The holidays are upon us and most of us will be buying gifts for friends and family, spending down the financial buffer we maintain throughout the year. Coupled with increased spending, we are also being bombarded with Christmas goodies, pies, sugar cookies, boxes of assorted chocolate, and the dreaded fruitcake your neighbor always sends you. With all these distractions it can be easy to splurge treats. On top of that, a tighter budget can give that added incentive to gravitate towards cheap foods. After all, healthy eating is expensive, right? Not necessarily. Switching to healthy foods can be quite affordable with a little planning and wise shopping. Let’s discuss some steps to make healthy eating possible on a budget.
Buy The Basics
Focus on purchasing foods and ingredients that can be used in a variety of meals. Stock your fridge and pantry with these items and you’ll avoid specialty purchases that will only be used once. Get your basic spices and add-in any ethnic spices that you use often. Choose the same healthy fats and use them for all your cooking (coconut oil, olive oil, and organic butter are great sources of fats and work with a variety of dishes). If you are gluten-free, buy flour that comes pre-mixed in one box rather than buying specialty flour individually (such as almond, arrowroot, coconut, and oat flours).
If perishable produce makes you nervous, opt for frozen fruits and vegetables instead. They not only keep longer, but they retain the same level of nutrients as fresh produce and without the added preservatives and processing found in the canned versions. Any type of squash or potatoes can be bought fresh since they keep longer in the fridge. They are also cheap and filling.
If you can’t avoid a specialty item, see if you can find it in small quantities for cheaper. For example, many grocery stores sell small spice packets for less than two dollars. If you need a particular spice but won’t use it often enough, there’s no reason to buy a whole jar of it for triple the price. Check out the small packets first. Pricey nuts, like walnuts and macadamia nuts, are also sold in small packets for cheap.
The popularity of fresh food delivery has been growing steadily over the years. Prices definitely vary among each company, so price shopping is the way to go. Some fresh food delivery will indeed be cheaper per month than your budgeted grocery allowance. Plus you’d be getting organic foods (talk about savings)!
One such company is Thrive Market. Thrive sells organic foods, supplements, and non-toxic personal care products at wholesale prices! Thrive Market costs about $5 per month or $60 per year. Food is ordered individually and does not come as boxed ingredients for a meal like other companies. This frees you up to cook any meal you’d like as well as getting your shopping list knocked out in one sitting. And your choices aren’t limited: they have a selection of over 6,000 products to choose from.
Buy in Bulk
Buying in bulk will always be cheaper in the long run than buying individually wrapped packages. Two food groups that come to mind are produce and grass-fed meat. Ask a produce clerk if they can sell produce by the case or box. Farmer’s markets may also be willing to sell in bulk, especially if they have a lot of leftover produce at the end of the day. Just be sure you’re buying produce that you know you and your family will eat regularly.
Grass-fed meat is one of the most expensive items on a healthy eating shopping list. To save money per pound, look at purchasing from a local rancher. They usually offer a quarter, half, or whole animal at discounted prices. Furthermore, there is some flexibility in the cuts of meat. You can request the types of cuts you prefer, up to the limit of what that animal has (such as tenderloin, steak, or brisket). The best part is the price per pound remains the same regardless of the number of specialty cuts you get. At the end of the day, you’ll be getting cuts like filet mignon as well as standard ground beef, all for the same price of roughly $5.00 per pound. In addition to beef, you can buy hogs or lamb depending on the rancher. If buying a whole animal is too much of an up-front expense, see if friends or neighbors would be interested in sharing the cost. This has the added benefit of saving space in your freezer!
Cook in Bulk
This differs slightly from buying in bulk. Cooking in bulk is a better course of action for those who only cook for themselves or one other person. Conversely, buying in bulk, especially for one or two people, can be difficult if the food cannot be eaten before it spoils. To solve this problem while still saving money is to cook large batches of meals as soon as you buy bulk food. This way, you benefit from buying in bulk while also avoiding food spoilage. Freeze these meals for later so there’s no pressure to eat them quickly.
Cooking one-pot meals are often the easiest way to cook in bulk. These meals are also easy to store in the freezer in large containers or sealed freezer bags. Soup, stews, chili, and casseroles are great one-pot meals to make ahead of time while enjoying the discounts of bulk purchases.
Know When To Buy Organic
Healthy eating involves choosing foods that are organic, grass-fed, and/or free-range. However, not everything has to be. Plenty of healthy foods can be bought conventionally without too much worry about ingesting harmful compounds (pesticides, antibiotics, etc). The Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out two lists, updated every year, on which foods to purchase organic and which can be bought conventionally. Fruits and vegetables that contain the most pesticide residue should be bought organic, while those that contain the lowest concentration of pesticides can be of the conventional variety. The EWG has called the list of high-pesticide food, the Dirty Dozen. This list can be found here. The foods with the lowest level of pesticides is called the Clean Fifteen and can be found here.
When it comes to animal products, it’s a good idea to buy organic chicken and pork as well as grass-fed beef. However, eggs and canned, low-mercury fish can be bought conventionally. If you must make a choice between non-organic foods that are full of nutrients versus organic foods that are processed, always choose food with the most nutrients (even if it’s not organic). For example, it’s better to eat non-organic chicken and asparagus than to eat organic pasta. Prioritizing which foods to buy organic and which can be conventional will save you money while also ensuring a nutrient-rich diet.
Avoid Unnecessary Purchases
In keeping with the goal of eating healthy whole foods, focus not only on what foods to buy but also on what foods to purge. This includes luxury products like expensive coffees, bottled water, specialty cheeses, and protein powders. It also includes any processed foods such as snack items, pre-made sauces, microwave dinners, energy drinks, sodas, or any food in a box that’s advertised as being quick, grab-n-go, or convenient. This frankly eliminates most food items found on the inner aisles of grocery stores. None of these items benefit our health but we continue to buy them, wasting our money. Purge these foods from your pantry and keep away from Starbucks! Choose to make homemade versions of the boxed meals you’re used to eating. Rely on whole food sources of protein like eggs, meat, and legumes, rather than on expensive protein supplements. Nobody can supplement their way out eating healthy. The best sources of nutrients come from a variety of whole foods.
Buy Ingredients, Not Pre-Made Meals
Raw ingredients will always be cheaper than buying prepackaged meals or side dishes. It also gives you control over what you’re feeding your body. After all, homemade meals don’t contain corn maltodextrin, modified rice starch, or sodium phosphate! These are the types of ingredients you’d be avoiding when cooking your own meals. You will also find that a prepackaged meal usually has a higher price per serving than its homemade version. In general, the more meals you can cook from home, the more money you will be saving.
With Christmas around the corner, much of our expendable income is being siphoned into buying gifts for friends and family. During this time, especially, it can be tough to prioritize eating healthy. After all, processed foods are usually cheaper. But eating healthy is quite achievable on a budget if you know what to look for (and what to avoid). Prioritizing whole foods and homemade meals can save you money, as well as your waistline, this holiday season.