The Cost of Healthy Eating: Tips for Stretching Your Dollar

One of the most common complaints I get from people who are changing to a healthier eating lifestyle (or are looking for an excuse not to…) is that it is sooo expensive. There is some truth to that, but it doesn’t have to be that significant.

Eating healthy is not as expensive as being sick, however, it can be pricier than eating the “Standard American Diet”. Making the most of your income is always a concern, especially when your grocery budget is small. There are many ways to make shopping for healthy food more affordable.

Buy in bulk. This is more expensive initially, but cheaper in the long run. You can get some great deals at stores like Costco. However, not everything will be cheaper at these places, so know your prices. Even the regular grocery stores are seeing the wisdom in this and stocking larger size items. Be wise though and only buy a larger size if you know you are going to use it up. It’s not cheaper if you end up throwing part of it out.

Shop with like minded people. Buy in bulk and split the item and cost between the group. You can get a good price, but don’t have to commit to mass quantities.

Don’t buy more than you can eat before it goes bad, eliminating waste. Waste is costly.

For produce, shop in season. In season fruits and vegetables are cheaper and tastier. Fruits, like berries for example, are much more expensive out of season. Tomatoes taste awful in the winter. Buying in season will also vary your diet so you don’t constantly eat the same thing. You can also stock up on in season produce and preserve or freeze it. Many foods freeze well. Go to the library and read a book on how to preserve food. It’s a good skill to have anyway.

img_1727Shop the farmer’s market and local farms. I don’t find them to be cheaper, but I guess it depends where you go.  I do find they have varieties you don’t often see in the grocery store. For example, at Wegmans they sell one type of acorn squash, but at the farm up the road I bought 4 varieties of acorn squash. The price was actually the same as the grocery store. Many farm stands will give you a discount at the end of the day so they don’t have to take items back. Can’t hurt to ask.

Buy frozen if fresh foods are not in season. They are just as nutritious and less expensive. In many cases they are fresher because they are frozen immediately. I just don’t like that many frozen foods tend to be mushy when defrosted. There’s many that aren’t though.

Buy whole foods and cook from scratch. Packaged healthy food tends to raise the grocery bill more than fruits and vegetables do. Reduce the packaged foods and focus more on the whole foods. Then cook from scratch, whether it be lunch, dinner, dessert or snack. Prep your own veggies. It is so much cheaper than buying the pre-cut vegetables.

 

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Shop around and stock up during sales. I go to 3 grocery stores. Wegmans, Whole Foods and Costco. Wegmans has very good prices, but the healthy food rarely goes on sale (the ones I eat anyway). Whole foods is more expensive, but I shop there mainly for sales in which case it ends up being cheaper than Wegmans. They also have coupons. I also shop there for items that aren’t carried in the other stores. Use the shopper’s cards and the apps for extra discounts. Target has also begun carrying healthier items and their prices can be even cheaper than the grocery store, so I always check the groceries while I am there.

Invest in a big freezer. The freezer in my kitchen was bursting at the seams, because I freeze all sorts of things. We purchased a floor freezer for $150 at Costco for the basement. It is always full of meals, baked goods and foods I’ve stocked up on. Best purchase ever. Cook bulk meals and pack them in smaller portions, then pull one out as you need a meal. Freeze single serve lunch portions and grab one in the morning on your way to work.

Eat in. Instead of eating/drinking out frequently, cut back some and put the money towards fresh food. Take lunch to work instead of buying it.

 

Grow your own food. The initial investment toward the garden set up can cost a bit, but then it’s done. After that it is just the cost of seeds and soil amendments.You can grow quite a bit of food even in a small garden. It tastes exceptional as well.

No space? Have a few containers for your favorite crops. You’ll be amazed how many crops grow well in containers. I’ve even grown sweet potatoes in containers!

 

Grow herbs and spices. When you start cooking from scratch you go through an awful lot of spices and herbs. Those little jars can get pricey. Make a windowsill herb garden.

Be creative with herbs and spices. You can take the same meal and use different spices to make it seem different. Make it Middle eastern one night and Asian the next. You can even go a third night with a Latin flair!

 

 

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Buy cheaper items when money is tight. There are whole/nutritious foods that are pretty cheap when money is tight. Eggs, brown rice, dried/canned beans, canned/frozen fish, fruits like watermelon, bananas, veggies like carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes. lentils, oats, quinoa, greens, plain yogurt (add own flavor), nuts, lentils, etc.

 

Drinks. Don’t blow the budget on beverages. Water, coffee and tea are all inexpensive drinks. Make herbal ice tea. Use leftover fruit or frozen fruit for infused water.

Plan ahead. Make the best use of your food by planning ahead.

  • Plan your meals around sales.
  • Plan meals that use the same ingredients. If I have to buy a bunch of kale for a recipe and won’t use it all, I will look for other meals using kale so I don’t waste it.
  • Plan on making extra food for another few meals to freeze or for lunch the next day.

Don’t waste. Don’t throw anything out! Use leftovers. Not enough for a meal? Throw everything into a pan and make a frittata.

Shop online. There are many online places that sell healthy foods. Many offer free shipping. Make sure you’re getting a better price though. I always wait until they have the 15% or 20% off purchase and I also use free shipping. I just started shopping online at Jet. I also buy my almond flour in bulk online. There is also Thrive (I believe they have a membership fee), as well as Swanson Vitamins and others.

Shop ethnic markets. Some ingredients will be cheaper there.

 

dirty-dozen                  clean-15

Know your “dirty dozen” and “clean 15”. Everything doesn’t need to be organic. Definitely buy the dirty dozen as organic to avoid the heavy pesticides. The rest you can buy as your money allows. Produce with heavy skins that you don’t eat will have less pesticides in them. There are also clean foods that are low in pesticides and other chemicals that can probably be conventional. The list is updated yearly, I believe. It is put out by the Environmental Working Group.

Btw, as a side note, the EWG states “We definitely recommend eating produce from the Dirty Dozen™ list rather than foods or snacks that are not as healthful, such as fat-, sugar- or additive-laden processed products.”

 

Go meatless. Have one or two meatless meals a week.

Meat. Don’t make the meat dish the feature, make it a side. Buy cheaper cuts of quality meats, or just buy the best you can afford of the meat you eat the most.

Stretch your meat. For example, you could add lentils to ground beef for a larger meatloaf, put the meat in a casserole, or cut it up and saute it with veggies in a one pot dish.

Use cheaper forms of protein. Replace some meat meals with cheaper protein items such as eggs, beans, canned fish, lentils, etc.

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Learn how to store and preserve foods. If you buy in bulk get some books from the library and learn how to properly store and preserve foods so they don’t go bad. Store in air tight containers, dry, freeze, can, root cellar, pickle, etc.

 

 

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Know how to comparison shop. Know how to use unit pricing to get the best price. You probably learned to do this in jr. high school. Bigger is not always cheaper. I have found items that were either equal in cost, or cheaper for the smaller item.

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“She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants. She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.”  Proverbs 31:14-16

 

How do you save money on you grocery bill when you shop healthy?

Any other ideas to add to this list?

 

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