7 Wallet-Friendly Tips for Healthy Summer Meals

Are you ready to make the most of fresh, in-season produce this summer? Whether you’re hosting a backyard cookout or just want to incorporate more seasonal ingredients into your weekly meal rotation, our tips and strategies can help color your plate without overspending. 

Can I eat fresh meals on a budget? 

Creating budget-friendly meals is a lot easier when you’re taking advantage of summer's bounty.

Naturally, someone living close to agriculture, farmers markets, and grocery stores will have an easier time sourcing fresh food. If you live in a food desert with limited access to fresh, affordable food, you’ll face more challenges finding healthful food options at reasonable prices. But don’t worry, with the right approach, you can still enjoy healthy meals on a budget. 

7 ways to save on groceries 

1. Compare unit prices 

Instead of relying on an item’s sticker price, compare unit prices to find the most cost-effective options for your summer meals. 

Let's say your grocery store sells both loose tomatoes and cellophane-wrapped packs of three tomatoes. The packs are priced at $2.50 and weigh one-and-a-half pounds. The loose tomatoes are priced at $1.85 per pound. 

Using a unit price calculator, you see that the three-pack costs about $1.67 per pound. That’s 18 cents less than the loose tomatoes! 

Most supermarket labels include unit prices in smaller font. Once you know what you’re looking for, it’s easy to compare costs and choose the most budget-friendly option. 

2. Buy generic or store brands 

Did you know that many generic and store-brand products are sourced by the same distributors as their name-brand counterparts? A blind test by Consumer Reports concluded that “store brands are often at least as good as national brands and usually cost much less.” It’s natural to have brand loyalty, but don't be afraid to explore generic alternatives for your staple items. You might be surprised at the quality and, more importantly, the savings. 

3. Buy in bulk 

You don't need a big family to benefit from bulk buying. 

Let’s look at protein: Protein is generally the most expensive grocery staple, but it’s necessary for a healthful diet. When you see a great deal on meat, fish, tofu, or other proteins, consider buying larger quantities to stock up. You can divide it into smaller portions and freeze what you don't immediately need. 

Bulk buying also works well for shelf-stable goods like pasta, beans, rice, and other grains. These staples have a long shelf life and can be used in various recipes, reducing your overall grocery costs. 

4. Choose cheaper proteins 

If meat and fish are too pricey for your budget, there are other delicious and cost-effective proteins to fill you up. 

For example, eggs are a widely available, inexpensive protein you can enjoy in numerous ways. Other great options include cheese, soy, yogurt, lentils, and quinoa. 

5. Focus on seasonal produce 

Summer is synonymous with fresh produce. Stock up on tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, corn, and all the other vibrant vegetables that are at their peak (and likely on sale!). 

Buying in-season is a great way to save money and enjoy the freshest flavors, but if your options are limited, choose frozen produce. Most frozen fruits and veggies are steamed, boiled, or blanched and frozen within hours of being picked, so you can be confident you’re getting the same nutritional value. 

6. Grow your own food 

Planting a garden can help you rely less on the grocery store, freeing up extra room in your budget for other things. 

Even if you don’t have any outdoor space, you can still grow herbs like basil, mint, and parsley on your kitchen counter or windowsill. If you live in an apartment with a balcony, try growing tomatoes and peppers in containers. 

7. Utilize local food resources 

Most communities have programs that help people source free or low-cost groceries. If you qualify for assistance, you may be able to plan meals around the food provided by your local food pantry or meal program. 

Not sure where to start? Visit FeedingAmerica.org to locate a food bank in your area. 

>RELATED: Need Money Now? 6 Ways to Find Cash

How to create a budget for healthy meals 

1. Calculate your take-home pay 

When creating any kind of budget, you first need to know how much money you have to work with.

First, determine how much money you bring home from your regular paycheck each month. If the amount fluctuates, calculate the average. Next, add any money you receive from part-time jobs or side gigs. 

2. Calculate your grocery expenses 

You can figure out how much you regularly spend on groceries in just a few easy steps: 

  • Step 1: Review your bank statements. Check your bank statements or receipts to understand how much you normally spend at the grocery store each month. 
  • Step 2: Identify spending patterns. Determine if you tend to shop weekly, make one big monthly shop, or if you prefer smaller, more irregular trips. Knowing your spending habits can help you plan for those expenses. 
  • Step 3: Calculate the monthly average. Add up your grocery expenses for each month over the last six months or so. Average the monthly totals and use that figure as a baseline for your budget. 

3. Set your grocery budget 

The average amount you’ve spent each month on groceries is a good place to start. If you have any budgeting goals, you may want to set a lower grocery budget than the amount you’ve been averaging. 

4. Choose a budgeting method 

You’ll need to account for all your monthly expenses, not just groceries. Finding the right budgeting method can help ensure you stay under budget and focus on your savings goals. 

Some budgeting methods you might consider include the 50/30/20 budget rule, the zero-based budget, and the envelope budget system. You can also create your own budget plan that’s tailored to your unique financial situation. 

5. Plan meals around seasonal produce 

When creating your weekly meal plan, consider which fruits and veggies are in season. Since seasonal produce is more abundant, it’s often available at discounted prices, making it easier to stick to a budget-friendly meal plan. 

Additionally, planning meals around seasonal produce can inspire creativity in the kitchen as you explore new recipes and flavors. 

Find room in your budget for healthy meals 

Rising grocery costs have strained everyone’s budget – but if you’re struggling to afford nutrient-dense food and other basic expenses, our personal loans may be able to help. 

Visit your nearest Advance America to speak with a friendly lending specialist or apply online now.

About the Author

Jennifer McKnight is the Senior Content Writer at Advance America. Drawing on her past financial struggles, she’s driven to create relatable content that empowers readers on their journey to financial stability.

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