20 Tips to Eating Healthier on a Budget
Okay, you asked for it (and by you I mean my sister-in-law Ashlee) so here it is! Yep, it just takes one request for me to ramble about what I love to talk about- fitness and eating healthy.
Let’s start with what healthy is because this may be different to different people. I made a list of what healthy is to me. Now, I’m not looking for perfection, but this is what I am striving for. My food won’t always be all of this, but this is what I consider healthy to be:
- Whole foods (as much as possible or lack of preservatives and “icky” ingredients when reading food labels).
- Lots of veggies each day (preferably in each meal) and some fruit too.
- Organic produce when possible.
- Pasture raised organic meats when possible (I know, eating out is tough).
- Good fats (coconut oil, butter from grass fed cows, organic nuts and seeds, avocados etc.) not bad fats (soybean oil, sunflower oil, trans fats etc.)
- Protein with each meal. I like to have a little protein with each meal.
- Limited to zero processed sugar (swap out raw honey, organic grade A maple syrup, pure stevia extract, dates, fruit).
- Avoid processed carbs (like pasta, white bread, packaged cookies, muffins, crackers etc.)
- Avoid pop and other sugary drinks (including juice… if you read the labels you will see that most of it is processed junk with tons of sugar)
Now that we know what healthy is (to me), how do we eat healthy on a budget?
1.Buy in bulk when you can. For example I buy 25 lbs of organic oats at a time. This may seem like a ridiculous amount of oats, but it’s SO much cheaper. And we go through lots of oats between everyone’s breakfast and oat flour for baking (I make oat flour out of oats in my food processor). Buying oats in that quantity makes them way cheaper than by the lb and MUCH cheaper than cereal. We also buy meat in bulk. We have an extra freezer and buy our organic grass fed beef direct from a farmer at the farmer’s market. We get 1/4 a cow at a time which brings it down to $3-4 something a lb (hanging weight) rather than the $6-$16 a lb (not hanging weight) you pay depending on the cut of meat. It’s a LOT of money up front but I take it out of our savings then replenish saving each month out of our grocery budget until our savings is “paid back”. If paying for THAT much beef at a time is out of the budget see if your farmer has a smaller bulk deal. If we buy 12 lbs of ground beef from our local farmer we get the 13th free. I also buy coconut oil in bulk (in a 5 gallon bucket) when it goes on sale at Tropical Traditions.
Here is my 25 lb bag of oats and our freezer packed 1/4 a cow of (organic grass fed beef) from the farmer’s market.
2. Have a grocery budget. If you don’t know where your money is going you will spend more than you think. Our grocery budget is a lot larger than it was years ago, but we still budget. If I could spend any amount of money when I go grocery shopping I would but anything I want (which is fun until you realize you don’t have money left for other things you need or want).
3. Check out the “clean 15” and “dirty dozen list. When you have to make the budgeting choice of “should I pay extra for organic or not” look at the clean and dirty lists. If it’s on the dirty list and you can afford it, buy organic. If it’s on the clean list and you are in a pinch financially buy conventional. THEN, wash your produce well with vinegar… especially the conventional. Here is a post about how I wash my produce.
4.Take baby steps. Our family didn’t get to where we are today overnight. We took baby steps. First I cut out white sugar and replaced it with rapidura or sucanant. Then we replaced that with raw honey or grade A organic maple syrup. Now I don’t even use those except on special occasions. I like to stick to fruit when possible for sweets (even in my baking). But those specialty less processed sugars are expensive and didn’t fit in my budget overnight. Neither did all the organic stuff. We slowly started replacing non organic with organic as our budget allowed. First starting with the dirty dozen and then working down the line. I still don’t always buy our nuts and seeds organic. It all depends on what our budget can handle that week/month.
If you eat meat, it might be the first thing you want to splurge a little to “clean up”. When they say “You are what you eat,” it goes double for meat. You are what you eat and what your meat eats. If that cow is not grass fed it’s not as healthy because it’s eating junk so you, in a way, are eating junky meat and all the junk the cow is eating… like GMO corn. They give that stuff to cows to fatten them up, so imagine what it’s doing to you. 100% organic grass fed beef actually has a different fat makeup than factory farmed cows. So that factory/conventional meat could be part of the reason you might not be seeing results in your health. Check out this article by Food Renegade (a really awesome blog I love). I could not have written it better than her, so I will let you read from her about why I buy quality meat. She also has links about “real eggs”, “real milk” and other “real food”. She is a fountain of knowledge so go check her out when you get a chance.
5. Embrace eggs… real eggs. Pasture raised eggs are the best! They have pretty golden yolks and taste amazing. And while you may think paying $3 or more for quality eggs is ridiculous they are still a much cheaper protein than most meats. We go through a LOT of eggs because they are cheap and delicious. If you can find a local family or farmer (check your farmers market if you can) they are even better than so called “cage free” eggs in the store. Here is an article explaining the difference in egg labels. It’s hard to know exactly what you are getting when you don’t know the source. Oh, and we buy eggs in bulk too. We get a great deal from a farmer at the farmers market. We buy 15 dozen at a time every other week (see, told you we eat a lot of eggs). They last that long because they are farm fresh!
6. Buy produce when it’s in season. Berries are cheaper in summer. Apples are cheaper in the fall. If you buy more than you need in seasons you can even freeze them or can them or just enjoy them while you have them. Just know that if you try finding organic apples right now (in April) you are going to pay a pretty penny.
7. Plan ahead. I always know what dinners I’m going to make for the week. My family pretty much has the same breakfasts most mornings. Lunches change some but I have a pretty good idea of what food we need for the week. I go to the grocery store with my list and try really hard to stick to it. The less impulse buys you make (like those chips you love, or even your favorite berries that are super pricey right now because it’s winter) the less you will spend.
8. Meal prep. This is along the same lines as plan ahead. I make my husband’s soup and turkey muffins for the week ahead of time and cut up fruit and veggies for the week as well. If I know what I’m eating ahead of time and have it ready I’m less likely to get more convenient food or eat out (which costs more).
9. Eat out less. We don’t go out to eat a lot. You can eat like a king at home for days for the same price as one night at an expensive restaurant. I can eat grass fed burgers with bacon and organic cheese with a side of sweet potato fries for a fraction of the price I would by going out. I can have sea food and steak for way less than at a restaurant. You can eat way more expensive foods at home, AND you know what you are putting in your food at home. At a restaurant you are often left guessing.
10. Limit those extras. I LOVE bell peppers in my morning eggs but they are a “sometimes treat” because I can’t always afford them. They are on the dirty dozen list so I always buy organic. I also like making banana or pumpkin breads and desserts that are healthy but sometimes those specialty healthy foods (made of things like almond flour, coconut flour, and dates) are much more expensive than white flour and sugar. I limit my desserts to special occasions, or like I said before, I buy my favorite foods when they are in season. For example: fresh berries are cheaper in the summer so I usually don’t splurge on them in the winter. They are almost always less expensive when frozen so I always have frozen berries on hand and stock up when they go on sale.
11. Look for sales. When my local food co-op has a sale on my favorite food I buy LOTS of it. Check expiration dates of course, but stock up when you can. Freeze items that can be frozen for extended “shelf life”.
12. Pick less expensive cuts of meat. Chicken thighs and legs are cheaper than breasts, and contrary to popular belief, saturated fat is not the enemy. I also buy whole chickens and use the bones to make bone broth which I use for homemade bean soup. I get more bang for my buck!
For example: My fajita style chicken with chicken thighs is cheaper (and tastier) than chicken breast.
13. Enjoy whole grains and legumes. While I don’t prefer whole grains to be the base of a meal they can stretch the wallet. Quinoa is a wonderful meal stretcher and it’s delish when in a flavorful meal (like this beef quinoa bake). You can totally replace meat with other forms of protein. While I prefer meat, I often sub it out for cheaper forms of protein (like nuts, eggs, or legumes). Check out this cheap and quick meatless meal my family loves.
14. Have a leftover day! I don’t cook on Sundays. We finish up any leftovers we have. It gives me a break from cooking and we eat up anything we have left from the week. Heck, have 2 leftover days a week or more if you have enough leftovers.
15. Keep your fridge organized. The most expensive food is the stuff you didn’t eat. I can’t stand throwing out food. I wont do it! Which is how leftover day began. Leftovers are fantastic, but they won’t do you any good if they spoil in the back of your fridge. I like to keep leftovers in one section of my fridge so that I always know what needs to be eaten. You could even put a mini sticky note on the dish with the day it was made so you aren’t questioning how old it is days later. I also like to keep everything in it’s place so that I don’t have produce going bad because I forgot that I had it. If you wont have time to eat some of your leftovers freeze them asap. I have frozen portions of my lasagna or zucchini lasagna and eaten it the following week or even a month later.
I love these glass containers for storing cut up fruit, homemade soups, and leftovers.
16. Repurpose those leftovers. We almost always have chicken left over when I make a whole chicken. I like to take the leftovers and spice it up with curry seasoning and make a yummy curry salad or curry with snap peas the next day. I could also throw it into another recipe for the next night’s dinner (like this chicken egg broccoli dish by Grass Fed Girl).
Here is my leftover roasted chicken and carrots from the day before that I added to peas (an inexpensive vegetable) with lots of seasoning (curry, garlic, red pepper, sea salt, and ground pepper)
17. Take your time. They say that food can’t be cheap, easy, AND healthy; you have to pick 2. Since we are going for cheep and healthy it’s not going to be easy. It will take time. Buying that cheese block and shredding it yourself will not only be less expensive, but it will have less junk in it (like anti caking agents). Chopping carrots yourself will take more time but cost much less. I can buy a pound of carrots that I will have to peel and chop for less than a dollar, but those pre-cut baby carrots are over 2 dollars a lb. I make my own homemade almond butter rather than buying it from the store. Not only do I pay less but I can control what goes into it. Often times store bought almond butter has oils I don’t like (I use coconut oil) and even sweeteners (I don’t sweeten mine).
18. Stop buying junk food. You would think this would be a given when trying to eat healthy but we all have our favorite junk foods right? If you are eating tons of really great food but still buying loads of chips, cookies, candy bars and pop you are going to spend more. You can eat a lot more quality healthy food if you cut out the crap. Even the “healthier” chips cost a ton. I love dark chocolate as much as the next person (and it’s actually quite good for you), but I can’t be buying chocolate bars all the time if I’m on a budget (unless I want to review them and share the results with you all of course ;)). Need some healthier snack ideas? Check out these snacks I love… they are all grain free. Some are more pricy to make/buy than others so pay attention to sales/seasons etc…
You can afford to eat a lot more organic fresh fruit if you skip the chips.
19. Grow your own food. I know not everyone has the time or space to garden but it’s a tip I had to include. I don’t have a green thumb quite like my dad, but I try. Even a zucchini plant or two can save you a ton of money. Tomatoes can be planted in planters. If you are new to gardening, start small and expand each year as you learn more. That’s how I did it. My garden has slowly grown each year. We make homemade salsa from our fresh tomatoes. I freeze shredded zucchini and have zucchini bread and zucchini turkey meatballs for months after the growing season.
My kiddos love picking fresh tomatoes and berries from our garden in our backyard.
20. Drink water. This goes along the lines of stop buying junk food. If you cut out all those other drinks you can save a TON of money. If you need to add a little something to that plain water add some fresh squeezed lemon juice (form lemons you bought in bulk to save money of course). Squeeze all the lemons as soon as they are ripe and ready. Then freeze whatever juice you can’t use up right away in small glass containers to thaw later in the month as you need it.
In all honesty, eating healthy can be much less expensive than eating unhealthy. Usually, the more you make from scratch or near scratch, the cheaper it will be. Need some recipe ideas check out my recipe page.
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