7 Ways to Stay Healthy on a Budget

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Getty Images/Lonely Planet ImagesBy Sabah Karimi

The healthiest diets cost about $1.50 more per day than less healthy diets, according to research by the Harvard School of Public Health. In a study published last month, researchers found healthier diets that included fruits, vegetables, fish and nuts were more expensive than diets loaded with meats, refined grains and processed products.

While eating a diet high in fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts and other high-quality proteins may put a strain on your budget, there are some things you can do to pare down the costs associated with living a healthy lifestyle.

And they aren’t difficult. You can make your health and fitness a high priority without overextending your budget by making some small changes to your weekly routine and smarter choices when shopping for groceries.

Here are some of the best ways to stay healthy on a budget:

1. Buy meat from local farmers. While you can seek out specials and sales on meat at your favorite grocery store, you might be able to find even better deals when you buy meat direct from local farmers. You can search websites like eatwild.com to find a pasture-based farm that sells grass-fed meat and dairy products as well as farms that ship direct. Buying from a farmer in the area supports the local community and can also put you on the path to a more eco-friendly lifestyle. If you buy in bulk, you can freeze the meat for future use to save money.

2. Eat more non-meat proteins. You need plenty of protein in your diet to stay healthy so consider introducing some non-meat proteins such as tofu, legumes, eggs, nuts, and seeds to your diet. These are cheaper than most meats and can be a great source of protein and other nutrients. Try new recipes using non-meat proteins to add some variety to your diet.

3. Buy frozen fruit and veggies. Start buying frozen fruit and vegetables in bulk to reduce the risk of food waste and save on the cost of healthy food. While you can find some great deals on in-season produce at the grocery store or farmers markets, buying frozen fruit and veggies in bulk can help you save money on the cost of nutrient-dense foods each week.

4. Explore gym membership alternatives. The average gym membership costs between $40 and $50 a month, but there may be some ways you can work out for less. You could sign up for fitness classes at a neighborhood recreational center, join the YMCA, take advantage of a corporate wellness program or commit to following DVD fitness programs at home. Even something as simple as a series of bodyweight exercises and walking or running outdoors can be enough to add some physical activity to your day. Another low-cost alternative to the gym: An online fitness subscription that allows you to complete a routine on your own schedule. Explore options outside of the traditional gym, and you may end up saving hundreds of dollars a year.

5. Shop the farmers market. Get into the habit of shopping at farmers markets every week and shopping seasonally. You can save money on the cost of fresh food and do your body a favor by eating in-season foods that are loaded with nutrients. Buy in bulk and cook meals that you can freeze and save for later. This can help reduce food waste and also give you a chance to work with a variety of fresh ingredients.

6. Grow a garden. Consider growing your own vegetables, planting fruit trees or growing herbs. Maintaining a garden can be a fun hobby and also help you save money on your favorite fruits, vegetables and herbs each season. Tending to a garden can also be a good stress reliever.

7. Be smart with storage. Keep track of expiration dates of all your food, and use high-quality storage containers and boxes to prevent food spoilage. When you buy fresh food on a regular basis, you need to make sure you store everything properly and keep track of purchase dates. When cooking meals in bulk, get into a routine of freezing items and labeling them with dates to keep track of when food should be tossed.

Sabah Karimi writes for the financial blog Wise Bread, where you can find cheap ways to eat healthy on a budget.

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