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How to eat healthy on a budget

1 min Read

Kayla Reynolds

Director of Knowledge, Learning & Behavior Change Curricula, NASM CPT

Discover how to eat healthy on a budget with meal planning tips, pantry essentials, and creative recipes to nourish your body without spending too much money.

What you’ll learn:

  • Meal planning can help you save money and reduce food waste while maintaining a nutritious diet.
  • Building a well-stocked pantry with versatile, non-perishable staples can reduce grocery costs and make healthy meal preparation easier.
  • Creative cooking with simple ingredients can help you prepare diverse, flavorful, and cost-effective meals.

Eating healthy on a budget can seem impossible, but it doesn’t have to be! With a little planning and strategic choices, you can nourish your body without breaking the bank.

At Noom, we firmly believe that a balanced and nutritious diet is the cornerstone of your overall well-being now and in the future. What you choose to eat today can affect your current mood and energy levels, of course, but it can also shape your long-term health. The more healthy food you eat today, the healthier the future you will be.

And the good news is, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to achieve it. Here are practical tips, savvy shopping strategies, and delicious recipes that will help you eat well, feel great, and keep your finances in check. 

Noom’s personalized program equips you with the knowledge and tools to make healthier choices. We’ll show you it’s possible to build a sustainable lifestyle that supports both your well-being and your wallet.

How to identify healthy and affordable foods

Most of us have stood in the grocery store wondering how to fill our carts with nourishing and budget-friendly foods. It’s a common struggle! But you’ve got a handy resource that can make all this easier: Noom’s color-coded system

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Our color-coded system simplifies healthy eating by categorizing foods based on their calorie density and nutritional value. It’s not just about healthy eating, though. You can leverage this system to make savvy shopping choices that won’t break the bank.  Here’s how you can use it to guide your grocery shopping for a healthy and affordable diet:

Note: The color codes of the foods below are based on the standard Noom user. Where foods fall in these categories will vary depending on your health conditions and whether you are taking a medication that enhances weight loss. Always refer to your personalized program. 

Green foods

These are the superstars of nutrition! Green foods are the least calorie-dense, meaning you get more volume and nutrients for fewer calories. They should make up the bulk of your diet. 

How to save: Make the most of sales when these are in season. Otherwise, stock up on frozen or canned and stash them in the pantry or freezer for use in a pinch. 

  • Most vegetables: Spinach, broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes
  • Fruits: Apples, bananas, peaches, pears
  • Protein: Non-fat yogurt, non-fat cheese, skim milk, unsweetened almond milk
  • Whole grains: Oatmeal, brown rice, whole-grain bread, quinoa

Yellow foods

These foods offer a good balance of nutrients and calories. Enjoy them in moderation as part of a meal. 

How to save: To save money on this category, shop the sales and make the more affordable foods part of your plan. Chicken and turkey tend to be less expensive than fish and seafood. And when it comes to yogurt, cheese, beans, and grains, it’s best to buy them in larger sizes.

  • Proteins: Chicken, turkey, eggs, low-fat yogurt, low-fat cheese
  • Red meat: Lean beef, pork chops
  • Legumes: Black beans, chickpeas
  • Grains: Pasta, white rice
  • Others: Whole-grain tortillas

Orange foods

While not “bad” foods, these are the most calorie-dense and should be enjoyed in smaller portions or less frequently. Use these to add a little something extra to your recipes. 

How to save: While oils, nuts, and flavorful sauces can be expensive, they also tend to last a long time in your pantry. Buy in bulk and use them in small amounts to enhance the flavor of your recipes. 

  • Oils: Olive oil, coconut oil
  • Full-fat dairy: Butter, sour cream
  • Nuts: Almonds, cashews, walnuts, etc.
  • Sauces: Barbecue sauce, full-fat salad dressings
  • Sweeteners: Honey, jams, jellies

The above is just a taste of some affordable foods from each category. Use Noom’s color-coded system as a guide while shopping to find foods that fit your budget and nutritional goals. Always strive for balance and moderation in your diet. Enjoy a variety of foods from all three categories, but prioritize green foods for the highest nutritional value.

Pro tip: Noom isn’t just about color codes! We also have a food database with nutritional information, recipes, and a food swap feature for healthy alternatives. Use these features to your advantage when planning meals and shopping for groceries. 

Building a budget-friendly pantry

Now that you’re familiar with Noom’s color-coded system for choosing nutritious foods, let’s explore how to build a well-stocked pantry that won’t break the bank. Having nutritious foods in your pantry is crucial for creating delicious, healthy meals without the need for expensive last-minute grocery runs.

What are some must-have staples for budget-friendly cooking?

A well-stocked pantry is the foundation of budget-friendly nutrition. It allows you to create meals from ingredients you have on hand. This reduces the need for frequent shopping trips (or expensive last-minute delivery). Here’s how to build and maintain a cost-effective pantry:

  • Stock up on versatile staples: Keep your pantry filled with affordable, long-lasting items like brown rice, whole-grain pasta, oats, sweet potatoes, and canned or dried beans. These high-fiber ingredients form the base of countless nutritious meals and can help you save money in the long run.
  • Buy in bulk wisely: Purchase non-perishable items and frequently used ingredients in larger quantities when they’re on sale. This strategy can save you money over time. But be sure to only buy what you’ll use before the expiration date.
  • Embrace frozen produce: Frozen fruits and vegetables are often cheaper than fresh, retain their nutritional value, and have a longer shelf life. They’re perfect for smoothies, stir-fries, and quick side dishes.
  • Invest in spices and herbs: A well-stocked spice rack allows you to make simple ingredients into flavorful meals without relying on expensive pre-made sauces or marinades. Grind your whole spices when possible, as they last longer and offer better value.

Remember, a well-stocked pantry is the key to preparing healthy, budget-friendly meals, even on busy days.

Essential tips for planning affordable healthy meals

Meal planning is a powerful tool for eating well on a budget. It helps you save time, reduce stress, and minimize food waste while keeping your nutrition on track. Think of it like this, if you know what you’re going to eat for the week, there’s no scrambling or grabbing fast food in a pinch. Here are some strategies to plan affordable, healthy meals:

  • Raid your kitchen: Take inventory of your kitchen before shopping to avoid buying duplicates and use what you already have.
  • Buy in season: Look for signs at the grocery store indicating which fruits and vegetables are in season. You can also search online for seasonal produce guides specific to your region. The USDA’s Seasonal Produce Guide is an indispensable resource.
  • Shop smart: Build meals around seasonal produce, bulk staples, and sales to maximize savings and nutritional value. Use grocery store apps to easily filter through sales and last-minute markdowns. 
  • Prevent waste: Use the “first in, first out” method to prevent food waste. Place newer items at the back of your pantry and use older items first. This practice ensures you use everything before it expires, maximizing your grocery budget.
  • Meatless Mondays (or any day!): Incorporate a weekly meatless meal to cut costs while boosting plant-based nutrition. Psst, we’ve got 56 vegetarian recipes that you’ve got to try.
  • Cook once, eat twice (or more!): Batch cook and freeze portions to save time and money on busy days.
  • Versatile ingredients are your friends: Stock up on staples that can work in multiple recipes to reduce waste. Here are some examples:
    • Vegetables: Broccoli, carrots, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, onions, and peppers can be roasted and used in salads, wraps, or as a side dish.
    • Chicken: Can be grilled, baked, shredded for salads or tacos, or added to soups or stews.
    • Whole-grain rice: Can be used as a side dish, in stir-fries, for fried rice, or in stuffed vegetables.
    • Sweet potatoes: Can be roasted, mashed, added to curries or stews, or used in breakfast hash.
    • Eggs: Can be scrambled, fried, hard-boiled for salads or snacks, or used in frittatas and quiches.
    • Greek yogurt: Can be enjoyed as a snack, a replacement for sour cream, or used in smoothies, sauces, and marinades.

With thoughtful planning, you can create a diverse and nutritious menu that fits your budget and lifestyle. 

Now you might be thinking, “That’s easier said than done.” We know that meal planning can sometimes feel overwhelming, especially when balancing your budget and nutrition goals. But what if you didn’t have to do it alone? Noom takes the guesswork out of meal planning by providing personalized guidance, easy-to-follow recipes, and expert support. With Noom, you can turn mealtime struggles into a seamless and enjoyable experience.

What are some easy, budget-friendly recipes I can try?

Who says healthy meals have to be complicated or expensive? With a few pantry staples and a dash of creativity, you can whip up delicious dishes that are kind to both your body and your wallet. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Breakfast

Start your day off with a good breakfast. Here are 49 healthy breakfast tips and recipes to try, and a few below that show how ingredients correspond to a color in Noom’s system.

  • Healthy Egg Muffin Cups: These 50-calorie egg muffins are full of vegetables and can be made ahead for busy mornings. The best part is you can use any leftover vegetables from the night before.
  • Oatmeal Muffins: If you’re tired of traditional oatmeal, turn it into these healthy muffins with just a few extra ingredients.
  • Tofu Scramble: This is a flavorful, egg-free version of the classic scramble on toast. 

Lunch

Lunch helps us get through the rest of the day. Fuel up with the recipe below and these 99 healthy and easy lunch ideas. Here are a few examples:

  • Healthy Turkey Wraps: This is a simple and filling wrap that’s packed with protein and fiber. 
  • Chopped Cobb Salad: Chicken thighs are often a bargain at the grocery store. Bake extra and use them in this easy salad.
  • Sweet Potato Taco Bowl: Here’s a filling and delicious vegetarian lunch that you can make with (mostly) pantry staples.

Dinner

End the day right with a healthy dinner. You can make food ahead of time with these 30 easy meal prep ideas, including these recipes:

  • Shredded Chicken Enchiladas: Fresh roasted rotisserie chickens can be a bargain, are perfectly seasoned, and require no cooking. That means you can throw together this easy, protein-packed in minutes.
  • Spicy Sea Bass in a Flash: While fish can be expensive, it’s also incredibly healthy. The good news is you can use any firm white fish for this recipe, so buy what’s on sale. 
  • Asian-Style Meatballs with Cucumber-Carrot Slaw: Use ground pork, chicken, or turkey to make these quick, flavorful meatballs. 

The possibilities are endless when it comes to cooking on a budget. Get creative with your pantry staples, experiment with new flavors, and be creative with lower-cost swaps. You might be surprised at how delicious and satisfying healthy eating can be without breaking the bank!

Looking for more meal ideas? Noom’s recipe section offers a vast collection of delicious and healthy recipes that cater to various dietary preferences and budgets. Also, check out our article on 30 Easy Meal Prep Recipes for Weight Loss for easy, healthy recipes you can make ahead of time.

How can I enhance flavors without using expensive ingredients?

Elevating the flavor of your dishes doesn’t require costly ingredients or resorting to adding a ton of extra oil, sugar, or salt. It’s all about maximizing the taste potential of simple, wholesome foods. Here are some tips:

  1. Master the art of seasoning: Learn to use herbs and spices effectively. A pinch of cumin can add warmth and depth to black beans as in this recipe for Chicken Fajita Burritos. A sprinkle of dried herbs can also infuse a dish with vibrant flavor and aroma. 
  2. Use aromatic vegetables: Onions, garlic, and celery create a flavorful base for many dishes including this flavor-packed Shredded Chicken Chili.
  3. Don’t underestimate acidic ingredients: A squeeze of lemon juice or a splash of vinegar can brighten flavors and add depth to your cooking. All you need is a tablespoon of lemon juice to perk up Salmon with White Bean and Citrus Salad.
  1. Roast your vegetables: This simple technique brings out natural sweetness and adds complexity to dishes without adding lots of calories. You’ll never miss the meat in this Roasted Portobello Sandwich.
  2. Make your own sauces and dressings: Homemade versions are often more flavorful and cost-effective than store-bought alternatives. Plus, you can control the amount of oil and avoid added sugar, making them a healthier choice. These five healthy salads have five different homemade dressings you can try. 

By incorporating these simple techniques into your cooking routine, you’ll be surprised at how much flavor you can create without relying on expensive ingredients.  Remember, it’s not about how expensive your ingredients are, but how you use them to build flavors on your plate.

Finding a nutritious lifestyle within your budget

Eating well on a budget takes a little more time and a willingness to embrace creativity in the kitchen. But with the right strategies and resources, it’s absolutely achievable.

By planning your meals, mastering the art of pantry cooking, and learning a few culinary tips and tricks, you can cook amazing affordable meals. Healthy eating isn’t about deprivation or restriction, it’s about making smart choices and nourishing your body. And, you don’t have to sacrifice flavor or your financial well-being to do it.

As always, if you’re looking for additional support and guidance, Noom is there for you. Our personalized program can provide the tools and encouragement you need to make lasting changes. We’re sure you can achieve your health goals, and create a sustainable approach to eating well that won’t strain your budget.