Lets admit it, healthy food can be expensive. With an upward trend of food manufactures making easy, boxed meals and processed snacks cheaper and cheaper there is a definite decline in the quality of nutrients Americans are consuming. I understand that is it more difficult to eat quality food when on a tight budget, but there are a lot of things you can do in order to save money and still eat nutritious foods. Here are my top 10 tips to help you eat healthy on a budget.
1. PLAN YOUR MEALS & CREATE A LIST
Start each week with a plan so you only have to go grocery shopping once during the week. The least amount of trips you take to the store the less likely you are to spend money! Planning is essential to both a nutritious diet as well as saving money. Plan out meals that require minimal ingredients. And if you have a recipe that calls for 2 cups of spinach be sure to plan another meal that requires spinach so you use the entire bag you bought. Next, make a grocery list. Then be sure to check your cupboards prior to shopping and only buy what you are going to use (ex: do not buy an entire bag of chopped kale if a recipe calls for 2 cups kale, instead purchase a smaller bunch of leaf kale and chop it yourself). There are many great grocery list apps available now to help you organize your list; personally I just use the reminders app on my iPhone and check things off as I place them in my cart. My husband and I started doing our list this way so we could "share" the reminder list and both add to it throughout the week when things run out.
2. STICK TO YOUR LIST
Grocery stores are set up to entice you into buying more than you came for. I highly encourage you to stay on task while shopping and only look for items on your list. As a general rule, you should try to shop the perimeter of the store first, as this is where the whole foods (produce, meats, and dairy are typically located). The middle of the store contains all of the processed, unhealthy foods and tempting treats.
3. PRICE MATCH
Learn the grocery stores nearest your home and take a day to compare prices of typical items you purchase. For example, I know that I can get the best deal on quality ground beef, hormone-free chicken, and nitrate-free turkey breast at Costco. In addition, I have compared a few other grocery stores near me and found that my local Woodman's has the best prices on produce, almond milk, coconut flour, and frozen vegetables. In addition, you can look at the ads from your local grocery stores and make a list of the best deals going on that week. The more aware you become while you shop for groceries, the more familiar you will become with pricing. If you are haveing trouble remembering prices at certain stores, take a quick picture on your cell phone or keep a notes sheet open on your phone and write it down when you learn of a better deal so you have an easy cheat sheet to reference.
4. BUY MEAT THAT IS ON SALE
If you and/or your family eat meat on a regular basis, it is a good idea to leave a meal or two open on your plan for a recipe that can use meats on sale. Depending on where you live, chicken and ground beef may tend to go on sale more often than seafood so adjust your meal plan according to the meats on sale if you need to. Keep in mind, you can always freeze meat! I suggest stocking up when meat is on sale and using it later in the month. When it comes to seafood, frozen is often cheaper and when cooked right just as delicious and nutritious.
5. BUY IN BULK
Even if you only have to grocery shop for yourself, it can pay to shop in bulk for certain items. Pantry stables like rice, oats, flours, canned beans, canned tomatoes, coconut milk, coconut oil, nuts, and popcorn are all available in bulk at stores like Costco or Sam's Club. As long as the self-life is 6 months to one year, purchasing in bulk saves money! Checking the unit price of items comes in handy when buying in bulk. A unit price is the price for one unit of the item you are buying. For instance, when I am purchasing canned tomatoes, I look at the unit price to tell me how much I am paying per ounce. The unit price will be listed to specify the cost per ounce or pound, so simply multiply that number by how many ounces or pounds you wish to buy to find the best price.
Other items to buy in bulk include frozen fruits and vegetables, along with frozen meats (fish and chicken especially) and paper goods (paper towels, napkins, toilet paper, etc.).
6. KNOW THE CLEAN 15 & DIRTY DOZEN
The clean 15 and dirty dozen are a list of vegetables and fruits indicating which ones to buy organic and which ones to buy conventional. Organic produce is more expensive so knowing which ones to actually splurge on is worth it! I do not purchase all organic fruits and vegetables, but I do try to stick to the dirty dozen rule as these items are the most contaminated foods when not grown organically. Save the picture below to your phone so the next time you're at the grocery store you can reference it easily. As a general rule, the thicker the skin on the fruit or vegetable (bananas, avocados, etc.) the less likely pesticides and other chemicals can permeate the edible portion. If the edible part is exposed (berries, tomatoes, apples, etc.) go organic!
7. SUBSTITUTE WITH FROZEN AND CANNED
When recipes call for 1 cup of fresh blueberries. I can almost guarantee the recipe will taste the same if you thaw some frozen blueberries. Unless there is a huge sale on fruit, frozen is almost always cheaper. Frozen fish is typically cheaper than fresh and has the same nutritional benefits. In addition, use canned tuna and salmon for salads and egg bakes.
8. USE YOUR FREEZER
If you have leftovers that you do not want to eat because you want more variety for the week, simply freeze them! You will have a meal ready for you next week. Simply take the meal out of the freezer the day before and thaw in the refrigerator; you'll have a pre-made meal and save money that week! You can also batch cook a few family favorites one Saturday or Sunday and then freeze them in individual servings so your family can grab a healthy meal from the freezer whenever they wish! My mom was great at cooking ahead and always had something nutritious for us in the freezer on busy weeknights when we had sporting events. It is a huge time and money saver as you won't be running to Chipotle or Culver's and spending triple the amount to feed your kids.
9. BUY WHOLE FOODS
Some foods are a lot cheaper in the less processed form. For example, a block of cheese is cheaper than shredded cheese. Whole grains like mullet, rice, or oats are cheaper per serving than most processed cereals or pre-packaged oatmeal packs. Yogurt is another item you can save a lot of money on simply by purchasing the larger tubs of plain yogurt and adding your own frozen fruit and/or honey. You also eliminate the preservatives and sugars added to fruity yogurts by purchasing plain yogurt.
10. RE-PRIORITIZE HOW YOU SPEND YOUR MONEY
Lastly, I want to leave you with a small challenge. Do you have cable TV? Do you have a fancy coffee habit? Do you go out to eat most days for lunch? The constant struggle to be able to "afford" healthy food may ultimately come down to priorities. Where are you spending your money that does not directly and positively impact your physical and emotional health? I challenge you to look at your finances and see if you can re-prioritize where you spend your money, and perhaps you will have a few more dollars to invest in your health.