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How to Get Cheap, Healthy Food for Low-Income Families

Woman budgeting for healthy food

Food is important for survival, but it can be a huge expense, even for small families. Groceries are usually the second-largest household expense after rent/mortgage. It is often difficult for low-income families to eat healthy because certain foods, such as fruit and quality meat cuts, can be expensive.

Healthy food for low-income families doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. You can feed your family nutritious foods by avoiding junk foods that you don’t need—such as cookies, chips, and soda—and preparing meals at home.

What Is a Healthy Diet?

A healthy diet provides the body with essential nutrition. You can do this by adding foods of various colors to your plate. Fruits and vegetables are filled with vitamins, fiber, and minerals. A healthy diet should:

  • Focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and milk products.
  • Include protein from meat, eggs, and nuts.
  • Be low in fats, salt, sugar, and cholesterol
  • Stay within your calorie needs

How Expensive Is Healthy Food?

People often say that it’s cheaper to eat junk food. Does it really cost more to eat better? How expensive is healthy food?

A study showed that the difference between an unhealthy diet and a healthy one is $1.50 a day. That’s not really a lot of money. It’s easy to cut out $1.50 a day—you’ll save more than that by making coffee at home and skipping Starbucks. Plus, eating healthy is cheaper in the long run when you factor in health conditions caused by poor diet.

Keep in mind that “healthy” food does not necessarily mean “organic” or “gluten-free.” These are terms that can really jack up your grocery bill. Unless you have special dietary needs, you can avoid these labels. You can buy regular apples or bananas, which are typically cheaper than organic ones.

Here are some other tips to spend less money on healthy food:

  • Buy frozen fruits and vegetables. This is a good option when you want to buy fruits and vegetables that aren’t in season. Some frozen foods even have more nutrients than fresh ones.
  • Choose cheaper protein. When people think protein, meat often comes to mind. However, meat can be expensive. Eggs, beans, and cheese are cheaper options.
  • Plan ahead. Don’t impulse buy. Plan meals ahead of time so food doesn’t go to waste.
  • Avoid health food stores. You can buy healthy food for cheaper at your local grocery store. Food co-ops and other health food stores are usually overpriced.

What Is the Cheapest, Healthiest Meal?

Low-income families eat unhealthy food because it often costs less and is more convenient (especially when buying fast food). If you’re in search of healthy, nutritious food that won’t break the bank, here are cheap, healthy meal ideas to consider:woman shopping for cheap healthy food

  • Brown rice. Great for fried rice, casseroles, and side dishes.
  • Multi-grain pasta. Great for hot or cold pasta dishes.
  • Whole-wheat bread. Great for sandwiches.
  • Frozen vegetables. Great for side dishes and stews.
  • Oats. Great for cereal, muffins, and granola.
  • Russet potatoes. Great for baked potatoes, stews, salads, and casseroles.
  • Refried beans. Great for burritos, nachos, and side dishes.
  • Eggs. Great for omelets and casseroles.
  • Canned tuna. Great for sandwiches, salads, and casseroles.

Is healthy or unhealthy food more expensive? It all comes down to making the right choices. It’s easy to combine several of these and eat a healthy meal for less than a couple of bucks a serving. That’s a lot cheaper than eating out at a restaurant!

Government Assistance for Healthy Food

More commonly known as “food stamps,” low-income families may qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program. SNAP is a federal nutrition program that is available to families with low income and resources.

SNAP benefits come in the form of an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT), which is like a debit card. You can use it at participating stores to pay for eligible food purchases. EBT is used in all 50 states.

What groceries can you buy with EBT? These benefits can help you pay for fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy, bread, and cereals. You can use SNAP benefits for some snacks and non-alcoholic beverages as well. You cannot use SNAP benefits for vitamins, beer, tobacco, hot food, or any non-food items.

There may be local programs available in your community as well. For example, if you have school-age children, they may qualify for free school lunches and other food-related benefits at times when school is out of session. Low-income seniors may qualify for a similar program. Food banks may also be helpful.

Learn More with Power Finance Texas

Knowing how low-income families can eat healthier will help you buy and prepare better food for yourself and your family. The Power Finance Texas blog offers many other tips to save money so you can eat well.