Healthy Eating on a Budget

I hear it constantly: the lament that “eating healthy is SO expensive.” I certainly get that. I’d like to give you my advice, and I’d also like to challenge that mindset. You need to decide what your priorities are, and stop making it more complicated than it needs to be. Buying fancy grass-fed and organic ingredients at a premium grocery store to the tune of $60 for one meal is NOT the only “healthy” option other than frozen pizza and potato chips. That’s a false dichotomy. There is a whole range of real food in the middle that I promise you CAN afford.

I lost 140 pounds while we lived in Seattle on one income and my husband was in graduate school. Needless to say, it wasn’t all organic artisan products in my house. By working with what I had and doing the best I could, I changed my life and health completely. You can do the same. You can make changes that impact your family’s health. I hope that’s an exciting prospect to you!

Here are my top tips that I used to change my health within a very normal budget.

1. Set your priorities

I would argue the very first thing you need to do is decide how important a healthy diet really is to you. A huge number of Americans spend one third to half of their food budget eating out. If that describes you, are you okay with that? If you allocated most or all of your weekly and monthly food budget to groceries and eating at home, that could fix a whole lot. Let me level with you, dear reader: you are spending money on dumb stuff every day that is way less important than the lifelong health of your body and your family.

First of all, consider why this is important to you and what is at stake. Can you really put a price on a healthy, disease-free life? Healing from your existing diseases? Healthy children? I know we don’t have unlimited resources, but I think that’s a strong argument for placing putting healthy food into your body at the top of the list. Read the statistics on obese children and their chances at a healthy adult life. They aren’t good. Commit to making it work because you love your family. Commit because your health is important. I turned 28 years old weighing 265 pounds and realized if I wanted to have any health left at 50 something had to change.

Most of us have the luxury of a surplus of food. Not only are we not starving, we’re putting effort into not getting fat. Stop and consider how blessed you really are. Are there other things you don’t really need? Would being healthy and confident feel better to you than extra lattes and manicures? Do you have subscriptions or extras you barely use anymore? In my experience, most people have a few things they’d gladly trade in for a healthy body. You make the choice.

A little planning and research goes a long way. You will learn as you go and before you know it you’ll have a whole grocery routine that works for you.

Part of any goal setting endeavor is to identify where you are now. You might be surprised if you take a good look at where your money is really going. I would contend that many of my readers could eat similar to the way we eat in my house without changing actual food expenditure, and maybe even see it go down. We are not extravagant at all, yet we eat a varied and delicious diet. Like so many other things in life, magic can happen when you get honest and commit.

2. Simplify. Real food > fancy

This is my top tip and really rolls all the other techniques into one. Simplify and start somewhere. If you base your meals this week on meat and produce instead of takeout and frozen meals, I personally guarantee that’s a step up. I’ll get into my advice for how to fit in more organic and high quality choices. Start by simply cutting the crap. Eat whatever real food you can afford, whether organic and infused with magical unicorn blood or not. Changes will start to happen.

3. Buy things that are always cheaper

This may sound like a huge “duh” but it makes all the difference. Base your go-to items around things that are always less expensive. Bone-in and tougher cuts of meat, simple veggies, and frozen and canned items are all great choices for staples. Whole wild fish are often cheap in season, and I also eat a lot of canned wild salmon for a good price. A whole chicken, cabbage and sweet potatoes are three of the most humble and affordable things in the store, and they make a beautiful meal. Make simple and less expensive items the backbone of your diet. When you learn to prepare them creatively, they are also some of the most tasty and rewarding.

4. Shop on sale and in season

Make a habit of planning your weekly menus after looking at the ads for your favorite stores. Every week there are all kinds of beautiful produce and meat at a deep discount. It automatically gives you the best of the season and a varied diet too. The same is true for organic products and naturally raised meats. You’ll save a bundle on these by taking advantage of weekly and seasonal specials. It’s when you want organic asparagus and watermelon in February that you’ll be paying premium prices. Instead, work with the seasons and enjoy the opportunity to try new things.

5. Stock up, buy in bulk and online

This dovetails nicely with #4. When a cut of meat I use often or my favorite canned coconut milk are on sale, I buy a bunch. I keep my freezer and pantry stocked with items I buy at their rock-bottom price. I get a feel for the cheapest I see ground beef or pork shoulder in my area for instance, and make a game of never paying more than that. When it comes around, I buy lots for the freezer.

Another invaluable resource is buying in bulk, both at stores like Costco and online. It will often help you get better quality and more organic products, too. The majority of organic foods we eat are ones I buy in bulk and could never afford to buy that exact product in individual packages at another store. Online resources like Amazon and Thrive Market have changed the game completely too, bringing bulk shopping discounts to your doorstep.

This rhythm of stocking up saves me both time and money. In any given week, I only need a few fresh things from the store to go with what I already have on hand. Sometimes I pride myself on shopping from my pantry and freezer, and I make a plan requiring as little as $30 in fresh groceries for the whole week. It takes me less time to plan, shop, and prep because I am prepared.

6. Go to the source

This is one of the biggest ways you can save on meat in particular. The research it takes to find reliable farmers for your main meats can be a lifesaver. For an investment once or twice a year, you can have a freezer full of grass-fed beef for the same or less than the average price per pound you were paying for commercially farmed meat at the store. The difference in the health of the animals, and therefore the nutritional value to you, is huge.

The same goes for raw milk(if you can eat dairy), pastured eggs, and so many other things. There is a natural turkey farm in my area whose big business is, of course, Thanksgiving, and at other times of year they offer a steal on cases of frozen turkey legs, wings, and other products. Get to know other health-minded people in your area and ask them where they shop. I guarantee you’ll learn a lot.

7. Go all Ma Ingalls: make your own, do without, or invest your time instead of $$$

When all else fails and you just can’t justify that special something, learn how to make it yourself! Or do without something else. Learn to invest your time instead of money if you have more of the former. There are always trade-offs. If you see this as an adventure and an exciting investment in your health, you’ll find your return to be very rewarding indeed.

Spend some time cooking and learning about food. You’ll make the most of that freezer full of whole organic chickens you now own because of me. If you are serious about a long-term healthy lifestyle on a budget, learning more about cooking will take you far. You’ll enjoy the process and not be afraid of new ingredients.

If you have the space, garden and grow your own high quality vegetables and herbs. Even if you can’t garden, buy produce in bulk from farms at peak season and learn to can, freeze, preserve, and ferment. It is so satisfying to see my jars of applesauce all lined up. I can buy apples for less than $30 a bushel in the fall and spend an afternoon getting my pioneer on, and then we have applesauce for the year.

To sum it all up

I hope you are encouraged and convinced that you CAN eat healthy. It doesn’t have to look the same as mine or another family’s healthy. Look, I’m sure I could have been skinny a long time ago too if I could have eaten a grass-fed ribeye and organic asparagus from Whole Foods every night. Those celebrities with personal chefs don’t have the same challenges as the rest of us. I think I enjoyed the process even more as a normal person though. I had a blast making great food for my family and seeing the weight come off, too. Now I feel fresh inspiration working on further healing of my body.

There is a whole wide world out there of yummy and healthy food that is absolutely within your reach! Sit down and read a cookbook, cruise Pinterest and Instagram, and make a list of things you can’t wait to try this week. Heck you might even Google “eating paleo on a budget” or better yet, look at sales or your own freezer and search for new ways to prepare those items.

Take the time not just to do some research, but to get truly excited and inspired about why eating healthy is important to you. When you are invested at a heart level, things will change. A strong why can survive any how. Write down your goals and your reasons why. If you are trying to make a significant change, write down why it is important to you and look at it every single day. That’s what I did. My life and body are now unrecognizable in the best way possible. Now go buy a chest freezer and a cow and get cookin’!

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