Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Eating Healthy on a Budget

When we talked about budgeting back in January, several of you inquired about eating well on a budget. Some of the things we mention below almost seem too obvious to merit their own asterisk...but hopefully you'll find a few helpful tips.

*If you're concerned about eating organically, learn where it really matters. Check out this article published by Martha Stewart about 'The Clean 15 vs. The Dirty Dozen.'

*Eat less meat. Way less. I was reading an article the other day that said Americans today eat 50 lbs. more meat per year than their grandparents did. If you need a little push in this direction, check out one of Michael Pollan's books next time you're at the library - fantastic.

*Stretch the time between visits to the grocery store. I know this is tricky when you're trying to eat a fresh, plant-based diet, but truly - it's difficult to get out of the grocery store without spending $25. If you pop in every 3 days - that's $250 a month on the little "just need to grab some milk" trips. I've even heard a few people say that having milk delivered ends up saving them money over the course of the month because they don't have to make those quick trips for milk, which turn into quick trips for milkeggs,blueberries,saladgreens, chocolate chips...$30. I would imagine joining a CSA or some kind of produce-delivery service would have a similar effect as it would reduce the number of trips you'd need to take to the market.

*Speaking of...look into joining a local CSA. (Find a local CSA or farmer's market in your area HERE.) I loved Liz's post about her family's experience with this.

*Buy in bulk. We mean from the bins - oats, nuts, grains, rice, legumes, etc. It is so much cheaper.

*Legumes, legumes, legumes! Doesn't get healthier than lentils/rice and veggies, rice and beans, etc.!

*Grow a garden/buy local produce in season. Even in tiny spaces, you can produce a lot of food.
You'll be amazed by what this family is doing with 1/10 of an acre; watch this video (pardon the movie trailer that precedes it).

*Read back through Rachael Bailey's tips on preserving food to get motivated and to learn what to do with the 25 lbs of peaches you buy when they're thirty cents/lb.

*Know what should be in your pantry (post on this coming soon from Taylor...) and keep it stocked to avoid intermittent trips to the grocery store.

*Plan your meals!! And plan them around what's on sale at your local grocery store. (More on this coming up tomorrow from Amanda; she'll also have a few tips about coupon-ing).

*Avoid the overpriced, packagey stuff that's void of nutrition. Eat whole foods!

*Food storage: store what you EAT! Replace things when you use them (rotate)!

* If you're passionate about eating everything organic, you'll just spend more. Almost without exception. It all comes down to what you value. In the case of meat, for example, if you want free range chickens from the farmers' market, but you don't want to increase your meat budget, then you just need to plan on eating less meat. You'll also need to realize that a generous grocery budget might necessitate a slim entertainment or clothing budget. On a limited budget, it comes back to priorities and values again and again.

* And finally - to really get yourself in tune with how much you're spending each month on food -- keep track. I mean save every single receipt. Or track every single transaction with your debit card register, or whatever you do. And add it all up at the end of the month. Every little trip for every little ingredient. You might be astonished to reconcile what you think you're spending with what you're actually spending. Sometimes just the awareness of reality will help you cinch up your financial belt.

Any questions, tips, things you've found helpful - please tell ask/tell us about it in the comment thread. We're anxious to learn from you.

Em & Anne


We live in a Zoo! said...

When my husband and I were going over our taxes and looking at where all our money went last year we noticed our grocery expense.
It was a lot, but I reassured my husband that it would have been double if we ate meat everyday like he wishes we did. As it is, my reluctance to touch raw meat keeps that wish at bay. :D

Rachael said...

Love this, girls! I'm a big fan of eating a plants-based diet, especially if most of it comes from your garden!!

sarahandmatt said...

One thing I'm careful to do is plan the leftovers when I plan the meal. I've found that if I tell myself the potroast from today will be beef enchiladas tomorrow, I am more careful not to continue to eat the pot roast or lump extra on the kids' plates than is necessary. If I know the soup is for two dinners, I just don't eat it as my evening snack...you get the idea.

Melissa said...

I didn't know about the veggies! Good to know. We have a farm right down the street that I need to use more often. Lots of organic and the prices are so much better than the grocery store. It requires an extra trip, but it's not so bad. Thanks for the tips!

Bloom said...

Great suggestion about the leftovers, "sarah&matt" - it does help to be mindful about how far you need things to stretch -- and just about how you will use things up.

Astyn said...

Meal-planning, meal-planning! It is not fun, but it can really go along way when it comes to your budget and the quality of your meals. The first couple of years we were married, I hardly did any meal planning. I just bought a whole lot of stuff and came up with creative meals on the spot. It was a lot of fun, but not very economical. I was going to the grocery store constantly.
My husband challenged me last summer to go grocery shopping once a week. This was when gas prices in Florida were very high and he hated all of the money we spent on errands that could be consolidated or eliminated. But since taking his challenge we have seen many benefits; 1) better planned and healthier meals, 2) I am more excited to try new recipes, 3) smoother meal preparation, 4) less money spent on groceries and gas.

Thanks for the great tips.

Michelle D said...

I grew up in a family that ate meat for every dinner. That being said, I'm not sure of any main dishes - other than spaghetti/pasta - that don't require meat. Could you give me some meatless entre ideas??

Martha said...

I always think I know everything about this, but those were really good tips! I could always tighten my belt in this area.

Amy said...

Great post! Definitely agree that frequent trips to the shops should be a no-no...I often go to the shops for bread/milk and come back with the main components for a dozen meals, despite having a well-stocked fridge at home! Also my boyfriend is a veggie and since we've moved in together, I eat a lot less meat; it's amazing how much money we've saved :D

Michelle said...

As far as meat goes, I go to the grocery store when they have their "manager's special", (like we need to sell this meat today special). It is a great way to save. I buy a bunch at reduced prices and freeze the meat. I never pay full price for meat anymore...

Christina said...

I just recently started ordering from Azure Standard. It's a company based out of Oregon that does bulk organic delivery. I have found them to be pretty affordable.

Michelle -

There are so many meatless meal ideas out there - I would start with borrowing a cookbook from the library. Moosewood Cookbooks are good, Laurel's Kitchen, and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian would all have lots of ideas to get you excited about using less meat. We usually have a soup night, a pizza night, a pasta night, a crock-pot night, and then my husband cooks one night a week and he usually cooks something meat/ethnic based.

Diana said...

This is a great one! I didn't have time to click all the links, but I have to say eating CSA vegis was such a great experience for us (I don't get them now, because I'm gardening more). I learned to eat SO many awesome, healthy things I'd never cooked with before!

Jonesy said...

I would also love some great, but filling meatless recipes. My husband always complains that he's starving after eating vegetarian.

There's also a great program in AZ, UT, and parts of ID & WA called Bountiful Baskets. (www.bountifulbaskets.org) It's a produce co-op that you pay $15 into every 2 weeks, and receive about $30 worth of restaurant quality produce. It's always half fruit, half veggies, but you never know what you're going to get. I thought it was fun to have to create meals around these items, and it certainly made us eat more veggies in the process!

Heather said...

For those of you in Arizona, Utah, parts of Idaho, and parts of Washington: there is a way to get cheap yet delicious vegetables and fruit. Bountiful Baskets. I love it and do it almost every week, if I am lucky to get signed up before every one else. Here is the website if you are interested, www.bountifulbaskets.org. My family eats a little bit healthier and I don't have to go to the grocery store each week because we are out of carrots or broccoli for the husbands lunch (thus none of the "milk" trips we all love).

Jen said...

I second Jonesy's recommendation of Bountiful Baskets. We only spent $25 last week and our fridge is literally stuffed with fresh goodies that will last us quite a while.

Rachael said...

Michelle--check out http://www.101cookbooks.com/index.html for fantastic meatless entrees. I also love, love, LOVE Anna Thomas's cookbook The New Vegetarian Epicure.

Itzme said...

Let me try to follow this..hope it will help me too

Tiffany said...

Hi Em & Anne,

I'm currently doing a recipe swap on my site (http://www.simplymodernmom.com/2010/03/over-used-recipe-swap-2010/) if you are interested. There are some simple and fast healthy recipes there!

Emily said...

One of the best investments I've ever made was purchasing a small chest freezer. It makes it really easy to plan meals to include leftover and then freeze them to use in a week or two. Not only does it save us money, but also saves me time in the kitchen, and that is great news for everyone. It also makes it possible to really stock up on things when they go on sale at the grocery store. I love it.

For those who are trying to eat less meat I would suggest a few things. First, if you eat meat everyday it will be much easier to scale back on your meat consumption rather than trying to go cold turkey (no pun intended, really). In our house we don't eat very much meat, but when we do it is much more of a garnish. Try using shredded/cubed meat in meals rather than having a whole chicken breast or piece of steak.

Also, there is a grain called quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) that has loads of protein and is really easy to cook and if you combine other foods, like rice and beans, then you create a complete protein that will not leave you or the hubby still hungry. We love having vegetarian tacos using seasoned rice and beans, tomatoes, lettuce, avocados, salsa and a splash of lime juice... you won't even miss the meat, promise!

Unfailing Love said...

These are great ideas, and I just happen to be in the middle of Pollan's "In Defense of Food." For me the hardest food experience is snack time. Unfortunately, I gave into gummies and cookies. So there is no turning back on that! However, I am still trying to incorporate fresher, fruitier treats. With my boys, I'm stuck with apples or avocados. And when I am crunched for time, hello gummies! Any ideas on healthy, easy to prepare snacks?