It seems like everyone is jumping on the “clean eating” bandwagon. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s AWESOME that so many people are working towards a healthier lifestyle. On first thought, it seems like eating primarily fruits, veggies, and meats would also be good for the wallet. After all, you’re choosing all natural foods, there’s no wasteful packaging, and ideally, it’s locally grown.
The real cost of clean eating, however, can often create a (rather large) wrinkle in your budget if you aren’t prepared. The first time I hit the register with my locally-grown, organic, and grass-fed options, my jaw just about hit the conveyor belt. How was produce and meat so expensive?! I quickly learned that to you really get out what you put in, and if I wanted to REALLY improve my health and family’s quality of life, I had to suck it up and buy higher-quality products.
Never fear! There is some good news in this story, I promise! Eating healthy on a budget CAN be tough, but there are definite ways to cut costs and still get the quality you’re looking for. We’ve put together some of the best tips and tricks to help you navigate the grocery store, leave with a healthy bounty, AND keep some money in your pockets!
A Mama’s Guide to Eating Healthy on a Budget:
- Meal Plan — While it takes a little bit of work on the back end, ultimately, meal planning will save you time and money, reduce waste, and lower stress levels. By sitting down at the beginning of each week and writing out a plan, you can utilize the same ingredients for multiple meals. You can buy a head of broccoli and use it as a side with dinner, chopped up and scrambled into eggs for breakfast (one of my favorites!), or as a snack with hummus. When you think of multiple ways to use one ingredient, you can cut down on your waste, and your grocery bill. Don’t let this simplification of ingredients fool you. It’s easier than you think to ramp up your flavors and diversify meals with spices and sauces! You can find more tips for getting started with meal planning HERE and read about 10 ingredients to make 10 meals HERE.
- Buy what’s in season — In terms of fruits and vegetables, eating what’s seasonal not only tastes better and provides higher nutrition, but will save you money. Think about it: by sticking to what grows in your region at the time, you’re ensuring that your produce is as fresh as possible! Certain antioxidants and vitamins (such as folate and Vitamin C) lose nutritional value rapidly after harvesting. The closer you eat your fruit from harvest = the higher the nutritional value. The closer the food is grown = less shipping, higher bounty for the farmer, and ultimately, less cost. Sustainable.org has a great seasonal food guide that allows you to filter by the type of produce or by the month.
- Don’t be afraid of frozen fruit and veggies — There seems to be this stigma against frozen fruit and vegetables if you’re trying to eat healthy. While fresh produce provides the most nutritional benefits, there are great frozen options out there. Fresh produce is usually packaged and sent to the store before it’s ripe in order to allow for ripening during transport. Frozen produce, on the other hand, is typically harvested and frozen at peak ripeness when they’re most nutritious. If you can’t get fresh or if you’re in a pinch for time (aren’t we all?) frozen can be a great alternative. Nutritious, great price (and many times you can find coupons!), and they wont rot if you don’t get to them right away.
- Stick to your list, or better yet, order ahead of time — As a mom (especially one with little self-control), this one is the hardest for me. I typically bring my kids to the store with me, which doesn’t help, as their cute little faces can sucker me in to buying just about anything. HOWEVER, if you’re trying to stick to a budget, it’s imperative that you stick to your grocery list. You already meal planned, so you should know exactly what you need for the week. What you DON’T need is those amazing chocolate covered pretzels that are on sale for only $2.99 (or do I…?). Don’t go grocery shopping on an empty stomach and don’t buy unnecessary, random items. I know that seems pretty self-explanatory, but you know as well as I do that it doesn’t usually go down like that. If this is a re-occurring problem for you, you’re about the hit the jackpot with curbside pickup. If you haven’t used H-E-B curbside pickup, Walmart curbside pickup, or Instacart, what are you waiting for?! These services were basically created for busy mamas like us, so take advantage. This can help in SO many ways! You don’t have to drag your kids around the store, you can order EXACTLY what you need, and you can see a running total of what you’re spending before you check out.
- Eat dinner at home — Eating out can be a great treat every now and again, but ultimately, can be detrimental to your budget. If you’re in the group that eats out 2-3 meals a week or more, you might need to reevaluate when you sit down to make a budget. Seriously, take an inventory of your spending. If you’re taking all this time to meal plan and carefully shop/order your groceries, you certainly better start using them!
- Use your leftovers — I have a friend who “doesn’t do leftovers”. It doesn’t matter what it is: homemade, take out, pizza… she would rather throw it away than re-heat it and eat it later. If you’re trying to save money, this can.not.be. your strategy. In our house, leftovers are utilized for lunches the following day. You can also use leftovers as “recycled” ingredients for multiple meals. By cooking one big batch of mildly-seasoned chicken, you can add different veggies, sides, and sauces to create a variety of meals (think: chicken parmesan, chicken salad sandwich, grilled chicken salad, etc.).
All in all, eating healthy IS doable on a budget. While it would be a dream to head to the grocery store and buy all the organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised, non-GMO, locally-sourced things you could get your hands on, the reality is that for most of us, it just isn’t possible. By creating a plan, sticking to it, and getting creative in the kitchen, you can provide your family with nutritious meals on the cheap.
What tips do YOU have for healthy eating on a budget?