07/10/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

3 Simple Ways to Eat Healthier on a Budget

With the current economic downturn, eating healthy may feel less important than saving money. Contrary to common belief, eating healthy can actually cost less then a Big Mac, fries, and soda. We have discovered three simple shifts we can make that can keep us healthy, happy and energized.

1. Shift Where You Shop

Choose organic brands from mainstream stores. One of the easiest shifts we can make is where we shop. While natural food stores and Co-Ops offer a wide array of organic options, many traditional supermarkets are jumping on the organic trend with much lower prices. It is very important to check labels to ensure that your items are certified organic. Stores like Vons, Pavilions, Safeway, and Trader Joes are now offering organic lines at 1/2 the price of the Whole Foods 365 Brand. We have been using the O Organics brand for items including pasta sauce, olive oil, milk, yogurt, and baby food. Albertson's and Ralph's carries a similar organic line called Wild Harvest that offers a full line of organic products ranging from eggs, cereal, to soy milk.

Say yes to the Farmer's Market. One of our favorite places to find amazing food is the local Farmer's Market. They provide some of the freshest produce, meat, and dairy products available. You buy directly from the farmer, so prices tend to be drastically lower than you can find in a standard grocery store. The experience of interacting with local farmers, and artisans is defiantly more enjoyable than waiting in the check out line.

Shop at international markets. Another place to find great quality food at reasonable prices is your local international markets including Korean, Jewish, Indian, Hispanic, African, and Japanese grocery stores. While you can find many items with more affordable price tags be mindful to stick to the market's specialty, as other items can be more expensive such as buying pasta sauce in a Korean Market.

2. Plan Ahead

Create a menu plan. Take time at the beginning of the week to plan your meals. This takes a bit of prep time, but the experience can actually be fun for the entire family. Have your children help pick out healthy items and menu options. Make a list and pick up the various items at the stores with the best selection and prices. When you have a stocked kitchen filled with healthy foods and recipes, it becomes easier to cook than to run out for fast food.

Shop communally. Plan ahead by coordinating with neighbors, friends, or family to buy items in bulk. Stores like Smart & Final and Costco have great bulk deals, but it can be overwhelming for a small family to try and get through 30 bananas before they go bad. Set up a community system where one member buys common bulk products each month and takes orders from the rest of the group. This way everyone saves money and ends up with the amount of food they need.

Buy online. Plan your menus in advance and order your groceries online. There are an array of online grocery stores such as Sun Organic Farms and Shop Organic that offer bulk items such as legumes, beans, and grains. Fresh produce can be sent via mail from services such as Farm Fresh To You. The prices are lower when you buy in bulk, so gather some friends and split up the savings.

3. Stock Your Kitchen

Best foods to stock. Fill your kitchen with high nutrient and inexpensive items. There are many staple items that can be found around three dollars that are great for your health as well as your pocket book: tuna fish, eggs, kale, squash, spinach, tea, olives, whole-grain bread, tofu, pasta, apples, bananas, beans, legumes, chicken stock, and rice are just a few. Simple whole foods and produce tend to be some of the least expensive items in the market.

Check your lists. Be sure to compare your grocery lists with what you have in stock before heading to the market of your choice. A well-stocked kitchen provides you with the basic ingredients for a variety of quick, healthy meals.

With a little shopping, planning and stocking, we are saving more than $100 a week and eating healthier than ever. Who knew it could be so easy? Sometimes when challenging situations appear, such as an economic downturn, we discover new opportunities to rethink our choices and create new and healthier habits. Here's to driving past the fast food joint after a long day, knowing you have a healthier and more affordable meal at home.