Healthy Eating on a Shoestring Budget

It’s not difficult to be more aware of your meal choices.


Words Tiffany Wee

Meal planning and grocery shopping are already challenging when you are tight on resources, but when you're dedicated to eating healthy on a shoestring budget, it's even trickier. However, there are many ways to save money and still eat whole, healthy foods. Here are 11 clever tips that can help you do just that.

1. Re/learn the art of cooking

When was the last time you cooked? We are not talking about instant noodles or heating up a microwave meal. Some may argue that in Singapore, why bother when food is freely available for only a few dollars; you may end up spending more by cooking. While that may be true, the next question is how nutritious is a typical meal that costs you a mere three to four dollars? If your priority is eating healthy and not just filling your stomach, you will find that cooking at home is much cheaper than eating out, especially if done regularly. Packing your lunch, snacks and drinks is less expensive and way healthier because when you cook, you know exactly what goes into your food.

2. Eat more greens and less meat

Not only because vegetables are loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to boost your health and vitality, but because meat is often the most expensive part of the meal, especially if you plan to eat anything that is labelled organic, wild-caught or grass-fed. Nonetheless, you can still enjoy meat on a tight budget by buying cheaper cuts – bone-in, skin-on and tougher cuts of red meat. Don't be afraid of good-quality fat, especially if you're trying to lose weight! Another trick is to buy meats and seafood in bulk when they are on sale, pack them into serving portions and freeze them. When cooking, save the bones to make broth, so that nothing goes to waste.

3. Become a wet market expert

The notion of shopping at a pasar is probably a conundrum for most people these days. However, if you are after fresh wholesome ingredients at a great price, your local wet market may be your best bet. The tricky part is figuring out the market rate for different items. When you first start, be prepared to shop around until you nail down the stalls that provide the freshest produce for the best value. Sure, there will be some learning curves but before long, you will become a wet market guru. Hint: follow the crowd, or bring your mum! When you become a regular, you may even get extra perks like a free bunch of herbs!

4. Go to the farmers market at the end of the day.

These days, there are many farmer’s markets on the weekends. They don’t operate for the rest of the week and can’t keep their produce, so everything must go before the end of the weekend. Consider visiting the markets at the end of the day, when you may just score some great deals.

5. Freeze fresh produce that is in season or on offer

Fresh produce is always a great choice for nutrition, but the cost can add up. Conversely the ‘real’ age of foods in the frozen aisle may be a big unknown. One solution is to stock up on fresh produce that is in season or on offer and freeze it yourself. Think berries, corn, peas and other types of vegetables. In this way, you can have good quality produce for cheap for several weeks or even months.

6. Have a grocery list and stick to it

Head to the grocery store with a clear list of what you really need. A list helps you avoid getting side-tracked at the supermarket, which often results in unintended, expensive purchases. There is always the risk of going home with one or two impulsive buys… but the list can't hurt. When in the supermarket, buying home brands may also save you another 10-20 per cent off the final bill.

7. Don’t shop when you are feeling ravenous

Avoid shopping when you are hungry, as you will most probably end up either buying more than you need and/or unhealthy ready-to-eat items like sweet treats or snacks that you would otherwise steer clear of. The reason for this is because when you are hungry, your brain signals you to have sugar and refined carbohydrates, which can easily be converted into ready fuel for the body.

8. Keep a lookout for sales 

Most supermarkets have a weekly circular to highlight the deals for the week. Be adventurous and consider buying items that you would typically not buy. Plan your meals and search for recipes according to the items that are on offer. This is a great way to get creative and maybe try some items or dishes you've never had.

9. Feeling techie? Go online

This is fast becoming an effective alternative for consumers. Not only is it more convenient, but the online retailers often have attractive deals and member promotions to beat the competition. There are even online shops that focus exclusively on healthy and unprocessed foods. What's more, the products are then delivered straight to your door, which is a real bonus since groceries can get heavy.

10. Cut out junk food from your diet

This may seem obvious if you are concerned about eating healthy, you may be surprised to see how much products like soda, crackers, cookies, pre-packaged meals and processed foods add up to in your weekly shopping budget. While offering very little nutrition and typically loaded with preservatives and additives, they can also be very expensive. Skipping these processed foods means you can allocate more of your budget on higher quality, healthy foods. One quick start is to replace sugary desserts with fresh fruit.

11. Keep an organised fridge and pantry

How many times have you wound up throwing things out because it was tucked away at the back of the fridge or cupboard? Keep your fridge organised to help minimise food waste. Use a waterproof marker and write the use-by date in big bold clearly visible numbers on canned and packed foods.

You don't have to break the bank to eat well. With some planning, researching and making smart choices at the grocery store, you can easily eat healthy on a budget. Keep in mind that beyond helping you save some money now, good dietary habits also prevent the risk of developing chronic diseases which come with hefty medical bills down the line. Good health is priceless.

About the Writer:

Tiffany Wee is a Naturopath, Nutritionist, and Herbalist. Born in Singapore and trained in Australia, Tiffany has consulted in world-renowned establishments like Chiva Som, Verita, ESPA and Balanced Living. She is constantly recognised by her clients for her warmth, efficiency and expertise in weight management and women’s health. For more information, please visit or email


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