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Ways to Eat Healthy on a Budget
Eating healthy and eating on a budget don’t have to be in conflict. In fact, with just a little planning, eating healthier is actually more budget-friendly than eating processed junk and “convenience” food. I’ll show you lots of great ways to eat healthy on a budget.
In the Produce Aisle
- Buy fresh fruit in season:
Not only is fruit at its peak flavor when it’s in season it’s also much lower priced. Your grocery dollar will go a lot further if you stick to seasonal produce, which has the added benefit of reducing your carbon footprint.
For example, here in Oklahoma, the most delicious locally grown (Rush Springs) watermelon can be bought in August for about a third of what it would cost you to purchase tasteless watermelon from who knows where in December.
- Ditch the Grocery List:
You may have heard that in order to stick to a budget you should always have a grocery list and stick to it. I actually disagree – at least when it comes to meat and produce. If you go in to get pears and find apples for 29 cents a pound, by all means stock up! Make apple everything for the next week; add them to your oatmeal, makes homemade applesauce, you name it.
For example, when I found 1 pound bags of organic baby carrots for 19 cents a bag I picked up about 8, shopping list be darned. We ended up freezinggame real bags for soups and crock pot roasts.
- Blemished Fruit
Look for blemished or ripe fruit that has been marked down. Last week, for example, I picked up a 5 pound bag of ripe bananas for 99 cents, and most were actually still green. It came to about 9 cents a banana. What we couldn't ea got froze for smoothies.
I also scored big at the farmer’s market recently. I went just before closing and I found someone offering apples for 10 cents. When I told him I would take ten, he said “just take them all.” He said he wanted them to go to someone that would do something with them rather than pack them back up. It ended up being about 35 apples for $1.00! What luck.
- Freeze Fresh Produce
We have also started freezing fruit and veggie purees to drop into dishes throughout the week. This works for almost all veggies – spinach, carrots, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, peas – and fruits, too. We puree the veggies, sometimes after steaming them, then freeze them in ice cube trays. This allows us to stock up on produce when we find a bargain.
When we make spaghetti sauce, we drop lots of frozen cubes into store-bought tomato sauce. You can find great puree recipes and uses in The Sneaky Chef cookbook. Purees also help bring the cost of dinner down by reducing the amount of meat and processed ingredients in a dish.
Buy in Bulk
Buy in the bulk foods section. Buying from the bulk foods section doesn't necessarily mean buying huge quantities; rather, it means buying products by weight instead of prepackaged. A lot of stores let you buy grains, oatmeal, nuts, beans, rice and more by the pound rather than in boxes.
This is a great money saver. For example, you can buy one pound of organic steel cut oats for $1.49 – this will get you about 4 cups of oats, or enough to make 16 bowls of oatmeal (or about 10 cents a bowl). Compare that to a $5 box of cereal, with 12 servings (or 40 cents a bowl). For a family of four, at 5 days a week (no one wants to eat the same breakfast every day) and you just saved yourself $312 a year (30 cents for four people, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year) and that's only breakfast.
You can also throw in some frozen fruit or some bananas slices (which we bought for 9 cents a banana) and you breakfast is still under a quarter per person. For a good protein additional, toss in some chopped nuts, also bought in bulk.
Rethink Your Protein
One of the biggest-ticket items in your grocery cart is meat, likely from an industrial ranching operation and packed full of hormones and antibiotics. Don’t be afraid to go meatless. There are so many great meatless meals that are easy on your budget, better for your health and full of flavor. Whole wheat pasta with lots of veggies in the sauce is a great option. We have found that whole-grain pasta tastes even better than white pasta.
Veggie fajitas are another great vegetarian option – you can add in protein by adding a side of beans or by substituting plain Greek yogurt (check the nutritional label to make sure you are getting high protein and low sugar – otherwise your “Greek” yogurt is just a label) for sour cream. Speaking of beans, that’s another great money saver, especially if you buy dry beans rather than canned. For about $1.49 you can make the equivalent of 5 cans of beans, which typically cost about 99 cents a can (a savings of $3.46). Do this once a week and you can save $180 a year!
A new favorite dish at our house is quinoa (a complete whole grain, pronounced Keen-Wa) and black beans. Quinoa is actually very easy to cook and pretty versatile. You can buy quinoa in “bulk” at most grocery stores. Bulk grains at the grocery store don’t actually have to be purchased in bulk quantities, but rather you can buy as much or as little as you want – just fill up a produce bag and pay by the weight. We even put a spoonful of quinoa in our breakfast smoothies last week, with no noticeable change in the taste or texture.
Make Your Meat Go Further
If you aren't comfortable going meatless, you can still save on your grocery bill by reducing the amount of meat in your meals and increasing the number of veggies. Think soups, stews and stir fries.
Our go-to budget-friendly, healthy meal is taco salad. We can make a great meal with a small amount of grass-fed ground beef, lots of black beans, bell peppers, fresh corn and onions on a huge bed of spinach.
Another way we reduce the money spent on meat while increasing the nutritional content is in our chili. We make the chili with lots of beans and even some barley (both bought by the pound). Add in diced peppers, onions and tomatoes and soon you have a pretty healthy dinner with a much lower cost per portion than traditional all-meat chili.
There are many more ideas for eating healthy on a budget. I hope these ideas help inspire you next time you are walking down the grocery isle.