The Cost of Eating Well: How to Eat Better for Less Money
I have always been what one might call a “food snob” and what many might call a little bit “over the top” with the foods and ingredients I eat (or don’t eat). For me, though, it seems routine and normal, as I have been eating the same way for years through many a budget change. I still walk into the store and walk out again in fifteen minutes tops. Why? I know exactly what to get and where it is. There is little thought put into my shopping, as I know that when I get home I can make anything work - especially if it is on sale.
Bottom line? To eat well you must do a bit of research and put the time in beforehand. The biggest nutrition question I get is in regards to how much I spend on food each month to eat the way I do. This was the most common question particularly when I was in college. I was on one of the tightest monthly budgets of anyone, and trust me, it did take more effort to make it work, but with a little research, smart shopping, and meal planning, I still managed to stay on my protein, fat, and carb ratios and for far less than others spent on less healthy foods.
People still cannot believe my response when I tell them what I spent each month and I still ate all of my regular meals. You can do it too, but you must be a smart shopper. Just like any training program takes time, so does healthy meal planning, budgeting, and shopping smart. Once you start though, it can become a part of your everyday routine. and an easy one to manage at that.
Last Longer on Less
Real foods last longer. What I mean by that is nutrient-rich foods properly fuel the body so it isn’t as starved for more, as usually happens with poor or lesser quality foods. I can go longer with more energy on fresh greens and real food proteins, healthy fats, and cheaper good carbs such as sweet potatoes and brown rice (basmati is the best). With proper fueling I don’t have to refuel or eat as often or as much.
The body has all it needs when it eats the foods it was designed to run on, and the urge to “grab and go” as you run out of gas through the day is greatly reduced. Fake or packaged foods run right through your system, spiking insulin levels then dropping you like a rock. These foods also clog up the digestive system causing fatigue, concentration problems, and many other undesirable symptoms, and they cost far more at the end of the day than real foods do, too. Fake foods add up and leave you feeding for more.
Any chance I get I buy food in bulk. I steer clear of anything packaged in a box or in plastic. I understand why so many people are under the false assumption that eating well is too expensive. I cannot tell you how many people I have stood behind in line where the person in front of me has a third of what I do at the checkout line and is paying triple. All because they are buying boxes and plastic containers of overpriced “organic” or “all-natural” packaged foods. These items might last a week (if that) and then this person is right back at it restocking their pantry again the next week.
Instead, hit up the bulk bins for nuts and seeds (or buy online), brown rice, and some bulk proteins. I even carry my own glass jugs to the store for refills of distilled or reverse-osmosis water. Tossing the water bottles and gallon jugs alone will save you big time. If you have a water filter, pre-filter your water and load up your own containers. A filter replacement is so much cheaper than store-bought water.
For supplements and specialty foods, such as apple cider vinegar, coconut oil, some proteins, superfood products, and others, I have my favorite online stores and am always aware of the bulk pricing, specials, and sales available. This way I never get caught in a grocery store paying twice as much per ounce when I know I am stocked up at home. These products last for months and I know exactly how much I use and how quickly I go through them. This way I can budget in advance. Again though, these are additions to my basic food and if one month isn’t as productive financially as the next, I always have a reserve gallon or jar to get me through and worst case, I simply don’t buy these “luxuries” and my nutrition is still okay. Why? Because I have rice and sweet potatoes in the cupboard and pounds of meat in the freezer from the half-cow I bought for a rainy day.
To Buy or Not to Buy Organic
You do not have to buy everything organic. Yes, I actually said that. Sprayed foods that are exposed to fertilizers and other poisonous substances such as apples and grapes (especially grapes - so watch out wine drinkers) must be organic. Oranges, grapefruit, and watermelons, however, have their own protective layers, so they are just fine to buy conventional (and cheaper). But, you should steer away from seedless varieties of produce, as anything seedless has been genetically modified. Root vegetables are safe, so grab yams and sweet potatoes for longer-term storage and because you can make just about anything from them (fries, mashed potatoes, or add them to your shakes). Brown basmati rice is just as good as organic brown rice and steel cut oats are cheap and a great source of energy and fiber.
All of the above come in bulk, so cut your cost here. With the money you save, spend a bit more on important foods such as cage-free eggs, grass-fed beef or bison, organic chicken, or fresh fish (versus farm-raised). These types of foods must be antibiotic and hormone free. I like buying in family packs, but anytime I can find a local butcher or go in on buying a cow I will do that. You save more this way and anything you do not cook right away you can store in Ziploc bags (best to separate by portions) and freeze for later.
Buy on Budget Not Your Belly
Find out what is on sale and leave the appetite and cravings in the car. In other words, let the sales and the bulk pricing determine your meal. You don’t have to eat what is not on your meal plan, but you can learn to make substitutions to accommodate your budget. For example, you might be dying for steak and potatoes, but chicken might be on sale. Hence, chicken stir-fry (by the way, stir-fries are great on a budget). Are there any veggies on sale? Grab them, chop them up, spice them up, and there you go. Don’t spend money on dressings and sauces, but learn how to make your own with what you have (if you need them at all) and stock up on seasonings. You won’t believe the combinations of foods you can make for less. And enjoy!
Photos courtesy of Katie Chasey and RXBound.