(Taken from my new cookbook, Comforting Eats.)
So many people think that they can’t eat healthy on a budget. This is not true. You will actually spend more money on “filler” foods such as grains than if you purchased real food choices. Grains like pasta, bread and rice MAY fill you up for a short time (actually leaving you “stuffed” and bloated), but you are hungry just hours later, and likely to go back to the pantry or fridge for more. This also applies to purchasing pre-packaged, prepared foods from the store. Below are resources and tips for getting the most bang for your buck, while making the transition to a healthier lifestyle.
1. Do What You Can, Buy What You Can Afford
Transitioning to a healthier lifestyle and way of eating is not an all or nothing event, but a process, so don’t be tempted to fall into this mental trap that it can’t be done with limited resources. The fact is that small changes are better than no changes at all. Health and vitality could be right around the corner with even one or two simple changes to your diet. I know it seems either too simple or too outside of the box, but I believe ridding your diet of processed foods and grains is the first step to a healthier you and to healing your body.
Healthy eating doesn’t have to cost a lot of money but it will require some of your time and require that you plan ahead. It is my hope that you can use my blog, Satisfying Eats & Comforting Eats as your “go-to” when planning your menu for the week. I have included many new slow cooker recipes which are budget friendly. Also, remember that clean eating is a process and it doesn’t happen overnight. When purchasing food, buy what you can afford. If organic is not an option, at least try to buy local, or, at best, fresh. If you can’t afford grass-fed beef, buy the highest quality you can, just start somewhere and start today. Overall, you will definitely save money when you stop buying packaged and processed foods.
2. Buy Online
I know there is controversy here. Many believe we should buy local, put our money back into the local economy. I believe this too. That’s why I promote the use of co-ops and the purchasing of foods from your local farmer’s market. Unfortunately, there are just some items, like almond and coconut flour, that are hard to find locally, and if you do, they are so expensive!
Here are some of my FAVORITE online shopping spots:
Amazon.com Prime & Subscribe and Save: I try to shop around for great prices, but unfortunately, I can’t drive all over the world to save a buck. Two little ones can make going to four grocery stores very difficult. When I discovered Amazon Prime a few years back, I hit the jackpot! Not only can I have something in 2 days, I can get discounted prices if I “Subscribe” to the item to have it come on a regular basis. I do this with diapers and sometimes on coconut flour and other items that are hard to find locally. (I can’t stress how much TIME & Money Amazon Prime has saved me!)
TropicalTraditions.com: This is where I purchase my coconut oil & coconut flour (when on sale), as well as coconut chips and even my 80% chocolate Bars. I also purchase their tomato products for my BBQ and tomato sauces that come packaged in glass jars. They also sell grass-fed bison which is really enjoyable.
U.S. Wellness Meats: This is where I sometimes purchase uncured bacon as well as grass-fed beef and chicken.
3. 1-Day Only Sales
I have a love-hate relationship with these one day only sales. I “love” that the prices can’t be beat, like when Whole Foods sells organic blueberries for $3 a pint, or grass-fed ground beef for $5 a pound. I “hate” when I don’t find out until the last-minute and can’t get there that day! Make it a priority and go! Stock your freezer so that you don’t find yourself wanting blueberries in a few months and end up paying $5-6 a pint for them. Sign up for news from the store website, or follow their Facebook page and check the box to “Get Notifications” whenever they post on their page. (You might even set up a separate email address just for this purpose).
4. Shopping in Superstores Superstores are not something we have many of where I live, but they can be a great asset. Sam’s, Costco, and even smaller chains like Trader Joe’s are all great places that you can choose to purchase real food! Don’t be distracted at Sam’s by the box of gluten-free crackers, but make your way to the meats and veggies and stock up. If you can afford organic, get it. If you can’t, choose the best quality that fits in your budget. The MOST important thing is keeping grains and processed foods (those in boxed or in microwavable containers) out of your diet!
5. Buy in Bulk
I think this is the BEST way to save money on your grocery bill. When something is on sale, buy LOTS of it. There is nothing worse than when I see a good sale on meat and I only get just a little bit and then I go back for more, and the price has doubled.
6. Wait for Sales, Free Shipping and Promotional CodesI try NOT to buy anything full price. This includes almond flour, coconut oil or any other coconut products, period. Both Tropical Traditions and Honeyville Farms offer sales, it seems, monthly. Tropical Traditions, which is where I get most of my coconut products, offers Free Shipping and special deals like BOGO Free promotions. Honeyville, which is where I get my almond flour and some freeze-dried fruits, offers 10-15% coupons several times a year. I wait patiently for the sale and then stock up! Nothing makes me sadder than paying $10 for 1 lb. of almond flour at the local health food store, which is a little over 4 cups of flour!
So many times, we opt for convenience but we end up paying an outrageous price and could have actually made it even cheaper ourselves. These “convenient” gluten-free items in the store look appealing. Well, not only are they loaded with other grains beside gluten and loads of sugar, they are SO expensive! I can purchase a 4 lb. chicken for $7-8 dollars, which I then prepare myself. The meat is enough for two meals for our family of 4, and to top it off, the carcass yields over a half-gallon of rich chicken bone broth. In the store, a single can of MSG and wheat-filled chicken broth costs over $1.50 and has no flavor! I just paid for the chicken by making my own stock and got a greater return for my money! (Don’t worry, making your own stock is easy, the slow cooker does all the work! Check out how I make my bone broth HERE.)
8. Just Get a Cow! When saving money on meats, find a farmer near you that raises and sells grass-fed beef and other pastured meats. You can even go in together with a few other families and purchase a whole cow or pig to be butchered. You will know where your food is coming from and when purchasing large amounts, you will get a great deal! What I love is that I can tell the butcher exactly what cuts of meat I want. I love not having to go to the grocery store for meats and a quick meal is at my fingertips since my freezer is loaded with so much ground beef.
I know this may not be an option for everyone but growing your own food is one of the best ways to get affordable and nutritious foods. Even if you don’t have a yard, you can grow food. Start with something simple such as herbs, like basil, plant them in a small pot and set on your window sill. Tomatoes are another great food that don’t require lots of space. Growing your own food is also a great way to teach your kids about where food comes from and it allows them to be a part of the process. Some gardens don’t even require seeds to start. Foods like celery, onions, cabbage, ginger and garlic can be grown from your leftover kitchen scraps.
10. Buy Local! Farmer’s Markets are popping up everywhere! What a great place to go to buy fresh and local produce. Buying local can sometimes be better and cheaper than buying organic from other places. For example, would you rather buy tomatoes from your local farmer, or buy organic tomatoes picked before they were ripe and shipped all the way from Peru? Nutrients begin to diminish from fruits and veggies the moment you pick them, How many nutrients are left two weeks later when it is sitting in your grocery store? At the farmer’s market, however, most produce is picked the day before. You can also ask the farmers directly about their farming practices. I am also leery of “organic” produce from other countries. It’s all about definitions and depending on where you are in the world will depend on what terms like “natural” and “organic” mean. Let what is in season dictate your meals for the week.
11. Freeze It, Can It, Preserve It
Do what our grandmothers and great-grandmothers did years ago…preserve your fresh food. When there was a harvest from their garden or field, or even fresh game, they froze it, cured it or preserved it through canning. There is nothing better than opening up a jar of tomatoes in the middle of winter that was pulled from your garden (or your neighbor’s) this past summer. Or, buy in bulk at the farmer’s market and do the same. For example, I love bell peppers and I use them in a lot of recipes. When in season, you can get peppers 2 for $1. Simply dice, throw into large containers and stash in the freezer. This not only saves you from paying $1-$2 per pepper out of season at the grocery store, but it also saves you time. This technique is great for onions as well. An excellent online resource for preserving all kinds of foods using many different methods is the National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia.
Canning Fresh Foods: Tomatoes, fresh salsa, sauerkraut, pickles, and cucumbers can all be canned.
Dehydrating Fresh Foods: Consider preserving fresh herbs and fruit and making jerky. Freezing Fresh Foods: Before freezing, you want to make sure that all produce has been washed. To do this, simply add 1 cup of white vinegar to a clean sink full of water. Let vegetables or fruit soak for 10 minutes, pat dry, then dice or slice. Place in a zip top bag or freezer safe dish and stash in the freezer. Following are some examples of foods that can be frozen:
Dice & Freeze: Peppers, onions, zucchini, squash, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, blueberries, strawberries, bananas (peeled), blackberries, raspberries, and cherries (pitted).
Meats: Freeze pre-made hamburgers, steaks, roasts and ribs from a butchered cow, pig or wild game
Prepared Foods: You can freeze almost any prepared food. This saves time and money when you need a quick meal. Here is a list of 40 of my favorite Freezer Meals.
There is nothing more delicious than the free-range eggs I get from my mother-in-law’s chickens (and 1 duck)! The color of the yolk is just beautiful, and the taste cannot be compared to any you find in the supermarket. When my mother-in-law’s hens go on strike (this is normal for hens not to lay consistently throughout the year), I look on Craigslist to find farm fresh eggs. I was surprised to find some just a few miles down the road. And the truly shocking thing about purchasing eggs from a local farmer or individual is that the price is often half of what you would pay at a place like Whole Foods for “vegetarian” fed eggs. Chickens are NOT vegetarians. They are scavengers. They eat bugs, worms, berries, and pretty much whatever you feed them, but they are NOT vegetarians! Just as “Great cheese comes from Happy Cows”, great eggs come from happy chickens. Chickens should be allowed to roam or graze for their food instead of being confined to a small cage. Choosing pastured eggs is very important, especially when using raw eggs in recipes like mayonnaise and hollandaise sauce.
13. Use Social Media & Finding Co-ops
I have met so many wonderful people and found great opportunities through Facebook. I have gleaned valuable information through the different groups I am in. I have also learned (through someone I met in a Facebook group) about co-ops. Co-ops are a great way to connect with others and buy foods at a discounted price. Don’t need 25 lbs. of almond flour but you want to get the discounted price? Co-op it! Don’t need a whole cow? Find a co-op to get someone to split the cost with you. Also, look for local vegetable co-ops. These are kind of neat because you get produce from your local farmers and the vegetables you get in your box that week are in season, depending on what is coming out of the farmer’s garden!
There are also other sites like Azure Standard, where you shop online, purchase everything from organic produce to shampoo, and pick up at a specified “drop site” once a month. Co-ops are popping up all over the place. If there is not a drop in your area, consider calling them to set one up.
One of the easiest, healthiest and cheapest foods to make are condiments! After you make my Ranch Dressing recipe and see how delicious and inexpensive it is to make, you will never buy the bottled stuff again. Even the “organic” varieties use unhealthy oils, such as canola. They also cost a fortune and don’t even taste that good! Other recipes to make homemade include: Vanilla extract, bone broth & chicken stock, mayonnaise, taco seasoning and an all-purpose seasoning blend that you can sprinkle over everything!
Other Money Saving Tips
15. Cook out of your freezer
So many times, we continue to shop at the grocery store while we have an entire freezer FULL of previously purchased (or home-grown) foods. Not only will eating out of your freezer for the week save you lots of $$$, but it will also clean out the freezer to make more space for more bulk purchases in the future.
16. Base your menu off of the weekly sales paper & available coupons
Need help planning your menu on a budget?? Just look through your local sales papers. Hamburger meat on sale?? Looks like you will be having burgers and meatballs for dinner this week! Also, always just take a few minutes to look through the grocery store. I have been pleasantly surprised on my last few shopping trips to purchase cheese from grass-fed cows for half price! Be sure to also check online sites like Money Saving Mom for coupons and other money-saving promotions. This site is loaded with coupons for organic food and sometimes even contains discounts for meat and veggies.
17. Make new meals from leftovers
At least once a month I go through my freezer and fridge and recreate the evenings meal from leftovers. Take leftover or frozen green beans, broccoli, ground beef and bone broth and add tomatoes and Cajun Seasoning to make a yummy soup. No recipe and NO extra $$$ spent on the meal!
18. Make Take-Out at Home
We try to go out at least once a week, both for my sanity and because it’s one meal I don’t have to clean up the kids mess and do the dishes. We LOVE fajitas so we have been making them at home using this recipe. Like Chinese Food? Try my Pork Fried Rice recipe. Do your kids love chicken tenders and fries?? Make my Chicken Tenders and Honey Mustard with Sweet Potato fries! Save some money from by making your own restaurant worthy meals!
You will spend less time and money in the grocery store if you only get the ingredients needed for the week. Many times fresh ingredients spoil in the fridge (which means money wasted) when we get extra “stuff” and don’t need it for the week. Check out my 2 weeks of meal planning. It has been proven that those who plan their meals and shop using a grocery list spend less money at the store. As the old saying goes, don’t go grocery shopping hungry… you will usually end up spending more!
20. Take leftovers to work
Want to save LOTs of $$$? Instead of going out to eat for lunch, bring leftovers from the night before instead. This will not only save you a few bucks but will keep you from being “glutened.” As the saying goes, you will either pay now or pay later when it comes to your health. You will either pay a little more to purchase quality food now, or pay the doctor in the future to treat a disease like diabetes, heart disease, etc. for something that could have probably been prevented. I hope these tips help inspire you to make changes to your diet even if on a budget. Start small but just start somewhere!
What tips do you have for saving money on your grocery bill?? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~