It's a common complaint that eating healthy and organic foods is more expensive than eating junk. While this can be true if you buy a lot of specialty or processed products, it can also be affordable to eat well if you know how to do it. With that said, I don't know why it is virtuous in our culture to spend as little on food as possible (see Extreme Couponers). Obviously if you aren't bringing in enough money to feed yourself this should be a concern, but even those who are well off get sucked into this mentality. Spending as little as possible on food and dropping thousands on a designer handbag are both admirable. What? I recently had a request from a reader to write a post with tips for those who want to eat organic, but aren't independently wealthy. I'm here to tell you that you can eat delicious, healthy food on a budget, if you put in the effort. It's all about doing what you can, prioritizing your food dollars, and giving yourself a break some times. Jasen and I definitely don't spend unlimited amounts of money on our food, but we're still able to eat well.
- Grow your own. No matter if you live on several acres or in an NYC apartment, you can still grow something. Potted herbs are a great place to start!
- Shop at your local farmers market. You can get great prices and, as you start to build relationships with the farmers, you can often get deals or freebies.
- Use the "Dirty Dozen" and "Clean Fifteen" lists to prioritize your organic dollars. These list which foods have the most pesticide residue (most important to buy organic) and which have the least (less important to buy organic). If you have to choose, you're better off getting organic versions of the thin skinned fruits and veggies like apples and tomatoes, and buying non-organic when it comes to thick skinned foods like oranges and watermelon.
- Eat less meat. Organic and pastured meats can be expensive, so, rather than eating cheap meat every night, opt for organic meats 2-3 times per week.
- Stop buying chicken in pieces. Buy the whole chicken and cut it up yourself. Not only is this cheaper, but it gives some variety in your diet and you can use the left-over back bone to make stock.
- Buy foods in bulk. Often, this can be cheaper (but check to make sure it is)! When it comes to meat, buy a whole cow or hog and freeze it for the year. If you are single and/or don't have a huge freezer to store the meat, go in with some friends and split it.
- Don't get sucked into organic specialty products like bars, crackers, and cereal. They're quite expensive. Choose whole, real foods instead.
- Make as much yourself as possible. You can save lots of money by taking the time to soak and cook dried beans rather than buying canned. I've recently started making my own yogurt. Start with one change at a time and add them on gradually. As you go, what was once a big deal will become your new normal.
- Eat in. Eating out is super expensive and often the quality of the food isn't that great. When you do eat out, make it a special occasion and choose restaurants that specialize in something you can't make yourself and/or ones that use local and organic ingredients.
- Find the money. Most people spend some of their income on extra items they don't need. Now, while there isn't anything wrong with this, if you are on a limited budget, you might need to eliminate or reduce these items in order to put that money towards your food. It all comes down to what is more important to you.
A great resource if you need meal ideas is 100 Days of Real Food. After this mom and her family completed a 100 day real food challenge, they went on a 100 day real food on a budget challenge where they spent less than what they would have received on SNAP (Food Stamp) benefits. You can read all about their struggles and tips here.
Even with these tips, the bottom line is that you have to make healthy eating a priority. It does sometimes require sacrifices, but the benefits are much greater.
Do you guys have any money-saving tips when it comes to eating well? Share them in the comments below!