how to eat clean on a budget

For anyone who wants to eat healthy, cost is often a concern. After all, if you take a quick glance at food that is marketed as “healthy” or “clean,” it’s often pricier than the unhealthy stuff, right?

But that’s only if you simply take a quick glance at the prices.

In this post, we’re going to look at how to eat clean on a budget and, more specifically, 22 practical tips that you can use.

EATING CLEAN FOR BEGINNERS: THE BASICS

At its simplest level, the clean eating philosophy is about eating whole foods that have gone through little to no processing or refinement.

And this philosophy applies to everything we eat: fruits, veggies, grains and meats.

Now, let’s breakdown that basic philosophy into some tangible guidelines that you should follow when making food choices.

1. Avoid Heavily Processed Foods

Let’s be clear on one thing: most foods and food ingredients are processed.

Cooking oils like olive or coconut oil are pressed from whole olives and coconuts.

Baking flours like almond or wheat flour, start from a whole plant that is processed to produce flour.

So, the goal with clean eating is not to avoid anything that has been processed in any way.

Rather, it’s about avoiding heavily processed foods that have had unnatural/unhealthy compounds added to them. 

In general, this means you want to avoid: 

  • Fast foods (burgers, pizzas and convenience sandwiches)
  • Store bought cookies or crackers
  • Candies and other pre-made treats
  • Refined sugar
  • Hydrogenated fats and oils.

If you want things like cookies or pizzas, make them yourself or find retailers that provide truly clean versions.

2. Minimize Exposure to Toxic Chemicals

Chemicals are generally added to our food during the growing and preparation process.

Sometimes, those chemicals are designed to kill off pests while the food is growing (pesticides).

Other times the chemicals are used to give the food a longer-than-normal shelf life (preservatives).

And in other cases, the chemicals are used to fatten up animals so that they produce more meat (growth hormones).

Whatever the reason, all those chemicals cause more harm than good when we eat the food.

And the most common problem that results from added chemicals is inflammation.

Inflammation is a massive health concern in our modern, Western world because it contributes to diabetes, cancer, heart disease, hormonal imbalances and many other chronic conditions.

So, part of eating clean is about avoiding chemicals as much as possible.

The most important chemicals to minimize in diet are:

  • Pesticides and herbicides
  • Additives
  • Preservatives
  • Natural flavors (they’re not actually natural!)
  • Growth hormones
  • Antibiotics

As you can see, in order to eat clean you need to eat organic when possible and read labels closely.

how to eat clean on a budget pin with healthy foods

3. Limit Intake of Refined Sugars

Sugar is naturally abundant in nature. Yet it has suuuuuch a bad reputation.

When you start eating clean, your goal is to embrace natural sugar, while reducing refined sugar.

So that means things like high fructose corn syrup and refined cane sugar can’t be a regular part of your diet.

Instead, you want to use natural sweeteners like:

  • Raw honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Stevia leaves or powder (they should be green; white stevia is not natural)
  • Date sugar (this is simply whole dates ground up into a powder)
  • Agave syrup

4. Cook With Natural Spices, Herbs and Salts

Herbs, spices and salts not only make our food taste delish, but they also contain tons of nutrients.

And the more spices you have in your kitchen, the easier it is to eat clean.

So load up on cilantro, parsley, thyme, rosemary, dill, cumin, coriander, marjoram and any other spices that you can get a hold of.

As for salts, unrefined salts are best.

This can be pure sea salt (celtic or another type), pink himalayan salt or red hawaiin salt.

Natural salts contain anywhere from about 60 to 90 different minerals.

This is in sharp contrast to the processed table salt that has been stripped of natural minerals. Table salt has just sodium and chloride, plus some weird additives that are added to prevent it from clumping!

22 TIPS FOR EATING CLEAN AND HEALTHY ON A TIGHT BUDGET

Alrighty! Now it’s time to look at the things you can do to keep your clean eating costs low.

Please be aware that all of the tips below may not apply to you.

Some of it will depend on what’s available in your area and your personal food preferences.

Also, many of the prices listed below are for organic foods because personally, I eat about 90% organic.

I’m simply sharing a variety of tips with you so that you can hopefully find some that work for you.

1. Eat a Mostly Plant-Based Diet

eating clean and healthy on a tight budget

Nothing will blow up your food budget faster than trying to eat clean meat on the regular.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re buying beef, chicken, pork or fish.

If It’s clean retailers make you pay for it big time.

So, to keep costs low, incorporate more plant-based proteins into your diet.

This means foods like:

  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Various types of beans (lima, kidney, black, pinto and so on)
  • Quinoa
  • Soy products like tofu (organic, non-GMO only for this one)
  • Various raw nuts and seeds

2. Cook More of Your Own Meals

There’s no getting around it: if someone else is doing the cooking, it will cost you.

For example, a healthy, organic smoothie bowl at a local restaurant costs me anywhere from $8 to $12 (depending on the type of bowl).

And that’s just for one serving!

Meanwhile, if I were to buy my own ingredients, I can get a week’s worth of smoothie ingredients for the same $12.

Here’s another example: a clean dinner at a restaurant that serves wild-caught salmon costs $25.

Of course, prices vary from one region to another…that’s what it costs for me here in Colorado.

So, to stay within your budget, cook your own meals and then save eating as a treat.

3. Plan Out Your Meals for The Week

Whether you decide to use a cookbook, pinterest or a meal planning app, it’s a good idea to map out your meals for the week.

This way you’ll have a grocery list that you can follow when you go shopping.

Having a list ensures that you buy only what you need. 

Also, when choosing recipes for the week, go with the ones that use ingredients you already have at home.

That way you won’t spend more money buying new spices or an unusual grain that you hardly eat.

4. Make Plant Milks From Scratch and Recycle The Pulp

almond milk for clean eating

Almond milk, oat milk, cashew milk, coconut milk…you can very easily make all of these at home.

And for very little cost.

I’ve been doing this lately with almond milk and the savings are incredible!

Here’s the breakdown:

  • I buy a 1.5 lb bag of non-organic almonds from Costco for $13.49. I use the almonds to make almond milk as well as for other recipes.
  • That bag gives me about 2 gallons of almond milk. And that’s clean almond milk with no weird additives or sugar! If I were to buy additive and preservative-free almond milk (which is not easy to find by the way!) it would easily cost me $16 or more for 2 gallons.
  • After making the milk, I also save the almond pulp and dry it in the oven. This gives me almond meal which I use in my breakfast porridge.
  • I get about 1.5 lbs of almond meal. Again, if I were to buy the meal I’d be looking at about $16.

So, as you can see one $13 bag of almonds can give you a total of $32 worth of almond products!

5. Choose Your Superfoods Carefully

Everyday a new miracle food hits the market.

And when that happens, the price usually skyrockets.

For example, one of my local grocery stores sells fresh, organic turmeric for $12.99 a pound.

Another sells it for $18.99 a pound.

Now, that’s madness in my book!

Turmeric is a rhizome, just like ginger. Yes, the colors are different and the names of the chemical components are different.

But both turmeric and ginger are powerful anti-inflammatories.

And guess what? The store with the $18.99 turmeric sells organic ginger for $5.99 (sometimes less!).

So, why the price difference? Turmeric is currently sexy, and ginger isn’t 🙂

So, don’t stress about not having the superfood du jour in your kitchen.

There are always affordable substitutes to choose from

6. Watch Out For Big Name Health Stores

Big name health stores like Whole Foods are convenient because they’re everywhere.

But those prices can tie your ovaries up in a knot, right?

So, take a look around to see if you can find a local health food store.

They often offer better prices, especially when it comes to the basics, like fresh produce and eggs.

7. Buy In-Store Brand Spices

Many years ago I discovered the low cost of in-store (i.e. generic brand) spices and it forever changed my food budget.

Let’s take something as basic as parsley, for example.

A 1oz bottle of dried, brand name parsley can run upwards of $3.

Yet, at my local health store they sell the same quantity of dried parsley for $.99

It’s packaged in a ziploc bag with a simple label on it. Nothing fancy as far as looks go.

But I don’t mind because it’s good quality and organic.

And I save money by not having to pay for brand name packaging. 

8. Keep It Simple

When planning out your meals, stick to basic ingredients.

This means using easy-to-find greens, like kale, spinach or collard.

And common fruits like apples, oranges, melons and so on.

These common ingredients are cheaper.

Don’t load up your meals with jackfruit, dragon fruit, cherimoya or pricey foods that will eat up your money.

Which brings me to the next tip…

9. Go to “Ethnic” Grocery Store For Specialty Items

If you enjoy foods like dragon fruit, cherimoya or even fresh coconuts, then you will generally get better prices at your local asian, african or other “ethnic” grocery store.

The price difference is often astounding!

Many of those foods are sold as “exotic” superfoods to the mainstream market. And therefore, there’s a huge price inflation.

But as someone who was born and raised in Africa, I can tell you that I personally refuse to pay $5 for one organic coconut!

So, when I want those foods, I skip the mainstream stores and head over to my asian pacific market.

They get coconuts from Thailand.

And I can get a case of 9 coconuts for $22. Yep that’s just $2.40 per coconut and a more than a 50% savings compared to regular grocery stores.

Now, these coconuts aren’t certified organic. 

But…farming practices tend to be better in other parts of the world. So, I actually worry less about excessive chemicals on many of these foods.

10. Treat Yourself to Homemade Snacks and Treats

When it comes to clean cookies, crackers, granola and other treats, you can save money by:

  • Making your own or.
  • Buying them less frequently

Trying to buy healthy preservative-free, additive-free and treats – like granola bars or cookies – is just far too costly.

And the quantity you get is usually so little that it brings tears to eyes!

If you need recipes ideas for sweet treats, check out this post on healthy energy ball recipes.

11. Identify Stores With The Best Prices

Sometimes you simply have to go to 2 or 3 different stores to get affordable, clean food.

Now, if those stores are really close to each other, then it could be worth the trouble.

However, if there’s going to be a lot of driving involved, then it may not be worth the gas money and your time.

So, take a look at the stores that are available to you and see if it makes sense to spread out your shopping between them.

12. Be Picky About Organic Purchases

organic fruits and vegetables in clean eating diet

Ideally, you want to eat mostly organic when eating clean.

However, when your budget is tight, then compromise with yourself: buy some items organic and others, non-organic.

What I always suggest is to buy all your produce organic. 

Then, the boxed and packaged items can be non-organic.

And if your budget is extra tight, use the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen lists when shopping.

If you’re not familiar with these lists, they tell you the:

  • 15 produce items that are lowest in pesticides (i.e. you can buy them non-organic).
  • 12 produce items that are highest in pesticides (you should definitely buy these organic).

These lists are updated every year and they allow you to stretch your dollar farther.

13. Embrace Ugly Produce

Wanna save 20, 30, 40 or even 50% on produce?

Then consider subscribing to an “ugly” food service.

Ugly produce is basically the food that came out too big, too small or just funky-looking.

It’s basically the not-so-pretty and crooked carrot or strawberry.

Ugly produce is still edible. It just doesn’t look pretty.

Many times ugly produce simply gets thrown away, which is a big fat waste.

So, instead more and more companies offer delivery services where you can enjoy these ugly (and often organic) produce for deep discounts.

I haven’t tried any yet because they’re not available in my market.

But you can see if they’re available in your area by visiting Misfits Market or Imperfect Foods.

14. Join A Warehouse Store

Warehouse stores like Costco can be a great money saver.

In my experience, Costco offers great prices for organic frozen fruit and veggies, as well as organic peanut butter.

They’re also great for bulk pink salt, local raw honey, maca powder rice and quinoa.

Sometimes you save a lot at Costco. Sometimes you don’t.

Before you join, check the prices to make sure it’s worth it for you.

15. Buy Generic Brands

Generic, store-brand products are always cheaper than big name products.

And, in terms of taste and quality, it’s the same (in my experience).

So, whether it’s tomato sauce, cooking oils, pasta sauce or hummus, check to see if your store has a generic equivalent. 

As long as it doesn’t contain any nasty ingredients, you’re good to go!

16. Use More Frozen Fruits and Veggies

Frozen fruits and veggies offer three major advantages:

  • They’re convenient for whenever you need to whip a quick meal.
  • They’re usually picked and packaged when they’re at their peak ripeness. This means great flavor.
  • They’re frozen in such a way that they still retain their nutritional benefits.

So, don’t hesitate to buy frozen fruits and veggies.

It’s a time and money saver.

And if you can buy them from a warehouse store, you’ll usually get better prices.

17. Take Advantage of Online Retailers

Online retailers like Thrive Market offer discounts on name brand products.

And while they don’t provide access to fresh produce, it can be a cheaper and convenient way of purchasing packaged items (like cooking oil, hemp seeds, and so on).

Just keep in mind that with Thrive Market, you have to pay a membership fee to get those discounts.

So, do some investigating to make sure it’ll be worth it for you.

18. Visit Farmer’s Markets

Farmer’s markets are so hit or miss.

When I lived in Europe, or when I visited cities like New York or D.C, they were the best in terms of quality and price.

But in my neck of the woods here in Colorado, I’ve been really disappointed.

That said, make some time to visit some farmer’s markets in your area.

You might be pleasantly surprised by the selection.

Plus, you get to talk to the farmers and ask about their farming process to make sure it’s clean.

19. Join a CSA

CSAs (community supported agriculture) are everywhere.

A CSA is membership-based service where you pay a fee – could be quarterly or annually – and you get food from a local farm.

Sometimes, they deliver the food to. In other cases, there’s a designated pick-up location.

Some farms allow you to customize your food box, but more often you’re limited to what they farm decides to pack for you.

Being part of a CSA can be a cost-effective way of getting clean fruits, veggies, eggs, honey and lots more.

Use this site to learn more about CSA and to find them in your area.

20. Get a Whole Chicken or Fish

As I mentioned earlier, buying any kind of clean meat can be very pricey.

However, one way to work around this is to buy a whole organic chicken or wild-caught fish, for example.

Even though you’ll be paying more upfront, it ends up being cheaper in the long run.

Just be aware that you have to put in extra time to cut up the chicken into various pieces and freezing it for use at a later date.

As for the fish, you’ll have to take the time to clean it out…the guts, eyes, removing the head if you wish!

Plus, you can also use the chicken and fish bones to make your own bone broth. 

21. Stock Up During Sales

If some of your staple foods, spices or condiments happen to go on sale, then stock up on (if you have the funds available).

It will save you money in the long run and lighten up your grocery bill on subsequent visits.

22. Grow Your Own

If you want to go all the way with healthy eating, then consider growing your own foods.

Yes, it’s a huge commitment, but it will definitely slash costs dramatically.

And you can do with in a small backyard or just on a balcony (using containers).

Blueberries, strawberries, microgreens, tomatoes and several herbs do quite well in containers.

RELATED QUESTIONS

Is cheese clean eating?

Cheese fits into a clean eating plan, as long as it’s made from healthy animals. This means the label on your cheese should state that it’s organic and from animals that were not given hormones, antibiotics or other chemicals.

Are potatoes considered clean eating?

Absolutely. Potatoes are a natural and wholesome food that provide fiber, vitamin B6 and other essential nutrients.

Are eggs clean eating?

Yes, eggs are included in a clean eating diet. Just make sure to get organic, free range or pasture raised eggs. 

Free range and pasture-raised (which is even better) chickens get more exercise and sun exposure.

This means their eggs have more healthy omega-3 fatty acids and a strong orange yolk color.

CONCLUSION

And that does it for these tips on eating clean on a tight budget.

I hope these tips are helpful!

And to make things a little easier for you, I’ve created a simple cheat sheet that goes along with this post.

You can save it or print it out and use it for inspiration when you need help cutting food costs.

Click here to download the cheatsheet for free (no email signup required)!

As always, if you have any questions or feedback, just drop a comment below!