How to Lose Weight on a Budget

By: Jessica Migala

You don't need to spend a lot of money to hit your weight-loss goals. These inexpensive, and sometimes totally free, expert tips will help you lose weight and save money.

Avocado & Kale Omelet

Pictured recipe: Avocado & Kale Omelet

With all the trendy superfoods (looking at you, fancy protein powders, turmeric elixirs and coconut matcha lattes), it can seem like losing weight and being healthy is all about shelling out money for pricey foods. Spoiler: it's not. You can absolutely eat well (and deliciously) and slim down on a budget. "It's all about getting back to the basics," says Kelly Satterlee, M.S., RD, of EliteLifestyleNutrition. Here are 6 ways to do just that.

1. Reduce food waste

Consider that the average family of four in the U.S. wastes about $1,500 worth of food every year. Save at least $100 per month by buying foods that can easily be repurposed for different meals throughout the week, says Satterlee. For instance, she says, if you hard-boil eggs, you can eat them in the beginning of the week for a snack; later in the week, use them as a salad topper. Don't let any avocado go to waste: a quarter might top your omelet, but then mash up the rest with salt and lime juice for an easy guac to go with a taco salad. Hummus may make a great dip for veggies, but the rest can be a spread for turkey sandwiches. (See our top 10 tips to reduce food waste at home.)

Orange Fruit Salad

Pictured recipe: Orange Fruit Salad

2. Skip organic (sometimes)

You're committed to buying more fruits and vegetables—a good idea since these foods have fewer calories but contain fill-you-up fiber (and volume). On the other hand, organic produce is so expensive. So, what can you do? Skip organic, and fill your plate with conventional fruits and veggies. "If organics are not in your budget, you don't have to buy them in order to lose weight or be healthy," says Satterlee. Eating more fruits and vegetables—whether they're organic or not—will help you eat more fiber and get more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in your diet.

However, know that you can go to farmers' markets and buy produce there. Locally grown produce from small farms may not be certified, but is often grown organically (you can ask the farmers about their growing methods). Heading to the farmers' market right before closing time can help you negotiate some serious deals, says Satterlee. And, companies like Imperfect Produce (available in select cities) will send you a box of "ugly" produce (that's perfectly good to eat) for about 30 percent less than grocery store prices.

If organic is important to you, the Environmental Working Group has identified the foods that are most contaminated (that you should consider buying organic), as well as the produce that is cleanest and most free of pesticides (that you can buy conventional).

Cauliflower Rice

Pictured recipe: Cauliflower Rice

3. Buy frozen and canned produce

Frozen fruits and veggies used to feel pretty basic. But now you can find some really inventive frozen products on the cheap, like carrot spirals, cauliflower rice and zoodles. Many frozen vegetables are just as nutritious (if not more so) than their fresh versions, and they're also usually low-calorie, as long as you buy them without added sauces. Their unique prep—spiraled, riced—means they're easier to incorporate into meals too.

Canned vegetables often get overlooked, but keeping canned vegetables in the pantry is a great way to make sure you always have veggies on hand (we are partial to corn and tomatoes; see our top 5 canned veggies ranked here). Choose canned vegetables without added salt, or compare cans to find one with lower sodium content.

Taco-Stuffed Zucchini

Pictured recipe: Taco-Stuffed Zucchini

4. Try meal delivery services

Before you bristle at the prices of meal delivery kits like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh or Plated, Satterlee says she's found that they actually save her money. "I realized I was spending more money at the grocery store versus when I bought a subscription service, and it's something many of my clients have found too," she says. That's because they provide small amounts of high-quality, specialty ingredients, so that you don't have to buy larger quantities that end up going to waste. And, while they're expensive, they make dinner at home feel like date night in, which is pretty much always cheaper than date night out.

Meal delivery subscriptions also encourage more home cooking (and learning how to play chef at home), something that research in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity has found is linked to having a healthier BMI and lower body fat levels.

If meal kits aren't in your budget, try one of our cheap dinner recipes for a nice dinner at home.

Mediterranean Lettuce Wraps

Pictured recipe: Mediterranean Lettuce Wraps

5. Add beans

Beans aren't the sexiest of foods, but guess what: they are some of the cheapest finds in the grocery store—especially if you buy them dried and take the extra step to soak them overnight before cooking. And they're good for your waistline, too. Eating one daily serving of pulses (beans, dried peas, chickpeas, lentils) was associated with an additional 0.75-pound weight loss over a six-week span compared to diets without these foods, according to a meta-analysis of 21 trials in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It sounds modest, but keep in mind that it's the trend downward that matters—and participants weren't making other changes to their diet in order to lose weight. Sounds pretty effortless.

Beans are also one of the cheapest protein options in the store. (Find out if eating more protein can help you lose weight.)

6. Just slow down

A study in BMJ Open in 2018 concluded that people who ate more slowly reduced their BMI and belly fat more effectively than speed eaters. The reason is simple (and obvious): when you scarf your food, you may naturally overeat. Slow down and you'll be just as satisfied on less—and have leftovers to show for it.

Even though it's simple, slowing down can be hard—especially if you're always eating on the go. Try to limit distractions (put away your phone and turn off the TV), and make an effort to put your fork down between bites to slow down.

Related:
Foods That Do the Weight-Loss Work for You
10 Weight-Loss Tips That Actually Work (According to Science)
Healthy Low-Calorie Foods You Can Eat a Lot Of