The biggest complaint and criticism of healthy eating lifestyles is the cost. The claim that you physically cannot afford to eat healthy and sustainable foods on a budget is something even I struggle with on a weekly basis. It is one of the things I have to practice practice practice at each and every day. But with practice, I’ve discovered some great secrets and tips that at least help when trying to eat healthy and sustainable on a budget.
Tip #1- Clearance racks CAN be your friend. Two supermarkets I frequently shop have clearance sections for different food products. At QFC, I always beeline to their produce section to see what is on clearance. I can get 4-5 pounds of locally grown apples for $3-$4, large containers of spinach for $2, and organic bananas for $0.49 a pound. A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon a clearance sale in their freezer section and stocked up on Quorn chicken products for $1.25 a package.
There is a word of warning when shopping clearance sections, though, and that brings me to Tip #2- Look on packages for your own personal “buzzwords”. My buzzwords may be different than yours, but something they should focus around are sustainability issues. These buzzword ingredients will be in most of your processed foods, and eliminating most processed foods is one of the best things you can do for a healthy and sustainable diet. For me, when I’m looking at products, I hone in on the word “palm” in the ingredients, as in “palm oil” or “palm kernel oil”. Avoiding my buzzword helps resist temptation for unhealthy snacks, unnecessary products, and I can feel confident if it doesn’t have palm oil in the ingredients, then it is less likely to be contributing to the palm oil crisis in Asia.
Other examples of buzzwords can be “high fructose”, or just “corn syrup”, “saturated fat”, or “artificial” as in “artificial sweeteners”, “artificial flavors”, etc. It could be something you are trying to avoid like dairy, chicken or beef (sometimes used in soups, even with “non-meat” flavored soups), or peanuts.
What is truly amazing about this practice is after a while, your buzzwords literally seem to pop out at you as soon as you turn the package over to read the ingredients or nutrition facts. By promising yourself that you won’t purchase products made with ingredients that include your buzzword, you are well on your way to saving money and eating incredibly healthy.
Tip #3- Make a plan, and shop for that plan. The day before I go grocery shopping, I make a general plan for what I’m going to make for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the week. Then, I focus on what ingredients I already have available and which ones I’ll need to shop for. What I am still trying to improve on in this part is remembering my damn list! I often leave it at home, but I have found that at least 75% of the time, when I remember my list, I stick to my list and buy only items on my list. This helps me avoid spontaneous impulse buys. There have been rare occasions when things not on my list have made it into my shopping basket, but they always always always follow Tip #1 and Tip #2 (such as the score on the Quorn chicken the other day).
Tip #4- Pay attention to the season. When I go to farmers markets, I pay attention to what produce is prominent on the tables. If I see a bunch of broccoli or cauliflower at different vendors, then it’s somewhat safe to say that broccoli and cauliflower are in season. Buying produce in season, it is easier to purchase it locally, and is a lot more cost effective than buying out of season. Want to learn more about what is available throughout the year in your neighborhood? Check out Sustainable Table, a website that helps you find what foods are growing during different times of the year in your area. By the way, in October and November when potatoes were in full season at the market out here in Oregon, I would buy 5 pound bags of locally, organic grown potatoes for half the price of supermarkets. And apples from the local apple farm were only $1 a pound. I have yet to see a better deal on fresh fruit. I buy my eggs from a particular vendor at the market, because they are cheaper than going to a grocery store that sells pasture raised chicken eggs. So, don’t knock the farmer’s market until you’ve tried it firsthand.
The key to eating healthy and sustainable on a budget is practice. I’m still not perfect at it myself, but the more I practice, the easier it gets. Last week I went over my budget for groceries by $30 but this week I was under by $45. And each week I get better at making healthier choices, resisting the tempting non-sustainable choices, and cutting costs.
Do you have any additional tips that I missed?
One of our largest bills per month is our grocery bill and I think the same is true for most families. This is maybe why, when lowering their monthly budget, people tend to cut down on the grocery bill first by purchasing more processed foods, or going to big box stores where who knows where the food comes from. Maybe a good tip would be to put your families health first by not cutting back on fresh meats and vegetables but looking at non essentials and cutting back on those first.