Looking at the healthy whole food options at the supermarket, it’s easy to assume that these foods are only for people with deep pockets. I’m here to blow apart that misconception!
All natural muesli 450g – $9
Almond milk 900mL – $3
Salad mix 300g – $6
Sound familiar? It all adds up pretty quickly and makes it seem like healthy eating is very costly. Sure, it can be – however, it definitely doesn’t need to be.
My partner and I spend around $50 (CAD) a week on food; but don’t let the budget fool you. We eat plenty of healthy, nutritious meals every day. I want to share some tips with you on how to eat well without the hefty price tags.
1. Fresh Produce
Fresh fruit and vegetables are super cheap, and provide you with loads more essential nutrients than their preserved counterparts. Try and fill your trolley with fresh produce and consider these few rules to maximise bang for your buck:
Seasonal Fruit & Veg
Aim to buy fruit and vegetables in season. They are likely to be cheaper and fresher – as they haven’t been stored, greenhouse grown or travelled long distances. Take this opportunity to enjoy new fruits and vegetables you otherwise wouldn’t have considered. I have been loving pomegranates this winter (a fruit I never ate much before) and can pick one up for as little as $1.
Local farmer’s markets are the best place to pick up fresh, local and organic produce. You can speak directly with growers about their farming practices, find out which fruits and veggies are in season and buy cheaply in bulk. Furthermore, the produce is usually fresher and more inexpensive than the equivalent at a supermarket.
2. Make Meals From Scratch
Ready-to-use foods from sauces to mixed salads to microwave dinners are super expensive, especially when you buy the “healthy” versions (not to mention filled with preservatives, salt, sugar and artificial flavours and colours). In a culture obsessed with convenience, we spend a fortune on ready-made food; yet the ingredients used in these products aren’t expensive and it doesn’t take long to make them yourself.
Make the Time to Make your Meals
The most common excuse for not making things from scratch is: “I don’t have the time.” It is essential to make time to prepare healthy meals for the sake of both your health and your wallet. If you are always busy during the week, set aside a couple of hours on Sunday to prepare meals or sauces to use on weekdays. It honestly doesn’t take as long as you may think.
Time is money, but if you spend a little time you can save a lot of money.
Some Groceries You Can Make Yourself
- Muesli – buy bulk grains, dried fruit and seeds from grocery or health food stores and mix up a big batch of home-made muesli for a fraction of the price (and sugar content!).
- Snacks – use your muesli and a bit of honey to make home-made muesli bars.
- Dips – it is really easy and quick to make yummy dips (like hummus) in your food processor.
- Diced tomatoes – jar your own tomatoes. Growers at farmer’s markets will give you a great price on excess/older stock.
- Satay sauce – a spoon of natural peanut butter, dash of soy sauce, sprinkle of chilli and wham! bam! Home-made satay!
3. Plan Your Meals
Being organised can help you buy the right things and minimise wastage. Write down what meals you plan to cook this week, making a list of all the ingredients you’ll need. Breaking things down might take some time in the beginning, but soon you’ll recall the ingredients of the top of your head.
4. Stock Up On Staples
Ingredients like oats, rice, flour, lentils, chickpeas and split peas are always cheap. They are also wonderfully effective ways to bulk out meals while providing necessary fibre, protein and other vitamins. For example, porridge with fresh fruit and honey is a delicious and nutritious breakfast that only costs about $1 a bowl.
A well-stocked spice rack is also important for cooking from scratch and dressing up simple meals. While I don’t recommend buying every spice at once, gradually building up a collection of spices can save you in the long run.
Although these ingredient are generally inexpensive, if you see them on special then stock up. Every cent counts, so make the most of their long shelf-life.
5. Keep It Simple
Fresh, simple ingredients are enough to make tasty and healthful meals. So-called peasant dishes – such as paella, dhal, rice dishes, stew and soup – and basic salads please the body and the tastebuds, despite being made from just a few key ingredients.
Simple cooking minimises the ingredients you need to buy and cuts down on cooking time – leaving you with more cash in your pocket and more time to prepare other meals from scratch.
Tip within a tip: That garlic and rosemary infused olive oil that looks too good to resist? Use it as inspiration to infuse your own oils. It’s super easy and inexpensive, plus they make awesome gifts!
6. Avoid/Limit Meat
There’s no two ways about it, meat is expensive. This is especially true if you want to buy ethically farmed, free-range meat products. Plant-based protein sources like seeds, nuts and legumes are much cheaper options. Going vegetarian, even if just for a few nights a week, will greatly reduce your grocery bill.
7. Never Waste Anything
Waste not, want not. You wouldn’t throw your money in the bin, so why would you throw away food which cost you good money? If you follow tip #3 and plan your meals then you should have minimal food wastage to begin with. In any case, here are a few ways to salvage food:
- Use vegetable scraps (or bones) to make stock;
- Make soup out of older or excess vegetables;
- Purée excess/older fresh herbs with a little oil;
- Crumble stale bread into breadcrumbs;
- Always keep leftovers – they make great lunches;
- Freeze or dry older fruit;
- Store foodstuffs in clear, airtight containers to prevent mould/bacteria.
Do everything you can to ensure that you DO NOT WASTE FOOD.
8. Shop Wisely
Get to know the true price of foods in your town so you can recognise a good deal. Shop at various supermarkets and take note (I suggest literally, with a pen and paper) of various food prices. One supermarket may have better deals on packaged foods, whereas another will have cheaper produce. For example I know of one grocery store where I can buy twice the amount of spinach for half the usual price. You may find you’ve been spending much more than you needed to for years!
Don’t overlook international supermarkets. I buy much of my food from a local middle-eastern supermarket. They sell quality, foreign brands at lower prices than the no-name brands offered by supermarket chains.
Specials ≠ True Savings
Specials and discounts can be great, but don’t assume that the discounted item is the best value. Stores often run specials to get rid of old stock that isn’t selling. Some reasons for discounts are: the product is expiring soon, it didn’t sell because it is over-priced or has questionable ingredients. And then sometimes specials just aren’t that special…
NB: A discounted big-brand product is probably still pricier than it’s unknown-brand counterpart.
9. Don’t Buy Into “Green” Marketing
As our society is becoming more health-conscious, brands are tailoring their packaging to our new values. Companies target advertising to the niche “wealthy & healthy” market, but the ingredients don’t necessarily reflect the labels.
Stamps like “natural”, “100%”, “low-fat” etc. don’t actually mean very much. “Natural” cereal is likely crammed full of all-natural sugars and salts; just because it’s natural, doesn’t mean it’s good for you. After all, arsenic is all-natural too! The “100%” claim on your juice could refer to anything (like 100% flavour), not just the fruit content. “Low-fat” options often include more sugar, salt, artificial flavours and chemicals in order to mimic the full-fat version.
Oh, and the worst culprit of mock-healthy labelling: eggs “with Omega 3”. ALL EGGS CONTAIN OMEGA 3! But that’s a whole other story.
The best solution… ALWAYS READ THE LABEL!
I hope these tips are helpful for those who want to eat healthily without blowing their budget. If you already do so, what pointers would you add to this list?