Eating clean isn’t complicated—nor does it have to be pricey. Clean eating is about embracing a few basic healthy-eating principles. We follow these healthy-eating principles when we create recipes in the EatingWell Test Kitchen. During recipe development, I make a lot of trips to the grocery store and am always thinking about how to spend less money while still creating a delicious and healthy recipe. In every recipe, we try to boost nutrient-dense ingredients like fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and heart-healthy nuts, while watching the sodium, saturated fat and portion size. In the process, I’ve discovered that eating clean can actually save you money with just a little extra planning.
Just follow these 5 easy budget tricks and you’ll be eating clean and spending less. You can’t beat that!
—Breana Lai, M.P.H., R.D.
Budget Tip: Make Your Own Frozen Dinners
I love to cook, but after 8 hours in the Test Kitchen, the last thing I want to do is cook dinner at home. Yet when I get home, I won’t be ordering take-out or heating up a frozen dinner—I’ll be eating a home-cooked meal. How? On days when I do cook at home, even though I’m only feeding my husband and me, I make enough food for at least 6 portions. We freeze the extra portions in individual containers and label them. After a few weeks, our freezer is stocked with "homemade frozen dinners." Not only do we save money, we’re also avoiding a ton of extra calories, saturated fat and sodium from take-out or restaurant meals. In fact, a recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that just one average sit-down restaurant meal (breakfast, lunch or dinner) contained more than half of most people’s recommended calories for a whole day, 83 percent of our saturated fat allotment and 151 percent of our recommended daily sodium.
Related: Clean-Eating Recipes for Weeknights
Budget Tip: Cook With Dried Herbs and Vinegar
Yes, the average restaurant meal at a full-service restaurant delivers more than 3,500 mg of sodium (yikes!). That’s why cooking healthier meals at home is key to limiting your salt intake. You can boost flavor without reaching for the salt shaker (or at least use less salt) by using dried herbs and spices and adding vinegar or citrus to foods. Try a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and olive oil over salad, a mix of thyme and sage in sauces or a sprinkle of rosemary to flavor chicken.
Don't Miss: Easy Ways to Limit Sodium In Your Diet
Budget Tip: Embrace Beans
Clean eating doesn’t mean giving up meat entirely, but curbing your meat consumption helps you cut back on saturated fat, which can raise your cholesterol and is bad for your heart. To get your daily protein, try beans. Beans are delicious, hearty and can improve cholesterol levels. In fact, a 19-year analysis of the First National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the nation’s premier health census, found that people who ate beans four or more times a week were 22 percent less likely to develop heart disease than those who ate them less than once weekly. Beans are also inexpensive and don’t require refrigeration, so they are a fantastic pantry staple. For the healthiest and least-expensive option, try dried beans. If using canned, make sure to give the beans a good rinse to remove excess sodium.
Budget Tip: Stock Up on Frozen Vegetables
Most Americans fall short of reaching the average recommended daily amount of 2½ to 3 cups of vegetables—which means they’re missing out on key vitamins, minerals and fiber. But fresh vegetables can be expensive, and if you don’t use them quickly, they often end up in the trash or compost bin. Frozen vegetables are a great budget way to make sure there are always vegetables in the house. Add frozen vegetables to stir-fries, soups and pastas for a nutrient boost, or simply steam for an easy veggie side.
Budget Tip: Hit the Whole Grain Bulk Bins
Whole grains have beneficial nutrients that refined grains are missing, like magnesium to help your body produce energy and fiber to help you feel fuller longer. Examples of whole grains include brown rice, quinoa, barley, oatmeal and whole-wheat pasta. To save money and packaging, look for grocery stores or co-ops with bulk bins. Although not every item is always cheaper, on average, buying from the bulk bin can save up to 89 percent; it also allows you to control exactly how much you purchase. This means I can get just 1 cup instead of having to buy a larger, more expensive package.