Healthy on a Budget: Ingredient Swaps
Simple Substitutions for Living Healthy on a Budget
Being healthy can be hard all on it’s own—but being healthy on a budget?! To plenty of people, it can seem impossible. But it’s absolutely not! Plenty of healthy, wholesome foods are affordable, and there are tons of budget-savvy tricks to make the most out of our grocery shopping. Plus, we can make simple, healthy substitutions to save a few bucks here and there, and those bucks start to add up!
It’s important to note, when we’re saving money, that generally means we spend a bit more time and effort. There are some foods that we pay more money for because they are convenient options that can save us some time, like pre-cut fruits and veggies, canned beans, and even things like bread or packaged snacks. If we’re willing to take the extra time to prep or even make some of these items ourselves, we can save money—and often we can make healthier versions at home!
Of course, YOU have to decide what’s right for you. Where do you budget your time, and where do you budget your money? It’s a trade-off, but the beauty of it is that we can choose how to make our healthy lifestyles work for us. Check out some of the ingredient substitutions that make it easier to live healthy on a budget! Some of these may not be your style, and prices may vary where you live or by season. These are just a few ideas worth trying—get creative with your own moolah-saving ideas, too!
In many of these price comparisons, I am using the lowest prices I could find at stores like Aldi or Trader Joe’s. (This is all about being thrifty, after all.) Prices at your stores may vary, and may be even higher than the prices at these traditionally budget-friendly stores. Ultimately, these are just ideas about how we can save more money, and they might spark some ideas of your own. YOU decide what fits into your healthy lifestyle!*
Homemade Budget Ingredient Substitutes
Plenty of items that we buy at the store can also be made at home. When you’re trying to live healthy on a budget, embrace those homemade goods. Some of these you may have tried, some you may never have considered, but all of them have the potential to save you some cash!
Homemade Fruit Jam for Store-Bought
It’s SO easy to make fruit jams or preserves at home! You just need a stovetop, a pot, and your favorite fruits, either fresh or frozen. I even have a jam recipe that uses no pectin and no sugar. You can also make a raw chia jam by simply blending fruits and mixing the purée with chia seeds—no heating required!
Let’s look at strawberry jam for an example. Fresh strawberries that are in season cost around $1.25/16 oz., and a 32 oz. bag of frozen strawberries at Aldi costs $2.69. If 16 oz. of strawberries yields around 17.25 oz. (1 ½ cups) of jam, we’ve got a pretty cheap jam!
- Homemade Strawberry Jam: ~$0.07/oz. (fresh or frozen)
- Store-Bought Strawberry Jam: $0.13/oz. ($2.29/18 oz.)
Homemade Nut Butters for Store-Bought
For homemade nut butters, simply blend up your nuts of choice in a food processor until they reach a buttery consistency. This works well with peanuts, almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts—whichever nuts you like! A 1 pound (16 oz.) bag of peanuts generally yields just over 1 pound of peanut butter, and it’s a similar ratio for other nuts. So, check to see: can you buy 16 oz. of nuts for less than a 16 oz. container of nut butter? In many cases, yes!
- Bag of Peanuts: $1.99/16 oz.
- Store-Bought Peanut Butter: $2.19/16 oz. (for the bargain brand at my store!)
- Bag of Almonds: $5.49/12 oz.
- Store-Bought Almond Butter: $5.99/12 oz.
We generally can save a few bucks by blending up nuts into butter ourselves, or by turning fresh fruit into jam, especially when we use fruit that’s in season. Plus, we can make our own fruit jams and nut butters with less sugar, less salt, and fewer additives than those we’d buy at the store!
Homemade Flours for Store-Bought
Some flours—like oat and almond flour—can be super pricey at the store, but we can just as easily make them ourselves. If you haven’t seen my Homemade Flour Recipes video, check it out. It’s literally as simple as putting your oats or almonds in the food processor and blending them into a flour. As you can imagine, this can save us some serious bucks!
For oats, 1 cup (3.5 oz.) of rolled oats yields just over 1 cup (3.25 oz.) of oat flour. For almonds, 1 cup (5 oz.) of raw almonds yields around 1 ½ cups (5 oz.) of almond flour. At Aldi, you can find rolled oats for $2.39/42 oz. and raw almonds for $5.49/12 oz., both of which mean a major steal if we make our own flour!
- Homemade Oat Flour: $0.06/oz.
- Store-Bought Oat Flour: $0.24/oz. ($5.35/22 oz.)
- Homemade Almond Flour: $0.46/oz.
- Store-Bought Almond Flour: $0.50/oz. ($7.99/16oz)
Homemade Bread for Store-Bought
Call me old school, but this tip for living healthy on a budget is one of the oldest in the book—and for good reason. Store-bought bread is one of the sneakiest processed foods out there! We think it’s a wholesome choice when we see whole-grain claims or healthy-looking seeds on the crust, but often they’re loaded with additives—sometimes sugar or even high fructose corn syrup. (Why?!?) You’ve got to read the nutrition labels!
Not every “wheat” bread is actually whole wheat, and many seemingly healthy breads don’t really provide our bodies with great fuel. For a better quality bread, you may have to spend a bit more money. Granted, making your own bread may not be worth your time/effort, which is fine! We have to budget our time as well as our money.
But, this is a simple way to save some money each week at the grocery store, and you’ll know exactly what’s in the delicious bread that you’re eating! I’ve got an awesome Homemade 3-Ingredient Bread that is SO simple and so cheap, but you can also try any bread recipe you like. Using my recipe, you get more bread by weight for half the price!
- Homemade 3-Ingredient Bread: $0.70/loaf (24 oz.)
- Store-Bought Bread: $1.39/loaf (20 oz.) “wheat” bread
Homemade Breadcrumbs for Store-Bought
Breadcrumbs are a cinch to make! And, the store-bought breadcrumbs are generally made with the same kinds of breads that you find in the store—not the healthiest choices. You can easily make your own, healthier breadcrumbs, and save some money in the process!
If you use store-bought bread to make your breadcrumbs, be sure to choose wisely! Around 4 slices (3.5 oz.) of standard sandwich bread yield 1 cup of breadcrumbs—just be sure that your bread is good and dry before turning it to crumbs. If you use your homemade bread, your breadcrumbs will be even cheaper to make. Either way, making your own is the budget savvy move.
- Homemade Breadcrumbs: $0.03 – $0.07/oz.
- Store-Bought Breadcrumbs: $0.10/oz. ($1.49/15 oz.)
Homemade Greek Yogurt for Store-Bought
Greek yogurt is an awesome, high-protein snack, or a creamy substitute for mayonnaise or sour cream in dips or as a topping. But, it can be expensive—sometimes more than twice as much as regular yogurt. Well, did you know that you can make your own Greek yogurt at home?!
The major difference between regular dairy yogurt and Greek is that Greek is strained 3 times instead of 2, making it more dense and higher in protein content. You can make Greek yogurt from scratch, or you can make it just by straining regular yogurt! All you need is a cheesecloth or old T-shirt and some budget-friendly regular yogurt. If you strain 3 cups (32 oz.) of Greek yogurt, you’ll end up with 2 ¼ cups (22.5 oz.) of Greek yogurt and ¾ cup of whey.
- Homemade Greek Yogurt: $0.07/oz. ($1.49/32 oz.)
- Store-Bought Greek Yogurt: $0.11/oz. ($3.49/32 oz.)
Homemade Iced Tea for Store-Bought
If you love iced tea (or even iced coffee), buying the pre-brewed kind in the store may be convenient, but it can be a real budget buster. The price of one liter of iced tea from the grocery store can be just about the same as the price of 100 tea bags. And, you could brew one liter of iced tea using just one tea bag!
Plus, homemade iced tea is ideal for living healthy on a budget—not just because it’s cheaper. With homemade iced tea, you don’t have to worry about added sugars, artificial sweeteners or flavors, or other questionable additives. Try brewing your own iced tea for a cleaner option that can also lower your grocery bill!
- Homemade Iced Tea: $0.02/liter ($1.89/100 bags)
- Store-Bought Iced Tea: $1.69/liter
Homemade Whipped Cream for Store-Bought
With just some heavy whipping cream and a hand mixer, you can make whipped cream at home! This is a budget win because you can get more heavy whipping cream for a lower price than store-bought whipped cream. (Bonus: you can also make homemade coconut whipped cream for a dairy-free alternative.)
- Homemade Whipped Cream: $0.12/oz. ($1.89/16 oz.)
- Store-Bought Whipped Cream: $0.18/oz. ($2.29/13 oz.)
Budget Produce Substitutes
Fruits and veggies are central to a healthy lifestyle, but sometimes the price of produce might discourage us from buying it. But, there are some strategies for grocery shopping on a budget that every thrifty shopper should know in the produce section!
In-Season Produce for Out-of-Season
This simple substitute is worth remembering. When fruits and veggies are in season, they typically cost far less than when they’re out of season. Since we’re in summer, be on the look out for tastier, juicier summer fruits! Some produce items are in season year-round, but it’s worth knowing when certain foods are in or out of season. (Check out this seasonal produce guide!) Your budget will thank you!
Take a look at spaghetti squash—which is in season during fall and winter—as an example:
- In-Season Spaghetti Squash: $0.99/lb. (typically on sale)
- Out-of-Season Spaghetti Squash: $2.99/lb.
Whole Produce for Pre-Cut
Pre-cut produce can be a convenient time-saver, but it tends to be way more expensive than buying produce whole and prepping it yourself. One of the simplest ways to cut costs when you’re trying to live healthy on a budget is to prep your produce yourself! Again, you’ve got to decide: what’s worth your time, and what’s worth your money?
- Whole Broccoli Crowns: $0.11/oz. ($1.79/16 oz.)
- Pre-Cut Broccoli Florets: $0.37/oz. ($2.99/8 oz.)
- Whole Cauliflower Head: $0.12/oz. ($1.99/16 oz.)
- Pre-Cut Cauliflower Florets: $0.31/oz. ($4.99/16 oz.)
- Whole Honeydew: $0.06/oz. ($0.99/16 oz., in season & on sale)
- Pre-Cut Honeydew: $0.30 ($2.99/10 oz.)
Frozen or Canned Produce for Fresh
Frozen and canned produce can be great, lower-cost alternatives to fresh produce, especially when certain foods aren’t in season. The beauty of these options is that the produce is frozen or canned at the peak time of freshness, and their nutrients are locked in so our bodies can still reap the nutritional benefits! Plus, one of the biggest ways they can save us money is that canned and frozen produce will last a long time, so we don’t lose money on wasted food.
- Frozen Strawberries: $0.12/oz. ($1.99/16 oz.)
- Fresh Strawberries: $0.19/oz. ($2.99/16 oz., in season & on sale)
- Frozen Blueberries: $0.21/oz. ($2.49/12 oz.)
- Fresh Blueberries: $0.27/oz. ($2.99/11 oz. , in season & on sale)
- Canned Green Beans: $0.03/oz. ($0.49/15 oz.)
- Fresh Green Beans: $0.19/oz. ($2.99/16 oz.)
But, beware: this budget substitute isn’t true for all foods at all times. Some kinds of fresh produce are cheaper than their frozen/canned counterparts. And, often produce that’s in season will be cheaper than the frozen or canned varieties.
- Frozen Broccoli Florets: $0.23/oz. ($3.19/14 oz.)
- Fresh Broccoli Crowns: $0.11/oz. ($1.79/16 oz., pretty much in season year-round)
- Frozen Corn: $0.20/oz. ($3.19/16 oz.)
- Canned Corn: $0.08/oz. ($0.69/8.5 oz.)
- Corn On the Cob: $0.07/oz. ($0.29/ea [~4 oz.]., in season & on sale)
Stay informed and check out the price tags so you can get the best deals!
Simple Budget Substitutes
Last but not least, some of the simplest ways to eat healthy on a budget: buy in bulk, prep it yourself, invest (in an air-popper) now and you’ll save later.
Dry Beans for Canned
Canned beans are majorly convenient—I personally use canned beans for that reason, and there’s not a huge price difference between canned and dry. But, you can save some dough by choosing dry beans and cooking them. It takes some extra time, but 1 cup of dry beans yields 3 cups of cooked beans, so you’re getting more bang for your buck. One 2 lb. bag of dried beans yields as much as 4 cans of cooked beans!
- Dry Black Beans: $0.03/oz. ($1.99/60 oz. cooked beans, made from 32 oz. dry beans)
- Canned Black Beans: $0.05/oz. ($0.79/15 oz.)
Coffee Grounds or Beans for K-Cups
If you have a Keurig or you’ve used one, you know that K-Cups make coffee drinking awesomely easy. For some, they’re worth the splurge, but K-Cups are so far overpriced in comparison to coffee grounds or beans! Each K-Cup has around 2 tablespoons (0.375 oz.) of coffee. In a 12-pack, that means you buy around 4.5 oz. of coffee total. In comparison to coffee grounds, you can end up paying more money for K-Cups, but you’re getting less than ¼ the amount of coffee!
- Coffee Grounds: $0.28/oz. ($4.99/17.6 oz.)
- Coffee Beans: $0.33/oz. ($3.99/12 oz.)
- K-Cups: $1.29/oz. ($5.79/12 count, which is ~4.5 oz. coffee)
Whole Chicken for Chicken Breasts or Thighs
This is another tried-and-true tip for living healthy on a budget, but it’s a good one. Of course, prepared chicken breasts, thighs, drumsticks—whichever—are all convenient. These options also allow us to choose the meat we want to eat, which is a plus. But, budget-wise, buying the whole chicken instead is a no-brainer. The prepped breasts and thighs are more than double the price per pound!
- Whole Chicken: $1.49/lb.
- Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts or Thighs: $3.99/lb.
Skirt Steak for Strip or Ribeye
Image courtesy of Carnivore Style
When it comes to steak, plenty of people have their preferences about the cut that they prefer. If steak is something worth your splurge, that’s great! If you’re a big-time steak lover (or just a mild fan) and you want to work in some cheaper options, skirt steak is the way to go. Unlike strip or ribeye steaks, skirt steak isn’t known for its tenderness—it’s a winner in flavor. It’s a thin, long cut of leaner cut of meat with a beefier flavor, that’s great in dishes like stir fries. Plus, you can’t help but like the price difference.
- Skirt Steak: $6.99/lb.
- Strip Steak: $8.49/lb.
- Ribeye Steak: $9.49/lb.
Block of Cheese for Pre-Shredded Cheese
One of the simplest budget substitutes yet, that requires pretty minimal effort. Instead of the bags of pre-shredded cheese, buy the block and shred it yourself. Think of it like this: for every pound of cheese you shred yourself, you save a buck!
- Block of Cheddar Cheese: $0.19/oz. ($1.49/8 oz.)
- Pre-Shredded Cheddar Cheese: $0.25/oz. ($3.99/16 oz.)
Popcorn Kernels for Microwaveable or Pre-Popped Bags
Popcorn is an awesome, whole-grain snack, and it’s just super fun to eat. Unfortunately, the microwaveable bags can often use so much butter, salt, or even chemical additives that they take away from the wholesomeness of the popcorn. Pre-popped bags can be a better choice—if you choose wisely. There are some air-popped brands with simple, clean ingredients lists. But, there are also plenty out there loaded with salt, sugar, and all kinds of delicious flavorings that just aren’t quite healthy.
You can of course choose to enjoy these options if you’d like, but homemade air-popped popcorn is a solid alternative. You get to control how your popcorn is made and what goes onto it. And, it’s dirt cheap!
From a 6 pack of microwaveable popcorn bags, you get around 67.5 cups of popped popcorn. Pre-popped bags have around 20 cups. With a bag of kernels for you to pop at home, you can make 165 cups of popcorn! If we think of a serving of popcorn as about 4 cups (what we might eat in a sitting), it’s clear popping your own kernels is the best option for living healthy on a budget:
- Popcorn Kernels: $0.06/serving ($2.29/32 oz. bag [yields 165 cups popped popcorn])
- Store-Bought Microwave Popcorn: $0.10/serving ($1.69/6 count [yields 67.5 cups popped popcorn])
- Pre-Popped Bag: $0.56/serving ($2.78/20 cups popped popcorn)
Sure, making air-popped popcorn at home requires an air-popper, which means spending some money to get it. But, it’s a worthwhile investment—for your wallet, and for your body. You can find a good air-popper for around $20, but you’d earn that money right back. Just one bag of kernels that you pop at home will produce 165 cups of popcorn, which will last you awhile. You’d need to buy more than 8 pre-popped bags to get the same amount of popcorn, and that would end up costing more than the air-popper!
As Always: You Do You!
Some of these budget substitutes may work for you, and some may be more of an inconvenience than they’re worth. Find the balance between budgeting time and budgeting money that works for you. With a little planning and intention, there are tons of ways that we can live healthy on a budget!