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5 Ways to Stay Healthy on a Budget

With the demands of balancing work, family, grocery shopping, cooking, getting enough sleep, keeping up with cleaning… it’s hard to keep our priorities in the order we desire. As a dietitian, I get a lot of questions and requests regarding ways not just to stay healthy but stay healthy WHILE on a budget. I’ve compiled my top 5 ways to stay healthy and they’re easy on your wallet. You may have heard of a few of these tips but hopefully I can give you a couple new ideas to try.


1. As Purchased (AP), Edible Portion (EP), and Percent Yield

Let me teach you some nutrition lingo that can save you some cash when buying produce.

As Purchased: The portion of food purchased before any cutting or cooking is done

Edible Portion: The part of the produce you can eat after preparing (peeled carrots, watermelon without the rind)

Percent Yield: A factor used to determine how much food is lost as a result of cutting, cooking, and processing the food.

For example: When you prepare a bell pepper, you discard the top and the seeds and are left with the edible portion. When all is said and done, the average percent yield you get from that pepper is only 63% which means you’re throwing away 37% of the pepper. 20140812 - healthy foodsBroccoli is another low percent yield with only 61% unless you use the stems like I do (shredded and added to my eggs).

Instead of paying $2 per pound for asaparagus, you’re essentially paying $4 per pound since the average percent yield is only 56% and you’re throwing away half of what you buy! Aim to buy produce with a high percent yield most of the time and occassionally splurge on those with a lower percent yield. A quick google search can lead you to handy charts that will show which produce gives you the best bang for your buck (leafy greens, tomatoes, zucchini, squash, cucumbers all have a percent yield above 90%)

2. Eat PFC

This is the acronym I preach over and over at Budget for Health. It stands for Protein, Fat, Carbs. Instead of eating a bowl of cereal with milk (carbs and carbs) that only leaves you starving an hour later and craving more carbs, aim to get PFC at every meal and snack to ward off cravings and keep you satisfied. To save space in this article for explaining the rest of my tips, I’ll simply direct you to my article on PFC so you can learn more about it.

3. Write it down

You don’t need an elaborate menu for the week. I plan meals a week at a time and vary the amount of prepwork needed so I’m not in the kitchen for hours every day. Even though I’m only feeding two, I often make 3x more so we have leftovers to simply reheat. Eggs make for a really cheap meal so they make an appearance at least once a week on our dinner menu (in addition to breakfast).

The only thing I actually plan is the protein source and then I cook up whatever veggies sound good with it. It often looks something like this:

  • Monday- grilled tuna melts
  • Tuesday- crockpot rotisserie chicken (very little prepwork here!)
  • Wednesday- quesadillas with leftover chicken
  • Thursday- Breakfast for dinner (eggs are soooo cheap and good for you, yolk and all)
  • Friday- salmon
  • Saturday- Chicken curry stew (takes 10 minutes to make)
  • Sunday- leftover stew

Now you don’t have to come home from work and stare into your fridge hoping dinner magically appears. Having a “menu” written down also helps me see if I need to pull anything out of the freezer ahead of time to defrost.

4. Use what you have

I keep a list on my fridge that says what I have in my deep freezer downstairs. I update it when I pull something out of the freezer.


  • 4- 1# chicken
  • 5 salmon burgers
  • 3- 1# ground beef
  • 4- 3oz mahi mahi filets
  • 2# bag shrimp

When I’m getting close to hitting my grocery budget for the month this list helps me pull meal ideas together without making any additional trips to the store.

5. Cut back on pointless snacks

If you come to my place and want a snack, your options are veggies & hummus, fruit & yogurt, nuts, or whatever leftovers are available. You won’t see chips, crackers, goldfish, poptarts, or pretzels. They offer no nutritional value and will only lead to additional carb cravings and mindless snacking. I don’t even buy flavored yogurt. We keep our freezer stocked with frozen fruit to add in our plain, full fat Greek yogurt. When the fruit thaws the juices ooze out and make the yogurt taste delicious without all the added sugar. Read the ingredient list on your “raspberry” yogurt next time: #1 ingredient = milk, #2 = SUGAR, #3 = raspberries.

One step at a time

Now that you’ve got this list of 5 great ideas, my best advice is to pick one or two to start working on. We’ve all been– I mean– we all know those people who make unrealistic promises to ourselves: “I will workout an hour a day, 5 days a week” when we’ve barely been going one day a week at the gym. Day 1 we hit the gym for a full hour and are so sore the next day we decide to take the rest of the week off… and then the next week… Don’t let this happen again.

The best way to form good habits is to take one step at a time. For you, this may mean carving out time to start going for walks after dinner. It may mean writing down a grocery list BEFORE you head to the store so you aren’t tempted to make spontaneous purchases. After this becomes a habit, your next step could be to prep enough veggies on Sundays to last you through lunches and dinners for the week. You don’t need to make all of these changes at once. If you hardly remember to pack a lunch for work don’t expect to master the “40 freezer meals in 4 hours” you just pinned on Pinterest. Nutrition is very similar to finances; you can’t expect your investments to flourish overnight. It takes patience, time, and discipline. One step at a time, one day at a time, you can pursue a healthy lifestyle.

What are some good habits you’ve developed to stay healthy?

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My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.


  1. I have to get better about this! I do well in spurts. I’m going to try some of those recipes though…thanks for sharing

  2. It always helps to start small and make it a habit. I’m preaching to the choir! I think Pinterest makes us feel like we can rule the world while we are pinning then I realize I can’t do everything at once.

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