Healthy Foods on a Budget
Then after a few very scary episodes, I got the diagnosis I wasn't expecting, I was allergic to dozens and dozens of foods. So I did what any rational, mature woman would do. I went to the grocery store, walked down every aisle, and cried my eyes out over the foods I could no longer have.
From then on it's been a journey. We cut out processed sugars, preservatives, most processed foods, and I cut out wheat. We aren't "super healthy" and eat a perfect diet, but we do eat real, unprocessed foods, provide our bodies with healthy fats, and make everything from scratch. September of this year will mark four years since I've eaten anything that I haven't made myself (no eating out). I won't say that I don't have occasional cravings, but I can see how much our health has changed over the years and I wouldn't give that up for any Twinkie. Now I'm able to eat everything I had issues with in moderation. Amazing how foods can change your life!
Real, unprocessed foods are expensive. Or at least that's what you may think. One thing that we've learned since starting our journey is how to keep our grocery budget low and still be able to afford our yummy healthy foods. It takes a bit of work, but it is possible! Here's a list of my top 10 ways to buy healthy foods on a budget.
1. Plant a garden, as big as you have room for. Yes, homesteading 101, plant that garden! Even if you live in an apartment you can plant a garden, it just takes a few flower pots or totes. Our goal this year is to have to buy as little produce as possible over the next winter, so my garden is going to be as big as I can manage.
2. Start buying your meat in bulk. There are many sources to buy meat in bulk; from the membership stores to local farmers. Check the newspaper, Craigslist, or ask in Facebook groups to find someone that might be selling meat. Here's a great detailed post on Buying Meats in Bulk.
3. Don't buy "healthy junk food". I buy the occasional crackers and snacks for my hubby's lunches ONLY when I can get them for 75% off the retail price or more. (Aka, less than the cost and time of me making it myself)
4. Search for deals in random places. I find some great deals on healthy and organic foods in odd places, the discount grocery stores, the bread outlet store, even the regular local grocery store sometimes has great markdowns on organics. You really truly never know until you look! Make sure to shop these places in the early morning while the discounted items are more plentiful.
5. Keep it in season. When buying your produce, make sure to look for what is in season at the time to find the best prices. Raspberries aren't going to be cheap in the winter but you should be able to get a great deal in the spring, stock up then and freeze extras for later.
6. Forage your area. If you don't have any edibles in your own yard, ask neighbors if they are going to use all the fruit on their trees or berries on their bushes. There is also a great website called Falling Fruit where you can search for great foraging areas in your neighborhood. I learned that I can pick fresh mulberries in my town! Hunting or fishing is another great way to "forage".
7. Ask your grocery store what they do with old produce. Call your local grocery store and ask for the produce manager, ask what they do with old food and if you can pick it up. Many times the food is too wilted to be able to salvage but it still makes great animal feed and I don't turn down free animal feed!
8. Buy pantry staples in bulk when it makes sense. Not everything is good to buy in bulk, but with many dry goods and things you go through quickly, it just makes sense to save money by buying larger amounts. My favorite foods to buy in bulk are: Beans, Brown Rice Flour, Rice, Oats, Raw Sugar, Olive Oil, Minced Onion, and Minced Garlic. You can read all about buying in bulk and storing bulk foods on our Buying in Bulk page.
9. Buy the cheaper per pound produce. We love all kinds of fruit at our home but it doesn't make sense for me to buy a $4.99 per pound container of strawberries when I can buy organic bananas for $0.99 a pound. It's still fresh, healthy produce.
10. Have fun in the frozen foods aisle. Buying frozen organic produce is one of the best ways to save, especially in the winter when cheaper fresh produce isn't available. Frozen foods are generally picked at the peak of ripeness and flash frozen so they have all the nutrients in tact. We are frequent buyers of frozen peas and broccoli especially!
11. Know when the best sales will be on specific items. Stock up on butter in the months when it's going to be the lowest price all year, buy blocks of cheese and shred and freeze them when you find them on sale. If you sign up for our weekly newsletter I will send you a free printable with all the best months to buy certain items!
12. Make your list ahead of time. As with ANY grocery budget, make your shopping list ahead of time (based on your Meal Plan!) and know what you are buying when you get to the store. Don't be tempted by items that aren't on your list and don't fit into your budget. Take cash with you in the amount that you can spend and leave your cards at home.
13. Make yourself a promise before you go into the store that you will only walk around the perimeter of the store. All the aisles in the middle are just filled with items that you don't need to be filling your cart with anyways!
14. Have several meatless meals each week. Meatless doesn't have to mean less filling or less protein. Have breakfast for supper (eggs, French Toast Casserole, and hashbrowns) or a big bowl of lentil soup. Some of our personal favorites are bean bowls and loaded baked potatoes.
15. Harvest bone broth. One of the most healthy foods you can add to your diet is bone broth and it doesn't cost anything to make since you take it from food you've already purchased for other things! We eat bone broth every day added into meals.
16. Shop farmer's markets. In the summer when the produce is plentiful, add to your healthy foods stockpile by shopping at the farmer's markets. Even if you grow a garden they are great for things that didn't produce as well as you though they would or plants that didn't grow. Before you go, read this post on Making the Most at the Farmer's Market.
17. Cook one pot meals. One dish meals and crock pot meals are a blessing! You can add cheaper cuts of meat to meals and soups and no one will be able to taste the difference. Plus they save time in the kitchen so they are a double bonus!
18. Look for a CSA or bulk buying source. I shop for about 90% of my monthly groceries from Azure Standard, a coop that delivers to my area. Ask around for what comes to your area or see if there are any great CSA's available at Local Harvest. You can often get much better prices by shopping this way AND by not shopping at the store you are removing the temptation to add extras to your cart.
19. Buy the whole food instead of the other versions. At various points during the year, apples may be cheaper than applesauce, strawberries may be cheaper than jam. Buy the whole food version and make your own at home!
20. Use coupons and store discounts when possible. Since my local stores don't really do much for coupons I've already found other ways to save. For example, when I buy fresh produce I get discounts on gas. Not a direct savings on my grocery budget but another way to save that comes about from buying food!
21. Re-grow food you already bought. Many foods can be regrown on your kitchen counter and you can reap the benefits over and over without having to buy more food! Check out this post on Re-Growing Store Bought Veggies.
22. Make a deal in your household that nothing goes to waste. Yes you can always feed scraps to the chickens but it would still be better on your grocery budget if you used those scraps in your own diet. Here are some ways to Use Up Food Scraps and how to make Garbage Soup.
23. Finally, don't feel like you need fancy, expensive meals. Yes, we do eat the occasional steak but it's very very occasional. As in Christmas, or someone's birthday. Try to focus on healthy meals you can make for Under $1 Per Serving.
The list may look a little overwhelming at first, specially when you are new to buying healthy foods. But start by trying a few things and see what it does for your budget, add in a few more and watch your grocery bill shrink down! One of the biggest things to remember is to make sure you are Meal Planning so when you do bring all the food home, you know what you are going to do with it and don't let it go to waste.
What are some of your best tips for getting healthy foods on a budget?
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