Eat Healthy on a Budget

by Mike Farrell
It’s no secret that eating healthy, nourishing, and quality foods can be draining on the bank account, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be!  As a very recent college graduate, I am no stranger to living on a budget having to penny-pinch every dollar possible, especially at the grocery store!  Over the last several years I have learned how to stretch every dollar to the max and have become an expert at navigating the grocery store!

First-things-first, you’ve got to learn to cook!  I’m not saying you need to become a culinary expert competing to become America’s next Top Chef but you do need to be able to handle some basic kitchen skills! Eating out is very expensive and usually never very healthy.  Even eating out, just for lunch, 5 days a week at an average of $8 per meal equates to $45 a week or $180 per month. I can buy my whole weeks’ worth of meals for around $50-$70 and that’s all of my meals, not just lunches!

Second, foods labeled “organic”, “all natural”, “gluten-free”, or “Vegan” don’t translate into “healthy”.   The food industry has become an expert in marketing and sadly American’s have fallen victim to some very cleaver advertising strategies in the past few years.  Organic gluten-free peanut butter triple-chocolate chip fudge nut muffins are NOT quality healthy foods! Yes, they are made with organic ingredients and contain no gluten (for those worried about it) but that doesn’t justify eating a 400 calorie nutrient-poor food that is usually very expensive for the lack of nutrients you fail to receive. Just because a food is tagged with these labels doesn’t mean you are in the clear to eat it!

Next, have a plan and do your homework! Take 20 minutes out of your day and plan your meals before you go shopping to avoid buying unnecessary items and racking up your bill at the register.  Look at grocery store’s weekly coupon ads and see what is on sale that week and what store has the best deals on similar food items. I watch for things like meats, poultry, nuts, coffee, and even produce to go on sale and buy-it-up to freeze for the upcoming weeks.  It’s a little bit of a hassle washing, preparing, and bagging some produce but I’m willing to sacrifice a few extra minutes to save a buck!  

Whole Foods is a great store full of healthy foods but there’s a reason it’s earned the nickname “whole paycheck”, it’s expensive!  I choose to do the majority of my shopping at Sprouts.  They don’t have as extensive or exotic items as Whole Foods but they do offer plenty of healthy fair-priced foods!  The South Bay also has some other discount grocers like Jon’s Marketplace and Smart & Final.

Become a smart consumer! Don’t overlook generic or less popular brand foods, look at food packages net weight or serving size, compare prices, and buy in bulk.  One of the best tricks I have learned is to look at this.  Spinach is a great example:  spinach packaged in the small hard plastic containers look plentiful but most of the time I find spinach packaged in a bag has a greater net weight and at a cheaper price!  For example, you can buy 14oz spinach in a hard plastic container for around $4.99 or you can buy two 8oz bags of spinach for $1.99 each.  You save yourself $1 here and you get 2oz more!  Oatmeal is another great example.  Bulk rolled oats are usually $0.99 per lb. while the boxed name brand can be up to $1.49 more expensive per pound! Rolled oats are rolled outs, why pay more for the exact same thing!?  Also, stay away from pre-packaged foods that you can purchase in bulk.  Grains, nuts, and coffee are almost always cheaper per lb. than their counter parts in a package!

One thing I’ve learned to do living on a budget is to eat simplistically.  I base my meals on a certain amount of macronutrients (i.e. protein, fats, carbs) and go from there.  A typical meal for me is something like chicken breast, brown rice or black beans, and broccoli.  It’s not the most extravagant meal but we are meant to eat for health not pleasure! Dried herbs and seasonings do wonders for simplistic meals but stay away from condiments, they can be expensive and are terrible culprits for extra calories and chemicals!   

One final note, spend less on produce, grains, and nuts and definitely spend the money you save on quality meats, poultry, seafood, and dairy! These foods are one thing I will spend a little bit extra on to ensure I’m getting quality nutrients!


Tips to save you $$ in the grocery store:

·      Learn to cook!

·      Don’t buy nutritionally poor foods

·      Buy meats and produce on sale and freeze for later use

·      Buy in bulk or purchase generic brands

·      Eat simplistically!


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