When people are asked why they do not eat healthier foods, a frequent answer is, “Because healthy foods cost a lot more.” If that is your reason, I encourage you to reconsider because there is no reason to think that way. Many people are eating healthy on a budget.
Yes, some organic produce and other “health foods” can be more expensive; but, it is not mandatory that you buy organic, etc., in order to eat clean, healthy meals. There are ways to stay on a food budget and still feed your family fresh, healthy foods on a regular basis.
- Buy fruits and vegetables in-season.
Seasonal fruits and vegetables will be less expensive that those out of season. You can educate yourself through online sources to make decisions about when to buy different types of produce. If you watch the prices in the groceries stores, that will be a fairly good indication, as well. Out of season produce is usually more expensive; don’t buy those.
Buying at your local Farmer’s Market or finding a good store that stocks fresh, local produce like SPROUTS, helps you buy fresh fruits and veggies at the best prices. When you find good prices, buy in bulk and freeze the excess for later.
In the past year or so, Safeway has been making a huge shift by providing organic and local produce. Just be sure to read the signs and watch the price points.
- Plan Meals Ahead
When you plan ahead (preferably a week at a time), grocery shopping becomes much easier. You buy exactly what you need and can avoid impulse buying. When you are not sure what you are going to prepare, you pick up a lot of random ingredients that you never use – a terrible waste of money and very hard on the budget. Plan, shop with a list, and stick to it.
- Shop the Perimeter of the Market
It is not necessary to buy a lot of fancy foods with exotic names just to eat healthy. The majority of the food you need will be around the perimeter of the market, so limit your time in the middle aisles – go there for specific items and leave quickly.
When you are on a budget, start by making a list of the most basic items you need, such as lean protein, produce, and whole grains. The rest of the food is only chosen, based on what you need for your planned meals or on occasion when you have a little extra money.
- DO NOT BUY Processed Foods
Processed foods may seem less expensive, but in reality, you get much less food for your dollars, it has been stripped of nutrients, and it is filled with additives.
For example: think about the price for a box of instant brown rice, which is good for one meal, compared to a big bag of uncooked brown rice and the number of meals you would serve from the bag. Yes, it does take a little more time to soak and cook the rice yourself, but you get a lot more for your money, more nutrient-rich food and no harmful additives.
- Learn to Cook with Inexpensive Protein Sources
Protein is a vital component of a healthy diet, but that does not mean you have to eat a large serving of meat at every meal. There are a number of protein sources that are less expensive and good for your body.
For fish, instead of always serving salmon, try tilapia, tuna, or mackerel – all much lower in cost. Chicken breast, hard cheese, cottage cheese, eggs, beans, nuts and seeds are also low-cost protein options.
- Buy Grains and Beans in Bulk
The American way of life has become so dependent on prepared foods that what I am going to suggest may seem like a real stretch for some. But, if you are living on a strict budget and want to eat better, try the following . . .
Instead of buying refried beans from a can, buy pinto beans in the bag, soak them, cook them, and add spices as needed. You can buy many grains and other legumes in bulk, which allows you prepare many meals for just a few dollars – and it is real, unadulterated food – so nice!
- Be Creative with Leftovers
In addition to lower cost, another reason for buying in bulk is that it saves time. You can cook larger portions for each meal, and use the leftovers to prepare additional healthy meals.
Instead of buying a small package of two chicken breasts, buy a package of 8-10 chicken breasts and bake them all at the same time. Use two or three for dinner, use two more for chicken sandwiches the next day for lunch, and another one or two the following day for a chicken casserole. If there are any left, freeze and use for other meals. One package could give you dinner for a week or longer, depending on the size of your family and types of meals you prepare.
- Organize Your Pantry and Fridge
This may seem like a silly tip, but when you pantry and fridge are organized, you can see what you have and use items in a timely manner. It also prevents you from buying duplicate items that you do not need. Food waste is a major factor in overspending on groceries.
You may have fruit and vegetables in the crisper drawer that are still good but you forgot you had them; or meat in the back of the freezer that could create a nice meal. Keeping your kitchen organized will help you stay within your budget.
Another tip closely related to this, is to always check your pantry and fridge for items on your grocery list before you go shopping.
- Frozen Fruits and Vegetables Are Acceptable Alternatives
There is nothing wrong with quick frozen produce. It is extremely convenient, saves money and also helps eliminate waste – because it doesn’t go bad as quickly as fresh produce – and it is great when you are in a hurry. Just be sure that you are buying frozen produce that has NOTHING added – including sugar and salt – pure fruits and veggies.
You can buy these year round – seasons do not affect the price and you can use partial packages and save the rest for latter. So, when the items that your family enjoys are on sale – or specials – stock up.
Freezers should be set at 0° or colder. Eating frozen foods past suggested deadlines is not dangerous as long as the temperature has been stable, but flavors and textures will begin to deteriorate.
- Try Off-Brands
You do not have to buy brand names to eat healthy. Learn to read labels and buy foods with no additives, salt, or sugar. Buy a small amount and test them for taste, texture, etc. If they work for you and meet the “clean” criteria, there is no reason not to stick with the new lesser-known brand.
There are specific “organic” brands, but there are also generic brands offering the same nutritious ingredients. The main key is to ALWAYS read labels!
Food manufacturers play games with labels – and have no qualms about misleading the public. It is up to you to make sure you are eating the kinds of foods you want – that are good for your family’s health.
You and your family can start eating healthy on a budget today. It takes a little planning, but it can be done – and well worth the effort.
I challenge you to take care of yourself and your family by changing the way you think about food and healthy eating.