One of the questions I often get asked is how to eat better when healthy eating is so expensive. It is true. Healthy ingredients do cost more than the usual supermarket fare, but it is worth it. The extra money spent now will pay dividends in better health in the future. There are ways to lessen the financial impact of healthy eating though, so let me share some tips and tricks on how to save money and still eat healthily.
Save money by buying and eating in season
When fruit and vegetables are in season, they are plentiful, so the cost comes down. Think about mangoes. They can cost as little as 99 cents in the summer but up to $3.99 at other times of the year if you can even find them. Have a look at the seasonalfoodguide.com. It shows when various fruits and vegetables are in season in each of the Australian states. If you plan your meals with seasonal produce in mind they will be more cost effective, which helps keep the budget in check. Ultimately for great health, we want the largest portion of our meals to be vegetables as outlined in my post: “What the heck am I meant to eat?”
Another awesome feature of the seasonal food guide site is its list of local farmers markets. Shopping farmer direct can also save dollars.
Save money by knowing which foods are best to buy organic
Not every grocery item purchased needs to be organic. Of course, the more you can buy that isn’t treated with pesticides, or growth enhancers the better, though it isn’t always practical or cost-effective to do so. Focus your grocery dollars on the types of foods that matter. Each year in the USA, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) produce a list of fruits and vegetables to avoid due to high levels of pesticide residues. I can’t find a similar list for Australia, but we can assume the results would be somewhat similar. Read the EWG 2018 summary for their recommendations on produce that is best purchased organic.
There are many companies available now that deliver organic produce to your home. Many of these offer a choice of both organic and spray free produce. Some companies offer ‘organic in conversion’ produce, which can be more cost-effective than certified organic produce.
Save money by buying food in its whole state
It goes without saying that it costs more to have someone at the store pre-prepared some of our foods. Think of the cost of a tray of cut-up fruit compared to what you could prepare it for yourself. This then extends to trays of stir-fry veggies, and pre-prepared salads. The latest I have seen is pre-prepared cauliflower rice. It takes next to no time to prepare at home, but you pay a premium for having the work already done for you. A tip here is to batch prepare your cauliflower rice and store meal-size portions in the freezer. This way you will have it ready whenever you need it. No defrosting required. Throw it in the pan and it will defrost as it cooks.
Save money by considering how much meat you actually need
Meat is by far the most costly item to buy organic. But it is the one I recommend as the most important if you can manage it within your budget. Toxins and pesticide residues accumulate in the fat cells of exposed animals, leading to significant levels. Like organic produce, there are now delivery services for organic meat. Have a look online. These services cut out the middle man which makes them more cost-effective. The Naked Butcher in Perth offers a loyalty program making it, even more cost-effective.
Also, consider the recommendation of enjoying meat as a condiment rather than the main part of the meal. We don’t need as much meat as we typically eat. There are other protein sources, such as pastured eggs, nuts and legumes that also contain protein. And they are more budget friendly.
Save money by buying in bulk
There are some great bulk bin shops around now that allow shoppers to purchase as much or as little as needed of various pantry items. Source bulk foods are one such place, but there are others. These types of shops are great for trying out new foods, such as alternative flours. You don’t need to buy a whole bag only to find something isn’t to your liking. But if it is, then you often save by not purchasing in fancy packaging. Many of these types of stores also offer loyalty programs. Another benefit is you can buy just enough for your storage containers at home. This may save you from issues such as weevils, pantry moths or from stapes going stale due to air exposure.
Save money by meal planning and batch cooking
They say if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Not sure about that, but I do know that when I meal plan shopping, cooking and mealtime runs more smoothly. I try to plan at least 5 evening meals in the week, allowing for flexibility on the other nights to use whatever is still in the fridge before shopping day. In the winter this works well for throwing everything into a veggie soup. In summer, I like to blend up and hide excess veggies in taco mince or spaghetti bolognaise. (Please don’t tell my kids).
Many years ago I bought a cookbook called Once-a-month Cooking. I love the concept of prepping for the day and having a whole month’s meals ready to go. In practice, it didn’t work so well for me. Many of the meals didn’t fit my criteria for healthy family meals and were USA centric. Still, I have transferred some of the concepts over to fit my criteria of healthy. I prepare sauces, marinades, and broths in advance and freeze. When my online meat order arrives, I pre-cut and freeze some of the chicken and meat for stir-fries and casseroles. I try to have lunch box items prepared in advance and to stock healthy food options in the fridge for quick, on the run snacks.
Save money by drinking water rather than juices or soft drinks
It might be boring to drink plain water, but it is the healthiest option, and it’s pretty close to free. Cutting down on soft drinks goes without saying when trying to get healthy. I am also concerned about the new wave of health drinks like kombucha and cold-pressed juices available in stores now. Consider the cost of these. Some are up around $5 for a small bottle. Those dollars can be better spent on foods with higher nutrition values. Pre-prepared juices that sit on the refrigerator shelves in our supermarkets either need preservatives or their nutrient content can be dramatically reduced due to the time between preparation and consumption.
Save money by buying frozen organic fruits and vegetables
Frozen fruit and vegetables are snap frozen, which helps retain their nutrients. Having frozen fruits available for smoothies, and veggies for a quick stir-fry can be helpful when in a hurry. Having stapes in the freezer can also save you from running to the shops to grab mid week supplies. They can also stop you from grabbing take-away, which can be less nutritious and more expensive gram for gram than home-prepared foods.
Save money by growing your own food and keeping chickens
This is an option for those with plenty of yard space, but not a possibility for everyone. If you live in an apartment, then start with growing a few herbs on your window sill or balcony. If you have garden space, then vegetables like tomatoes and capsicum are easy to grow. It’s also great to get the kids involved in gardening. Walking outside and grabbing a handful of fresh snow peas the kids have grown themselves can provide a wonderful life lesson in patience and perseverance.
Chickens are the ultimate recyclers. Having your veggie scraps recycled into eggs is a real winner. Especially when those scraps are from more costly organic fruit and vegetables. Did you know chickens also make awesome pets?
Save money by beating the supermarket tactics
I have a whole list here, mostly learnt from my own adventures at the supermarket. So here they are:
- Always go with a list. And stick to the list.
- Check the junk mail catalogues for the items you need. Aldi has great buys on healthy pantry stapes every few months. They even stock a range of organic products year-round.
- Try to be aware of food marketing practices. Companies often overstate health benefits on labelling. The health tick is one such issue.
- Don’t shop on an empty stomach. When hungry you are more likely to reach out for the less healthy options, such as chips and chocolate.
- Aim to shop the perimeter of the supermarket for whole foods. Only venture into the aisles where you need items from your shopping list. Foods in their whole state are more cost-effective than pre-prepared foods.
- One of my final tips was going to be don’t shop with kids. My kids love grocery shopping but want every sugar-laden treat they see. On occasion, they have slipped crazy stuff into the trolley, so I now have to vet the trolley like a crazy woman. However, after my recent kid-free shopping trip I realised I can be the culprit too. I found it so relaxing to shop without kids that I wandered around for ages not following any of my previous recommendations. I purchased all kinds of items not on my list. So now my recommendation reverts to shopping with the kids in tow. It creates more urgency to do the ‘smash and grab’ shop – get in and out with only the things you really, really need ;).
- Another option is online shopping with home delivery. That avoids many of the supermarket pitfalls.
I hope you find these tips useful. I shop and cook for a large family, so I know the challenge is very real when trying to feed my family healthy food, without breaking the bank.
If you have any other tips and tricks for eating healthily on a budget I’d love to hear them.