“Eating healthy is so expensive.” I hear this a lot from people, and I do understand where they’re coming from because it is true. I don’t typically eat at McDonald’s or Burger King or anything of that sort, and that’s just the truth. So my mind is blown away whenever I’m picking up fast food for a friend or family member and I see how cheap it totals out to. And I think, “damn, eating junk food really is extremely cheap.” No wonder people complain. But if we’re being completely honest, the crappy food is not really doing anyone any favors. Sure, you’re getting low-cost calories, but that’s pretty much the extent of it. In hindsight, the more a person relies on these cheap foods, the more likely they are to age quickly and get sick earlier in life. And we all know that medical bills are not cheap, and living with a chronic illness is definitely no fun at all. But fortunately, we can find some common ground. There are some ways to eat relatively clean foods without succumbing to living on the streets, and I am going to share them here with you so that instead of googling and researching, you can use your time to go on about your day doing whatever it is that you please.
1. Buy local and in season.
Produce tends to be much cheaper when it does not have to be shipped several hundred miles to get to the consumers. Plus, lots of nutrients can be lost during transit as well, so you end up paying more for less nourishment, which is totally impractical. A good way to purchase produce that is locally sourced is to get it at your local farmer’s market. This also provides you the opportunity to get to know the people that are harvesting your food, which I think is pretty neat. Another pro tip, vendors tend to lower their prices towards the closing hours of the market as a way to get rid of everything. This may leave you with less aesthetically-pleasing produce, but an ugly carrot is still a carrot! As far as the grocery store goes, produce that is sourced close to home tends to be cheaper, so be on the lookout for those sales.
2. Do NOT buy everything organic.
Lots of times when people want to change their eating habits, they think that everything needs to be as clean as can be in order to see positive effects. The truth is that most people are eating a diet high in refined sugar/carbohydrates, processed oils, alcohol, etc., and therefore would see improvement from simply switching to consuming more whole foods (e.g. fresh produce, unprocessed meats, raw nuts/seeds, etc.), conventional or organic. The type of food that a person consumes has a larger impact than whether or not it is non-GMO verified or organic. You can also pick your organic products wisely by using the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists, which are updated every year. The Dirty Dozen are the top 12 fruits and vegetables with the most pesticides, and the Clean Fifteen are the top 15 with the least (according to the Environmental Working Group). So if you want to buy some organic produce but not all, you can choose organic fruits and vegetables that fall under the dirty dozen and stick to conventional for the clean 15. Remember to wash ALL your produce, especially if it’s purchased at a grocery store.
3. Focus on high quality meats instead.
The money that you save from buying (some) conventional produce you can use for high-quality meats. In regards to grocery shopping, I usually tell people, “If you have to choose one expensive thing, choose expensive meats.” The nutritional profile in higher-quality meats is better than that of the regular ol’ conventional and industrially-farmed meats. The omega-3 to omega-6 ratio tends to be higher in grass-fed and pasture-raised beef than it is in CAFO-raised beef (the standard American diet is way too high in omega-6). Also, purchase ground beef! It is typically much more affordable than fancy cuts like steaks and such. As far as chicken goes, BUY THE WHOLE CHICKEN. Boneless & skinless chicken breast is more expensive per pound than the entire bird. If you’re really terrified of the skin (which you shouldn’t be, but that’s another issue), you can remove it yourself, tada! Plus, you can save the bones and carcass to make your very own gut-healing bone broth; isn’t that neat? When it comes to fish, choose “wild-caught” over “farm-raised”. Wild-caught fish are given the opportunity to eat a diet that is suited for their own biology, and they don’t live their entire lives in cramped spaces and swimming in their own feces. Also, farmed fish is sometimes injected with food dyes because their flesh often turns an unappealing grey-ish color as a result of poor nutrition and toxic living conditions.
4. Buy frozen or canned wild-caught fish.
When it comes to buying wild-caught fish, a good way to save is to opt for frozen and canned options. I have found that prices tend to skyrocket when seafood is kept fresh. I honestly don’t know if this has to do with the appeal that fresh seafood has on people or with the longer shelf life of frozen/canned seafood, but either way, you’ll save some decent money on wild-caught fish if you sacrifice the “freshness”.
5. Leaner conventional meats are an option, too.
If you find that wild-caught/pasture-raised/grass-fed meats are still too pricey for your budget, then you might want to consider purchasing leaner conventional meats. This obviously throws ethics out the window (</3), but it’s an option if you’re simply concerned with nutrition. Toxins are typically stored in fat cells, so leaner meats will naturally contain less of them; and you don’t have to worry so much about the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio when there is less fat on your meat. In this case, you can get your fat from other sources like coconut, avocado, olive oil, etc.
6. Buy frozen vegetables.
Fresh vegetables can go bad pretty quickly in the fridge, especially if you’re in the middle of learning how much you typically consume and how to cook them. Spoiled produce can mean plenty of money wasted on food you never ate, so using frozen vegetables can be a huge help. Luckily, the nutrient content is not all that affected when the produce is frozen. If you’re still not sure how many vegetables are enough for you, or you’re trying to learn how to incorporate them into your diet, you can opt for a big ol’ bag of frozen veggies to make things simple until you get used to things. Or you can continue using them if you’re lazy and don’t mind a little mush in your veggie texture.
7. Skip the gluten-free/paleo processed foods.
It’s 2019, so health-conscious companies are producing some pretty tasty options for people that care about food quality. While it’s nice to have these foods available, they are expensive to make, expensive to preserve, and therefore expensive to purchase. The better the ingredients, the pricier they get. But you know what? They’re not at all necessary to consume. You don’t NEED to be eating gluten-free bread or grain-free chips or paleo brownies. Good ol’ quinoa, potatoes, and fruit will get the job done, and much more effectively at that. After all, a non-organic apple is still a healthier option than a pricey gluten-free organic oreo.
8. Stop buying bottled water!
Bottled water is a giant scam. I cannot emphasize this enough. A 32 pack of 16.9 oz water bottles can cost up to 5 whole dollars. This means that you are paying 5 dollars for about 4.25 gallons of water. That’s over a dollar per gallon. If you have a 5-gallon refillable water jug, you can purchase 5 gallons of reverse-osmosis filtered water at a dispenser for 1 tiny dollar. This means that bottled water is 5x more expensive! How ridiculous is that?! Plus, plastic from bottles, which can be harmful to our health, leaches into the water, especially if they are subject to heat and oxidation during the packaging and transporting processes. So go on, save some money and reduce your carbon footprint while you’re at it!
9. Reduce alcohol and dining out.
I know I know, this sounds so lame. But hey, if you’re on a budget and you really want to save some money while investing in your physical health, decreasing your alcohol consumption and dining out less can save you loads of cash. One drink can cost you 12 dollars, which you could’ve used to buy 2 pounds of grass-fed beef. This doesn’t mean that you can’t socialize; by all means, hang out with your friends. But remember that you don’t have to eat or drink to enjoy yourself. You can even use this as an opportunity to soberly engage with your friends and family and face the social anxiety that so many of us have but are too embarrassed to admit. Sure, it might feel uncomfortable having people ask why you’re not eating or drinking, but so what? Be uncomfortable, it’s not the end of the world. You might even get something positive out of it like self-growth or confidence or something along those lines.
So there you have it, 9 things that you can do to save money while making healthy dietary choices. I know that incorporating these practices can be difficult, but if you really want to improve your physical health while on a budget, it’s going to mean sacrificing some “luxuries” here and there. So put on your big boy (or girl, or whatever) pants and start making some changes. You can even start small if it feels like too much to do all at once. Pick one or two things that seem like the most feasible for you and work your way up from there. If you have something to add, feel free to drop your likes/comments/questions below!