Planning healthy meals on a budget can be very challenging to say the least! How can you keep within your budget and still follow the advice of nutrition experts to consume lean proteins such as beans and lentils, a variety of fruits and vegetables, skim milk products and whole grains?

Here are 11 ideas to help keep you healthy and not break the bank:

1. The freshest and most nutritious fruits and vegetables are found on the farm or in your garden. Family fun, fresh air and knowledge about produce can be had by all. Prices are cheap because you are the labor. To find a farm near you,
click here. This website also has instructions on freezing, canning and making jams. Yum! Vegetables should be blanched prior to freezing. Virginia Cooperative Extension recommends freezing vegetables for up to eight months. Hint: Label and date your food bags.

2. If there is no time to “pick your own,” compare prices at two or three favorite stores. Make your weekly menu, check your pantry to see what is needed and pull out your computer to compare prices. Many national and regional stores have “online” services where you can order and pick-up your bagged items. Some even have a free delivery option which saves you time, gas, and money. Impulse buying is gone and you can usually use store and national coupons. The time spent going to the market can be used to compare prices between stores. Call your local grocery store to see what services are offered.

3. Look at recipes that use fruits or vegetables. If produce is going to be cooked, check the difference in prices between frozen, canned and fresh. Check sodium values especially if you use canned products. Take into account the waste you will have when cleaning and preparing fresh foods into your budget equation. Since the food is going to be cooked anyway, it usually does not matter what form it is in when you buy it.

4. Double and triple recipes that can be frozen. Make your own individual frozen entrees to heat in the microwave at work. Add raw vegetables and a piece of fresh fruit to make your meal complete. Think of all the money you will save when you do not buy your lunch. It is also easier to stay on your meal plan.

5. Start a monthly healthy homemade wholegrain muffin swap with a few friends. Everyone makes enough muffins so all can bring 6-12 muffins home to freeze. This will save money from buying muffins at the store and you only need the ingredients for one kind of muffin.

6. Buy dried beans and lentils instead of canned. This will not only save you money but cut way back on the amount of dietary salt. To save time, cook beans or lentils, immerse in cold water until cool and freeze in recipe size freezer bags. Date and label your storage bags. The U.S. Dry Bean Council states that beans can be frozen after cooking for up to three months.

7. Buy a large container of low or no fat plain yogurt and divide into single use servings. Add your own fruit, nuts or sugar substitute.

8. When a recipe calls for milk that will be cooked in a recipe, use reconstituted dry milk.

9. Buy spices from the bulk bins. You only buy what is needed in the recipe and your spices will be fresh instead of pulled from your pantry.

10. Drink tap water instead of soda or bottled tea or coffee. Large public tap water systems are regulated by the
United States Environmental Protection Agency. If water comes from a well or small water system, check to make sure the water is safe.

Make your own popcorn, oatmeal, grits and quinoa from scratch. Small individual serving packets are expensive!

Using these hints will save you time, money and provide healthy homemade meals for you and your family. Please let us know if you have any affordable healthy eating tips to share. Bon appetite!