Tips for eating well on a budget

In today’s economy it is increasingly difficult to find affordable meal solutions.  This challenge is made tougher when living on a fixed income and with the added impediment of an acquired brain injury.  Creating meal plans and budgeting can be strenuous and time consuming, but they are definitely the keys to eating healthy with little money.  Time is money, so making the necessary preparations ahead of time is a big part of fulfilling dietary needs while living within a budget.

Melissa Myer’s reports on ten tips for eating healthy on a budget:

Image by Stuart Miles
Image by Stuart Miles

1: Plan ahead.“Prepare in quantity and then bottle or freeze in portions for another day,” said Leanne Nolet, Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Orthomolecular Health Practitioner.  Make your own snacks with mixed nuts and dried fruit.

Leanne Nolet/Photo submitted
Leanne Nolet/Photo submitted

Take your lunch to work.  Planning meals ahead of time will reduce waste as ingredients you buy go into more than one meal that week.  Make a food budget and stick to it.  Nolet suggested that instead of buying a coffee each day, it is much cheaper and healthier to make your own tea and carry it with you when you leave the house.

2: Be flexible and keep meals simple.  “A recipe is never something that is set in stone,” said Scott MacNeil, chef and kitchen co-ordinator at The Stop Community Food Centre.  “You have to be willing to change your recipe, change your ingredients depending on your means.”

This may seem to be a scary thought at first but MacNeil assured me that confidence comes with more cooking experience.

When beginning to cook more at home, it is best to avoid recipes with elaborate steps or unusual ingredients that are not familiar to you, said Anna M Poretta, Nutritional Promotion Consultant for Toronto Public Health.

MacNeil suggested preparing vegetables by using a cheese grater or a small food processor instead of the time-consuming task of chopping.  He said shredded vegetables are great to be used in stir-fries, salads, soups and stews.

Find some simple recipes at:

Eatright Ontario or inside Good for All: The Stop’s First Cookbook, available in bookstores or online at or

3:  Use shopping strategies. Use coupons and check weekly grocery store flyers.

“Spend a few minutes planning out meals and snacks for the week,” said Poretta, “and make a habit of buying just what is on your list.”

She also suggested photocopying a list you use regularly and circling the items on your list that you need to buy that week.  This is a great strategy to assist with remembering what you need and to help create a routine.

Stock up on sale items that are on your regular list and do not shop when you are hungry as you will be more likely to buy products that you do not need.

“Never buy food on credit,” said Nolet, “Instead, go on a buying fast and use all the food you have on hand.”

By eating all of the food in your cupboards you can avoid going to the store and start fresh afterwards on a new meal plan.

Check out online flyers at:

Flyers $pecial’s weekly store flyers



4: Buy local and in season.  “Shopping at smaller markets and stores can often be more affordable than going to a larger chain,” said MacNeil.

He suggested local farmer’s markets, or Korean and Chinese food markets as places where you can get the best value for your money.  Root vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, and turnips can be accessed locally all-year round.

Get organic and local food delivered to your home from:

Beretta Organics

Mama Earth Organics

5: Limit consumption of packaged, prepared, brand name and imported foods.  Packaged and/or brand name foods often have a lot of added sugar and salt.  You can avoid these additives by making your own food and limiting your processed food intake.

6: Read labels.  To be sure you are getting the best nutritional value for your dollar, check the nutrient and ingredient lists on the label.  Beware of too much salt (sodium or monosodium glutamate) or too much sugar (dextrose, corn syrup, fructose, glucose and sucrose).  Nolet recommended looking at portion size and fat content as well.

Photo by Ambro
Photo by Ambro

7: Eat less meat. “The average Canadian consumes up to four times the amount of necessary meat protein daily,” said Nolet.

She said it is better to eat meat once a day rather than three times with every meal and that one portion of meat should be the size of a deck of cards.

“This is not only less expensive but healthier and reduces risk of heart disease and cancer, said Nolet.  There are many foods that offer protein other than just animal meat.

8: Eat more beans/legumes and lentils.  “Beans are a meal in one,” said Nolet, adding that they “offer the necessary protein, essential fatty acids, complex carbohydrates and daily fibre all rolled into one.”

Dried legumes and lentils are much cheaper than canned, said MacNeil.  In order to rehydrate the dried beans or lentils and soften the outer skin you can either leave them soaking in the fridge over night or bring them to a boil then flash cool in cold water before cooking.

Porretta said, “the best-value meat and alternatives are dried and canned beans and lentils, peanut butter, eggs, ground beef and other ground meats, canned tuna and blade rump roasts, pot roasts or stewing beef.”

9: When buying meat and poultry, buy bone-in portions or the whole bird. Bone-in meat is much cheaper and you get more for your money.  You can cut a whole chicken into breasts and thighs once you get it home, then freeze the portions, or you can cook the chicken whole, using excess meat in sandwiches for lunches.

“Usually you can get two extra meals from something that has bones,” said MacNeil referring to using stock to make soups, stews and even in risotto.  He also mentioned the option of buying less expensive meats that are tougher.  You can cook them in a braising liquid for a delicious and cheap meal solution.  These meats do have to cook for longer, but what you lose in time you save in money.

Porretta said that buying family-style packs of meat then separating and freezing in smaller portions is also a good way to save money.

10: Drink clean water. An easy way to have clean water at home is to purchase a filter for your tap or a filtered jug to keep in your fridge.  Water bottles are often on sale, but are heavy to carry and create a lot of waste.

  •  In striving to maintain a healthy body, there are foods we can eat to help our brains stay healthy as well.  Taking a good multivitamin and fish oil tablets help contribute to maintaining a healthy brain.  The brain is made up of more than 60 per cent fat, said Nolet, so natural fatty foods such as nuts, egg yolks, dates and figs help to maintain brain health.

Some brain healthy foods:

Nolet said that in order to maintain healthy brain nerve functions our body needs vitamin B1 (found in brown rice, oatmeal, nuts and peas), vitamin B5 (found in green vegetables, beans, whole grains, fruits and nuts), and vitamin B6 (found in avocados, dates, figs, eggs and poultry).  She also said that the necessary minerals we need to maintain a healthy brain include Zinc (found in lentils, wheat germ and pumpkin seeds), Manganese (found in nuts, leafy greens, peas and beets) and Calcium (found in sesame seeds, dried figs, soybeans and cheese)

  • After surviving an ABI, fatigue and low energy can become a daily issue.  We asked our experts what foods help to maintain a healthy and stable energy.

 Some energy maintenance foods include:

“Pairing rice with beans is a complete protein,” said MacNeil. “Also, combining oatmeal with dried fruits and nuts is a good way to create sustainable energy.”

Nolet added that complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, oatmeal, millet or quinoa and whole wheat pasta will keep you full of energy for longer.

Poretta suggested eating smaller meals every three to four hours and to prepare healthy snacks in order to avoid the inevitable crash associated with eating processed snacks.

For more information, visit:

A Recipe for Life

The Stop Community Food Centre

Toronto Public Health

Melissa Myers, BIST member

Image credits: Stuart Miles and Ambro


  1. this is very well written, Mellissa, aand \i learned a thing or two reading it….”B” vitamins! (I love my daily vitamon D…)
    Keep up the good work!

    Steve Cox (and Pat!)

  2. Here’s the corrected version: it got posted instead of edited.

    This is very well written, Melissa, and I learned a thing or two reading it…”B Vitamins!” ( I love my daily Vitamin D…)
    Keep up the good work!

    Steve Cox (and Pat)

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