Healthy Eating 101: Maximizing your Food Budget

Tips you can use to get the most out of your money at the market.


By Aimée Suen, NTP


Like with a lot of other things, you get what you pay for with food. Most times, the more you pay, the higher quality, cleaner, pesticide-free food you get. Organic produce is held to very strict regulations that prohibit the use of synthetic substances or ingredients, including pesticides. Pesticide exposure and consumption can have negative effects on a person, especially in children. But what if you just can’t afford organic produce?

Looking at the Bigger Picture

If you haven’t already, look over your finances and monthly spending habits. Are there other things you can cut back on to move towards your food budget? Can you start making your coffee at home, cancel a membership you don’t really use, snacks you can make instead of buy from a vending machine, things you don’t need to buy? If you cook more meals at home, could that free up some extra funds for better quality food? If eating the foods you love and reducing the amount of pesticides you and your family consume is a priority and you’ve got some flexibility in your finances, maybe it’s time to make some more space and funds available for it.

Make a Food Budget

Setting a budget for your grocery shopping can also keep your spending at the market focused on what you need. Look over your grocery shopping expenses in the last month and find an average to start with. When you go shopping next, use cash, and only cash, to buy your groceries. Consider leaving your credit or debit cards in your car or at home so you stick to your limit.

This approach brings another level of awareness to what you’re buying and can cut down on some of the impulse buys you may not really need for that week. As you shop with that set amount for a few weeks, you can see if your budget needs to be adjusted or not.

Create a Shopping List

Along with your food budget, make a shopping list so you know what you need to cook for the week. This will keep you focused on what you really need and also help you remember everything (and not have to go back to the store later). Shopping lists can also cut down on impulse buying. Making a meal plan will help make this list easily to put together.

Maximizing your Food Budget

Once you have your food budget and shopping list ready to go, it’s time to shop. Here are a few ways to get the most out of your grocery money with either organic or conventional produce.

Buy Foods in Season: To get the most out of these foods, buy them fresh, while they’re in season. When they’re in season, the abundance of these foods lead to lower prices at the market. You can quickly find when foods are in season on the internet or just check your weekly grocery store ad to see that’s on sale.

Buy Frozen: A lot of these foods are also available frozen year-round. They’re frozen while they’re in season so you’ll still get the good flavor of the food in season. Make sure to read the label to confirm you’re buying the produce without any added salt or preservatives.

Go to the Farmer’s Market: Farmer’s markets can offer better prices on organic or conventional produce than your grocery store. Also, you can get more from certain vendors than you could in a grocery store. You can get more in a bunch and it’s common to get a deal on buying multiple bunches of a few different greens or vegetables. There are also vendors who are working towards organic certification (it takes about three years to fully convert the land) or do not spray or use pesticides, making more options available to you. Be sure to ask the vendors how they grow their food if they don’t have a certified organic sign in their stand.

Wash it and Cut it Yourself: Convenience is king these days, but with that convenience comes a higher price tag. Pre-washed and pre-cut greens and other produce are much more expensive than the as-is produce. Buy the bunch of greens or vegetables in the bunch and wash and cut it yourself.

It may take a little longer than the grab-and-go option, but you’ll have more money in your wallet. You’ll also get more produce for less.

Shop a few stores: Different grocery stores have varying prices on most items, including produce. Start taking note of the produce prices at the grocery stores in your area to see which stores consistently offer the best prices for the foods you buy. This may mean shopping at a few stores to get the best deals. Also, before you go, check the ads for the stores you frequent to see if they’re offering sales on what you need for the week or if you need some inspiration on what to cook.

When Buying Conventional Produce

If buying organic is still tough on your budget, there are still ways to enjoy conventionally grown produce safely. Fruits and vegetables with a thick outer skin are usually safer options to eat conventionally. Washing your produce can get some of the pesticide residue off and make them a little safer to enjoy.

If you buy thinner skinned produce, peeling them can also cut down on the pesticide residue you can consume.

Whatever you can afford, you have a lot of choices you may not have known you had before. Choose the options that work best with your budget, tastes, and your comfort level. Enjoy the food you buy and that you’re choosing a healthy path.

Healthy Eating 101 returns with a more indepth look at shopping at the farmer’s market.

Aimée Suen is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who shares nourishing, gluten-free recipes and nutrition wisdom at Small Eats. She is driven to help others enjoy whole foods and empower them to find their own healthy in all aspects of life, one small step at a time. When she’s not in the kitchen, she’s practicing yoga, in the gym, or learning something new. You can find Aimée on InstagramTwitter and Pinterest.

Second Photo Credit: DwaFotografy/; Third Photo Credit: Africa Studio/; Fourth Photo Credit: alekso94/; Fifth Photo Credit: Yagujinskaja/