You finally gather up the courage to check your bank account. Eek! Looks like all those late night shawarma and pizza runs have caught up to you – it’s time to spend less on food. Does this mean you’ll be living off instant noodles for the next few weeks? Not at all! There are many cheap, delicious and healthy ingredients out there that can be transformed into excellent meals with just a little preparation. Remember, it’s still feasible to eat healthy on a budget. We’re here to show you how.

My #1 tip to save money on food is to cook at home more often. Home-cooked meals are not only generally healthier than restaurant meals, but they usually cost less, especially when you cook meals in bulk and save the leftovers for later. Let’s first think of what a balanced meal looks like. Picture filling half of your plate with vegetables and fruit, one quarter of the plate with a source of protein, and one quarter of the plate with whole grains. Following this plate model is a quick and simple way to build a nutritionally balanced meal. So, let’s look at cheap sources of vegetables, fruit, protein and whole grains to help get you started.

Choosing Protein:  It’s a good idea to include a source of protein at every meal and snack to keep us feeling satiated throughout the day.

  • Pulses are comprised of beans, legumes and lentils. Not only are pulses an excellent source of protein, they are usually cheaper than meat! Pulses also have health benefits such as high fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and low fat content. We looked at our local Loblaws website to gather some real data on food prices. We found that it costs around 40 cents to receive 25 grams protein worth of dry lentils or chickpeas, compared to $1.25 to receive 25 grams protein worth of chicken.1
  • Eggs are also a good protein source for a reasonable 19 cents per egg that provides around 6 grams of protein.1
  • Nuts and nut butters not only contain a decent amount of protein, but are also a great source of hunger-fighting fiber and healthy fat. 2 tablespoons of peanut butter provides around 6 grams of protein for as little as 15 cents at Loblaws!1

Choosing Vegetables and Fruit:

  • Choose seasonal vegetables and fruit more often. Seasonal produce is at the height of freshness, and since it is usually available in more of an abundance, it is priced more fairly. Check out the following website: to know what produce is in season now.
  • Did you know that frozen vegetables and fruit are just as nutritious as fresh? They are often harvested and frozen at the height of the season when nutrients are at their peak, so their nutrients are retained.2 Frozen produce is almost always cheaper than fresh, making it a great option when on a budget. The same goes for canned fruit and vegetables – look for canned produce with no added salt or sugar.

Choosing Grains:

  • Choose whole grains over refined grains. This means choosing brown rice over white rice, and whole grain bread and pasta over white bread and pasta. Whole grains are higher in fiber and nutrients so you are getting more bang for your buck this way.3
  • Oats are a whole grain rich in a type of fiber called soluble fiber that can help to lower cholesterol.4 A bowl of oatmeal makes for a nutritious breakfast of whole grains and will set you back only 30 cents.1
  • Popcorn is a whole grain that makes for a delicious, and cheap, snack.

Let’s now think about saving money at the grocery store. Do you often find yourself in a grocery store frenzy, shopping on an empty stomach and throwing everything you see into your cart? There’s a better way! First of all, go in with a plan. Before you even step into the store, think of the types of meals that you want to eat for the week. Looking for recipe inspiration? One of our personal favorite websites to get the cooking creativity flowing is Budget bytes has a large database of inexpensive recipes that breaks down the cost of the recipe for you (keep in mind the exact costs will vary based on location). You can also visit Cookspiration for Dietitian-approved recipes under the Additional Resources section below. Then, write a list of the foods that you need to make your meals for the week. Not feeling the old-fashioned pen and paper? Write the list in your phone, or download a grocery list app to use.

When you decide that you’re ready to shop, try not to go when you’re hungry. This will help you listen to your brain, not your stomach, as you make your food-related purchasing decisions. A sneaky way that grocery stores sometimes trick you into spending more money is by placing higher-priced items at eye-level. So, look at the top or bottom shelf for lower-priced food. And make sure that you’re checking the unit price! Unit pricing takes the price of an item and divides it by a standard unit of measurement to provide a simple price comparison point. Comparing unit prices is the best way to figure out if you’re getting the best deal.

If you’re struggling financially to pay for meals, we’re here to help. The Carleton Food Centre is an on-campus food bank and resource center, dedicated to food security for all students. Visit the following website for more information: and don’t hesitate to reach out if you need help.

Additional Resources


  2. All About Frozen Vegetables (2017, November 28)
  3. Choosing Whole Grains (2016, October 31)
  4. All About Oats (2017, July 31)

Monday, March 19, 2018 in ,
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