By Tracey Connell

Living on a fixed income can make meal planning and grocery shopping challenging, and eating healthy on a budget can be incredibly difficult when you must be mindful of your expenses. This article will explore budget-friendly tips and valuable insights to help older adults make informed choices about their diet, optimize their nutrition, and stretch their food budget to the fullest.  

Affordable and Nutritious Food Choices

Buy Economical Produce 

Choose in-season fresh fruits and vegetables, which are typically more cost-effective. When fresh is not available, choose frozen produce. Frozen produce can have more nutrients than fresh, as harvesting happens at peak ripeness.

Prepare in Advance

Take advantage of bulk items and sales by cooking larger quantities of food and freezing it. Prepping ahead ensures you always have a nourishing, home-cooked meal ready. For example, if chicken is on sale, buy extra, cook it in a healthy recipe, portion it out, and freeze the leftovers.

Consider Generic

Switching from name-brand to store-brand food and beverage items such as generic sliced bread, cereal, and toilet paper can be as good as branded options but cheaper. Consumer Reports states most store brands can match name brands in flavor and quality, but they’re often 20% to 25% lower in price!

Switch from Canned to Dried

Swap canned food for dried alternatives like beans, lentils, and grains. These foods are less expensive and often more nutritious, with fewer additives and sodium content than canned. Though they take more prep time, the cost savings and health benefits are worth it. Buying these foods in bulk also saves money.

Plan Ahead

Shop with a list to avoid unnecessary purchases. Never go grocery shopping while hungry, as this can lead to impulse purchases and excessive calorie intake.

Senior discounts

Many grocery stores offer senior discounts. Senior Discount days are usually one day a week or one day a month. The discount is generally between 5 and 10% off your bill. For example, at Fred Meyer, seniors over age 55 can take an additional 10% off of select items. You can find other stores that offer similar discounts by looking online.


You can find healthy, easy-to-prepare recipes by searching websites for meal planning. AARP has free recipes, dinner ideas, and discounts on food.   

Community Resources

If you’re on a tight budget and still want to eat healthy, there are several great places to start seeking help:

Senior Food Box Program

You may be eligible for the Senior Food Box program, which is the USDA’s Commodity Supplemental Food Program, providing nutritional assistance to eligible seniors.  You may qualify even if you receive other benefits, like SNAP. Each state establishes eligibility limits for older adults at or below 130 percent of the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines.  Contact Oregon’s Food and Nutrition Service department to determine if you qualify.  


The NeighborImpact network of local food pantries, meal sites, and free food markets provides food, support, and community assistance, which makes eating healthy on a budget much more accessible to Central Oregon’s older adults.

The Giving Plate

The Giving Plate’s grocery program is a supermarket-style food pantry that is open two times a month and provides food for guests to take home. It serves anybody in need residing in any Central Oregon community.

Meals on Wheels

The Council on Aging and its partners deliver Meals on Wheels to seniors throughout the tri-county. Participants must be 60 years old, homebound, or need assistance shopping or cooking. There is also an option to have a free lunch with other seniors at community dining. Those ineligible for no-cost meals must pay the site’s posted meal cost. Community dining programs vary according to each location and the number of days the sites offer hot meals per week.


Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called food stamps, provides food benefits to low-income older adults to supplement their grocery budget. Find your local Aging and Disabilities Services office to find out if you qualify.

Eating healthy on a budget can be accomplished if you plan, use affordable ingredients, shop savvy, and experiment with budget-friendly recipes to enjoy tasty and nutritious meals daily. With some creativity and resourcefulness, you can continue to eat well and nourish your body as you age.

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