Healthy eating on a budget is possible and tasty, regardless of whether the economy is up or down.
Myth: It’s expensive to eat well.
Fact: Not if you buy smart.
Consider these tips to help you eat well while on a budget.
You may find managing your grocery bill actually helps improve your eating habits.
Planning ahead to eat well helps prevent impulse buys, which can really drive up your grocery bill.
Use what you already have. Have on hand any frozen meats, bags of dried beans or other essentials that you’ve forgotten about? Inventory (translated: find it) and begin to use it.
Set a budget. Track all food purchases for a few weeks – groceries, the candy bar from the gas station, restaurant meals, your A.M. latte. Identify areas where you can cut back. Do you need to buy out-of-season fresh produce each week, or will frozen veggies do? How many packages of crackers do you really need? Set a weekly or monthly spending limit.
Make a shopping list, then stick to it. Keep a running list on the fridge and write down necessaries as you think of them. Before you’re off to the store, inventory your pantry again and add or remove items as needed. “Oh, look, we already have eight jars of peanut butter!” When you get to the store, remember, if it didn’t make your list, it’s likely you don’t need it.
Shopping wisely, whether during a recession or not, makes planning pay.
Buy only what you’ll use.
- Melons can turn into science projects in the back of your fridge. Prep them for eating as soon as they’re ripe, then store in front of the fridge so you don’t forget them.
- While organic, sugar-free ketchup may sound healthy, do you use enough of it to make a difference? Also, make sure you like the taste of specialty foods like these. If not, they’ll likely end up in the trash.
- Keep tossing that broccoli because it turns yellow before you get to it? Buy frozen instead.
- Buying in bulk? It’s only a good deal if the food is a staple in your house. Bulk sections that offer bins of different items, however, allow you to buy smaller amounts than in packaged versions.
- Compare price per pound/volume. Larger packages aren’t always the best deal. If they are, make sure you store them so you don’t waste. Example: Freeze chicken breasts individually instead of as purchased so you only thaw what you need.
Choose among sale items. Shopping the weekly sales can add variety to your meals, but if potato chips aren’t on your list, it’s likely you don’t really need them, even if they are 2 for 1. The exception: really good buys on staples. And be realistic. If you don’t/won’t eat it, the super large bag of greens isn’t a good buy.
- The 10 for 10 sale usually doesn’t mean you need to buy 10 to get the deal.
- Check reduced produce and bakery sections for marked-down choices.
Compare stores. Some may consistently offer better prices.
- Try farmer’s markets or a local CSA (community-supported agriculture) to get seasonal produce that often tastes better and costs less.
- ‘Bump & dent’ discount stores have good buys, too. Be sure to check expiration dates.
- Grow your own. May sound tougher than it is, but you can grow things that really run up your bill in stores, such as tomatoes, peppers, mixed greens, etc. Check your state’s Cooperative Extension for help.
Convenience costs. Consider whether it’s a worthwhile expense, particularly during a recession.
- Cook some items from scratch. Pancakes, soups, dressings and muffins are just a few ideas. They’re not only less expensive when homemade, they usually taste a lot better, too.
- Sometimes it makes sense. Carrots sprout and celery wilt before you make that crudite you planned? Buy them already cut-up; may be more expensive but odds are you’ll eat them.
- Dine in more often. Cut back on the number of meals you eat out each week. You’ll probably be healthier for it, too.
- Cook in batches & freeze. Many items freeze well, especially soups and casseroles. Google it if you aren’t sure about freezing what you want to cook.
Eat lower on the food chain, and on the processed food chain.
- Vegetable-based proteins such as beans and peas are usually less expensive than animal-based proteins. Add one or two more vegetarian meals to your week.
- Less processed = less pricey (most of the time). Plain frozen cauliflower is a better buy than frozen cauliflower with cheese sauce. Add your own seasonings to make it a treat you’ll eat. A homemade lunch featuring bread, sliced turkey and whole fruit costs a lot less than a pre-packaged lunch. Does a bag of grapes seem to cost a lot more than a bag of chips? Chances are, the grapes will fill you up better. Not to mention the potential health costs of choosing less nutritious foods too frequently.
As a reminder, eating well is a matter of balance. Check out Green Mountain at Fox Run’s Plate Model for Healthy Eating for a simple recession-proof guide to simple and satisfying meals.