8 Tips for Healthy Eating on a Military Budget

Fort Rucker military commissary. (U.S. Army/Nathan Pfau)

Military families have tight budgets. Sometimes BAH doesn't cover it all. Sometimes it's hard for us as spouses to keep working through multiple relocations. Sometimes unexpected (and expensive) things happen. And with urgent bills and expenses, spending time and money for nourishing foods can be the last thing on our mind.

However, it IS possible to achieve healthy eating on a strict military budget. It may take a little extra effort, but the savings will roll in! Here are some tips:

Shop smart for the bare basics. Choose whole vegetables instead of chopped. Buy dried beans instead of canned. Compare prices of different brands. Foods that spoil quickly, like fresh produce and dairy, should be bought more frequently so they don't go bad before you can eat them. I admit I have a hard time following this rule, especially when my husband is away, so I sometimes opt for frozen fruits and vegetables that won't go bad as quickly.

Buy produce in season. It'll taste better and be cheaper! Find a list of seasonal fruits and veggies here, or check the ads for local grocery stores. For example, this winter, enjoy your vitamin C-packed tangerines and sweet potatoes!

Take advantage of coupons and sales, but be careful. I've seen "Extreme Couponers" and those people are amazing. Who knew you could get a grocery store to pay YOU for buying 50 rolls of toilet paper? That said, be careful of taking advantage of coupons and specials just because you get a discount. If you wouldn't normally buy it, you could be wasting your money on uneaten, unwanted food.

Use the freezer. If you do end up saving money by buying in bulk, things like bread, shredded cheese, and homemade dishes such as stews can be preserved for months in the freezer. Check out some freezer storage tips. When my husband is gone, I make huge batches of veggie chili that I freeze for a last-minute, warm, home-cooked meal!

Cut out the extras. I know everyone has their favorite treats, but keep in mind that things like soda, cookies, and chips add to your grocery bill and waistline ... without supplying the health benefits of things like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Portion your proteins. Meats are an important source of protein and other nutrients, but are often the most expensive addition to the commissary cart. Most people only need six ounces or less of meat per day, which is about the size of two decks of cards. Opting for plant-based proteins, such as beans, can also save you dollars (and spare you some fat!)

Use military discounts when you can find them. While the commissary can be a great resource for cheap groceries, other grocers and stores also offer military discounts year round or on specific days of the week. Learn the discounts and shop when they're available. 

Convenience comes with a price. Rice mixes, frozen meals, and other foods that are already prepared cost a lot more than the raw ingredients themselves. Often these foods are high in preservatives and sodium, too. Taking the time to make dishes from scratch will save you money and cut back on salt.

Prepare your own food! I know, I know ... as a very busy person, I don't really like taking the time to prepare all my meals either. However, I know that making an egg sandwich and a cup of coffee versus buying breakfast at the drive-through is a whole lot cheaper on my wallet and my waistline (not to mention I can get my English muffin toasted juuuust right). The same goes for lunch and dinner. You can control exactly what goes into your meals, meaning it can be healthier, and you will most definitely save on food costs. So instead of meeting a friend for lunch at a restaurant, make the meal together or pack sandwiches for a picnic. Take a look at this list of healthy recipes for under $3 a serving (even cheaper than most fast-food combo meals!)

*A note on pricey organic foods: Organic basically means that the food wasn't exposed to conventional pesticides. It does not mean that the food is more nutritious than its non-organic counterparts. I always tell clients it's better to afford more non-organic foods than to blow your budget on just a few expensive organic items.

The bottom line? Eating on a budget does not mean you must consist on microwave noodles and the like. Instead, there are many ways to eat healthy and save money. After all, fueling your body with the right foods is so important to your health and well-being. So if your New Years Resolution was to save money, eat healthier, or BOTH, it is possible!

Do you have any tips to add?

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