Want to clean up your diet and add in lots of fresh, healthy foods but afraid it might be too expensive?? Here are a few ways that I keep my food budget under control:
Buy in Bulk – I’m not talking about 10lbs of Halloween candy on special at Costco. I’m talking about the bulk sections of my local health foods stores. I buy dried beans and legumes (black beans, chickpeas, lentils), grains (quinoa, barley, brown rice), nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, sesame seeds), dried fruits (raisins, cranberries), and nutritional yeast from the bulk area of my favorite store. Buying dried beans vs canned beans will save you tons, especially if they are a staple in your diet. Whole grains are also usually cheaper when bought in bulk…just don’t forget to label them so you aren’t confused later (speaking from experience!). You can get a pressure cooker to cook beans in a snap or simply think ahead like I do. I make a TON (seriously) of black beans at a time in my slow cooker and then freeze them. I eat black beans more than any other because they are so versatile. That way, any time I want to make a burrito bowl or stuffed sweet potato I just need to thaw the right amount and I’m ready. Nuts and seeds (usually raw and unsalted) are way cheaper from bulk bins than they are from the fancy designer cans at most stores. I have a big stockpile of sunflower seeds, walnuts, almonds, cashews, chia seeds, and flaxseeds. Nuts and seeds are often best stored in the freezer (especially if they are roasted). Nutritional yeast is another item I use a lot and it costs $11.99/lb bulk which seems like a lot but even when I buy 5 huge scoops it rings in under $4 because it is so light.
Buy on special – I eat a ridiculous amount of bananas, usually ranging from 1-3 per day. Mostly, I use them in my smoothies so they don’t need to be perfect. This is when it’s beneficial to buy on special. In fact, just yesterday I bought 20 bananas for $1.00!! You heard me right…20 bananas!! They were looking a little soft and spotted but that is the perfect banana for a smoothie (adds great sweetness) so I bought them and immediately froze them at home. I keep a big bag of halved, frozen bananas in the freezer so I can throw them into smoothies easily.
Buy it Whole – Instead of purchasing pre-mixed bag salads, baby carrots, or tiny packages of herbs: buy the whole product. By whole heads of romaine and bunches of spinach. Buy a large bag of carrots and peel and chop them yourself. Buy large bunches of herbs to get more for your money. Sure, it requires a little extra prep time to wash and chop veggies, but you will save money in the process.
Check Store Sales – my favorite store has weekly sale flyers (as I’m sure most grocery stores do) that they mail out or even email out. Check these before you shop to know which items are on sale. I find this extremely beneficial for produce. For example, I love red bell peppers but they are usually way too expensive. However, this week they are on special at my store so I’m going to buy a few while I can afford it and make sure to use them in a few meals this week. Base your meals around what produce or items are on sale to get the most bang for your buck. Likewise, check your Sunday paper for coupons. I don’t just use a coupon because it’s a great deal; I only clip coupons for the things I already buy.
Meal Plan – Meal planning goes hand-in-hand with checking for the best sales. I sit down on Sundays with the sale flyers for the week and plan out my meals. I plan out the whole week’s breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks and try to overlap ingredients as much as possible. If I’m buying romaine I will make sure to have a few salads and green smoothies. If I’m buying carrots, I will make carrot oats, carrot juice, and snack on raw veggies with hummus. If I’m buying tofu, I will plan on eating a scramble and a stir-fry. Get it?? If you are going to be shelling out big bucks on fresh produce, make the most of what you have and use it all up. Also, try to plan meals around staples you might already have in your fridge or pantry.
Make a List and stick to it – I make a very detailed grocery list for my shopping trips. I even make the list based on store layout (shout-out to Alex!). Always check to see if you have something before going grocery shopping and buying it again or else you could end up with 3 half-eaten bags of brown rice in your pantry!! I go, I get only what is on the list and because items are in order of layout, I’m in and out rather quickly and have no time for extra, unplanned items. I go once a week for the entire week’s worth of meals. Going several times a week without planning will lead to ridiculous overspending.
Don’t be a food waster – This goes hand-in-hand with meal planning for me (it’s all connected!). Make sure you use up all of your ingredients before going and purchasing more, or some food is likely to be wasted. Throwing away food is the same as throwing away money. It is painful and just plain wrong!! If I have a fridge-ful of random veggies I always just make juice!! Waste not, want not.
Make from scratch – I absolutely love veggie burgers, problem is they are expensive. One 4-pack of my favorite brand is likely to cost $5 without a store special. That’s just ridiculous. I’ve been working on perfecting my own veggie burger with fresh veggies, black beans, and oats. It will be just as delicious, more nutritious because all ingredients are fresh, and way cheaper per serving. If you are a soup lover, consider making your own soups. The base ingredients like veggies and beans are all cheap and you will save unnecessary amounts of sodium (and BPA from can linings). Soups are a very cost-effective meal and perfect for lunches throughout the week. Not only will making foods from scratch save you money, but being able to control the ingredients of the foods you eat can save your waistline as well.
Be a part-time vegan – probably the most expensive part of your budget goes towards meat, seafood, and dairy. Consider cutting it out a couple of days a week. Studies show that even one meatless day a week improves your heart health. Vegan meals made with fresh, whole plant ingredients will be better for your health, the environment, and your wallet. Sounds like a win-win to me! But remember, Just because it’s vegan, doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
Consider it an investment – Sometimes your food bill will be higher if you are eating healthy foods. Just consider this an investment in your health and your future. Leading a healthy, active life will help prevent disease and chronic illness down the road and help save on personal healthcare.