I stopped into my local vitamin store the other day, and my purchases (whole flax seed, fish oil tablets and raw cacao nibs) prompted a comment from the cashier. “What do you do with all of that?” he asked. We fell into a conversation about diet and nutrition and so on. He mentioned that he’d been having a hard time losing 20 pounds, and when I asked him to describe his nutritional regimen, he said he eats a lot of frozen, pre-made meals. And he wasn’t talking about the better-quality, healthy-food-store-type of meals that do tend to be more on the nutritious side. No. This poor guy eats packaged stuff laden with sodium, hydrogenated oils and who knows what else.
I tried to conceal my true feelings (I was surprised to hear this from someone working in a health store!) and asked why he chose to eat that way. Simple. It’s cheap. He said he doesn’t have the budget to shop at any of the upscale health food stores, so instead he spends $3 to $4 per meal on frozen, pre-made things-that-used-to-be-food foods.
I realize that most people probably don’t have the finances to go to a mega health food shop and spend without consequence. However, speaking from personal experience, I can say that eating healthy on a budget is not only possible, but it’s also quite easy. Even when I was a struggling college student, I still kept on top of eating my veggies, fruit, protein and other healthy foods.
It all comes down to the same thing– one needs to decide what the priority is and budget accordingly. I’ve always felt that nutrition is simply not the area to scrimp and pinch on.
Of course, it gets even more challenging when we’re talking about a family on a tight budget versus a single college student (the latter of which could possibly just cut down on buying new clothing, for example), but it’s still doable.
- Save money by shopping for organic and natural foods at Vitacost. Did you know that if you order over $49 worth of products, you can get free shipping? In addition, there’s the Refer-a-Friend program–when you refer a friend or family member who makes a purchase at Vitacost.com, you each get $10 to spend on the site.
- Use grocery store flyers to see which fruits, vegetables and meats are on sale that week, and stock up. You can always buy extra fruit and freeze it to use in smoothies, for example. You can also freeze meat, fish and poultry for use the following week or so. Since sale items change, this tip will help you to keep your fruit and veg choices varied.
- If buying organic is just too pricey, don’t let that be a reason to entirely skip buying produce. Non-organic, conventional (but at least fresh) produce is still favorable to canned or ultra-processed food.
- Buy in bulk when appropriate. Choosing your raw walnuts from the bin, for example, saves, as you don’t pay for packaging. In addition, grass fed meats, free-range poultry and wild fish, all of which can be frozen to last, as well as shared with friends or other families, make good cost-cutting options.
- Use your leftovers. Perhaps you’ll prepare a roast chicken with veg for your family for dinner one night. Turn what’s left into a chicken stew for the next day’s lunch. Send the kids (and spouse!) to school/work with the last night’s dinner for lunch. Bringing lunch from home saves a ton of money!
- Try making things at home instead of buying ‘kits.’ For example, rather than paying $5 for a bag of spinach with a packet of salad dressing and a packet of dried cranberries inside, buy those items separately and save again.
- Grow your own fruits and vegetables. While this may sound like a stretch as many (or most, perhaps) don’t have time to garden, if it’s remotely possible, it’s yet another way to save. Get the kids involved, too! Seeing the fruits (excuse the pun) of their labor grown may encourage them to eat more produce as well. Even if there is no space for a garden, perhaps a small window box where you can grow fresh herbs and spices in order to jazz up your meals could be an option.
- Be flexible with shopping-list plans (what was going to be a wild king salmon dinner turned into a wild Coho salmon dinner because the latter was $10/pound less).
- Learn which foods must be organic and which you can get away with conventional growing methods (for example, strawberries should always be organic, while conventional broccoli is acceptable).
- Be creative with remaking one meal into another, rather than just eating boring old ‘leftovers.’
Yes — fresh does cost more than packaged or processed, generally speaking, but by incorporating the tips above, you’ll not only get yourself and your family on a healthier eating plan, you’ll also send a message to the companies putting out the unhealthy stuff that you’re not going to support them anymore.
I’m a firm believer in the idea that we have the choice to spend a little more on high-quality food now and stay healthy, rather than pay an arm and a leg for healthcare later in life when we fall ill from illness that could have been prevented.
Literally, food for thought!
Nell Stephenson, the original “Paleoista,” is the author of Paleoista, Gain Energy, Get Lean and Feel Fabulous with the Diet You Were Born to Eat (Touchstone, 2012) and co-author of The Paleo Diet Cookbook with Dr. Loren Cordain, PhD (Wiley & Sons, 2010). In addition to her work as nutrition consultant and trained chef, Stephenson is a personal trainer and competitive endurance athlete who credits the Paleo diet for her transformed health and athletic success. Visit her blog at www.paleoista.com.