Grocery prices are up: Here’s how to eat healthy and stay on budget

Jan. 1, 2024
A person looking at their receipt in a grocery store, following tips on how to eat healthy on a budget
Higher grocery prices are making it difficult for some families to provide healthy food. Before you head to a grocery store, check to see what you have in your freezer and in your cupboards. And make a plan. Photo: Getty Images.

Feeling the squeeze of rising costs at the grocery store? Don’t despair. There are ways to eat healthy on a budget, too.

Lauren Larson, a registered dietitian nutritionist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, shares her top tips for frugal and healthy eating below.

Plan your meals first before heading to the grocery store

Before you get to the grocery store, have a plan.

“Look at what you have in the freezer and the pantry, and choose recipes based on what you have on hand to help minimize food waste and save money at the store,” Larson said. “If you’re looking for inspiration on what to make, see which proteins, fruits and veggies are on sale and build meals around those. This can help you eat seasonally, too.”

Choose healthy recipes with repeated ingredients to reduce waste, and write out your meal plan on a calendar with weekly events. A complicated dinner on a night with sports practices and activities is a surefire way to end up grabbing take-out. Instead, plan to use a slow cooker, eat leftovers, or make a quick and easy nutritious meal for busy nights.

Be wary of impulse purchases

List your grocery items based on the aisle they’re in to streamline your shopping and limit trips to the store to once or twice a week.

“Each time you go, you’re likely to make at least one impulse purchase,” Larson said. “If you go four times in a week, that could be four or more impulse purchases.”

Make vegetarian proteins your ‘go-to’

Beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, tofu and eggs are not only healthy, but they’re also relatively inexpensive.

“The price of meat is rising tremendously, so these are often more affordable and also very healthy,” Larson said.

Shop the aisles

Shopping the perimeter of the grocery store is a good way to avoid processed foods, but don’t skip all of the aisles.

“Within the aisles, there are beans, rolled oats, nut butter, canned fish, and all of these things are healthy, and they’re often cheaper than foods on the perimeter,” Larson said. “Just skip out on the chip and cookie aisle.”

Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables not only have a longer shelf life than their fresh counterparts, but they can cost less and can be just as nutritious, if not more in some cases, than fresh. (Read about how to store fresh fruits and vegetables best so they last longer.)

Buy in bulk and drink water

Don’t hesitate to buy a family-sized pack of meat. It’s often less expensive than smaller portions, and you can portion out and freeze what you don’t use immediately.

And make water your beverage of choice: soda and sports drinks aren’t healthy or cheap.

Not everything has to be organic

“Some people will say, ‘If I can’t afford organic fruits and vegetables, then I shouldn’t eat them at all,’” Larson said. “But my philosophy is that it’s more important that you eat fruits and vegetables, whether they’re convention or organic, than not eat them at all. If organic isn’t in your budget, you can still eat healthy.”

Try online shopping and meal delivery services

“A huge advantage of shopping for groceries online is you can see your grocery total before you check out,” Larson said. “That allows you to look for cheaper generic or store brands and options.”

And while a meal delivery service may cost more per meal than if you had purchased the ingredients on your own, it can be a great alternative to eating out.

“With a few meals a week, you’ll get restaurant flavors and variety without the additional cost, and it saves a trip to the grocery store, so you will have fewer impulse purchases,” Larson said.

Also, consider shopping at a food rescue store if there is one in your area.

Don’t forget enjoyment

Canned green beans may be cheaper than fresh, but if you’re more likely to eat and enjoy the fresh green beans, the extra cost can be worth it.

And don’t forget that paying a bit more for a healthier option may be a good investment overall.

“You’re ultimately investing in your health and decreasing future medical expenses,” Larson said.

This story first appeared in the Steamboat Pilot. 

About the author

Susan Cunningham lives in the Colorado Rocky Mountains with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys science nearly as much as writing: she’s traveled to the bottom of the ocean via submarine to observe life at hydrothermal vents, camped out on an island of birds to study tern behavior, and now spends time in an office writing and analyzing data. She blogs about writing and science at