As many people scrutinize their investments, it's important to not overlook one of our most important investments, our health. Diet can play an integral role in long-term health—let alone the level of energy and vitality we feel in the present—so it's important to not give up healthy eating for fear that it costs too much to do so. When people think of healthy eating, they think that it costs much more than convenience and fast food. Yet, you can definitely eat well, with respect for your pleasure and health, while treating your wallet well and with respect.
The following are some tips we created that will help you to lower your food costs without sacrificing the enjoyment and healthfulness of your meals:
Prepare a shopping list.
Shopping lists help keep you on track to purchase only the items that are necessary and that have the most nutritional value. They will help you avoid impulse shopping and having your shopping cart amass those items that you didn't plan on purchasing but somehow made their way into your grocery bag.
When you are thinking of what to prepare over the next few days (or week) organize some of your meals around foods that are on special at your local market. Next time you're in the market, ask a clerk if they have a print-out of what's currently on sale or what will be in the future. And don't forget, regular supermarkets aren't the only type of food store that run specials—many natural food stores run specials regularly.
We live in a convenience society, a fact that is apparent when you visit a food market, or even just stroll down the produce aisle. Pineapples that have been cored, melons that have been quartered, carrots that have been cut into "baby" sizes, salad greens that are pre-washed ... the list goes on and on. While these items may save you preparation time, they also cost more. If you're looking for another way to save money, purchase the whole fruit and/or vegetable and then prepare it at home.
By purchasing locally grown produce in season you not only save money on the distribution costs of food, you also will enjoy foods that taste better and are more nutritious. For example, a study in Japan found that seasonally grown spinach had 25% more nutrients than spinach grown out of season.
At the top of the list of non-perishable vegetables would be the root vegetables, including carrots, onions, garlic, beets, and potatoes, and sweet potatoes/yams. Some less familiar (but nutritionally excellent) root vegetables that can be easily stored include celery root, taro, burdock, rutabaga, turnip, and parsnip. Root vegetables can usually be stored for several weeks without refrigeration and are usually available at local farmer's markets and natural groceries foods markets for approximately $1.50 per pound or less. You may also be able to find root vegetables that have been produced according to organic standards, but are not officially certified as organic, at your local farmer's market, where you can talk directly to the grower about his or her approach to farming. If you have the time, space, and desire, you may also be able to grow many of these root vegetables in your own backyard for even less money.
When it comes to green vegetables, your best bet, of course, is freshly picked organic greens. It's also well worth your time to find local farmer's markets where you can get fresh greens on a weekly basis at an affordable cost, and to scrutinize your local grocery stores for low-cost specials on fresh organic vegetables.
If you live in an area where berries grow naturally, you can often find "you-pick" farms that will allow you to select your own berries at a very low cost. Farmer's markets can also be essential in the search for fresh, healthy fruits. For longer-term storage, apples are one of your best bets when it comes to fresh fruit, and depending on your location, you may be able to find fresh organic apples at a farmer's market for less than $1.00 per pound. Bananas are another nutrient-rich, rather low-cost, fruit. Mangos, papaya, kiwifruit, and pineapple are among the fruit that the Environmental Working Group found to contain the least amount of pesticide residues; therefore, if you are looking to save money by purchasing some conventionally grown, rather than organically grown, fruits these are among the best choices.
Frozen foods maintain much of their nutritional value and are often less expensive than fresh because they have a longer shelf life. They can be very convenient and a good alternative to fresh foods when the fresh variety is not available or is extremely expensive. For example, frozen berries can be a second-best alternative to fresh fruits, and we've seen some pesticide-free frozen berries selling for relatively low prices in many stores.
Instead of purchasing meat high in saturated fat and cholesterol, you can enjoy beans, which have minimal saturated fat and are free of cholesterol. This category of foods—including lentils, split peas, and every type of dried bean—is a great choice for low-budget, health-promoting meal plans. Legumes can be stored for lengthy periods of time (sometimes up to a full year), and they are outstanding foods in terms of protein and fiber content. You can also find organic legumes available in bulk both locally and online for approximately $1.00-$1.50 per pound. Since one pound of uncooked beans makes about 5-6 cups of cooked beans, you can see how they can form the delicious and inexpensive centerpiece of a meal (and the money you'll save if you trade some of your meat-focused meals for legume-centered ones).
As noted, the bulk section is a great place to find legumes and you'll save so much money buying them there and preparing them yourself rather than purchasing canned beans. While many people think that it's difficult to cook beans from scratch, the opposite is actually true. You just need to soak them overnight, rinse them, put them in a pot of water, and simmer than for a hour or so (for specifics on cooking legumes, see our bean/legume write-ups).
Yet, it's not just beans and legumes that you can find for less money in the bulk section but many other foods. It is a great place to find whole grains—such as quinoa, buckwheat, millet, and others in their whole as well as flour form—as well as dried fruits, nuts, seeds, and snacks. While some supermarkets have installed bulk bin sections, your best bet for healthful, nutrient-rich foods in bulk is, in general, still to be found in natural food stores.
Another way to save money by buying in bulk is to purchase a case of a certain food. For example, if your family uses tomato sauce regularly, inquire with your local market what type of discount they would give you if you bought a case of it (which is usually about twelve cans). Most natural food markets offer this type of case discount.
Another great benefit of buying in bulk is that it means that since you'll have the foods available over a course of weeks, you'll reduce the tendency to have to run to the market to replenish your pantry. This step can definitely help in saving money. By buying in bulk you also avoid the extra cost of purchasing big brand name items, which usually carry with them a big price tag.
More and more people are turning to their own yard, or windowsill, as a source for the foods that they enjoy. Even our new First Lady, Michelle Obama, has illustrated how you can readily grow vegetables in your own Victory Garden. Gardening can be a great way to save money on food since the cost of the seeds, soil, and water pales in comparison to the cost of purchasing the foods at a market.
Even if you don't have the space—or time—to create a full-fledged garden, consider even growing a few types of vegetables. Leafy greens—such as arugula, mustard greens, and kale—are an easy place to start and you can even grow them in large pots on your deck if you don't have a yard. Urban apartment dwellers shouldn't discount the idea of growing their own food: small pots of fresh herbs—rosemary, mint, basil, or your other favorites—can not only embellish the taste and nutrition of your meals but the aroma of your home as well. And they will save you money from having to purchase fresh herbs at the market.
Home-cooked food definitely costs less than buying pre-prepared food or eating at restaurants. Yet, you may not want to nor have time to engage in full-scale cooking every single day. To save money, batch cooking can be helpful in this regard and the more you cook from scratch the more money you save. If you double up on the serving size that you prepare for yourself (or you and your family), you can have refrigerated leftovers on the next day while sacrificing a limited amount of nourishment and sticking with a World's Healthiest meal plan. Consistently eating according to a World's Healthiest Foods approach does not require an unreasonable amount of time—but it does require more time than many people are accustomed to devoting to their food and meals. Can you think of anything, however (alongside of other basics like sleep and exercise) that provides a more worthwhile investment of time than healthy eating?
As you can see, it's easy to eat well without spending a lot of money. Hopefully these tips will allow you to watch your pocketbook while you watch your health improve. For more ideas on how to create an eating plan that will allow you to enjoy delicious and nutrient-rich foods without spending a lot of money, visit our Healthiest Way of Eating Plan featured on the home page of our website.
Give us your idea of how to eat healthy for less and we will share them with our Readers. The World's Healthiest Foods book