How To Eat Well On Any Budget

How To Eat Well On Any Budget

Thirteen years ago, I became very serious about my physical health. I started to exercise and eat better and lost over 100 pounds over a period of three years. I didn’t follow diet programs or plans, I researched food and simply began to move my body. I changed some very unhealthy behavior. It was hard, but that’s a story for another time. What I want to focus on in this piece is what I learned about food. It really boils down to:

  1. Food is preventative medicine.
  2. Eating real, nutrient dense food helps alleviate health conditions. 
  3. Eating nutritious food takes commitment.

A few quick Google searches on eating healthy and organic on a budget quickly turned up great articles, but they weren’t what I was looking for. The word budget has become synonymous with “thrifty” and “deprivation,” and that’s not how I roll.

If you want to eat well, become more healthy and feel better, you’ll have to adopt the idea that healthy food is contributing to your daily health. That can be on a “budget” in some areas, while in other areas you’ll have to balance the cost to what you want.

Buy Meat From Your Farmers Market, Local Farm, Food Co-Op or Raise Your Own

Meat, if you eat it, isn’t where you can cut costs. You want to eat better meat, even if it means you less of it. Most farmer’s markets have local/regional farmers who sell chicken, pork, beef, lamb and various fish. While these meats cost about $7-$12 per pound, they are well worth the cost. Eating locally raised meat that’s been raised on quality feed – grass, organic grains and/or no corn or soy is a game changer. You will literally taste it.

If you don’t have access to a farmer’s marketyou may be able to find a local farmer that sells meat. A local food co-op is another resource as most co-ops have direct agreements with their suppliers and have stricter standards on meat than general grocers.

For example, Sacramento has Market 5-one-5, the Sacramento Food Co-op, Seattle has PCC Natural Markets and Los Angeles has Erewhon. You can also seek out meat at your local Farmer’s Markets or a butcher shop. Heck, you can even order it online now!

If you have land and are permitted to do it, you can raise your own meat. Last year, I raised a goat and pig on the farm where I keep my horse. The cost per pound to raise my own meat was by far the cheapest and most rewarding option. It came out to around $2.49 per pound. I did what’s known as a farm kill, so the animals were put down on site instead of being sent to a facility (yep, it’s legal!). Good, quality meat is something you don’t skimp on, PERIOD.

Conventionally Grown Fruit and Vegetables Won’t Kill You

Contrary to popular belief, not all the fruit and vegetables you eat need to be organic. Buying only organic fruit and vegetables doesn’t make them healthier for you and can strain a food budget. A quick trip to the grocery store clearly shows that organically grown foods cost more. But, there are some fruits and vegetables that are perfectly fine to buy not organically grown. Buying a mix of organic and non-organic fruits and vegetables will help balance out the cost.

Macala’s Pro Tip:
If you’re shopping at a Farmer’s Market, ask vendors who don’t have organic certifications if they don’t spray their crops. Organic food certifications take a long time to get, many farmers grow crops that they don’t treat with herbicides or pesticides. Unsprayed crops are just as good as those with organic certifications (and they often cost $.50-$1.00 per pound less!). 

Buy Staple Goods In Bulk From Online, Natural Food Retailers

Azure StandardThrive Market, and Mountain Rose Herbs are staples for me. I order everything I can’t get from a local market or farmer, online. I’ve stopped shopping at traditional grocery stores because ordering online (even if there’s an annual subscription fee) has continually shown to save me 15-30% over the shelf price. Olive oil, rice, canned goods, and loose leaf tea – it all comes from one of these three resources. 

The best part of ordering online is that these companies can ship anywhere, even the most rural backroad in the middle of nowhere! Other places to check are Brandless,  MOVE, Costco, Public Goods and if you want mainstream, conventional brands, you’ve got Amazon and Boxed. 

Find Alternative Food Companies With Shipping Capabilities

If you have food intolerances or sensitivities, finding companies that ship your specialty goods is critical if local stores don’t sell things like gluten-free, dairy-free or vegan options. While alternative milks (mylks) are a challenge (maybe make your own Oat or Coconut), you can get bread, crackers, and cookies. 

Great resources for gluten-free, vegan, allergy-friendly (meaning no corn, soy and/or nuts) are Delicious Cookies,  Grindstone Bakery,  Bread Srsly,  Preservation (pickled goods, marinades and sauces),  Mauk Family Farms,  Pushkin’s Bakery, and Sugar Plum (not currently taking online orders). 

Learn To Cook and Streamline Your Menus

In order to maintain healthy eating on a budget, you’re going to have to cook your own meals. The best way to eat really well is to make it yourself. Meal order services and restaurants are going to blow your cost consciousness out the window.

My best advice is to buy an Instant Pot, a food processor/blender combo (I love my Ninja), and get set of cookware and utensils to go with them. Cooking may take some time, but if I do it in bulk, I have food for the week. 

Macala’s Pro Tip:
If you love juicing, then invest in your own juicer. It’s cheaper in the long run vs. buying juices at the store. 

While I love diversity in my food, I’ve also learned to streamline my menu, cooking things I like to eat frequently. By doing this, I’m buying fewer ingredients and have less food waste; this means spending less.

Using my simple kitchen setup, I make black beansfaux pancakes that don’t taste like crap, sweet mashed potatoes, veggie burgers, my own hummus, pesto, and applesauce.

These things can be paired with most meats or salads I decide to create. Speaking of salad, I also recommend buying high-quality olive oils (that doesn’t mean expensive) and bottles of vinegar, and to have mustard, honey, and herbs on hand. You’ll never buy salad dressing again once you know how to make them yourself. They are simple and take under five minutes to make.

Give Yourself Time To Change Your Eating Habits

In years it took me to learn how to eat better (and cook), I came to realize that eating well can be synonymous with spending more money; organics, supplements, juices, cleanses and premium meat were costing me a fortune.

While I was willing and able to pay a premium for my food as I wasn’t paying for it with poor health, there came a point where I started to try and figure out ways to make eating well efficient and cost-effective because I wanted to put the money elsewhere. Hopefully, my practices will help you navigate your way to finding a way to eat and cook that works for you

Remember, cheaper isn’t always better. You’ve got to balance your life and needs with achieving health goals. By following the steps outlined above, I’ve streamlined my food budget from $800-$1000 per month down to about $400-500 (which includes eating out 2x, coffee, and ordering food allergy-friendly faux carbs).

Image Credit: iStock Photo

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