As a full-time nutrition student on a tight budget, I have found the best options for a SoCal native to eat for wellness on a budget.  I shop at Walmart, Costco, Aldi, Vons, Smart & Final, Food 4 Less, and Trader Joes.

Here are some tips:

  • Planning is key. If I go to a store hungry or without a list or both my budget is blown every single time.
    • Planning reduces waste!
  • Do your research.  Most foods have increased in price at least 25% over the last year.  I have the mobile applications for all of my local grocery stores and I plan my meals for the week from the proteins that are on sale. Do not shy away from the stores that are typically more expensive overall than others. It has been my experience that Vons/Pavilions has some of the best sales on animal protein. The trick is to not stray from the items on sale. Get the protein and get out. 
  • Make a list
    • Do NOT go to the store hungry.
    • Stick to the list!
  • It can be smart planning to make multiple trips to get all the items you need if you plan your shopping accordingly.  I go to the furthest store out and backtrack to the others landing at the last which is closest to my home.  Conversely, don’t make a long trip to save .05 cents per pound. Do not be penny-wise and pound-foolish.
  • Proteins:
    • Pork: there are always cuts on sale between $.99 and $1.50/lb. This can be made into stews, meat for tacos, egg scrambles, and burritos or burrito bowls
    • Chicken: Boneless skinless chicken breast is $2.99/lb at Walmart regularly and Aldi for $2.69/lb regularly.  Pound out some chicken breast, season, sear, and finish in the oven for on-the-go chicken breast to top a salad with, make tacos, unbreaded orange chicken, or just by itself with a side of rice and vegetables.
    • Beef: What can I say about beef other than this protein is up in price almost 50% so keep your eyes peeled for what fits your budget.  Personally, I draw the line at $3.99/lb for my protein purchases. You will find various cuts on sale meeting this priceline you just have to look for them.
    • Seafood: Crazy expensive and I keep my eyes on the sales but even the sales are out of my range most weeks.
    • Turkey: I find ground turkey at Smart & Final regularly for $2.99/lb. It is so versatile and will absorb any flavor profile you want to create regularly.
    • Various Sausages: Aldi is my go-to when nothing is on sale. They almost always have bratwurst or knackwurst on sale for a quick weekday meal of sausage and peppers over rice.
  • Vegetables: Fresh is great but if you do not plan to use them within 3-4 days you are increasing your chances of food waste and that is bad for the budget and the environment. Bell peppers and onions tend to last longer when fresh. To avoid waste and to save money I buy a lot of my vegetables in the frozen section. They are just as nutritious as fresh without the waste. Frozen veggie food hack: don’t waste your money on the frozen veggies that come in ready steam bags, buy the non-steam frozen options and put your desired serving in a zip lock baggie, leaving it slightly open to vent, and pop it in the microwave for a few minutes. Put a little bit of butter and season to taste. I love Tajin on my steamed veggies for a citrusy kick.
  • Fruit: Fruit is best fresh. Frozen can be used in making sauces or smoothies. You can freeze your fresh fruit before it goes bad for future use in smoothies. Here’s a link to Betty Crocker for freezing tips:
  • Starches :
    • White or sweet potatoes are generally affordable and can stretch a meal to feed your hungry family.  A time saver is to clean and boil or bake whole potatoes and refrigerate. It makes it easy to cut up and pan fry to go with some eggs or make  a one pan skillet dish with any ground protein. Check out this recipe from soulfully Made
    • Rice and noodles are generally very affordable and can be bought in bulk and stored for a long time. 

Remember planning is key when sticking to a budget that you can afford while reducing food waste and being good to our planet.
Kelly Alarcon, Student at California State University, Long Beach with a concentration in Nutrition and Nutritional Science has a passion for showing others the path to wellness through nutrition while reducing hunger and food waste.