It took me less than 24 hours after moving into my first apartment to realize that I would have to cook for myself every day. Not only did I not know the first thing about cooking, but I would have to go grocery shopping on a pretty tight budget. Well-accustomed to my mom’s cooking and a kitchen stocked with fresh produce and organic foods, I feared I was doomed to a summer of cheap takeout and 99 cent boxes of macaroni and cheese.
The good news is that I quickly discovered eating healthy doesn’t have to break the bank. Here’s how to incorporate more fruits, vegetables, and organic or locally grown foods into your diet without spending a fortune:
Knowing the prices of different produce can help you get your five servings of fruits and veggies without racking up a big bill. For example, the price tag on a banana can be less than 20 cents. Oranges and watermelon are also typically inexpensive. Since berries tend to be pricey, save them for a special treat. Vegetables like zucchini, broccoli, and onions tend to be inexpensive and are great ingredients for stir-fries.
Join a food co-op or CSA
Investing in a share of a food co-op or CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is an excellent way to support a local business and get a boatload of fresh, organic produce. For a monthly fee, you’ll have access to a large supply of seasonal fruits and veggies locally produced by farms in your area. If a whole share is too expensive, offer to split the cost and divide the food with a friend. Or, offer to help the farmer or owner of the co-op in return for a discount. My sister volunteers for a CSA and gets a free half-share of produce every week.
Stock up on frozen veggies
This is one of the life hacks I quickly learned about in college. Bags of frozen vegetables don’t break the bank and have a much longer shelf life than fresh ones, meaning you won’t be losing money if they disappear to the back of your freezer for awhile. They’re also easy to prepare and can be a convenient alternative to cooking or steaming your own.
Get creative with eggs
You will get a lot of bang for your buck when you buy a carton of eggs, which are a great protein substitute for meat. And eggs don’t have to be confined to breakfast — try adding some spinach, peppers, and onions to an omelet or make a quiche loaded with veggies for dinner.
Experiment with stir-fries
Looking for a way to use up the last of those veggies? Stir-fries are an excellent way to incorporate some old ingredients into your meal — just add some olive oil and rice, tofu, or pretty much whatever you want. They’re easy, quick, and a cost-effective way to pack your meal with nutrients.
Surf the web for recipes
Even if you aren’t a top chef, the internet can provide some great resources for cheap, healthy recipes. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Greatist — provides more than 400 recipes that are healthy and inexpensive, from zucchini pasta to pumpkin chocolate chip cookies.
- Jamie Oliver’s Cheap and Cheerful Recipes — features a wide variety of nutritious recipes that promise to taste more expensive than they are.
- Cheap Clean Eats — run by pilates guru Cassey Ho and provides cooking tutorials featuring cheap, healthy, and easy-to-make recipes.
- Good Cheap Eats — Jessica Fisher, mother of six and an expert cook on a budget, blogs about eating well without breaking the bank.
- Budget Bytes — boasts a wide variety of budget-friendly recipes, from Southwest scrambled eggs to stuffed baked potatoes.
With a little planning, eating healthy can be convenient and affordable. Don’t be afraid to get creative and have fun, even if, like me, you don’t know the first thing about cooking!