When we think about healthy eating, many of us assume that it will be more expensive. It can be very, very frustrating, and leave us asking why we seem to be punished for making the right choices. While it’s true that in some cases healthier choices do carry a higher price tag, there are many ways you can maximize your food budget while still eating great, delicious meals. . The following are 10 tried-and-true tips:
1. For fresh produce: seasonal and local can make a world of difference.
Not only is in-season produce cheaper, it is also better for the environment, as it requires less transportation. It may also be better for you, as it is in tune with the same cyclic conditions as your body AND may have a lower chance of being exposed to pesticides that have been banned in developed countries.
2. For expensive produce, try frozen
Even seasonal produce can sometimes be expensive, particularly if it is a fruit or vegetable that requires labor-intensive harvesting. For example, fresh berries can be such an item – and they tend to spoil quickly, which means money does here, too. Frozen berries cost less, last longer, and are just as nutritious.
Buying frozen also means you can buy the edible portion in larger amounts at a savings. For example, very little of an artichoke is actually eaten, so the fresh per-weight purchase can literally be a raw deal; here you are better off buying frozen pieces of the most popular sections, the hearts and bottoms.
Remember that frozen produce is just as healthy as fresh produce, if not more so.
3. When to go organic
Organic foods are often recommended, as they tend to adhere to stricter standards for ‘whole’ and ‘natural’ foods, and are low in undesirable chemical additives and residues. You can read more about why they are important in our online article: When to Go Organic.
The downside is that organic foods also tend to be more expensive. You can keep this extra expense to a minimum with a few easy tips:
- Read the ingredient lists of readymade foods and packaged staples: if each one is either a known whole or at least benign component, that food is probably fine.
- If you are concerned about foods that contain genetically modified organisms (known as GMOs), look for mention on the label that a food is not genetically engineered.
- Know which types of produce are better purchased organic, due to pesticide and herbicide residues. Seek these at local farmer’s markets, as the freshness and cost may be better.
Though the following list is posted in the above article, it bears repeating (posted in declining order of importance):
Fruit – peaches, apples, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, grapes, raspberries, plums
Vegetables – celery, sweet bell peppers, spinach, lettuce, potatoes, carrots, green beans, hot peppers, cucumbers
4. Bulk up, budget down. Buying in bulk bins saves you money.
Many of the healthiest foods are available to purchase by weight in the bulk bins of stores. These include lentils, grains, cereals, and spices, which can be up to 75% lower in price compared to prepared (canned or frozen pre-cooked) or quick versions, and even lower compared to processed and prepackaged products.
5. Buy staples in family-size packages. Similarly to buying certain foods in bulk, there are other staples that you can buy in large packages to last you a long time, while saving you money—even if you are only cooking for one or two people. Place foods in the refrigerator to keep them fresh – even those that usually go in the cupboard or pantry, such as flours, cereals, pastas, legumes, coffee, tea, and natural sweeteners. Make extra room in the refrigerator by keeping things in the freezer that can be refrigerated but won’t be damaged by the extra cold, such as hard cheeses, fluid cow or nut milks (not soy or goat milk), nuts, and especially seeds. As always, beware the temptation to go overboard and buy things you don’t really need just because the volume discount is spectacular.
Some warehouse type stores are becoming excellent sources of healthy whole foods. Even if paid membership is required, the annual cost is minimal compared to what you will save.
6. Avoid overbuying
The age-old advice to not food shop when you’re hungry is worth its weight in gold. It is especially key for when you find yourself in a warehouse type store where everything is cheaper in larger amounts, or even just a particularly good grocery store full of new and exciting things. Never give up asking yourself if you REALLY need something. Review in your mind how, when, and how often you will use it, and if the discount justifies what might be an inconvenience.
- If the answer is still “yes,” but you, your family, or housemates can’t keep up with the amount, see if you can split it with other folks in a similar situation. You can do this with friends, co-workers, outside family members, or even through a website where people register to buy in volume and split the goods to save money.
- In a gourmet health-oriented store, at first you may want to try new things, and that’s fine. But ultimately it’s best to choose what the best deal may really be, if something is really an everyweek item or just a special occasion treat.
7. Buy generic products from trusted companies
When you’re trying to save money on food, probably the last thing on which you want to overspend is advertising, unless the item will be given as a gift. It is important to know that in the vast majority of cases, the generic product is either the exact same food as the brand names, and sometimes may even be better. When in doubt, you can always check the ingredients list. This is, of course, particularly the case when shopping at a health-oriented store, or in the health section of a large chain.
8. Do discount ‘due diligence’
Check store websites, circulars, and flyers, as well as local newspapers for coupons and special sale announcements. Some stores even have mailing lists to which you can register to automatically receive discounts on a regular basis through electronic or regular mail.
9. Ugly is beautiful
Sometimes food is discounted because it has some imperfections – the blotched fruit, the dented can, the day-old bread. More often than not, there is nothing inferior about the food’s taste or nutritional value. With so much food being thrown out in a world where shortages are pandemic, not demanding perfection can be a win-win situation.
10. The priceless payout
Beyond the tips you’ve seen thus far, you should never forget that you are investing in your health up front, so that you save many times more money in the long run. In addition to the immediate savings—such as forgoing expensive snacks that might have vanished by the gallon without you even realizing it—we are talking here about doctor’s visits and hospitalizations, medications (and more medications for side effects), and lost work days to name just a few of the issues. Add to that the intangible costs of feeling poorly and watching bad and potentially preventable things happen to you and your life—and ultimately, to your loved ones who depend on you—and it’s easy to see that you’re getting the best bang for your buck.