Eating Healthy on a Budget During COVID-19

Let’s face it, eating habits have changed with COVID-19 impacting life as we knew it. According to the International Food and Information Council’s (IFIC) Food and Health Survey 2020, while taste and price are still top drivers of purchase decisions, healthfulness of food is playing an increasingly important role in what people eat. Here are a few tips on eating healthy and staying on budget – especially during the pandemic.

Shop smart

Don’t be fooled by buzzwords like ‘healthy’, ‘natural’ or ‘wholesome;” these claims don’t mean anything without nutritional value in the product. In addition, research shows that you don’t have to spend more for organic versus conventionally grown produce as it’s not more nutrient-dense, nor does it decrease your disease risk. Keep in mind, the ingredient list at the bottom of the label is in order of greatest to least amount in the product.

Get the biggest nutrition bang for your buck

Budgeting strategies can do wonders for eating well. Although shopping the perimeter of the grocery store is a good bet to get fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and meat alternatives, poultry and seafood, frozen versions of these healthy staples can be just as nutritious. Frozen foods are typically flash-frozen at the highest point of nutritional value, they last for months in the freezer, can be prepped easily and are less expensive.

Canned foods can be a great option for eating healthy on a budget, too. Canned tomatoes, beans, lentils and tuna fish, salmon and sardines offer a lot of nutritional benefit, plus they cost less and last longer in your pantry. Rinse and drain canned beans and lentils before using to get rid of excess sodium.

Grocery shop and meal plan with purpose

Organization and planning can help you stick to a budget and eat well. Make a weekly grocery list and add to it as needed. Grocery list apps can help, too. For example, OurGroceries is an app, which allows family members to edit the shopping list at the same time, as well as access the list on a computer, smartphone or watch. If you’re still going to the grocery store, shop with a list as you are less apt to make impulse purchases. Take advantage of in-store flyers or coupons to get weekly saving deals. Choose a day of the week to meal prep and make extra to stretch food for the week. Here are a few examples (plus, check out more budget-friendly meal ideas here):

  • Bake extra pork tenderloin or chicken breast to save for the next day to use in salads, tacos or wraps.
  • Roast extra veggies to toss into soups, salads and grain bowls during the week.
  • Make set-it-and-forget-it meals in your Instant Pot by adding ground pork, beef or turkey with beans, canned tomatoes, and spices for simple and healthy chili, or whip up bean or lentil soup with very little effort.

Understand food labels

When purchasing packaged foods, it helps to understand the Nutrition Facts panel. First, check the serving size on the label as this is the typical amount that is consumed. The caloric value and nutrients on the label reflect this serving size. Therefore, the calories per serving is the number of calories in one serving. Since calories are only one part of the nutrition equation, check the nutrients in the product. With a quick glance of the percent Daily Value (% DV), you can see that 5% or less of a specific nutrient is low; 20% or more is high.

  • Saturated fat – Look for less than 3 grams per serving.
  • Sodium – Look for less than 500 mg per serving.
  • Dietary fiber – Aim for at least 3 grams per serving, which is a “good” source of fiber; 5 grams or more is an excellent source of fiber.
  • Total and added sugars – Aim for less than 10 grams per serving. Total sugar includes naturally occurring sugar, such as lactose in milk or fructose in fruit. Added sugars are sweeteners, such as sucrose or dextrose, which are added to the product. A tip to remember is that 4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to 6 teaspoons a day for women and 9 teaspoons a day for men.
  • Protein – Since protein is not a nutrient of concern in the United States for individuals over age 4, a % DV is not required unless there’s a “high in protein” claim on the food label.

Vicki Shanta Retelny RDN LDN

Vicki Retelny, RDN, LDN

About Victoria

Vicki Shanta Retelny is a lifestyle nutrition expert, author of Total Body Diet for Dummies and culinary consultant who lives in Chicago with her husband, two children and a pet pug. She blogs at

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