You don’t have to spend a lot of money to eat healthy. In fact, focusing on eating whole foods will actually SAVE you money! Yeah, I know you’ve been to Whole Foods (aka Whole Paycheck) and have probably spent way more dollars than you wanted to. But, you can save money, eat a healthy diet, and even while shopping at Whole Foods (if you choose). What’s important is to have a strategy. Knowing what to buy, where to buy and how to buy your food is the key.
This blog series is all about where to budget your money, and where to splurge, when purchasing food. First, we’re starting out with how to shop for healthy food on a budget.
1. Buy fresh produce that is in season. This will always be the cheaper option. It’s very hard to do this during the winter in some areas of the country, but you can at least make this a goal during the spring, summer and fall months when seasonal produce is abundant. A great and wallet-friendly way to do this is to shop at your local farmer’s markets or join a CSA (or Community Supported Agriculture). A CSA is a farm share, you pay a lump sum to a local farm in advance, and they give you veggies from their farm all summer long! For more information, check out: http://www.localharvest.org/
If you don’t know when fruit or veggie is in season, check out my guide to seasonal produce below. Right now berries and greens are at their peak!
2. Use the Dirty Dozen list when shopping for fresh produce.
Conventionally grown produce are sprayed with pesticides and chemical fertilizers that may be toxic to us. Organic product can be pricier, though. The Dirty Dozen list shows the worst offenders when it comes to fruits and veggies – and those items you should always buy organic if you can. The items you can buy conventional, which are cheaper, are the fruits and veggies NOT on that list. For example, to save money, I sometimes do not buy organic bananas, sweet potatoes and avocados. Those are items I eat a lot of, and not buying organic saves me some money. There is a Dirty Dozen app you can download for reference
3. Purchase whole foods (and stop buying anything in a box). Buy whole grains and beans like quinoa, oats, rice, black beans and lentils and make your own dishes! Most items that you buy in a box have been stripped of much of their nutritional value, have a ton of sodium and/or sugar added to them, and have nasty dyes and preservatives. And, you are paying for the the marketing and advertising that went into to selling that product. Even better & cheaper, buy whole foods like grains and dried beans in bulk.
4. Get back into the kitchen! Did you know that what Americans spend on eating out just overtook what they spend on groceries? Eating out can really be a leak in your budget, and it’s usually not the healthiest – especially if you are eating fast food. You can buy twice as much food for the money at the grocery store. Try to eat and prepare most of your food at home, and save eating out for a treat or for social occasions. And, how much do you spend on your daily latte? Consider making your coffee and tea at home, and save coffeeshop time as a treat.
5. Plan your meals. This is where a lot of people fall short with both their budgeting and eating healthy. When you don’t meal plan, you may end up buying more food than you need, or food that you forget you have, which then goes bad. Instead of throwing your money away and wasting food, be strategic about what you buy.
Here is an easy way to meal plan. Think of the kinds of meals you like to eat. Then plan out a week like this:
Monday – Pasta
Tuesday – Veggie stir fry
Wednesday – Burritos or tacos
Thursday – Salad
Friday – Pizza
Saturday – Soup
Sunday – Grilled food
This strategy should make it easier to make a grocery list, and actually use the food you buy. If you need more help with this, I’ll be offering an online workshop on meal planning soon!
6. Limit impulse spending. Ok, so the more expensive items we buy at the grocery store… they are usually not the items on our list, right? Try limiting yourself to one impulse item each shopping trip. My favorite impulse buy is fresh flowers. And, please tell me you don’t go shopping hungry – we all know that does not end well for your wallet!
7. Make your own. One of my favorite beverages is kombucha tea. It’s a delicious fermented tea flavored with fruit juice that I will be doing a post on soon. Anyhow, it can cost upwards of $4 per bottle! I found tutorials on youtube, and recipes online, on how to make my own kombucha. Now I spend 50 cents or less per bottle! Other fun things you can DYI for cheaper (and healthier without added sugar and preservatives): nut milks, granola, energy bars and salad dressings.
8. Eat more plants. The next time you are shopping, compare the price of any meat, poultry or fish to a package of dried beans (which covers a few meals). Think about eating a few more vegetarian meals a week if you already don’t and making plants the center of your plate. To make them heartier, use beans (any kind), tempeh or tofu. Do not worry about protein as grains, veggies and fruits also have protein!