When it comes to eating healthy, the comment I hear most often is, “Eating healthy is so expensive and I have a really tight grocery budget!” However, it’s not necessary to sacrifice quality, flavor or nutrition when you’re grocery shopping on a budget; you just need to know how to shop and what to look for. Also, the more nutrient-rich foods are not only better for your body; serving for serving they’re usually cheaper than the processed foods on the grocery shelves.
When I work with clients who are beginning a healthy lifestyle, one of the first things I ask them to do is to make a list of the staples that are currently in their pantry and refrigerator and to write out a typical weekly grocery list. As we work through the lists together, it’s usually quickly apparent that at least half of the items (sometimes more!) are processed and prepackaged foods, with some sporting “healthy” labels. The discussion usually leads to the client admitting that they’re still purchasing the same items (i.e. unhealthy) that they used to and are adding the healthy ones to the list, hence the higher grocery bill!
For instance, I recently had a conversation with someone in the grocery store about milk. We were both shopping in the dairy section, and as I reached for unsweetened almond milk she commented on how any type of milk was expensive and, due to a tight budget, she had to limit her milk consumption. As she walked past me I quickly glanced into her shopping cart to see it was filled with sugary sodas, juices, sports drinks and energy drinks. Wow, now that’s expensive! The moral of this lesson: You can’t have your cake and eat it too!
The second most frequent complaint I hear in regard to healthy eating is, “I’m so busy! I just don’t have the time to plan meals and constantly be in the kitchen cooking!” While it does take a little more time to plan and prepare a healthy meal vs. tearing open a package and nuking it or opening a can and dumping it into a pot, in all actuality it does not take that much extra time. Also, once you get into the habit of planning ahead, it becomes routine, doesn’t take that much time and you don’t spend every available minute slaving over the stove.
Now prepare yourself. You know from past articles that I love each and every one of you, but when I feel strongly compelled to share a truth I’m going to do so, even if it tweaks you a little. This is such a time, so here goes the brutal crux of the matter: People complain that eating healthy is more expensive because they want to buy the same junk as in the past and add in a little bit of healthy with it, and they just flat out, plainly and simply don’t want to put forth the small effort required to make the lifestyle change. In other words, the complaints are excuses.
I’m sorry to be so blunt. I love you, I really do. But I can say it not only out of love; I can say it because it used to be me uttering those same complaints that were just excuses! The bottom line: You can’t keep buying the same old junk and add a few healthy things and expect it to be cheap, and you have to put forth a little effort.
Now, don’t go yelling at me, no one expects you to make a complete change in a day, that’s setting up for failure. As we discussed in the first couple of weeks, make little changes, start slowly. Make it a goal to take two unhealthy things out of your grocery list per week and replace it with something healthy. If you do that, even on those nights when you come home and have no idea what’s for supper and you need to throw something together quickly, you’ll have healthy options to choose from. Also, keep in mind that an unhealthy diet costs you twice; once when you buy it, and later on down the road in the form of medical costs and possibly reduced work capacity. Even if eating healthy was more expensive (which it doesn’t have to be), then it would still be worth it down the line.
Listed below are some tips that will help you change your grocery shopping and meal planning habits and also stick to your budget. If you have specific questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll be glad to help!
- Plan your meals. Planning is essential to saving money at the grocery store. You plan ahead for everything else, why not grocery shopping? Use one day a week to plan the meals for that week then make a list of what you need. Check your refrigerator and pantry to see what you already have that can be used. Think of the food you throw away because it sits too long unused! Stick to your list and only buy what you’re sure you’ll use so you don’t end up throwing away those items bought on impulse. If you’re one of those that love a cell phone app, there are apps to replace your paper list. Check out these reviews: http://www.pcworld.com/article/2455133/six-grocery-shopping-apps-to-replace-your-paper-list.html
- Do meal preparation in advance. Prepping food in advance not only saves time during the week, it keeps you on the healthy track. Sunday afternoon is usually my time for meal planning and prep, whether it’s breakfasts and lunches for the week, vegetables for suppers or a lot of chicken to use in various ways later. It also helps me to use what’s currently on hand and eliminate throwing things away at the end of the week.
- Cook at home. Cooking at home is not only cheaper than eating out; it’s more difficult to eat healthy when eating out. The average restaurant typically does not serve fresh foods; most of it is pre-prepared, processed and have lots of additives and preservatives. Also, you have the benefit of knowing what’s in your food and that it really is good for you. This includes packing your own lunch instead of going through the drive through, which will save you a lot of money in the long run. Add up what you spend buying lunch during the week and the amount will surprise you.
- Cook large amounts and use the extra later in the week. Cooking large amounts can save you both time and money. The extra can not only be used for later in the week, some can be frozen in individual portion sizes to be used for those times when you need a meal on the fly.
- Don’t shop when you’re hungry. If you grocery shop when you’re hungry, you’re more likely to stray from your list, give in to cravings and impulse buy. Try having a healthy snack such as a piece of fruit or some yogurt before shopping.
- Buy whole foods. Serving for serving, whole foods are much cheaper than processed. For instance, if you need shredded cheese, buy a block and shred it yourself. The shredded cheese in a bag will save you a couple of minutes, but it’s also more expensive and less nutritious. Another example is oats vs. processed cereal. The whole foods are not only cheaper, they’re more nutritious, yield more per serving and you can usually buy them in bulk.
- Use seasonal fruits and vegetables. Produce that is in season is generally cheaper, fresher and more nutritious. Produce that is not in season has usually been transported in from other countries, translating to a higher price. You can always buy more than you need and freeze for later use.
- Replace meat with another protein. Eating less meat can save a lot of money, but doesn’t mean you need to skimp on your protein. Trying planning one or two days per week where you eat another protein instead of meat, such dried beans or super grains (excellent sources of protein, see the June 3 super grain nutrition article) or eggs. These are very inexpensive, nutritious and simply to prepare. I’ll have a veggie omelet or frittata for supper in a heartbeat and the leftovers are good for breakfast or lunch the next day!