If you’ve recently "healthified" your diet, you may have noticed an increased monthly grocery bill. However, there are easy and realistic ways to eat healthy, while keeping to a tight budget. So, here’s my 5 (of many more) Budget-friendly Healthy Eating Tips:
1. Bean Bonanza / Egg-cellent
Meat is often the most expensive part of our meals. So, one way to save some serious cash is to go meatless one or two days out of the week. Beans and eggs are both good sources of protein, minus the beefy price tag.
Beans: Beans and other legumes (lentils, chickpeas, etc.) are an excellent / inexpensive source of fiber, protein, and many key vitamins / minerals. They provide energy, bulk, and nutrients, without doing a number on your wallet. While both canned and dried beans are affordable options, dried beans are significantly cheaper. However, dried beans do take some time to prepare, requiring soaking prior to cooking. Canned beans are pre-soaked, so they simply need warmed prior to consumption. Plan ahead with dried beans, and save even more cash.
✓ Bean Tip: Try eating beans / legumes in place of meat one or two nights per week – Meatless Monday perhaps?
Eggs: Eggs are an excellent source of protein (complete proteins, which contain all of the essential amino acids) and are extremely affordable. Also, eggs aren’t just for breakfast – sauté sliced bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms, microwave a medium sweet potato, scramble some eggs, and dinner is served! One egg costs only a little pocket change, and provides around 7 grams of high-quality protein. Note: Brown eggs, while beautiful, are no healthier than white eggs – the color of the egg is simply a reflection of the color of the chicken! However, cage-free eggs, which are most often brown in grocery stores, are healthier, as these generally contain more healthy fats and vitamins / minerals.
✓ Egg Tip: Store your eggs on the lowest shelf inside your fridge (NOT in the door) to maintain freshness, taste, and texture (store this way for no more than 5 weeks).
2. Buy in Bulk / Cook Once, Eat Many Times
Buying in Bulk: Buy any and all goods in bulk (large quantities), especially when they are on sale. For perishable items, make sure to store what you're not going to immediately eat in the freezer for optimal cash savings. It may seem like a lot of moolah up front, but in the long run, you will be saving serious dough (as the cost per unit is much less).
✓ Bulk Tip: Buy whole-grains, nuts, and seeds in the the bulk-section of your grocery store, as these are usually more affordable than smaller, pre-packaged options.
Cooking Once, Eating Many Times: When preparing your meals, make extras, not only for your lunch tomorrow, but also for other meals later in the week (or even later in the month). By doing this, you are saving time, and everyone knows time is money, right? Also, by cooking in large batches, you are able to use up those foods you bought in bulk, preventing things from going to waste. Now, the real key to mastering this skill is to take full-advantage of your freezer. Pack up leftover prepared foods in plastic containers / bags, write the date, throw in the freezer, and forget about ‘em (until you’re ready to eat them, of course)!
✓ Cook Once, Eat Many Times Tip: Prepare your own “frozen meals” using your leftovers, so all you have to do is take your home-cooked meal out of the freezer and throw it in the the microwave or oven. And voila – cook once, eat many times!
3. Selectively Organic
When it comes to buying organic, not all foods are created equal. In an ideal world, all foods would be both organic and affordable – but oftentimes, organic foods can be close to twice the price of their conventional counterparts. When sticking to a strict budget, buying everything organic is just too darn unrealistic. But don’t worry, here’s what you should do: be choosy with your organic purchases. The charts below outline the “Clean Fifteen” and the “Dirty Dozen" – produce items that are “clean” or “dirty” in regards to their growing practices / pesticide contamination.
✓ Bottom Line: When on a budget, aim to buy foods on the "Dirty Dozen" list organic, and don't worry so much about buying organic for foods on the "Clean Fifteen" list.
4. In-season Savvy
Stay attuned to what produce is in season in your area. Produce that arise locally in-season not only tastes better, but also is often much cheaper than produce not usually grown in that region at that time of the year. So, how do you know what’s in season? Visit this website for a comprehensive list of in-season produce or, for more local data, simply type “foods in season in _____ (your state)” into your preferred internet search engine, and you should find a guide to the seasonal produce currently available in your state. For my Ohioans, here's your guide to what's in season.
✓ In-season Tip: Buy produce not only for the cost-savings, but for increased nutritional value – in-season produce often provides higher proportions of vitamins and minerals (which also means higher proportions of flavor).
5. Storage Smarts
Store fresh foods in ways that will maximize their fresh little lives. I recommend storing fresh (uncut / unwashed) salad greens in unsealed plastic bags, as opposed to the bags in which they are sold. Also, store fresh fruits in one of the crisper drawers and fresh vegetables in the other – keeping these separate will slow down ripening time, thus increasing produce lifespan. I also suggest storing your grains / breads in the fridge, or even in the freezer. Because bread molds very quickly, store it in the freezer and toast it from frozen or place it in the fridge overnight when you know you want a sandwich the next day.
✓ Storage Tip: Invest in high-quality plastic and/or glass containers that can outlast multiple dishwasher cycles. Use these reusable containers instead of plastic bags (most often / when possible), and you will not only be saving money, but also the planet.
While I think it's important to invest in our health, eating healthy does not have to break the bank. Consider these 5 budget-friendly healthy-eating tips, and remember: affordable food can be healthy food, too!
Eat well (on a budget),