A lot of people want to eat healthier this year, it’s one of the most common New Year’s resolutions out there. Many are quick to assume that an endeavor such as an overhauled diet can get expensive quickly. Which leaves us with a blaring question: how can we all eat healthier on a budget in 2016?
The fact is, planning and some creative thought will get you very far in the quest to eating habits that are both healthy and affordable. I’ve worked in a health food grocery store and consider myself an extreme bargain hunter. The following are some of my ideas for making alternative shopping habits and healthy consciousness a regular thought process!
Prep Your Meals: Do So Creatively
I went through a long phase of never having meals ready for my work week. I would order delivery, go out to for lunch, or make impulsive runs to the nearby grocery store all the time. This sporadic approach quickly became an unwanted expense. I was spending far more on lunch during my work week that I’d ever wanted to, and settling for food that was unfulfilling and downright unhealthy.
It became evident to me that there were a couple of things keeping me from successfully preparing meals for my work week. Mainly,I was lacking both structure and variety of meals.
The issue was that I felt like I couldn’t come up with enough creative lunches that were also cost efficient. I’d find myself getting sick of the same go-to lunches and would over prepare meals that were increasingly expensive.
Then I stumbled upon something fantastic.
Introducing, Leanne Brown, the mastermind behind the most useful and cost effective cookbook I’ve ever read. Her cookbook, appropriately named Good and Cheap is free to download. It offers a plethora of recipes that allows a person to eat delicious, healthy food for only about $4 a day! Follow Leanne on Twitter for more suggestions on how to eat healthy and affordable meals.
The recipes in Good and Cheap were extremely motivating to me and have since segued into countless healthy and calculated meals. I also began replacing complicated breakfasts with basic healthy smoothies and other simplistic breakfast options from the cookbook. I couldn’t be happier with the results, and my productivity at work reflects this.
The New Wave Of Discount Grocery Stores
More and more people are wising up and recognizing that fancier grocery stores are as overrated as their prices. The quality of products in more expensive grocery stores are not even substantially better than any other place consumers are spending their hard earned cash. So a shift has began to take place.
These types of discount grocery stores are cutting costs associated with deli counters, large stores, and employees bagging groceries. They are offering products at a fraction of the cost of other major grocery stores and even carry many organic and otherwise extremely expensive items.
Personally I save a ton of money by shopping at these places. However, there is one major thing to look out for: expiration dates.
I’ve sometimes found food items in these types of discount stores to be close date or even expired. Although this isn’t a regular occurrence, it’s certainly something to look out for (especially when buying dairy products).
Additionally, avoid shopping on an empty stomach. The classic case of entering a grocery store when hungry is not the best position to be in. When everything looks extra appetizing, impulsive buys can get the best of a person. For more on intelligent shopping habits, check out the Supermarket Guru.
The Bulk Section Is Your Best Friend
Fact: bulk foods are often times the same quality as packaged food, but at a fraction of the price.
While shopping at a Fred Meyer a couple years back, I came to a startling revelation. This happened while I was buying one of my favorite breakfast items, steel cut oats. I love the Bob’s Red Mill brand and had always bought the packaged versions of their products, which are ironically located next to the bulk foods.
I randomly decided to try the bulk version of the steel cut oats that I always ate. I looked at the label on the oats bin and saw the words “produced by Bob’s Red Mill” printed on the tag. They were the same exact thing! After eating those oats for years I can say with full confidence that those bulk oats were an identical product, but for almost half the price!
Many grocery stores and the brands they carry use marketing and advertising techniques that fool consumers into buying more expensive and more wasteful food items.
Since then, I’ve started buying everything from rice, to cat food, to hummus mix in the bulk section. It saves a lot of money and since I use my own containers, I’m reducing the waste I would have produced by spending more on pre-packaged foods.
Grow Your Own Food, It’s Easier Than You Think
Both indoor and outdoor gardening endeavors are much more attainable than most would think.
Indoor gardening: vertical gardening, herb gardens, and sprout gardens are all cost effective and rewarding while not taking up much space. They also require limited effort, especially when watering systems are in place.
Outdoor gardening: traditional, planter box/raised bed gardens, and tire gardens are all awesome outdoor options. If you live in a city and think you don’t have enough space to pursue this, think again! Raised bed gardens require very little space and can even be set up on porches, in driveways, and on flat roofs.
Buy A Food Vacuum Sealer
One of the best investments I’ve ever made was purchasing a small food vacuum sealer. For less than $50 I had a quality vacuum sealer, with a large supply of bags. These bags can even be washed and reused depending on what is stored in them (definitely throw them away if you’ve sealed up meat).
Vacuum sealers are great when preparing meals and can be frozen and even put into boiling water. This allows a person to buy a larger quantity of something, whether it’s on sale or in season, and store it for a later date when that may no longer be the case.
If Something Is Out Of Season, Don’t Buy It
This one is very straight-forward: when produce or other items are without a doubt out of season, simply wait for a better time of year to buy those things. Is it really worth paying $8 for a container of strawberries in the winter, or $6.99 a pound for something like asparagus? Typically, no, it is not. If you feel like you must have produce which has fluctuating availability, use that vacuum sealer and store those particular items in your freezer, so you can eat them later in the year when they become outlandishly expensive.
Avoid Restaurants: Expensive and Unhealthy in Nature
I’m as guilty as most with this one, I struggle to not eat out regularly. There’s something about the whole process of eating at restaurants that breeds offhanded laziness in my opinion.
You are served hand and foot, and in most cases never even see the kitchen and the whole cooking process. The food appears in front of you with a sort of instant gratification that keeps people coming back on the regular. Additionally, there’s no mess to clean up! Just an overpriced bill, and a crew to clean up your mess.
But conveniences aside, people on average are spending over $2,500 a year eating out! Cut that expense out of your life when trying to save money. The conveniences restaurant will never outweigh the costs.