Good nutrition is the key to a healthy mind and body—and it doesn't have to be expensive. Here are expert tips on how to have a healthy diet on a budget.

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Contrary to what you may have heard, eating healthy doesn't have to be really expensive. A 2013 meta-analysis of 27 existing studies by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that healthiest diets only cost $1.50 more per day than the least healthy ones.

"Healthy food doesn't have to be more expensive," Heather Adams, a Seattle-based meditation and wellness teacher and writer, tells Health. "Fruits and vegetables that aren't pre-cut can fill a bowl and a belly cheaper than a lot of processed foods."

The $1.50 extra may not be a huge difference, but the numbers can definitely add up for those facing food insecurity. Accessibility to healthy foods remains an obstacle for many low-income families. A USDA study released in June found that 88% of individuals participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), experienced difficulty accessing a healthy diet. The most common reason—reported by 62% of the participants—was the cost of healthy food.

While greater access to nutritional food for everyone is the goal, here is how you can cut costs and eat healthy on a budget.

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Credit: Getty Images

Cook at home

One of the main ways to eat healthier and save money is to cook at home. Instead of going out to buy pre-made healthy food from stores, get the ingredients and make them yourself. If making entire meals is not your thing, or you don't have the time, a nutritious and cost-effective alternative is to make your own healthy food staples, like salad dressing or granola.

These can be costly when store-bought, and making them yourself with fresh ingredients is "an easy way not only to save money but also to eat healthier versions of your favorite convenience foods, since they won't contain preservatives and you can control the amount of added salt and sugar," Stephanie Harris-Uyidi, a Southern California-based chef and host of TV show The Posh Pescatarian, tells Health. Have your own high-protein snacks ready so you can grab those instead of reaching for the chips.

Shop at your local farmers market

Visit your local farmers market for fresh, in-season fruits and vegetables. Shopping produce that is in season is a lot cheaper than buying produce that isn't, and the best place to know what's in season is at a farmers market. "Supporting local farmers means spending about half as much at the grocery store than you would otherwise," Jamie Hickey, RD, a certified trainer and registered dietician, tells Health.

Harris-Uyidi says farmers markets are budget-friendly because farmers bring their goods directly to customers without interference from shipping agents, retailers, and other go-betweens. So you get fresh, healthy fruits and veggies and you're supporting your local farmers.

Another tip? Make sure you use your produce fully and try not to waste anything. "One head of cabbage can serve up to 10 meals depending on how you use it and will only run you about two to three dollars," says Adams. She suggests getting creative and making different dishes with the same veggies so you don't get sick of them. Any fruits and veggies that you haven't used yet but are close to spoiling can be made into smoothies.

Buy food in bulk, and try to stick to store brands

When you can, buy food in bulk—especially foods that have a longer shelf life or can be frozen. Buying your favorite healthy foods in bulk means fewer trips to the store and more money saved. Also, buying the generic or store brand versions of healthy foods—like peanut butter, cereals, yogurt, granola—will be cheaper than name brand versions. "Stocking up on supermarket-brand staples can save you an average of 15 to 30 percent," says Harris-Uyidi.

Use grocery store coupons and cash back apps

Budgeting expert Andrea Woroch advises taking advantage of grocery store coupons, cash back apps (such as the Coupons.com app or Fetch rewards), or credit cards that allow you to get cash back on your groceries. Grocery gift cards, which you can find on sites such as Raise and GiftCardGranny, are another way to save money on your favorite healthy foods. You can also sell your gift cards for cash back on Raise, and GiftCardGranny lets you earn cash back on gift cards bought from their site, which can then be redeemed for gift cards.

Prep meals in advance

Sometimes the last thing you want to do after a long day is cook. To avoid reaching for the takeout menu in these situations, set aside one day a week to meal prep. Meal prepping doesn't have to be difficult. To keep it simple, Harris-Uyidi suggests having one source of protein in each meal, at least one vegetable, and a whole-grain or nutrient-rich starch. Making healthy meals in bulk saves you time and money, and makes it easy to eat healthy.

"This ensures you have plenty of leftovers that you can freeze and reheat on nights you don't feel like cooking, which inevitably will deter you from ordering takeout and eating something that isn't as healthy," says Woroch.

Stock up on frozen produce

Buying frozen fruits and veggies is a great way to eat healthy on a budget. Frozen produce costs about 30% less than fresh produce, says Woroch. Plus, fruits and veggies will last a lot longer and are usually all chopped and ready to go, so you don't have to spend time rinsing and cutting. If you find that you don't end up using a lot of the fresh produce you buy or it spoils quickly, frozen might be a good option for you.

"Flash-frozen produce keeps much longer than fresh and will maintain most of the nutrients," says Adams. If you see a sale on fresh fruits or vegetables, Adams suggests buying in bulk and freezing some of it yourself so you can use it for longer. Keep in mind that this does not apply to canned foods—they tend to have higher levels of fat, salt, and sugar.

Eat less meat and dairy

Explore plant-based or vegan options. "We noticed an immediate drop in our monthly grocery bill," says Rebecca Brooks, financial coach and owner of R&D Financial Coaching, LLC in Tennessee, when she switched to a plant-based diet in 2016. Brooks says it's easy to see why—the average cost of a pound of tofu is about $2.50, compared to $3.95 for beef and $3.29 for chicken. Try substituting at least one or two days per week to incorporate plant-based sources of protein into your diet—it will save you money and keep your diet healthier, too.

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