I still remember the first week I came home from the grocery store after deciding to dive head-first into healthy eating. My grocery bill more than doubled! It was a drastic change in our family’s eating habits, going from a diet made up almost completely of processed foods, to 100% whole foods. Because my lifestyle change was drastic and sudden, so was the increase in my grocery bill.
If I had only known what I know now, the transition would have been a lot easier on our family budget. Perhaps the most commonly advised way to save money on healthy food is to start a garden. But for those who don’t have the space or time, here are the top five ways to save. Implementing just one or two of these practices will put a considerable amount of money back in your pocket. Do all five, and you may be able to whittle your grocery bill back down to what it was before you started making the change to healthy eating.
Brainstorm the cheapest healthy foods you enjoy, and make them staples in your home
Oatmeal, quinoa, root vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes and squashes are all great options. These foods grow without a lot of maintenance and have a long growing season, so they are very affordable and often available year-round. Incorporate your family’s cheap favorites into several meals each week.
Brainstorm your most expensive items and find alternatives
Meat, berries, and other fruit tend to be the most expensive items for a typical family. One of the easiest ways to save is to incorporate at least one meatless dinner each week. Beans, whole grains (especially quinoa), Greek yogurt, nuts and seeds are great ways to add protein to your meatless meals.
Buy in bulk
Membership warehouse stores such as Costco and Sam’s club sell bulk produce at a great discount. During summer, you can often buy berries at one-fourth the price of a regular grocery store. Membership stores are also a great place to find excellent quality salad greens, frozen vegetables, frozen mixed fruits, chicken breast, fish filets, and other healthy items. You can also save by purchasing dried beans in bulk, rather than in cans.
Participate in CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)
CSA programs are available in most areas, and are a great way to save money while supporting local agriculture. How it works: you pay a small fee each week, or sometimes a larger fee once per year. This fee covers a portion of a farm’s operating expenses. In return, you’ll receive an overflowing basket of fruits and vegetables each week. The produce is always in-season, freshly harvested, and usually cheaper than shopping at the grocery store. To find a CSA program in your area, do a search for “CSA + your city.” Another option that’s similar to CSA is a program called Bountiful Baskets, which is a produce co-op that utilizes group buying power to get discounted fresh produce. Each week’s basket of produce averages $30 – $50 in value, for only $15. Bountiful Baskets is available in 20 states at the time of this writing.
Buy in-season and preserve
Ever noticed that berries and peaches are ridiculously expensive during winter? That’s because they need to be shipped from halfway across the planet to get to your grocery store during the colder months. Save money by sticking with in-season produce at all times. If your family enjoys strawberry smoothies during winter, then purchase a flat of strawberries at the end of the season and freeze them (this is often cheaper than buying frozen strawberries during winter). The same goes for almost all your favorite fruits and vegetables.
Eat Out Less
I know how it feels when you walk in the door from work at 5:30 and realize you have 45 minutes of cooking ahead of you, not to mention the clean up afterwards, and by the time it’s all finished, it’s almost time to tuck the kids in bed. I know what it’s like to be home all day with your kids, too… 4:00 rolls around and you realize you just don’t have the energy to chop veggies and grill-whatever, at least not with the toys strewn across the living room like this.
It SEEMS like it would save you so much time and energy to just load everyone in the car and go out to eat. But is it? REALLY? You’ve got to load the circus (kids) into the car, drive there, wait to be seated, wait to order, wait for your food, eat Heaven-knows-how-much sugar, salt, fat and chemicals, and then roll yourself out of there to drive home. Now you feel like a dump truck, you’re even more tired than you were before you left the house, and you’re rolling in the driveway much later than you would have been loading that last dinner dish into the dishwasher.
I get that it’s easier said than done at first… but one of the #1 ways to save money while eating healthy is to make room in the budget by sucking it up and cooking something at home even when you don’t feel like it. The recipes I create rarely take more than 30 minutes to make, and I’m really not a fan of fussing with 2 mixing bowls and 4 pots and 2 cuttings boards to wash afterward. KEEP IT SIMPLE and you’ll find you’re saving a lot more money by staying home.
My final bit of advice
…is to not let yourself get overwhelmed. Many healthy recipes call for ingredients you can only get at a health food store, or that you may not have as a regular staple in your pantry. It can be a financial burden to suddenly stock your pantry with ALL the supplies needed to eat 100% healthy. Rather than trying 7 new recipes each week and stressing yourself out, try one or two new recipes each week. Always keep your family meals simple to save time, money and frustration. Ease into your healthy eating and make it an enjoyable experience!
You can make this change. I went from eating out almost every meal to making almost everything from scratch. I would have NEVER thought that was possible for a working mom to do, let alone someone who didn’t like the taste of veggies or spending much time in the kitchen. The key is to change on a gradient. Keep a long-term perspective and make one small change at a time. As soon as one change begins to feel like second-nature to you, challenge yourself again with the next step. Your time in the kitchen, tastebuds, and yes, even your pocketbook, will make room for your healthy lifestyle.