Image by cgalvin233 Colleen
“My biggest question about the crunchy living business is about prioritizing. My husband and I are trying to get out of debt, but we’re also trying to clean up our eating habits.
We found a raw milk and grass fed meat source, which is fantastic, but much more expensive than we’d been paying previously. How did you go about keeping your menu clean when you were also trying to stay on a budget?”
Today I’m answering one of the most common questions I get: how do I save money on healthy food?
I’ve been tweaking my strategy for the last few years, leaning heavily on principles I gleaned from The Complete Tightwad Gazette (best Mother’s Day gift ever…).
Even though many of the recipes/tips in that book are far from what I consider healthy (or can tolerate with my food allergies), I’ve still been able to apply a lot of what I’ve learned to feeding my family.
But enough about me, let’s talk healthy grocery strategy!
Eat More Veggies
Eating more vegetables allows you to stretch meals containing meat, while providing you with essential vitamins and minerals.
Just imagine a plate divided into fourths. One fourth is meat, the other quarter is a starch of some kind (vegetarians and paleo eaters, feel free to weigh in with how you fill your plates!), while the remaining half is filled with veggies.
Veggies are delightfully inexpensive, compared to meat and, contrary to popular belief, not all need to be organic. Ours certainly aren’t. Check out the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists for more info.
Eat Less Meat
We really don’t need that much meat to get adequate protein at our meals (and I know some would argue none at all). Imagine enough to fill the palm of your hand.
We do a lot of stir fries, soups and fajitas, eating our meat with lots of veggies. We also get plenty of protein from free-range eggs (thanks Mom!), legumes and dairy we eat.
So many other cultures do a fantabulous job of turning inexpensive ingredients into flavorful, nourishing dishes. We looooove Thai food and eat a lot of Mexican, either at home or my parents’ house.
(Did you know that growing up, I thought Spanish rice was just rice? I only saw white rice when we went out for Chinese ;)).
Buy in Bulk
Buying in bulk is great for saving money. That is, if you’re buying something you know you’ll eat. We buy a lot of food in bulk: carrots, spinach, organic chicken, granola, applesauce, raisins, etc. The larger the amount, the lower the cost per ounce, typically (make sure you check that!).
Avoid Processed Food
Like the plague. Even if they’re on sale with a double coupon, processed foods are still a bad deal. The sugar, preservatives, excess sodium, high fructose corn syrup and nutrient deficit will cost much more in the long run with increased healthcare costs.
Plus, when you compare the prices, home made alternatives cost much less. (And you know it tastes better).
Buy What You Will Use
It’s fun to buy fancy fruits and vegetables. Doing so just makes me feel healthier … until I find them, weeks later, fit for nothing but the compost pile. When you try something new, buy it in small amounts first to test it out.
I’ve bought far too many things in bulk only to find that the family wouldn’t eat it (myself included). Bulk bins in stores are great for this – you can even just buy what you need for a single recipe.
Research Buying Clubs
A lot of natural health food stores offer these. I live in a very small town, but fortunately, we have a health food store. That store offers a weekly buying club.
It’s great because the food is much cheaper and the store has a higher order volume, lowering their cost as well. The food is typically in bulk (we use it to buy coconut oil by the gallon) and there’s normally a minimum order, like $50.
Check Out Costco
Or Sam’s Club, or whatever is in your area. I save a lot of money buying a few things in bulk at Costco – organic carrots, pure maple syrup, Tillamook cheddar cheese, frozen berries, vanilla, vinegar, baking soda.
I do not enter Costco without a list (a lesson I learned painfully a few months ago) and usually spend less than $100. To pay for the membership, I set aside $5 each month.
I get some food at Trader Joes (almond meal, bacon), some stuff at our local restaurant wholesale store (fish sauce, rice noodles, coconut milk), bulk bin stuff at Kroger, other items at Costco and some through our local health food store buying club. I’ve learned over time which store has the cheapest stuff and plan my list accordingly.
Yes it would save me time to just get everything at the same store, but it would cost a lot more money. Since I’ve been doing it so long, I can quickly get through each store with everything I need. Except for Kroger, it’s like entering a time warp there.
Using these strategies allows me to feed my family healthy, nourishing meals for as little as $475/month. Finding ways to save money on most of our food allows me to splurge on certain items like bulk raw honey.
With some planning and intentional shopping, it’s simple to eat clean on a budget.