About seven years ago I started making the transition to a plant based lifestyle and thank goodness I was working at the time, because I think most of my paycheck went straight to the fridge! I’m embarrassed to even think about how much money I would spend at the grocery store each week in an effort to eat healthy. I am a spender. Wish I wasn’t sometimes, but I am. So, the “art” of eating healthy on a budget took me some time to master.
At the time I was struggling with undiagnosed health issues and felt very strongly that a change in my diet would produce a change in my health so I stuck with it. Over time I did get better at managing the amount of money I spent on food, but the “food” category of our budget was still pretty high. A cleaner diet was clearly the right decision for our family, but when I became pregnant and we knew we would be cutting back to one income, the time came for me to become super intentional about eating healthy on a budget.
There are some awesome tips out there for eating healthy on a budget – community gardening, local farmers markets, making your own foods (jams, milks, flour, etc), but for busy moms this can be a little overwhelming. The biggest lesson I learned was to BE INTENTIONAL & KEEP IT SIMPLE.
Here are the top 10 tips that have personally helped me cut the grocery bill down while still eating healthy.
#10. Focus on the “Dirty Dozen”
The EWG (Environmental Working Group) produces a list of the 12 “dirtiest” fruits and vegetables that contain the highest amount of pesticides. If you can’t buy all of your produce Organic, focusing on the “Dirty Dozen” as they are called, it will help you avoid the highest amount of pesticides.
#9. Eat seasonally
Taking note of what’s in season is not only cheaper, but it also tastes better and can help you branch out of the norm to try new things.
#8. Limit meat
Not saying you have to become a vegetarian, but grass-fed, organic meat can get expensive so you may consider replacing meat for beans or grains here and there. I personally love quinoa as a meat replacement. I use it in my chili, tacos/nachos, and pasta dishes and rarely do I get negative feedback.
#7. Buy nuts and seeds in bulk
These are great energy boosters between meals and usually are less expensive when purchased in bulk.
#6. Start seeing double
Some nights are just busier then others and this is usually when I will blow a good amount of $$ on prepared organic meals just because I am tired or in a rush. Keeping pre-made frozen meals on hand has been the key to keeping up on the home meals. I almost always make double or triple batches of whatever big meals I cook so that I can freeze extra for those busy days.
#5. Limit indulgences
There IS such a thing as “too much of a good thing”. For example, a $12 smoothie once a day will KILL a tight budget. Not to say its bad to indulge… but what has helped me is to be somewhat intentional about it. There are days I let myself get a good smoothie on “shopping day”, because I know I’m going to have less time to prepare a smoothie that day. Check your bank statement and see what might be something you can scale back on.
#4. Keep it simple
Healthy doesn’t have to be a complicated 19-step meal. Try keeping the focus on including clean ingredients in meals. Start with simple meal replacements and go from there. I kinda chuckle here… in my early days of healthy eating I sure did feel the pressure to create quite a feast each meal. Pregnancy and babies put a stop to that REAL fast! *Wink*
#3. Make your freezer your new drive through **MY PERSONAL FAV**
I imagine most moms can relate when I say, I eat most of my meals on the go. One of the easiest and best ways I get the nutrients I need is through smoothies & juices. I drink a TON of my foods these days! Smoothies & juices have two downfalls though: 1) they take a little time and effort to make and 2) they can get expensive. And this is where having a freezer stocked with smoothie goodies comes in handy. Not only do I keep my freezer stocked with frozen fruit, but now it’s packed with cubes of celery, wheatgrass, carrot, ginger, cucumber, and lemon juice.
Since this is my favorite tip I’m going to go into a little more detail here. Once every two months or so I juice and blend every type of fruit and veggie you can think of and freeze everything in ice cube trays. After freezing the cubes I store them in baggies that are labeled and dated. If you’re interested in which items should be blended vs juiced read more here.
To make a quick smoothie I start with a base of Kiefer, Almond Milk, Coconut Water or just plain H2O. I add in fresh greens that I keep stocked in my fridge each week (usually Kale) and then start adding in my cubes of produce. Sometimes I will check an online menu of my favorite smoothie bar to get some inspiration for smoothie or juice combinations. To make life even easier I will put everything but the liquid base into my Nutra Bullet the night before so its super easy to add my liquid base, blend and go in the morning!
#2. Plan Ahead
Having an idea of what we are going to eat throughout the week has helped lower our food cost quite a bit. We eat out less, buy less extras, throw away less and finish up leftovers (gotta have a “whatever is leftover” night).
Having a log of favorite meals to add to our meal plan was my hubby’s idea and such a huge help. I keep a list of healthy, but inexpensive “Fan Favorite” meals in my phone and usually pull three meals from this list each week. I know they will be good, easy and I know exactly how much they will cost.
#1. Make a list and stick to it
Its aaaaaaaa-mazing to me how much just a few “extras” can add up. Several times I’ve set aside a part of my cart as “extras” to reevaluate at the end of my shopping trip. Each time I added up the cost of those little extras it was such an eye opener. No wonder my grocery bills were sky high.
New tricks: If I see an awesome item I want to try, take notice of the cost and add it into next week’s shopping budget. If you are a sucker for the sales, check the weekly fliers before you make your list so you can incorporate those sales into your meals.
I am such an advocate of clean and health eating!! Ihope you are too. No matter what your financial or family situationis, this is always an area to keep improving on.