I asked my friend Heather to guest post for me today about eating healthy on a budget. I am just starting my journey and she is my go to person with every little question I have about whole foods. I am her grasshopper.
When my clients or friends start transitioning into eating better, one of their first concerns is always cost: “Isn’t healthier food more expensive?”
Well, if we’re talking about Ramen noodles and off-brand macaroni and cheese, I’m not going to compete with that kind of budget. And if we’re talking about expensive processed cereals that say they’re organic or the substitutes we’re seeing on the shelves – like organic pop-tarts – then, yes, that food IS expensive.
But eating healthier doesn’t mean we just grab a different box of cereal because it has the word “organic” on it. When I see “eat healthier,” I mean getting back to real, whole foods – the ones found on the outside edges of the grocery store. This kind of eating is not only better for your body, but is also friendly to your pocket.
There’s so much information to discuss with this topic that I just want to scratch the surface with some very basic elements of eating well and doing it on a budget. I have outlined three categories to focus on when you start making good changes in your diet and lifestyle (because changes to your diet will also mean changes to the way you shop, the way you cook, and the way you eat).
1. Water – frankly, this should be its own category on the food guide pyramid. Most people don’t drink nearly enough water. In my house, this is our beverage of choice. And when you are drinking water, this means you are NOT drinking all the other sugary juice, pop, and tea that don’t do anything to hydrate you and will also strain your food budget.
2. Vegetables – I will put it simply: eat more vegetables. We’re coming into spring and summer, the perfect time to get acquainted with the best vegetables of the year. During this time, you can buy fresh, local produce at farmer’s markets and even some grocery stores will sell locally grown foods. Have you ever tasted a just-picked-that-day carrot? Oh, the sweetness and the crunch…so delicious! Food is fresher and tastier the sooner you eat it once it’s been picked and buying seasonal produce is always cheaper (you’ll notice your grocery store will often feature sale items on produce because it’s in season – like oranges in the winter!). Better yet, purchase a share in a local farm, save even more money, and get a weekly pick-up of locally grown foods.
3. Whole Grains – this category can be confusing because even a box of Lucky Charms boasts that it’s made with whole grains. True, most foods start off as a whole grain…and this is where we want to stop. Heavily processed cereals are just that, processed. Eating whole grains means eating the WHOLE grain. I’m talking about foods like brown rice, quinoa, millet, oats, and barley. Any of those sound like Greek to you? It’s time to get acquainted. Visit your local health food store and ask for help. Most health food stores sell grains in bulk (which is much cheaper) and they can teach you how to cook and prepare the grains. A good online resource for recipes with alternative grains is wholefoodsmarket.com.
4. Alternative Proteins – Whose husband is sick of baked chicken? Most of us learn how to cook dinner based around meat. What if, instead, you started with a vegetable or a grain or a bean? Think differently about the proteins that you cook with, especially at dinner. A meal with beans can be just as filling as a steak dinner. And, dried beans are much cheaper than meat! I am not necessarily advocating a vegetarian diet. I have plenty of friends who do well without eating meat, but my body is not made like that – I need some beef to keep the meat on my bones. But I don’t necessarily plan my meals around meat. When I added more variety and better vegetables and whole grains into my cooking – more creativity – I found I could use less meat. I often think about meat as a condiment rather than the main-stage production.
This is just a start to eating well on a budget. But we all have to begin somewhere, right? When I first started eating well, I didn’t think about replacing the foods that I was already eating, and I didn’t think about starting from scratch. Instead, every time I went to the grocery store, I decided that I would try one new vegetable. In this way, I kept things creative in the kitchen and was trying new recipes with new foods, but I also made slow, positive changes. After a few months, the make-up of my kitchen was very different and I was eating more whole, natural foods…these foods had crowded out the junky, processed foods I had been eating before and I barely noticed the transition.
For more frugal tips, head over to Life As Mom.