Six Tips for Eating Quality Seafood on a Budget

Pennywise Platter Thursday is tomorrow! Get those recipes and your frugal tips ready. Photo Credit

Several weeks ago a few of you asked how I was able to add seafood into our diets without raising our budget. Good question. We have not always eaten seafood consistently for various reasons (I didn’t realize I liked seafood until recently and because of the cost). But the health benefits of seafood made me realize that I really wanted to be able to fit it in (my next post on seafood will be about those benefits). How to fit it in our budget was the tricky part.

Seafood is one of those foods that’s pretty important not to skimp on quality. No farmed salmon here! Yes, it is a lot cheaper, but they are fed wild fish, overcrowded and diseased, dyed to hide it’s unnatural gray flesh, and antibiotics routinely were used to treat them. They aren’t as nutritious, they aren’t good for the environment and probably are not going to taste as good either. In my next post on seafood, I will go over what to buy, but meanwhile, let me give you six tips on how to eat quality seafood on a budget.

Here’s what helped me.

Tip Number One: Figure Out Your Daily Budget

First, figure out how much you have to spend per day on food. For me, I had to first subtract how much I spend on my bulk orders (oils, grains, etc). Then I took the remaining amount left in our budget and divided it by weeks, then by days. This helped put my spending in perspective. (If we go out to eat and spend 20 dollars on dinner or on seafood at the store that takes up the money for X amount of days). I realized that the cost of seafood could sometimes take up most of a day’s worth of our budget.

So then, on seafood night, I make sure that we eat leftovers for lunch and super cheap oatmeal for breakfast. That enables me to spend all of my day’s budget on dinner. I also try to do a very frugal dinner the night before. It was really that simple for us. When I had a whole day’s budget for our dinner, I was able to “splurge” on seafood much more easily.

Tip Number Two: Don’t Give Large Portions

My philosophy is that some seafood is better than none. We can’t afford to have large portions of seafood, generally (though sometimes we do). But instead of just nixing the idea of eating seafood at all, we eat smaller portions of it. A serving size of seafood is 3 ounces and if that’s all you can afford, that’s so much better than none.

Tip Number Three: Stretch the Seafood With Hearty Dishes

But obviously you don’t want seafood night to become “skimpy night”. I try to make our seafood meals satisfying, and filling, even if everyone doesn’t have large portions of wild salmon. Here are a few ways I stretch out the seafood in ways that doesn’t make the meal seem skimpy.

* Pasta is always a special treat around here, so sometimes I make a seafood sauce to go over pasta for a filling meal that also effectively stretches seafood. (two examples of this is my fresh clam and herb sauce and this recipe for a simple creme freshe and canned salmon sauce.

*Soups are my personal favorite. They are so nourishing and filling. I adore soups, so I like to make seafood soups and it’s really easy to stretch out your seafood a bit in soups. I haven’t been able to find a source for proper bones and heads to make my own, so I use homemade chicken broth. (Though I’ve bought some bonito flakes to try to make an Asian style fish stock ).

* Salads work equally as well. A favorite simple dinner is to cook up a fillet of fish (or open a can), add some celery and nuts, and serve it over lettuce with homemade dressing poured over it all. Love this.

*And finally sandwiches work as well. Most of us grew up on tuna salad sandwiches, so we know how this works.

Tip Number Four: Shopping Tips

I truthfully generally shop at a store where I am not going to find steals on seafood (though I do try to catch their sales), but watching for sales at various stores in your area can enable you to find some steals. The only downside to this is that sometimes the “on sale” seafood can be a little old. Getting fresh seafood is pretty mandatory for good taste.

Asian stores can be a real boon because, like most of their items, their seafood is often significantly cheaper. Some are better than others, however. Many will have signs with not only the names of the fish, but also whether it’s wild or farmed, but mine doesn’t and most of the employees don’t speak English. This makes it very hard to be able to quality ensure anything I buy. However, I will buy dried sardines or anchovies there, which I discuss here. You may or may not like these, but they certainly are very nutrient dense and cheap too!

Tip Number Five: Wild Salmon Isn’t Your Only Option

There are other good options of seafood that aren’t as expensive as wild salmon can be. Utilize these. One example is black cod, which I can often buy locally. It’s omega three content is just as high as salmon, and it’s also low in toxins. And what about fresh mussels, clams, and oysters? In my area, oysters are pretty expensive as you buy per shell, but I can make a dish with manila clams spending about six dollars on them and mussels are even cheaper. Those are just a few examples. Just don’t get stuck with thinking that wild salmon is your only choice. It’s good stuff, but it can be pretty expensive too.

Tip Number Six: Frozen and Canned

Frozen wild salmon is very convenient to have on hand, since you need to make sure you cook seafood right away when you buy it fresh. In fact, I have some defrosting today for dinner tonight! And you can often buy it cheaper per pound frozen too.

And if you must, you could consider buying canned seafood. It’s certainly not ideal since not only do you have nutrient loss but you also deal with the BPA issue. (Food Renegade had an excellent update on that issue here). But you can buy wild canned salmon for $2.75 a can at Trader Joes. I personally only occasionally use canned seafood, but it’s certainly the cheapest choice!

So there are six tips that have worked for me. What about you? Does anyone else have any suggestions?

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I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!

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  1. Rebekah says

    My husband and I eat canned tuna about once a week, or at least we did until I became aware of the BPA/fish farm issues recently. I often just looked for preservative free brands that contained only tuna and water, or tuna, water, and salt. Are there any good brands of tuna that are “wild-caught” that might be ok for occasional consumption? Or is tuna too high in toxins (I know it has mercury) to eat on a regular basis?

    • says

      As far a mercury and tuna are concerned:

      In general, a woman who is pregnant or is likely to get pregnant should eat no more than two cans of light tuna per week, or 2/3 of a can per week of white albacore tuna if she wants to stay below the EPA’s level of concern for mercury. Keep in mind that the amount of mercury in a single can varies depending on the type of tuna and where the fish was caught. Albacore or solid white tuna is most likely to have higher concentrations, and chunk light tuna, lower concentrations.

      (from the NRDC)

      Canned light tuna is typically from Slapjack or other small species. I thought the concern with farmed tuna was mostly for the bigger species like the ones that are used for sushi.

      • says

        Did anyone else hear the interview yesterday on the Diane Rehm show — with the authors of Slow Death by Rubber Duck: The Secret Danger of Everyday Things? The authors did tests on themselves, to check for toxins such as BPA, mercury, etc., in their blood and urine after intense (but everyday) exposure. They said that, based on the astronomical increase in levels of mercury from eating canned tuna for 48 hours, they recommend that pregnant women avoid tuna completely.

        Wish I’d known that when I was pregnant…

  2. says

    I loved living near Whole Foods. They have a great price on wild frozen fish (at least they did 3 years ago). Since moving to a much smaller community I have yet to find a good place to find frozen, wild fish.

  3. Amy Best says

    Okay, so what’s your take on wild caught shrimp? Healthy, or not? I can’t eat fish (stomachaches), so we don’t really eat seafood. I’d really like to add some for our health (and it’s so yummy!!) but haven’t know what to eat as I’ve heard shrimp isn’t so good for you… thoughts?

    • KimiHarris says


      That’s a great question. As you probably know from this post, we do eat shellfish. We don’t eat a lot of shrimp because Elena is allergic to it, but I know that the Weston Price Foundation gives a thumbs up to wild shrimp. And I do eat it when I can. 🙂 In my next post on seafood (probably Friday) I will try to give more of the pro’s and con’s of shrimp and other shellfish. I still have a few questions left unanswered that I am trying to research. 🙂

  4. says

    Amy, I’ve heard wild caught shrimp is a good option. Plus, I think shrimp=delicious.

    Seeing a post like this makes me feel really fortunate. I live in the northeast and very close to the shore. We also have a great local fish market that gets a nice variety of seafood. The buyer is also picky. For example, if he doesn’t like how the mackerel (another highly nutritious fish and rarely expensive) looks he won’t buy any for the shop.

  5. Vanessa says

    Another way to stretch fish is to make a fish curry (esp if you use coconut milk 🙂 you get even more health benefits)

  6. says

    We love the cost/nutrient-density of shellfish. It’s easy to catch mussels or scallops on sale, for example. And even the farmed kind are still nutrient-dense and decent for the environment.

    I’ve got some scallops in my freezer calling my name. They cook real fast in a bacon grease, lemon, & cilantro glaze (thickened with a smidgen of arrowroot powder)! Serve them with some hearty steamed veggies dowsed in butter (or ghee for those avoiding dairy solids) and WOW. What a meal!

    • KimiHarris says

      I love clams especially (though I don’t mind mussels). I like the little baby shrimps too that you can buy, they are so economical! I haven’t been able to find scallops at a good price yet. Will have to check around……

  7. says

    Those are good tips, Kimi. I am also working to include fish in our diet a little more often. I have just discovered a good source of fish at my local Korean store, and fortunately they do speak a little English there to help me read the labels.

    My goal is for us to eat fish once a week, and we generally do that, whether it’s a proper fish dinner or just a lunch of salmon melts on sourdough bread. I find that it’s pretty affordable to eat that often, though I do use wild canned salmon to supplement our fish intake. I almost always buy frozen instead of fresh for the savings, even though it isn’t quite as nice. I also like to watch for fresh wild salmon that’s been marked down because it’s good for making lox (so yummy!).

  8. says

    Love this post Kimi! Living in the midwest it’s very difficult to find good sources of seafood. I buy wild salmon and cod from Costco and do buy clams, mussels, calamari, dried anchovies, and tiny shrimp from my Asian Grocer. All wild caught. I do love canned wild salmon, sardines, and anchovies as well. Another great tip that I’m about to embark on is taking a cooler with you if you travel to a coast. I’m headed to NYC and taking a large cooler to fill with fresh seafood and bringing it back home with me. I’ll let you now how that goes, lol!! Definitely sharing this post!

    • KimiHarris says

      What a great idea! We often visit the coast, I should do that next time. Do let me know how it works for you!

  9. Kim says

    We generally eat fish 2-3 times a week and we are on a very limited budget. I buy frozen wild-caught salmon in patties at Trader Joe’s. They are labeled salmon patties but there is nothing but salmon in them. I then defrost them and chop them to use in my own salmon patty recipe. We have tuna about once a week- chunk light. Though I generally don’t shop at Walmart they do have great deals on frozen wild fish. Cod, tilapia etc. Usually it is only aboujt $6 a bag which feeds my family of four nicely.

    • KimiHarris says


      I didn’t notice the salmon patties last time I was there. I will have to check them out! Do you remember how a pound they were? And I remember noticing the wild frozen fish at Winco, I will definitely check it out sometime soon. Thanks for your suggestions!

    • Michelle says

      I bought frozen “wild caught” salmon at walmart for $6 a pound. What can I say, except you get what you pay for? Its tasted awful

  10. keith says

    Download a free pocket guide that is handy when shopping for sustainable and safe fish here:

    Greenpeace also has excellent info…

    and Trader Joe’s is NOT the place to buy seafood- even Wal-Mart scores higher than they do:) I think TJ’s is listed as the Worst place in the USA to buy fish on Greenpeace’s scorecard! I believe Wegman’s is numero uno and Whole Foods falls in third.

    There are also excellent sources of low mercury/mercury free fish…,,

  11. says

    Seafood is something we don’t do enough of here. One thing we’ve had success with, though, is using our “dining” budget for seafood on occasion. We generally go out to eat once a week (what can I say, we love to go out!), but sometimes we’ll take our eating-out money and go splurge on a bunch of fresh seafood like crab and have a crab-bake at the house for fun. It’s just as fun as going out to eat – and a lot healthier!

  12. says

    I really need to incorporate healthy seafood into my family’s diet. I personally despise the taste of seafood — it is the only food that makes me truly feel nauseated. But my husband loves it, and I know my children deserve to try it and learn to like it too. So this is a great post for me to read and I am looking forward to the others coming soon. One question for you is what is your take on tilapia? It is a very popular fish these days and has been recommended to me as a good one to try because it is very mild. However I read research explaining why tilapia has become so popular — researchers figured out how to change the genetics of the fish in a manner that basically results in a sex-change for the fish. Unfortunately I can’t remember the details on it but I personally know one of the people involved in the research at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama. So I wonder if this then makes tilapia a questionable seafood choice. I’m interested to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much!

    • says

      I’m sorry I didn’t explain that well — the “sex-change” of the tilapia results in a bigger fish that is now suitable for fishing and eating. Apparently before tilapia were very tiny fish, not worth the effort. This research has apparently done great things for food availability in third-world nations.

  13. Rachelle says

    Thanks for doing this series! I have been feeling the need to venture into seafood for nutrition reasons, but my mom never cooked with seafood (unless you count fish sticks) and I have no idea where to begin with what to buy and where, and without breaking the bank. I do buy canned wild caught salmon (used to do tuna until I realized all the ones I could find them had soy, plus the mercury thing) but that’s it. I really like the idea of figuring out a daily budget and compensating with the other meals that day.

  14. says

    Tip #7
    Go fishing.
    Many of the little lakes and ponds in the lower 48 will have lots of pan fish and catfish in them.
    We are blessed to live where we can catch large amounts of wild salmon.
    We also go with friends when they go out in Cook Inlet for Halibut, Sea Bass and Ling Cod.
    We fill a freezer up every summer.

  15. April says

    I live in the Maritimes and can always get fresh wild caught fish, often right off the boat. We love haddock, lobster, scallops and mussels. It’s hard to find good clams now as there are often restrictions on the good clamming areas. I grew up eating clams, mussels, crabs and periwinkles (we called them penny-winkles or snots, lol!) that I gathered myself at the beach on fires we made, mmmmm! Too bad they have since let sewage into the harbour, grrrr! I’d love to have that carefree access to that food now that it costs so much!

  16. Rebecca says

    My tip would be to buy salmon that has not been skinned or de-boned. I paid $3.99 per lb. for skinned/boned vs. $8.99 per lb. for pre-done fillets. I used to get grossed out by just touching the fish, but it has become something I don’t mind doing and it is easy to skin, once you get the hang of it.

    I would be leary about buying “wild caught” bagged fish. If you check the bag (especially from Walmart) it most likely comes from China. I don’t trust any food products coming from China, due to testing and it being an extremely polluted area.

    • April says

      I just found salmon like this at my favorite grocery store at a decent price. It is wild caught from BC Canada and being from Canada, that’s a good thing for me :). It freaked the kids off because they thought the gaping hole where the head was was the mouth and they took off screaming, lol! I usually cook it, skin and all and it slides right off when it is done cooking (I cook from frozen).

  17. says

    Besides soups, fish cakes are also a good way to stretch seafood. The same stuff can be shaped like sticks as well.

    I really like Tilapia but what one of the previous poster said about Tilapia-sex-change freaks me out. I would like to learn more about this.

    Kimi, do you have any recipes for dips that use anchovies? I have tons of anchovies but not many easy recipes.

    • Becky says

      Anchovies are a key ingredient for Romesco Sauce. Roast 4-6 large red peppers remove the skins. crush one clove of garlic for each roated pred pepper and saute in a sauce pan with a generous splash olive oil to coat the bottom at least 2-3mm. Add one small tin of anchovies to the still in the saute. the fillets will start to break up and make a paste. Add the roasted red peppers to coat with the garlic and anchovy paste. Wisk or stick blend the mixture to make more smooth. Thicken the sauce with almond meal to the consistency of pesto.

      Use as a spread for bread, pasta sauce, pizza sauce, coating for broiled fish/shrimp etc. Stir into quinoa and reheated makes a flavorful side dish

  18. Rachel J. says

    We eat mostly canned salmon and the occasional frozen salmon from TJ’s, although after reading the Green Peace article I may rethink the TJ’s salmon. I love tilapia, shrimp, scallops and the rest but really cut back on it since the farmed tilapia mostly comes from cesspools in China (literally) and it made me leery of other farmed fish as well. I’m definitely looking forward to your post about what to buy. I know I can buy excellent fresh seafood at my health food store but it costs a few days’ food budget, hard to justify on a regular basis. I will definitely check out the few small asian food stores around town and look for dried fish. I think my three year old would love them and I might be able to get my more picky five year old to eat them, too. They both gobble down the HVFCO so there’s always hope!

  19. says

    At this time, the fish we eat generally comes from a can–Alaskan salmon, tuna, sardines, and my new favorite, kippered herring. I justify the can usage because it is one of the few things (tomatoes are another) I still buy in a can.

  20. Stephanie says

    Just curious if you have ever read Rex Russells “What The Bible Says About Healthy Living?” It is a wonderful book that changed my eating life back in 1996. He falls in line with Sally Falon and Jordin Rubin.
    There’s even an accompaning cookbook to go with his book.

  21. says

    Much of the U.S. caught and canned (and sustainable) albacore tuna is now being put into BPA-free cans. Wild Planet (available nationally) and Wild Pacific Seafood are just two of the delicious brands… low mercury and high omega-3 to boot!

  22. says

    One way to make salmon stretch is to make salmon “burgers”. Tonight we enjoyed a dynamite recipe from Elana Amsterdam’s Gluten Free Almond Flour Cookbook: Salmon Dill Burgers. I lost count of how many my 2-year-old ate since he continually helped himself to the serving platter! I used frozen wild-caught salmon, fresh dill and lemon zest and served them with avocado wedges and a green salad with goat cheese. Amazing!

  23. Crystal says

    The only thing we eat from a can is wild Alaskan salmon these days and I haven’t ever opened a can that was plastic-lined. Are there other concerns about canned salmon other than the plastic lining?

  24. Shell says

    I don’t like any seafood except for fish, so it’s a bit more difficult for me to get enough.
    I love making fish curries, which are very filling while using only a small amount of seafood. I made one yesterday with coconut milk, cod, kaffir lime leaves and chunks of pineapple… was incredibly delicious and easy.

  25. says

    I appreciate this post as my husband & I have begin overhauling our diet (it was healthy, overall, before but we found further changes that needed to be made) and I am researching everything from sustainability, organics, good/bad fats, sugar alternatives, whole grains, checking labels to read ingredients, etc. I did want to mention something with regard to Paula’s comment…I fully agree that fishing is a wonderful outdoor activity and it’s so great to have the satisfaction of catching your own food, but it’s good to be aware of the toxicity levels (namely, mercury content, PCB’s, and hydrocarbon pollution) of the body of water in which you fish. many times, these ‘wild-caught’ fish actually have concentrations of toxins far greater than their farm-raised counterparts. I think the crux of the issue with fish is researching the farm where it was raised or knowing the toxic levels of the ‘natural’ body of water where it was caught. You can find more info from Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. this is where I got this information and highly recommend this book to anybody! He strongly makes the case to avoid eating “recreational fish from questionable waters”. He also has a chart of popular fish that range from least to most toxic. very helpful stuff.

  26. says

    I love this post, and will read and re-read before hitting the grocery! I am just about as land-locked as it gets. It’s two hours to the nearest lake and a days drive to an ocean. That said, finding quality seafood is hard. We have a Kroger and WalMart in our small town, but it is an hour’s drive to find something like TJ or WF.

    What can I look for at the grocery? For instance, tuna: what should I avoid, what should I look for. I spent 20 minutes looking at tuna in Kroger’s a couple weeks back and left with none as I could not make head nor tail of what is good, bad, or ugly. Another thing, tilapia. My one daughter really does not like any seafood, but I can get her to eat tilapia. I hate buying it knowing it comes from China and is not wild-caught. BUT, I do so on occasion so that she gets the mouth feel and taste for fish going. What other mild fishes of similar texture might I look for that would be easier to find wild caught?

  27. Kika says

    I’m curious about something: I just found some frozen, organic salmon filets in my grocery store. In order for this to be labeled organic, it must be farmed, right? Otherwise, how can they make this claim. If this is the case, is it any better than simply buying wild salmon like I usually do? It is significantly more expensive and I wonder if it is just a ploy – the ‘organic’ label will certainly attract some people (like me) but it is good to know where to most effectively spend our ‘organic food dollars’. Can you help?

    • KimiHarris says

      Hi Kika,

      Unless it says on the label, I am sure it is farmed. Farmed salmon is not worth buying in my opinion. 🙂

  28. Laura says

    I think that if you do the math on canned seafood, it’s really not generally cheaper. Most cans don’t contain more than 5 oz. At that size, that’s $8.25/lb. I can frequently get wild-caught Alaskan/Pacific salmon for less than that.

  29. Fran says

    I was wondering–wouldn’t increasing demand for wild-caught fish degrade our wild places and damage the environment irreparably? Shouldn’t we demand better farming practices instead? wouldn’t we be able to control the conditions under which the seafood was raised then more carefully? wouldn’t that be the REALLY environmentally and nutritionally best thing for everyone? just my two cents…I hate to see our wild places damaged from commercial interests and overfishing….

  30. Jenn Davies says

    I set a pretty serious New Year’s Resolution to try and eat healthier in 2015, so I want to work on getting more fish into my diet. I’ve heard a lot of people recommend shopping at Asian stores if you’re looking for a good deal, so I’ll check that out. I’m pretty excited to start this, honestly! |


  1. […] Photo Credit The facts on what seafood you should eat is in murky water. There are so many variables, opinions, and considerations. I had hoped to be able to write just one post covering all of the issues but I’ve realize that it will take just a little time to thoroughly address every issue. So today I want to give you three considerations that I think are the most important when buying seafood. (For budget stretching tips see my post,  6 Tips for Buying Quality Seafood On a Budget). […]

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