“I want to eat healthier, but it’s too expensive. I can’t afford it.” It’s a refrain I hear almost every day.
Now, I’ll grant you that buying 1,000 calories of Cocoa Puffs is cheaper than buying 1,000 calories of fresh vegetables or pasture-raised meat. And if trying to support yourself and your family on limited funds, it can be difficult to choose a fresh avocado at $1.29 each instead of the gooey, green, pre-packaged and preserved “avocado sauce” that probably doesn’t contain an ounce of avocado.
There’s no doubt about it: We live in a broken food culture where government subsidies support the production of cheap, low-quality, toxin-filled foods that make us sick, fat, and depressed. It’s not always easy to walk into a grocery store and choose salad greens and fish and ignore the miles of aisles filled with chemically-manufactured foods that are purposely designed to attract your attention and condition your taste buds to eat ever more sugar, fat, and salt.
But this does not mean you can’t make better food choices and eat healthy on a budget. Yes, it may mean changing your habits and priorities a bit, but I assure you the results will be worth it.
Here are my top five tips for eating healthy when you are on a tight budget. Follow them, and you’ll find eating well is much easier, cheaper, and more delicious than you ever imagined.
Tip #1: Make Your Food Budget Go Farther
These days, it’s easier to stretch your food dollars than it’s ever been. The Internet has made discount shopping available to most folks. Try shopping online for food bargains. Many online vendors carry the same brands seen in grocery stores for discounted prices. And be sure to purchase several items to take advantage of free shipping.
You can also join a local wholesale “club” like Costco. Many of these mega-markets carry fresh, organic vegetables and pastured meats these days. If you can’t afford the membership yourself, split the price with a friend or family member (or several), so that you can take advantage of discountprices on healthy foods.
Tip #2: Prioritize Eating Healthy
The fact of the matter is that most people don’t make eating healthy a financial priority. Look, I’m not going to tell you that you should give up all of your luxury purchases so you can buy better food. But I do think it’s worth it for you to take a look at how you’re spending your money and consider, “Am I really supporting my health and meeting my personal goals this way?”
Many people spend lots of money on expensive coffee drinks, popcorn at the movies, chocolate bars, and more. I’ve had clients come in who are spending in excess of $15.00 a day on this kind of thing and then tell me they can’t afford to eat healthy. That’s just not true. They have the money to eat healthy, they simply choose not to.
How you spend your money is your business, and if that cup of coffee from Starbucks is a luxury you feel you can’t live without, so be it. But at least take a look at how you’re spending your hard-earned cash. I think you’ll find there’s more money in your budget for eating healthy that you initially realized.
Tip #3: Be a Mindful Shopper
We all sometimes get caught in what I call “zombie shopping mode.” It’s the end of a long day, you just got off work and need to go pick up your kids from daycare, but first you have to stop by the store for some groceries. That trip to the market may be the only “down time” you get all day. So you walk in, and zone out. You head to the middle aisles of the supermarket, and like a zombie scoop items into your cart almost mindlessly.
If you want to eat healthy on a budget, I recommend you become a mindful shopper. Try making your trip to the grocery store an interesting adventure. Become fully aware of the dazzling display of foods around you. Realize that you are hunting and gathering the foods that are going to nourish the minds, bodies, and spirits of your entire family.
Once you’re in this mode, look around you and bring your critical mind to the act of shopping. Note which foods are good for you (the ones without labels) and which are built by food engineers and marketing experts to draw your attention away from your health goals. Choose accordingly.
Then, keep your eyes peeled for healthy deals. For example, you can buy vegetables or meat that’s on sale and freeze it. Seek out the bulk aisle of your supermarket or local health food store and see if you can get nuts, seeds, and specialty items like quinoa and shiratake noodles on the cheap.
Also, check out the frozen section of your grocery store, especially if you live in an area where access to fresh vegetables is limited. While fresh is best, frozen fruits and veggies run a close second, and you can often purchase these items at discount prices.
Bring your conscious mind to the act of shopping and beat back that zombie shopper lurking in us all!
Tip #4: Grow Your Own Food
I’ve never had much of a green thumb. But my little girl loves to be out digging in the dirt. We discovered an easy way to grow a small hydroponic vegetable garden together, and we are having a blast! We get to spend time together, be outside in nature, and the fresh produce we harvest is amazing! My daughter discovered that she has a real knack for gardening. It doesn’t take much space, and it’s inexpensive. Or, you can plant a traditional garden for an even smaller investment. A few dollars on seeds and soil is all you need to get started growing your own fruits, vegetables, and herbs. The rewards are tremendous and go well beyond the free healthy food you get.
Tip #5: Go Local
Many people think that shopping at the local farmer’s market is more expensive than buying food in the grocery store. I typically find the opposite is true, especially if you are willing to buy in bulk and can, dry, or freeze the foods you purchase.
Find a local farmer’s market and talk to the farmers. Ask if they have special prices for buying seasonal vegetables in bulk. Getting local, organic, seasonal food is healthier, it helps you develop a closer connection to the foods you are consuming, and it’s often less expensive. You can freeze what you don’t eat, share it with another family, or learn how to preserve the food at home.
By following these tips, you can eat healthy on a budget. And remember, when you shift away from highly-processed carbohydrates and sugar-filled foods toward healing vegetables and pastured meat, your appetite will naturally diminish. You will not be as hungry if you eat healthier, which means you’ll eat less, save more money, and lose a few pounds in the process.
Paying attention to what you eat and how you spend your food dollars is worth it in every sense. You will have more energy and vitality, you’ll heal your body naturally with the phytochemicals and healthy fats and proteins in these foods, and you may see your mood, memory, and cognitive function improve as well.
Before you go, make sure to leave a comment below. Let us know what strategies you use to eat health on a budget.