Eating healthy is important to me. Like, really important. It is pretty much my #1 priority after paying all the fixed expenses. I will gladly go without a new dress or a night out in order to spend more money on good, healthy food for us to eat at home. That being said, we still have a budget and I can not just go to the store and pick up whatever strikes my fancy at the moment (although this happens on occasion at Wegmans -especially if I stop after an afternoon at the brewery). We spend about $300 a month on groceries for 2 adults. This includes all breakfasts, lunches and 95% of our dinners.
I guess a good place to start would be to let you know what I consider healthy eating. Healthy eating to me involves eating mostly real food. Meat, produce, dairy, beans, grains and some minimally processed convenience foods such as pasta, bread and crackers. I really like Kath’s (paraphrased) idea of considering something real food if it is made with recognizable ingredients and could be made at home if one had the time and basic kitchen tools.
Some other healthy eating guidelines I follow-
– no “low fat, reduced fat or fat free” anything, unless it comes that way naturally. I used to be all about low fat dairy etc, but the more I learned, the more I understood that it is not natural or healthy by my definition. I like food that is as close to its natural state as possible before I start cooking it. I switched over to full fat dairy products a couple of years ago and you know what happened? Nothing. I did not gain a single pound from it. It is so much more satisfying and filling and had absolutely no ill effects.
-pick and choose when it comes to organics. I am sure you have all heard about the “dirty dozen” and “clean 15”. I buy everything on the first list organic and I never buy anything on the second organic unless, it is on sale and the same price as conventional produce. Items on neither list are organic if the price is comparable to the nonorganic price.
-no fake sugars. None. Ever.
-organic meat is a priority for us. It is most definitely more expensive and I rarely find any super great deals on it, but I compensate by eating less meat. I pretty much never have meat for breakfast or lunch during the week, unless it is dinner leftovers. I eat a lot of beans, nuts, greek yogurt, eggs and cheese for protein with those meals. I would actually eat much less meat for dinner, but my partner is much more the “meat and potatoes” type than I am (although she has come a long way since we have been together)
– local is more important than organic to me in many cases. There are so many benefits to buying local (which I may get into in another post), but it comes down to supporting things that I believe in wholeheartedly.
-convenience foods are few and far between in our house. Boxes of pasta and crackers are about as convenient as it gets. I do spend a lot of time making my own convenience foods- granola bars, frozen burritos, meals to take out of the freezer and pop in the oven, but you have to give some where- time or money.
So, given those guidelines of healthy eating, here are some tips on how I save money doing it-
-I do a lot of planning, as detailed in this post.
-I keep a well stocked pantry
– As I mentioned in both of the posts linked above, we don’t go to the grocery store a lot. We do one big shop a month and then just pick up produce and dairy products at small stores close to the house as necessary.
– I shop at Aldi. Not exclusively, but it is always my first stop. Their product line has definitely expanded and improved over the years and I am quite impressed with many of the things they offer. Their new gluten free line in a bonus! They do offer organic produce and even some organic meat! Most of what I buy there are pantry items and dairy products. After I pick up what I can from my list there, I head across the street to Wegmans and finish up.
– Prep cooking. There is no point in buying a bunch of healthy food if you are just going to let it rot in your crisper drawers. This takes some work. I spend Sunday afternoons preparing food for the week ahead. I cut up veggies, whip up a batch of hummus, make granola bars, get some homemade burritos in the freezer etc. Once the meal plan is done, I do whatever I can in advance so meals are quick and easy during the week. I often work 12-13 hr days during the school year and I know that I am going to be hungry and tired when I get home. Ordering in is easy, but not healthy or cheap! Having food prepared makes it easier to eat healthy.
– Don’t waste food. Seems like a no brainer, but people waste so much food. I do my best not to waste anything. I certainly do still waste food, but much less than I would if I didn’t try. Most food can be frozen with minimal prep. Our deep freezer comes in handy here. Keep track of what you have in the freezer and plan to use it in a meal soon.
-Use what you have. Always start with what you already have on hand and build from that instead of having to buy everything for a recipe.
– I make a lot of “leftover salads” and “use it up soup”. I like to pile whatever leftovers I have on top of spring mix and call it lunch. Part of Sunday food prep is making soup out of whatever produce needs to be used up. I will also add any grains and usually some leftover chicken as well. Just put it all in a stock pot with some stock and you are good to go. Obviously some things do not make a good combinations but you’d really be surprised by how good this usually turns out.
– Grow a garden. We don’t grow a lot of our own food, but we do what we can and are sure to freeze/can anything we can’t use up before it is bad.
– We don’t buy many drinks. Coffee, tea, alcohol (not included in the grocery budget), and some orange juice for Sunday brunches. Besides that we just drink water. We buy milk but we use it more for cooking than we do drinking.
*I pretty much never use coupons. They don’t have a lot of coupons for the food that we eat regularly and the time and effort involved in couponing is something I just don’t have to give.
So, that’s about it. Everyone has different rules for healthy eating, ideas of eating on “a budget” etc. This is what works for us. I hope I have inspired some good ideas in you. Please share your ideas for eating healthy on a budget.