It’s no secret that people who eat healthy food tend to be healthier. Research shows that eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers. And it’s easy to appreciate the link between poor eating habits and obesity.
Here’s the downside. It can be expensive to eat healthy, especially if you are on a super tight budget. Don’t give up, though. You can still eat well even if your finances are tight. Let’s look at some ways to do that.
Think about what you want to eat and put together a shopping list that provides enough food for your family for the week. Impulse purchases will kill your food budget, and you’ll take home fewer healthy items, too. Despite the clever marketing on the package, impulse items are rarely healthy. Planning means making a list and sticking to it. Not only will a list help you stay on track, but it will also ensure you’re not wasting money on things that aren’t necessary or healthy.
Plan your meals. If you plan meals for the week, it’s much easier to ensure there is enough food for everyone in your family and stick with your budget. Make a mini-meal template, so you can fill in the blanks each week and add the appropriate items to your list.
Skip the “superfoods” and choose more whole fruits and vegetables
Food products with “superfood” emblazoned on them are overrated. For example, there’s no evidence that acai berries are any more nutritious or healthful than blueberries, and blueberries cost less. You can even buy packages of frozen organic blueberries on sale and store them for months in your freezer. Add them to a bowl of steel-cut oats in the morning for added nutrients. Who says you need overpriced “superfoods?”
“Superfood” is a marketing term rather than a scientific term. It’s not recognized by the FDA or other government agencies. There’s no official definition or set of criteria for what makes something a superfood. As such, the word can be used to describe anything, from kale to coconut oil to guacamole. Manufacturers use them to charge more for food but it doesn’t necessarily translate into greater health benefits.
Take inventory of what you already have on hand and use it
Once completing your grocery shopping, you can take stock of what is already in your pantry and freezer. Use what you have before buying more. For example, if you have beans on hand, think about how to incorporate them into a meal. You could make a bean salad with cucumber and bell pepper as one of the main ingredients or try making tacos or burritos with refried beans (which are just cooked black or kidney beans). Black beans are inexpensive and high in antioxidants. Select the fat-free varieties.
Sidestep the supermarket
Think beyond the grocery store. Shopping at farmer’s markets, farmer’s co-ops, and local stores are helpful because it cuts down on transportation costs and food waste while supporting local businesses. Shopping at these stores also allows you to buy in bulk — like buying extra produce from your CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) membership or purchasing nuts in bulk from Costco instead of shelling out $5 for a few almonds at Whole Foods. Expand your horizons, and if you have the room, grow your own produce.
Farmer’s markets and co-ops are often cheaper than buying from a grocery store because there is less overhead involved in getting it to your plate. You also won’t have to worry about whether it’s been sitting around for days on end in a warehouse somewhere before hitting your local supermarket shelves.
Be judicious when buying organic foods
Organic doesn’t automatically mean healthier or better-quality food than conventional produce; organic foods may not contain less pesticide residue than conventional foods (though they do tend to have fewer pesticide residues). If buying organic is important to you but too expensive right now, consider buying fruits or vegetables that studies show have lower levels of pesticides by Environmental Working Group — these items tend to be less expensive than others anyway!
Put your freezer to work for you
Check out frozen food cases and stock up on healthy veggies and fruits when they’re on sale. They will keep for up to six months in the freezer. Frozen fruits and vegetables are often cheaper than fresh ones. They can also be more nutritious because they’re harvested at their peak of freshness and frozen to lock in nutrients. There are some caveats though: Ensure you only buy enough food that will fit into your freezer. If you have too many frozen foods and keep adding more, eventually everything will go bad, and that’s not good for your budget.
Buy healthy foods from bulk bins
Buying from bins can save money, too. Choose healthy dry goods, like nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, coffee beans, spices, tea leaves, and flour from bulk bins. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, bulk bins are large containers filled with dry goods that you scoop into bags or containers and purchase by the pound. Some stores have them near the front of the store, while others have them in the back. The point is they’re convenient and easy to use — and they can save you a lot of money.
If you’re not sure how much of an item you can use, don’t overbuy, as it may spoil or expire before you can use it. Buying in bulk is often cheaper than buying smaller amounts. But be realistic about how much food you can consume within the allotted period.
Avoid prepared and pre-packaged meals
It’s tempting to buy pre-cooked meals from the grocery store, but the truth is they’re often higher in fat and sodium than homemade meals. Also, they offer less nutritional value because they’re often cooked with lots of oil or butter. Instead of buying these types of foods, try making meals at home yourself and freezing them until you need them. This way, you’ll always have a variety of healthy options available when you’re short on time — and you won’t have to resort to fast food or takeout when time gets tight.
Cash is king — leave your credit card at home
If you’re like most people, the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a budget is cash. It’s true: cash is king, so leave your credit card at home.
When shopping for groceries, carry only as much money as you need to buy what’s on your list. If your grocery store has an ATM inside and allows debit transactions from an outside account (as many do these days), it may be helpful to withdraw cash from one of these machines before going through the checkout line. When you have cash, you’re forced to stay within your budget. Even if you plan on using plastic instead of cash, avoid using too much plastic at once when grocery shopping. It’s easier to drop impulse items in your cart when you pay with plastic.
Hopefully, these tips will help make grocery shopping more affordable and enjoyable. It’s all about planning ahead. Budgeting doesn’t have to be stressful if you plan and stick with your budget consistently. You can save your money and time by not going into debt at the grocery store or anywhere else for that matter.
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