One of the biggest misconceptions people have about eating smart — be it whole foods, real food, gluten-free, Paleo, organic or the like — is that it just costs too much to eat that way.
But in truth, it all depends on how you go about it.
Below I’ll share some tips from myself and others for keeping your food costs reasonable, but consider these other ways that eating healthy saves you money, outside the grocery budget:
- Fewer doctor visits. Eating to repair your gut strengthens your immunity system. Since I started eating Paleo a little over a year ago, I’ve only had one bug. There have been a couple times my husband has had a nasty something that I never caught. And it seems I’m not the only one to experience this. I found this comment and response on the Live Simply blog: “Even though grass fed and organic costs more, I can’t believe the savings in medical costs. — So true, Andrea. We used to get sick monthly on processed food. Now, we rarely get sick, maybe a common cold once a year, but for a very short time period. Real food heals and nourishes the body and brings the medical expenses way down.”
- Fewer medications needed. Let me be clear: I’m not against all meds! But I know personally, after improving my overall health through both diet and exercise, I was able to go off two meds completely and cut the dose of another in half. I’ve heard multiple stories of people reducing or getting rid of their meds for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or Type 2 Diabetes meds by changing their diet. NOT overnight! But as the body heals (and, often, loses weight), the need for those drugs often dissipates.
- Maybe avoid surgery and/or expensive equipment. What if, by losing some pounds, you could avoid knee surgery? Or living with a walker or wheel chair? Or sleeping with a CPAP? And beyond the cost: how about the freedom?!
- Eating out less. If you’re serious about trying to cut processed foods out of your diet, you’ll by necessity find yourself eating at home more. And packing lunches or leftovers for work, if you work outside of home. And that’s always cheaper than eating out.
- Eating fewer snacks and less junk food. As your body begins to heal and you continue to feed it the nutrients it’s really craving, you’ll find your mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and late-night munchies become less frequent and less severe — or go away entirely. Those mini-bags of treats from the vending machine seem cheap one at a time, but they do add up!
My tips for keeping costs down while eating healthy
Avoid all-or-nothing thinking. You don’t have to switch to 100% organic, grass-fed, etc. Think about the foods that make up the bulk of your diet, or the foods that are most likely harming you, and consider how you might nudge those in a healthier direction. Not everything has to be organic: check out the Clean 15/Dirty Dozen for guidelines about what should always be purchased organic (or scrubbed extra well) and what does not need to be organic. (More tips below from other bloggers, regarding meat.)
Invest in a little shopping research. You don’t have to shop Whole Foods exclusively to eat well. (Although, their prices on some items are often competitive with local grocery stores. I’ve found this to be true in dairy.) Shop your area and compare prices on the things you eat most frequently. Factor in whether a special trip is worth the time and gas, but you may be surprised by what you can find near you. Aldi’s was a surprise for me: they have fantastic avocados for well under a dollar each! Also, Costco has a lot of Paleo and additive-free options in meat and produce.
Make your own salad dressings. This is a huge health bonus, as nearly every cheap salad dressing contains corn syrup, and the ones that don’t, cost several bucks a bottle. Once you see how easy it is — and how superior the taste is — you’ll never go back to bottled. Here are a few of my long-time favorites, from my recipe blog, ohthatstasty.com. And a couple Paleo faves: Dump Ranch, and Sugar-Free Strawberry Poppyseed.
Make your own spice blends. Another so-simple thing that saves you time and money. Some of my faves (with links to my recipes on ohthatstasty.com)…
- Try my taco seasoning blend — which you can also add to sweet potato hash for a side dish, or sprinkle on salmon or chicken as a dry rub, or add to scrambled eggs.
- My GTC blend also works as a quick curry powder, which can be added to soups, veggie dishes, or chicken salad.
- This seasoned dry rub can also be made in bulk and used on pork or chicken.
- Chili seasoning is another thing you can easily mix up in bulk and use frequently.
- Not a spice blend, but just as handy to have on hand: homemade sugar-free marinara. It’s hard to find store-bought that doesn’t have sugar in it, and this recipe is super easy and quick. And SO much cheaper than the brands that are sugar-free!
Think beyond price-per-pound. Yeah, hormone-free antibiotic-free hamburger may cost two or three dollars more per pound, but that’s really just 50 to 75 cents more per serving. And isn’t your health and your family’s health worth that?
Learn to love leftovers and get creative with them!
And here are some tips from other bloggers…
Ingredient prep decreases your odds of eating out
Set aside 1-2 hours each week for preparing ingredients…. Bake muffins and freeze them. Prepare smoothie packs, chop vegetable for soups and salads, and marinate or cook meats. The purpose of prep day is to cut down on the amount of time you’ll spend in the kitchen the rest of week which means you will not have the desire to stop by the store and pick up an easy meal in lieu of cooking dinner, saving you money and time!
Source: Live Simply
Note: I would add that you don’t need to do it in one long time-chunk, if that seems daunting to you. Set aside some of your downtime for chopping onions (they last for days in the fridge), some time on another day for roasting and dicing sweet potatoes, another time for making dressings and marinades, and so on. (Check out my 10 ingredient prep tips post.)
Tips for eating Paleo on a budget
- Grow your own produce, even if it’s fresh herbs on the windowsill of your apartment.
- Look for sales—even stores such as Whole Foods put meat on sale from time to time.
- For meats, if you can only afford grain-fed, buy lean cuts and trim the fat before cooking.
- Limit Paleo baking or speciality ingredients. Nobody *needs* coconut aminos to survive.
- Buy in bulk at stores such as Costco. [My note: Costco has more organic options than Sam’s Club.]
- Buy from the bulk bins at the health food market.
- Purchase spices in bulk and make your own blends. It’s cheaper that way.
- Join a cow- or pig-share. You chip in to buy a large quantity of meat, and the price is often cheaper per pound than the grocery store. You’ll need a large amount of freezer space.
- If you absolutely cannot get by without staple foods, steer clear of gluten and dairy, but perhaps add in less problematic foods such as white rice or white potato.
Source: Stupid Easy Paleo
Frozen vs. fresh; organic vs. conventional
- Frozen is just as good as fresh fruits and vegetables – If you cannot afford fresh or it is out of season, frozen fruits and vegetables are a good alternative.
- Frozen and canned seafood is a good alternative to fresh seafood – Fresh wild-caught fish is expensive. However, frozen and canned wild-caught fish can be much cheaper and just as healthy. When you buy canned fish, just make sure that it is packed in olive oil or water and not soybean oil, cottonseed oil, etc.
- Conventional meat is okay – If organic/grass-fed/pastured meat is too expensive, buy lean (without much fat) cuts of conventional meat instead. Toxins are stored in fat. Therefore, you should buy the leanest cuts of conventional meat as possible and trim any excess fat or skin before preparing.
- Conventional eggs are okay, too – If you cannot afford pastured eggs, buy cage-free or conventional eggs.
- Buy meat on that is on sale and freeze it – If you buy meat that is marked down and do not plan to use it that day, freeze it immediately. It will last for months in the freezer.
Source: Civilized Caveman Cooking
Tips and benefits from miscellaneous bloggers, on eating real food:
“No fancy ingredients to make one dish, just stick to the basics and try to buy the best quality, most nutritious variety of those staples. Use your imagination: if time is tight and you don’t see yourself making everything from scratch figure out a way to stretch that dollar. Snack packs and juice boxes are huge budget-killers and can easily made at home. Just take it one step at a time.” Jennah at House Barn Farm
“When we first started our real food journey, the first thing to cut out was cold cereal. I was totally shocked after keeping track for a month. We saved $80 a month by cooking breakfast instead of buying the cold cereal!” Rachel at Nourishing Minimalism
“I actually stopped couponing because the foods I buy now (fruits, vegetables, natural sweeteners, pastured meat, etc.) aren’t even brands! In the end, our family has grown by two and we’re spending less on our food now than we were with coupons! Real food has completely changed our lives, and we’re living proof that it’s possible to do on a real budget.” Tiffany at Don’t Waste the Crumbs
“After 6 months [of eating better], I sat down and added up my receipts and realized, it cost about the same to eat high quality food. My hypothesis… is because real food has a much higher nutrient content, your hunger is satisfied earlier and you don’t need as much.” Jackie Patti at Deductive Seasoning
Commenters also said:
“I plan our meals around the [stores’ advertising] flyers, and shop with a list so I don’t buy lots of things we don’t need. I also find that since I switched to a higher fat diet, I simply don’t eat as much!”
“I buy my meat direct from the farm and it is cheaper than buying it the stores.”
Source: Live Simply
You’ll also find some great tips in this book: The Real Food Grocery Guide.
organic food display: by NeONBRAND on Unsplash
woman in wheelchair: by Steven HWG on Unsplash