6 tips for eating seafood on a budget

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(I’ve updated this post from a couple of years ago for you all! Sorry for the delay in getting it up. We have been very busy with a very happy newly engaged family member – wedding dress shopping and the whole bit. This is part of my 52 ways to save money on a healthy diet series) 

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 for the omega 3’s, and zinc and other nutritious attributes to seafood. Dr. Price was most impressed with the health of people groups in coastal regions who ate a lot of seafood, by the way, which was just one more score for seafood.

How to fit it in our budget was the tricky part.

Seafood is one of those foods that is important not to skimp on quality. No farmed salmon here! While it is a lot cheaper, they are fed wild fish (an unsustainable option), are often overcrowded and diseased, they are dyed to hide their unnatural gray flesh, and antibiotics are routinely were used to treat them. They are generally not as nutritious, good for the environment and probably are not going to taste as good either. I also don’t recommend tilapia, as unless you are getting it from a fish farm that uses excellent methods, you are likely buying a very inferior product very high in Omega 6’s. With farmed salmon and tilapia out of the picture, you may find yourself wondering how to fit more expensive fish into your budget. Here are a few things that have worked for 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 an inexpensive breakfast. That enables me to spend almost all of my day’s budget on dinner. I also try to do a very frugal dinner the night before, to help give me wiggle room in my budget. 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, which isn’t huge, and is better than no seafood!

Tip Number Three: Stretch 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 have recipes in my soup cookbook, Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons for clam chowder, salmon chowder, miso udon and salmon soup, and a simple white fish and rice soup (pictured above) all of which are frugal ways to stretch out seafood.
  • Watch a video here of me showing how to make a seafood stir-fried rice, which is great, frugal way to use leftover seafood.
  •  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. We love this.
  • Another option is to make simple salmon cakes using either canned salmon or leftover salmon bits.
  • 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

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 (and that is not good taste-wise). Getting fresh seafood is pretty mandatory if you want it to taste good!

Asian stores can be a real boon because 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. Unfortunately,  mine doesn’t and most of the employees don’t speak English, which makes it very hard to be able to ensure the quality of 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!

I also like to buy live mussels and clams as they are generally at least a dollar or two cheaper per pound. However, yours may be significantly better than mine are. Readers have let me know about their local Asian stores which are teeming with live fish, beautiful oysters and other fresh seafood. I would definitely check out what is available near you.

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

Don’t get too stuck on one fish (such as the popular salmon). Black cod is just as high in omega 3’s, so if it is a good price, snatch it up (it is mild and delicious and just as easy to cook). Learn to cook with a wide variety of fish, and you can more easily work with what is a good price at the fish market. If you can only work with, say, salmon and clams, you are going to be limited. Experiment!

 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. I recently found New Zealand frozen mussels for a cheaper price than the live mussels behind the seafood counter. I’ve also seen frozen clams and other seafood at Trader Jo’s (just make sure what by at Trader Jo’s is sustainable – not all seafood is). Frozen seafood is not only helpful for budgeting at times, but it is also great for those who live far away from the ocean.

We also keep on hand canned low-mercury tuna in BPA-free cans (Wild Planet brand, we buy at Costco), salmon, and sardines. These give us inexpensive, quick meals. While I prefer fresh or frozen, I am grateful for canned fish as well.

Those are the ways I am making seafood work on our budget. But I am sure there are many more tips out there. Want to share yours? 

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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!


  1. Robert says

    Many grocery stores that are “inland” get their fish frozen and thaw out the fish for sale. If you get to know your butcher you can ask for fish that’s still frozen to take home. This is especially true if the fish is “on sale” and moving well since that leaves more “thawed” fish for the “eat it tonight” customers. Also without the head you’re never quite sure what the fish actually is. You can ask the butcher to remove the heads as you buy the fish and pay for what’s left.

  2. Willom says

    As much as I agree with you on the nutritional benefits of seafood, the sad truth is that our waters, both fresh and sea, are so polluted that seafood is contaminated with so many toxins as to render benefits meaningless. Take a look at fish oils, they all state that they are ultra purified, that should give you a clue. Let’s not forget that Dr. Weston was writing at a time when the seas were not as polluted, and so an updating of some of his ideas to reflect today’s world may be necessary.

    • KimiHarris says


      I understand the concern, though I don’t agree with the conclusion. I am not convinced that completely leaving out seafood from our diet will make us healthier – toxin concerns included. The problem is that without seafood many of us become omega 3 deficient (even when including other omega-3 sources). Women avoiding seafood when pregnant have had an adverse effect on their children’s IQ (on the flip-side, so have women eating a lot of high-mercury seafood), because omega 3’s are so important to brain health and the proper development of children’s brains. While some can convert the precursor to omega 3’s in flax seeds properly, many can’t. And while I would never encourage others to consume a lot of high mercury seafood, studies have shown a detrimental effect to those who eschew seafood completely. Thankfully, seafood also has nutrients that help us deal with the toxins in seafood. http://chriskresser.com/is-eating-fish-safe-a-lot-safer-than-not-eating-fish

  3. Tara says

    How can we tell if the seafood at Trader Joe’s is sustainable? I recently got some wild shrimp there. And some cod which I haven’t tried yet. I looked for “wild caught” on the label; is there something more I should be looking for?

    • Virginia says

      I believe that at the populations we have reached now, and the methods used in most cases, and the state of the oceans based on my own personal research, NO seafood is any longer sustainable. You can google it and find experts who say the same. Not only that, but as Willom noted, the oceans today are very sadly so polluted, that the dangers of eating seafood outweigh the benefits. I have heard that the Pacific ocean in particular is highly radiated thanks to the Fukushima disaster two years ago (of course the US government won’t tell you that, they just raise the acceptable levels of radiation, and import fish from Japan, Alaska, etc). I wouldn’t trust anything coming from the Gulf of Mexico either, thanks to our friendly oil corporation, BP. To answer your question, then, I would also be checking origins on labels. Ultimately, everybody has to do their own research and make their own decisions, but I for one have decided to no longer feed my family any seafood because of these reasons. And I LOVED seafood. 🙁

      • KimiHarris says


        Sadly it may be true that it would be unsustainable to feed everyone in the world seafood to the levels needed for optimum health. Unfortunately, I know that on many of our coasts, seals (protected now from being hunted/killed by humans) are eating much of the fish that formerly went to humans. Seal populations are booming so much, that the coast guards are even seeing an increase of shark activity as they feast on the seals. I say we should get a little of the seals’ share. 😉 In other words, there are things that could be done besides simply not fishing/eating seafood, but who really wants to be the vocal person who tries to bring back seal hunting? :-0

        As far as the toxin load to fish/seafood, it is a concern. I personally don’t serve any high-mercury seafood (or high in toxins seafood). I know that Mercola has recommended no seafood, or perhaps just a little wild salmon from Alaska. However, studies have not shown a good health benefit to removing seafood from our diets. It isn’t perfect, that’s for sure, but our health may not be better for leaving it out completely. 🙂

        • Gayle says

          Having just moved back to the States from Japan, I can tell you that I would not eat ANYTHING that came out of Japanese (or, really, any Asian or Russian) or Alaskan waters. The entire area is wildly toxic and they are simply upping the amount of acceptable radiation instead of stopping the exporting of food.
          I lived in Okinawa, one of the southernmost islands of Japan, and when I got there two years before the Fukushima disaster, things like peaches from the mainland were sold in packages of two, in those little plastic protective cases, for 1100¥, and were nearly impossible to get, as they sold instantly. Following the Fukushima disaster, they are sitting on the shelves at 250¥, since none of the locals will buy them (well, none of the locals under about 70. I guess the elderly don’t fear getting cancer 20 years down the road). Rice is labeled with what region it comes from, and the stuff from the far south of the mainland was going for about 3 times what the stuff from higher up, which is flipped from how it was when I got there. The Japanese are still being sold toxic crops, but they are avoiding them, and so should we – just because it’s not in our face (I personally believe it’s being actively hidden) doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

  4. says

    I adore seafood and because of this, I do eat a lot of it… But I have scoped out all of Los Angeles and have found options that do not break my bank and are healthy as well. Turbot, Steurgon, Black Cod/Sable Fish – these are lesser known yet DELICIOUS white fish that are also less expensive than Wild Salmon, Halibut, etc!

  5. Jill says

    Just a weird sort of heads up regarding sturgeon: my dad was a fishing guide for many years, taking customers out on fishing trips on Oregon rivers. He always cleaned and deboned or filleted the fish for his customers and took the scraps home to his 50 acre property to feed to the coyotes (far from his house of course, it was just a good way to get rid of the huge amount of fish scraps). Interestingly, the coyotes would never touch sturgeon scraps! He never knew why, but being a lifelong keen observer and respecter of nature, he concluded that if a coyote (!) won’t eat something, there must be something really wrong with it! So of course he would never eat it, and recommended avoiding it to his friends and family.

  6. Talia says

    I would love the recipe for the clam and herb sauce, but it is a dead link 🙂

    I love seafood. I know it’s not idea but I usually go with the frozen wild caught from Aldi and pray.

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