall wellness and encourage healthy habits towards your goals. When I sit and list out the multiple barriers that make healthy eating challenging, a common one that I’m sure many can relate to is the topic of budget and affordability (both in terms of money and time). As someone who not too long ago worked close to 70 hours a week but still fell in the category of “the working poor”—I totally get it. It cannot be understated that at a time like this when so many people are out of work, facing an uncertain financial future, or living on a tight budget, finding food that is both wholesome and affordable can be a challenge. Not to mention time; many people are consumed with the necessary activities to ensure survival (who has time to cook 20-ingredient organic meals?).

When you’re hungry and pushed for time and money, processed and fast foods can seem like the best options, but research indicates that eating processed and fast food is rarely cheaper than eating healthy, home-cooked meals. The challenge then becomes what small changes can we put into place to help create better eating habits for ourselves?

Here are some tips that I’ve learned (and researched along the way) to help eat healthy on a budget:

  1. Create a shopping list. I recommend getting one of those cute magnet lists you can stick on the fridge or use one of the many shopping list apps (I use Anylist). Creating this list helps us to stay centered on planning meals ahead and ensuring that food staples on are usually in stock at the house.
  2. Plan your meals ahead. Bored on a Friday night? Search out some cheap and simple recipes to keep on hand. If you’re feeling really wild, cut/print them out and create a scrapbook.
  3. When shopping, choose whole foods. Meaning, instead of buying the already cut up cantaloupe for $4, buy the whole cantaloupe (for probably like $1.50) and make time to chop it up yourself at home. Not only is it cheaper and saving you money, but it also preserves the freshness and nutrition of the food.
  4. Look for simple ways to save money throughout the day. This is definitely a lot easier said than done, but try to find little ways to cut back on spending. For example, instead of picking up tea/hot chocolate every morning, I created a habit of brewing tea at home first thing in the morning instead. You’ll be surprised at how much the savings can add up!
  5. Shop wisely! We don’t always have to shop at the neighborhood grocery store! Try out some of the warehouse stores (e.g., BJ’s, Sam’s Club), where you can buy in bulk, often at a discount. Or some neighborhood food stores, which can offer impressive selections at reasonable prices. If you are looking for strictly organic prices, try some of the “limited assortment” stores (Price-Rite, Save a Lot, Aldi), which recognize that many Americans are trying to eat healthier and are offering more of these types of products in their stores.
  6. Don’t shop when you’re hungry. Yeah, just don’t. It’s much harder to avoid impulse buys or grab that piece of chocolate at the check out when you’re hungry.
  7. When organizing your kitchen space, make temptations hard to reach. For those of us who don’t live alone, our other loved ones may still be purchasing those Flaming Hot Cheetos and will be storing them in our kitchen. Never fret! Just try placing them somewhere out of sight (perhaps in a high cabinet behind all the canned goods). It is much easier to make good snacking choices when there are healthier foods easily available to us. For example, instead of creating a jumble in the veggie drawer, place fruit that needs refrigeration in a favorite bowl in the front — that way when you open the fridge for a snack, your eyes will go to it first.
  8. Keep fresh herbs and spices handy. Herbs make healthy food much more savory and flavorful, which will help you cut down on less healthy choices like salt and butter. Plus, they make the kitchen look and smell pretty!