Eating Healthy On A Budget

Eating Healthy on a Budget

Here is some positive, helpful tips for feeding your family a healthy diet without breaking the bank.

* Stick to whole foods:  Fruits, veggies, meats, nuts, beans, and simple grains.  Buying prepackaged foods is more expensive and less healthy.  You can make a great meal with rice, steamed vegetables and beans for a fraction of what you would spend on frozen pizzas, and your meal is much more balanced and nutritious.

*Reduce meat consumption:  Protein is good and fat is good, but try to include more protein-rich foods that are non-meat (dairy, nuts, beans).  Meat isn't cheap and replacing a few meat meals with vegetarian will not only help your budget, but will help reduce carcinogens (those chemicals that cause cancer), increase your vitamin and fiber intake, and help give you protein with healthy fats for satiety.

*Buy frozen fruits and vegetables:  Frozen fruits added to yogurt make great smoothies, go well in baked goods and even fruit casseroles (yes, recipes soon!).  Vegetables can easily be added to pasta, casseroles, pot pies, and more.  Just drain frozen fruits and veggies well before cooking with them or adding them to foods.  Frozen fruits and vegetables also last longer (no need to waste foods due to spoilage), and are often less expensive.

*Read the store flyer/Go with the sales!: Check the store flyer before heading out to the grocery store (many online now) and look to see what *whole* foods are on sale that week.  Come up with some recipes (try the library for good cookbooks) that use those ingredients.  However, keep in mind that many prepackaged items on sale are usually high in refined carbohydrates (something you want to avoid).  So use the sale prices that are for meats, fruits, vegetables, dairy, and grains, but not so much for the bags of potato chips and pretzels.  

*Ask friends to share in wholesale (Costco, Sam's Club, BJ's) shopping:  Food can be much cheaper at a wholesale store.  The problem is that many can't afford to dish out the upfront cost of investing in high quantity food purchases.  Get a network going (FB friends perhaps?) to see if anyone would be interested in buying bulk together.  Split the grocery bill and you stay within your weekly budget and weekly food amount, and get a deal on the foods you buy!

*Don't be fooled by labels such as *organic*, *all-natural*, "healthy*, etc…: Despite what you may hear from various scuttlebutt, there is very little difference between organic and non-organic.  Organic foods are not pesticide or chemical free, as you may think, they too are raised with chemicals (unless it is a local farm, perhaps).  The difference is that the chemicals used in organic farming come from natural sources whereas conventional farming allows for synthetic chemicals (visit Berkeley.edu for more information on this topic).  There has been much hype about this, but nutritionally speaking, an organic chicken has the same nutritional value as a non-organic chicken (as has been shown in many scientific studies).  If you have other reasons for buying organic (such as environmental concerns, ethical issues, etc…) then by all means buy organic, but simply from a nutritional perspective, don't think that you are doing your family a nutritional disservice because you don't spend $7 a pound on organic meat. 

* Increase fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats, decrease the refined carbohydrate snacks:  This is a tough one for many because sale items are usually on the latter group, and many people have become used to buying a lot of *white flour* products over the years due to their inexpensive price.  Whole foods can be just as inexpensive and much healthier, the trick is to know what to do with them.  Instead of potato chips, try tortilla chips with a fruit salsa.  Have peanuts or peanut butter and trisquits for a snack instead of granola bars.  Small substitutions and increasing food groups is easy enough to do and will help boost the nutritional content of  the foods you eat.  

*Get meats from a local butcher, wholesale club, or small grocery store:  Often meat may be of better quality (taste, tenderness, fresher) from a local butcher, and also at a lower cost!  You just need to take a few minutes to search your area for a good butchery.

*Less variety at once:  People eat more when they have more to choose from (and spend more!).  Make one big meal to last a few days or one big bag of grapes to munch on for a while.  When you go grocery shopping the next week, choose different foods.  Let your variety go from week to week, not day to day.  A lot of food gets wasted when you buy too much at once.  Just remember variety of food groups is more important than variety within each group (at least per day).  Weekly variety is sufficient.

*Keep it simple!:  If I could give one piece of advice, it would be to keep it simple.  Your food doesn't have to be elaborate, cooked for hours, or beautifully prepared.  Throw some ingredients together and make hundreds of salads, or eat your food fresh and plain.  Its healthier and cheaper!


 

Saving Money on Groceries

Mother and daughter shopping for fresh produce

1.  Buy lettuce by the head, not by the bag or box. OK, so it may actually take you all of three minutes to cut, wash and dry a head of lettuce compared to buying the pre-washed bag or box, but on average you will save about $3.50-$4.50 for the exact same amount of lettuce.  It's also better for the environment (not as much plastic being used) and you probably want to wash the lettuce anyway, regardless of whether or not it's in a bag or box. The lettuce will also be fluffier and fresher.

2.  Buy your milk (& orange juice) from a convenience store rather than the grocery store.  This may vary depending on where you live, but where I am a gallon of milk in the grocery store (store brand) is about $3.19-3.75 and in the convenience store it is only $2.49.  May not seem like much of a difference, but every little bit helps and in my house (with 2 kids, 4 people total) we go through about 4 gallons a week.  That equates to a savings of $22.50 per month! Orange juice is also cheaper as a half gallon is typically $3.50-3.99 at the grocery store and only $2.50 at the convenience store. 

3.  Don't buy perishables in bulk, unless you will use them.  Every time I buy a 5 pound bag of potatoes I use about 1.5 pounds and the rest grows arms before I get to eat it.  I could have saved around $2.00-3.00 had I just bought the 4 potatoes I ate rather than the big bag that got tossed.

4.  You can also buy celery, carrots, and other veggies in singles.  Just as in point #3, if you don't need an entire bag of celery sticks, don't buy the whole bag.  Most grocery stores have a separate section where you can buy carrots, celery and other vegetables in any quantity.  Maybe you only need one stick of carrot and one celery for a soup you are making.  You can just buy one of each for a fraction of the cost of an entire bag.

5.  Prepare you vegetables yourself. I know it is tempting to buy the pre-chopped onions, peppers, and zucchini, but it is a high price to pay to save 5 minutes of your time.  You will save anywhere from $2.00-5.00 cutting your own vegetables.  If time is a factor, my advice is to prepare all your vegetables ahead of time (I usually do it after I get home from grocery shopping).  Place the vegetables in tupperware (not plastic bags) and add a crumbled up paper towel.  The paper towel will absorb the moisture, thus leading to longer shelf life, and your vegetables will be ready to go when you need them. 

6.  Don't buy watered-down juice.  If your a savvy mom or dad (or at least health-conscious) and you have heard that your kids should reduce their juice intake, that's great!  Many companies are cashing in on this and are selling juices that are watered-down.  So you are paying the same amount as the regular juice (whether in a bottle or in a juice-box), but you are getting half the juice and tap water that is free from your faucet.  In other words, the companies are making twice as much money off of you!  Buy 100% juice (in its entirety) and mix it with water at home.  You will save around $2.75 to $4.99. 

7.  Don't buy bottled water.  In case you haven't heard, most bottled water is tap water.  Only difference is you pay $1.50 per 20 oz. if it comes in a plastic container.  Drink more water from your faucet, it really is the same quality (may even be better!).  You will be doing your wallet and the environment a big favor!  If your town water is questionable, you can always buy a water filter for your faucet.  A much more economical answer to filtered water. If you only drank one 20 oz. bottle of water a day, this would save you $45 per month. And of course you need at least three times that.

8.  Always look through the flyer and ask the deli clerk, butcher, etc, to see if anything is on sale.  I know I have made the mistake of going to the deli counter, asking for the same meat I always get, just to find out a competing brand is on sale that week for $2.00-3.00 less per pound. 

9.  Try to shop at the same store.  When you know a store's layout, you spend less.  You're familiar with the products they carry and spend less time looking for things.  In contrast, when you shop in places you aren't familiar you tend to "look" more and thus buy more because you notice items you haven't seen but want to try.  On average, whenever I venture out to a "new" store, I spend $30 more than normal.

Now, if you make every change I just mentioned (on estimate) you would save about $170 per month!

Saving Money On Healthy Foods

Let's face it, you can't help but notice that organic and natural foods cost a lot more…or do they?  It really all depends on where you shop, what you buy, and how savvy you are when it comes to food. So I am putting together a few tips to help you eat more whole, natural foods for less $$.

Natural Food Rules to Shop By:

1.  Discover Trader Joe's.  Although their food is not all organic, it is mostly natural and made with whole food.  They are very inexpensive and carry a small, but wide variety of items.  If you are looking to buy foods made without trans fats, HFCS, or artificial ingredients, but don't want to spend a lot, find the nearest Trader Joe's and check them out. 

2.  If you visit a place like Whole Foods, you will notice all kinds of gourmet foods, but you will also notice the arm-and-a-leg prices.  You can shop smart in Whole Foods if you know some tricks.

a.  Only buy their store brand, 365.  It will cost you about the same as the conventional versions found in your typical grocery store.

b.  Their chicken and turkey is a fairly reasonable price (equivalent to Perdue), but their fish and beef is expensive.  Instead, look at your local grocery store for seafood, just checking that it is wild caught and not farm raised, and you will save a lot of money and still get good fish.  Where I live (MA) we have Big Y and they carry frozen, wild caught fish (their natural brand is called Full Circle) in vacuum packed bags which are great.   As for beef, try to eat it only a few times a month, anyway.  It's up to you whether or not you think the organic far outweighs the conventional. Again, Big Y also carries Full Circle beef as well as natural deli meats.  Check your local grocery store to see if they carry a Natural/Organic Line of meats.

c.  Don't do major grocery shopping in a place like Whole Foods, stick to a few items that are exclusive to the store that you really want. For example, I have young children so I buy a lot of cereal there.  The cereal is kid-approved, but without anything artificial. And the natural, kid-friendly cereals are much cheaper at Whole Foods than at the regular grocery store.

3.  When shopping for deli meats, choose the store-baked meats (and don't buy these from a place like Whole Foods; way too expensive).  They typically have the least amount of preservatives and taste the best.  No need to buy organic.  Also get your deli meats fresh cut and not in prepackaged containers.  You will save at least 50% by waiting in line with your little paper ticket.

4.  Don't buy organic boxed items from a regular grocery store (unless it is a store-brand).  Get them from Trader Joe's or Whole Foods (or equivalent).  They will actually be cheaper as it is their specialty.

5.  Remember, if you give your fruits and veggies a thorough washing in soap and water, you can wash away most chemical residue.  If you are still concerned, a good rule of thumb is to buy organic if you will be eating the exterior, but if you eat only what is inside, you can get away with conventional.

6.  Remember, natural food means natural.  So think of simple ingredients and you can't go wrong.  Usually what makes groceries so expensive is when you pay for boxing, packaging and processing (or pre-making).  If you make more foods at home, it will be cheaper and healthier. 

7.  Except for milk, a little juice, and maybe some seltzer, don't waste money on too many bottled beverages.  You can make iced tea or iced coffee at home and drink more water.  Save your money (& your calories) for food.

8.  There are many non-organic foods that are very nutritious.  Don't think you need to buy organic, you don't.  Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are always just as nutritious, organic does NOT make any food more nutritious, it just usually means it has less chemicals. There is a difference.  In other words, a conventional orange and an organic orange have about the same amount of vitamins & minerals.  There are also many non-organic products such as Raisin Bran, Chex, or Shredded Wheat which are full of nutrition and can be bought at low prices as they usually come in store brand. As for crackers, I like Trisquits.  They have three ingredients; whole wheat, oil, and salt.  Goldfish crackers are actually pretty good, too, just stay away from the ones with food coloring (just in case…)

9.  A chip is a chip and a cookie is a cookie.  Whether or not it is organic, a chip is still a chip; a fried potato with seasoning.  Don't waste your money on any "high-fat" food such as these that come in an organic version.  It's just not worth it.  These are foods that should be eaten sparingly, anyway, so a small amount won't make a difference. 

10.  You don't need to buy organic frozen meals.   All frozen meals are high in salt and that is typically the big offender for frozen meals.  Regardless of whether or not they are organic, they will still have a high salt content.  Limit your frozen meals, they aren't really healthy.

11.  Many regular grocery stores are now offering a store-brand line of natural products.  These are usually cheaper than if you bought a similar product at a place like Whole Foods and are essentially the same products. 

12.  Don't buy more than you need.  Plan out your meals for the week and make up a grocery list.  I always keep a running list of what I need on a dry erase board in my kitchen.  Separate each food group so you don't miss anything.  I bring a list with me that is broken down into dairy, frozen, canned, produce, meat, and non-food.  It helps!

13.  See what you can find at Costco's/Sam's Club/BJ's.  I go to Costco's and they now sell whole grain pasta and other healthy food products.  As long as the food isn't perishable, there is no harm in buying ahead to save some money.

14.  Don't feel you need to shop at three different stores every week to save money.  Try to go to your specialty stores (Costco, Trader Joe's, etc…) once a month and stock up (that's what freezers are for).  The less often you shop…the less you spend. 

15.  If you can, join a local food coop.  You will get fresh fruits and vegetables (sometimes meats), from local farmers at a great rate.