How to Go Sugar-Free on a Budget: Can only the Rich Afford this? No.

By on April 16, 2013

Can you go sugar free on a budget?  Yes you can. Menu plans included below.  Yes!



It might seem totally logical that a grocery list without sugar-added products would cost less money.  But we all know better than that. When a fast food hamburger costs a buck, and pound of ground beef in the supermarket costs upwards of four dollars, it’s not hard to see why exhausted parents take their kids to the drive-through for dinner rather than shopping for unprocessed foods.

People say, “I can’t afford to eat that way.  It’s too expensive.” And it takes a serious strategy to cut sugar out of the diet of the family without causing a catastrophic rise in the grocery budget.

But it’s an effort worth making because the real culprit in those processed foods is sugar. With more than 80% of processed foods, no matter how cheap they are, laced with sugar, you have to work at it.  Even lowly hamburger meat has sometimes been tarted up with hidden sugars, chemicals and salt to make it more palatable to the fast food diner.

And while it may cost more to buy bananas than a box of cookies, a sugar-free diet means changes.  You will need to commit to the change.


Can you go sugar-free on a budget?

Can you go sugar-free on a budget?

Want to make those changes painless and easy on the pocket book?  Here’s how.

Read labels. 

Don’t buy overly processed or packaged foods which will almost always have sugar hidden in there somewhere.  There’s an old saw that says if the label has words you can’t pronounce,  put it back, don’t buy it.  You probably don’t even want to know what those words might be, but there’s a good chance one or more will be stand-ins for sugar.

Stick to the perimeter of the store. 

They keep the real food on the edges. Produce on one side, milk and dairy on the other, with fish, meat, and poultry on the back wall. Your supermarket may have a slight variation on this configuration but this is the usual.

In the produce section, for example, look for the place where they put the marked down items.  A bunch of bananas with a few black spots are fine, so long as you eat them right away. Then, instead of paying upwards of five dollars for them, you’ll probably get them for around a dollar.

In my go-to grocery store, there’s a section at the back of produce with an iced case that holds frozen meats, fish and poultry.  It does not harm proteins much to be frozen, and they are almost always less expensive than the fresh equivalent. Plus, they keep at home in the freezer, until you’re ready for them.

Cook ahead.

You’ll save both time and money if you cook once a week – how about Sunday afternoon, and get ready for your work week.  A large package of chicken thighs can be seasoned in a dozen different ways, then roasted and served two or three nights during the week, with little more than a quick warm up.

I’m a big fan of soups and do not believe it’s any more work to make a big pot than a smaller one. A lovely minestrone – which is basically vegetables with broth, beans and pasta, can be a work of art and a very inexpensive one at that.  At our house, we cheerfully eat soup for two or three days.  If that doesn’t appeal to you, just freeze the soup in about 4 cup portions, labeling it carefully and you’ll have good and cheap meals at the ready.

Eat seasonally.

Buy fresh produce when it’s at the peak of its season and therefore the cheapest: citrus, apples and pears in the winter and spring, stone fruits and melons in the summer, pumpkins and winter squash in the fall. Dark green leafy vegetables including kale and spinach taste great in the winter and offer those necessary vitamins you might not otherwise get.

Here’s what to look for in the middle aisles:

Canned tuna, salmon, tomatoes, vegetables and fruits without sugar added, dried pasta, rice, polenta, and beans are economical and minimally processed. Choose these items over boxed dinners.

Sugar-free frozen foods:

Frozen peas, green beans, spinach, corn, lean meat and poultry, sugar-free ice creams and popsicles

Other Sugar-free staples:

Stevia, Equal, Sweet ‘n Low, Splenda.  Choose according to your own taste and preference. Old fashioned oat meal, whole wheat flour, dry powdered buttermilk. These are inexpensive and nutritious ingredients to keep on hand.

Here are 10 sugar-free budget meals you can make in a hurry:

1.  Whole Wheat Oatmeal Pancakes with Unsweetened Applesauce

2.  Tomato Soup (not made with canned soup which is laced with hidden sugars)

3.  Black Bean, Sautéed Peppers, Garlic and Onions Corn Tacos

4.  Vegetable Cheese Frittata

5.  Tuna Apple Salad with a Curried Yogurt Mayo Sauce

6.  Beer-battered Fish Fillets (choose fresh or frozen cod, Pollock, or other firm fleshed fish)

7. Macaroni and Cheese Soufflé

8. San Francisco Beef Spinach Egg Sauté

9.Chicken Thighs Bonne Femme with Carrots, Potatoes and Onions

10. Texas Chili with Pinto Beans and Corn Bread

Useful links:–Chicken-Dinner


About Linda Eckhardt

Linda West Eckhardt, is an award winning journalist, food writer, and nutritionist. Her more than 20 cookbooks have garnered prizes including the James Beard prize for the best cookbook for a text she wrote with her daughter, Katherine West DeFoyd, entitled Entertaining 101, Doubleday. Their follow-up book, Stylish One Dish Dinners, Doubleday, was also nominated for a James Beard prize. Their next book, The High Protein Cookbook, Clarkson Potter, remains a best seller after 12 years. That book was designed to accompany low carb diet plans. Her ground-breaking book, Bread in Half The Time, Broadway Books, was named the Best Cookbook in America by the prestigious IACP, The Julia Child award. Her award winning radio work with Jennifer English, for a national show on the Food and Wine radio network, was nominated for a James Beard Prize for a show called, “I Know What You Ate Last Summer.”