Going healthy on a budget. I’m sure that by now most people don’t necessarily buy in to those memes “this meal from Mc Donald’s is cheaper than real food, there for it is expensive to be healthy”. Then there are the ones that are circulating with price comparisons to show how cheap being healthy is… except they have a 4 litre jug of milk at $2 and a bag of apples for $3… which also does “the cause” no good (seriously where do these people buy their groceries?)
Is making the switch to healthier eating going to cost more than your current life style?? Well that is all going to depend on what your current life style IS. If you eat out every day than no, you’ll actually likely save money. If you live off of no name $1 pouches of side-kick knock offs then yes it will probably cost more. If you are a single person, or if you are like us and are a family of 6, it is going to obviously make a difference.
I have a tiny secret. We don’t have the largest budget for groceries (…for a family of 6… likely quite a sizable one if we didn’t have children). We have about $150 to spend/week on groceries, including dog food/cat food for 2 dogs and 2 cats + diapers, and have been doing it this way for years (though we combine our weekly budget and shop every 2 weeks). For a better “visual” that’s just a little over $20 a day for the 6 of us.
I tell you this so that you might get a better feeling for how you really truly CAN “be healthy on a budget”. So I decided a tip Tuesday with some tips on how YOU can make it work would be a fabulous one!
- Shop discounted items. Produce about to go bad, meat or bread or yogurt that “expires tomorrow”? Go home and freeze fruit for smoothies, make a bunch of frozen yogurt pops, separate your meat into portions for specific meals you’d like to make and freeze that too! Found some discounted ground turkey? Buy a can of kidney beans ($1), a can of corn ($1), a can of crushed tomatoes ($1), a can of whole tomatoes ($1), and a bag of white onions ($2) and you could make up a big batch of chilli! Divide THAT in half and you could have two dinners worth (believe me that all makes a lot). Throw them into freezer bags and you have some crock pot meals!
- Remember that going healthy doesn’t mean going organic. Now I enjoy buying organic when we can, when the price isn’t too terrible or if we can afford it, but don’t get caught up thinking that you need to be buying only organic from the natural foods section to be healthy. Weather you are buying canned beans or bagged dried beans (both actually budget friendly) just buy the beans. Weather your label says “no-name” or “brand-name-organic” just buy the beans. There are, of course, arguments to buying organic, but to feel discouraged to eat healthy when you see the prices does no one any good. Organic celery ($3.50) or regular celery ($2), you’re still eating celery.
- Buy more produce, eat less meat. This one is fairly self explanatory. Produce is cheaper, meat is not. Make meat the side to your dinners instead of the main dish. This lets you use less, so you can use it more. By this I mean, one big pack of chicken can last much longer if a couple breasts are cut into chunks and added to a main dish, rather then if you served each person a whole chicken breast (using the whole pack.) Try a loaded baked sweet potato! Bake your potatoes ($4-$7 depending on how many) as usual, break out a can of chickpeas ($1), add some chunked chicken pieces, a little salsa ($2), and some chopped green onions ($1). There you have a dinner and you still have another half a pack (or more) of chicken breasts! Lets also not forget about fruits and veggies for snacking!
- Sometimes it really is going to SEEM more expensive. A big bag of apples is usually $6-$8, gah, but a couple cut up apples divided between the 4 of them (baby always gets less), with a scoop of peanut butter ($5 all natural pb) or wow butter for school babies ($5) can go a lot farther than 6 granola bars for $2.50 can go in this house (one box doesn’t even get this house 2 days worth of snacks). So while I can look at these boxes for $2.50, I would still have to spend more to make it worth it.
- Sometimes you only HAVE $2.50 and spending $11 on apples and peanut butter is not an option. I get that. We have been in a spot where we went to the store to pick up a bundle of bananas ($2) for the kids to have for lunch because it’s all we could afford. For this my tip is eating is healthier than not eating, we can all only do the best with what we have.
- Meal plan. If I have even a bit of a plan as to what is going to be breakfasts, lunches and dinners, then I can make a grocery list based on these plans. Doing this allows me to check out what we already have in house and figure out exactly what we need to get through the week. This way we (usually) aren’t spending money on random things we don’t actually need. Which kind of leads into number 7.
- Never go shopping without a grocery list. Seriously don’t do it. Walking up and down the grocery isle without a plan or knowing what you need is a sure way to spend a bunch of money you don’t have or that you shouldn’t be spending. You will also likely get back home afterwards and have a “Sh**, I should have got – this – this – and this.” moment forcing you to go back and spend even more money.
- Take advantage of incentive programs, ad matches, coupons, free items etc. Where we shop we get points, we save up these points and use them towards free groceries. We also get to enjoy free items when you spend $250 or more, so we shop every 2 weeks instead of once a week so we can take advantage of this. Sometimes the free item is even points, giving us usually $25 worth of free groceries. Other stores have reward programs also! Most stores ad match as well, so keep your eye’s out for sales! If the store has not already matched prices USUALLY you can bring in the flyer with the sale and they will match it for you, don’t be afraid to ask!
- Buy more oats and grains. Complex carbs and dietary fibers, are actually really good for you, and I wont go into a big long post about it… maybe another time… But yes, buy some whole grain steal cut oats ($3), or a big bag of brown rice ($7 for 2kg of organic brown rice, and of course cheaper still if not organic). You can also buy in “bulk” which is usually cheaper in the long run, but either way having these things as staples in your cupboards is extremely helpful. They are filling, make great sides AND main dishes and they are good for you. We also keep quinoa (ok this IS kind of more expensive, but we buy an 800g bag for $10, and it lasts at least 2 months usually) and couscous ($3.50 for 900g) stocked up so we aren’t just always eating rice and oats…. These kind of dry ingredients store for a good long time as well, so it’s ok to watch out for sales and buy it up when it’s even cheaper! On top of that, if these are things you eat occasionally and not every. single. day. then obviously they will last for a while. Mix it up between different kinds of grains and they will last even longer.
- Shop around and get to know your prices. This one might take time but believe me it’s worth it. For example, we have a wonderful health food grocery store here that I absolutely love, it’s selection alone will have me going back there always, BUT a box of Larabars there is $30, where as where we buy our boxes we pay $16. Same box, half the price. Also don’t forget about on line, one website we use a lot here is well.ca … but again, watch your prices, shop the sales, and check to see if you can’t get that same product for cheaper somewhere else. Today it is easier than ever to do just that, most grocery stores have their own websites… and even if they don’t a quick google might find that out for you… and if you truly truly wish there is always the telephone, call up a store and inquire about a product!
- It IS going to get cheaper the better at it you get. I promise. Once you have a base of healthier alternatives in your pantry, once you know what you like and what you don’t like, once you know where to get this guy for cheap and that guy for cheaper, once you know what kind of dishes you can make with what kind of ingredients, it. will. get. cheaper. You will get better and spotting sales, writing grocery lists, and shopping around.
- Have a cheap greasy cheese burger every now and then. You are not on a diet, there are no rules, moderation is key NOT strict avoidance for the rest of your life, it’s going to taste like heaven and its going to help make all your healthier stuff last one more day in your pantry.
You Don’t Have To Be Rich To Be Healthy
The prices I am listing are mostly from Real Canadian Superstore. I only list these prices because this is predominantly where we shop (and in the spirit of sharing with you exactly HOW we shop, using prices from WHERE we shop makes sense!) The prices also reflect those of the products that we actually do buy!