How To Eat Healthy When You’re Broke

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American families are struggling to put food on the table. One recent report signaling deteriorating economic security claimed that four out of five U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives.

Healthy Eating on a Budget

Right now in America, 1 in 5 — or more than 23 Million — survive on food stamps, each collecting an average of $274.30 per month.

To make things worse, many food prices have soared in last decade, while median household income in the United States has fallen four years in a row.

If the rate of inflation was calculated according standards used in 1980, inflation would be at roughly 8 percent right now, and paychecks are not rising at the same pace that inflation is.

Writing for My Natures Medicine, Daisy Luther has some interesting advice on what to eat when you’re broke. While many of us are not destitute and flat broke, most of us are certainly on stricter food budgets.

What should you eat when you’re broke?
Courtesy of Daisy Luther

The lower your income is, the more difficult it is to be particular about what you feed your family.

This probably isn’t an earth-shattering revelation to anyone, but if you feel like experimenting, try to buy a week’s worth of healthy food for a family on a budget of, say, $50-75. Food manufacturers that target lower income shoppers with more affordable products tend to include more GMOs and toxic ingredients in their offerings.

Generally speaking I avoid:

Non-organic dairy because of the hormones and antibiotics as well as the GMO feed given to the animals.

Non-organic meat because of the hormones and antibiotics as well as the GMO feed given to the animals.

Anything containing corn, soy, or canola in any form because it is almost certain to be GMO.

Anything with chemical additives like artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.

Anything that is likely to have been doused in pesticides.

Anything containing neurotoxins like MSG, fluoride, or aspartame (along with other artificial sweeteners).


If you can’t swing organic grains, look for whole grains with few or no additives.

Wheat flour
Brown rice
Pasta (with recognizable ingredients)


If you can’t afford grass-fed organic meat, at the very least look for options that are guaranteed to be hormone and antibiotic free. The USDA does not allow the use of growth hormones in pork, which makes it a slightly better option.

Your best options, if you can’t afford organic meats, are to go for the hormone and antibiotic free options as a supplement to vegetarian protein sources like local eggs, beans, and organic dairy products.

Fruits and vegetables:

If organic produce is not an option, look for the items with the lowest pesticide loads. (This list by the Environmental Working Group is based ONLY on pesticide loads – some of the items they recommend could be GMOs). Fruits and vegetables that can be peeled often subject you to less pesticides than thin-skinned items. If you must buy conventional, wash the produce carefully and peel it if possible.

Build your pantry. It’s hard to think about building a pantry when you have barely enough food in the cupboard to make it between paychecks. But if you can purchase one bulk item per shopping trip, in a few months you will have a pantry that will allow you to make higher quality grocery purchases on your weekly trips. At that point, you can start going to the farmer’s market, which in many locations is very reasonably priced, buying in enough bulk to preserve your foods, and have the occasional splurge. Go HERE to learn more about building a whole foods kitchen on a half price budget.

Be scrupulous about food hygiene. Wash your produce very thoroughly and soak it in a baking soda bath. Also remember to careful wash your beans and rice. (Click HERE to see some photos of the dirt that comes off of a cup of rice!)

Get growing. Even if it is the off season, you can sprout some seeds on your counter to add fresh nutrients. You can grow some salad greens and herbs in a sunny windowsill. Invest a few dollars each week in some seeds and you will soon be able to supplement your diet with nutritious, organic, home-grown veggies. Go HERE to get more ideas for growing your own food on any budget, in any location.

Visit outlet stores. Sometimes places like Big Lots or grocery clearance centers have organic options at good prices. You might be able to pick up canned goods, cereals, and crackers at a fraction of the normal grocery store price.

Forage for freebies. In many locations, even the city, there are free delicious foods just waiting for you to pick them. Dandelions, wild berries, nuts, and nutritious leaves abound. Just be very sure you know what you’re picking and then enjoy your wild foods. Check out this excellent guide to the nutritious goodies that may be in your backyard masquerading as lowly weeds.

Plan on at least one extra frugal meal per day. Have peanut butter and crackers, a bowl of oatmeal, or soup for one meal per day – not every meal has to be made up of protein, veggies, and grains.

Don’t give up. If you are feeling financially defeated, it is sometimes easy to say, “*bleep* it!!!” and just get some Ramen noodles or macaroni and cheese and call it a meal. Don’t do it! Do the very best you can with the resources you have available. Remember, if you can’t afford good food, you definitely can’t afford bad health – it’s even more expensive.

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Spence Cooper
Inquisitive foodie with a professional investigative background and strong belief in the organic farm to table movement. Author of Bad Seeds: A FriendsEAT Guide to GMO's. Buy Now!
Spence Cooper