Before I became a vegetarian – and overall healthy eater – six years ago, I thought healthy eating on a budget was impossible. To me, it meant spending the equivalent of college tuition on foods I can’t pronounce or involved wizard-like culinary skills.
Could I be a vegetarian and still pay rent? Can you eat gluten-free on the cheap? Can you feed your kids nutritious snacks and have money left over for the zoo? Lucky for you, you don’t have to spend six years learning the answers like I did.
Below are 10 tips for healthy eating on a budget.
1. Buy in bulk. This can be a huge money saver. When you see a sale for grains, nuts, pasta or fruit, stock up. This doesn’t mean you have to make the kids share a bed to make room for the family size box of spaghetti – even one extra box save you dollars in the long run. Freeze blueberries, strawberries, and bananas to use later in smoothies or plain yogurt.
2. Buy whole foods. I’m not talking about the specialty grocer because, frankly, there are plenty of ways to eat “whole foods” without shopping at Whole Paycheck. Think whole carrots, apples, chicken, broccoli, stick butter, and eggs. At my grocer right now, 1 lb. of whole carrots is $.99, while 1 lb. of baby carrots is $1.50. The whole carrots are cheaper and once peeled and chopped, will last you a whole lot longer than precuts.
3. Eat more grains and beans. Grains (quinoa, barley, brown rice) and beans are inexpensive, can be purchased in bulk, leave you fuller longer and have a ton of nutritional value. I buy dried beans by the bag, cook the bag and freeze until needed.
4. Grown your own. Start small. Lettuce, tomatoes and green beans can be grown in pots very easily, and cost $1-3 per packet of seeds. A small organic tomato plant cost my husband $3 this spring, and will yield about 20-30 lbs. of fruit in our vegetable garden.
5. Portion control. Love snacking on pretzels or M&M’s? Buy a big bag and portion out single servings into small baggies. When a craving hits, grab a small bag – you’ll eat less and save more. Also, serve dinner on smaller plates. We have been trained to fill – and clean – our plates, so this trick means less food for your waistline and pocketbook.
6. Kick the habit. Don’t get me wrong, we all love our mocha lattes on the way to work. Did you know that a perk of brewing versus buying coffee could save you over $700 a year? Also, by brewing at home you are less likely to use sugary syrups and full-fat milk, which saves calories.
7. Eat less meat. I’m not just saying this as a vegetarian. Americans consume way more meat that necessary, and meat is expensive. A serving of black beans, lentils and eggs contain just as much protein as a 3 oz. piece of chicken at a fraction of the price. Try serving meatless healthy meals once a week – you won’t miss it and neither will your wallet.
8. Take it to go. If you love to dine out as much as I do, the cost can quickly add up. Order your entrée and ask the server for a to-go container. Wrap up half of the meal immediately. The portion remaining will be enough to satisfy you, and you’ll have leftovers for lunch tomorrow.
9. Prepare for the store. Make a list. It sounds simple, but how many times have you run in for “a few things” only to leave with 2 bags of impulse buys? Plan your meals ahead of time, make a list and stick to it. Also – eat before you go. When you are full and satisfied, you will make food choices based on need not hunger.
10. Day-olds and ripened. If your store has a bakery, ask if they have a day-old section. Breads that didn’t sell the day they were baked can go for as little as a $1, and you can’t taste the difference. Also, look for a sale or reduced rack – ripe or about to go bad produce can pop up here. Get to know your produce guy – he knows when the new stock will be in and what he needs to get rid of.