Healthy Eating Budget Challenges
Eating healthy on a budget can be a challenge. I believe it to be very true although there are people who disagree with that claim. Their main logic is that fresh produce that is in season is relatively inexpensive. Legumes are inexpensive and as long as meat isn’t a primary staple, the way of eating can be budget friendly. The other argument is that long term, the medical costs will be reduced if you spend the money and time to eat healthy now.
As far as medical costs go, yes, maybe. In reality though, a budget is a budget. If you can’t spend a lot of money, you can’t spend a lot of money. I have lived with a rigid budget off and on throughout my adulting years.
In terms of the fresh produce and less meat, well, it’s hard to argue the logic. Yet, I still can drop way too much money on healthy food.
Now, way way back in the day, I was a fast food connoisseur, and to me that was cheap eating. Sodas are way cheaper than sparkling water. The dollar menu at various fast food locations are cheap and convenient. Boxed macaroni and cheese is often less than a dollar a box, way cheaper than making your own. Cheese is expensive! Hamburger meat with more fat is cheaper 70/30 vs. 90/10 is a big difference when trying to stick to a budget.
Having come from finding the cheapest way to eat regardless of health benefits, I stand by the belief that it is cheaper to eat like crap than to eat healthy. It is much easier to throw together something out of a box rather than cook from scratch. There’s a convenience as well. One doesn’t have to plan too far when cooking from a box.
Regardless, after years of trial and error, I have discovered that a budget and eating healthy can go hand in hand. It takes a little more work, a little more effort, but once you find a few routines you can add in to your lifestyle, it gets easier.
Here are some of my tips:
Living in the Sacramento Valley, I am incredibly lucky to have a plethora of farmer’s markets to visit. You go in the morning for the best selection and go towards the end for the best prices. Many times, at the end of the day, I can buy full bags of fruit and veggies or only a couple of dollars each. I can buy several bags of tomatoes in summer and make a giant batch of spaghetti sauce to freeze for upcoming meals. I can pickle cucumbers or juice oranges. I can take a bag of peaches and make peach frozen yogurt or if I get enough bags, I make peach jam.
With three kids still at home and active, our calendar is packed. So, I need to look at my week and plan what to eat based on how much time I have to cook. Sometimes it’s a crockpot meal that can used for leftovers later in the week. Sometimes it’s a big pot of spaghetti for my kids and some lunchmeat and cheese for me with a salad. I try very hard not to make separate meals for my kids, but sometimes it happens. When I have to, I make sure either their meal or my meal is super easy. My kids hate tuna, I love it. So, I’ll have tun in a half avocado while they have a pasta dish as I don’t eat pasta. Here’s a post that talks about meal planning on a budget
Scan Supermarket ads:
I’m on the fence although I have friends who swear by this. Hitting different stores takes time and gas, yet if you’re diligent, you can snag some fantastic deals. It’s a matter of personal preference. I do look at my grocery ads each week, but I don’t often venture off my Costco/farmer’s market track. Having a large grocery store three miles from my house makes it hard to not shop there for those items I need. I will hit Winco twice a month usually for canned items or other non perishables that Costco doesn’t carry or where I don’t need a huge abundance of certain items. I also love Winco’s bulk bins and stock up on nuts, baking items, and spices for much cheaper than anywhere else.
Keep track of what you have in your freezer and in your pantry. I’ve ended up with so many packs of frozen chicken breasts because I kept thinking we were out and buying more. We weren’t out. I didn’t have to buy meat for a while, but everyone got pretty sick of chicken. This is my Achilles heel. We have a white board right next to the kitchen for everyone to write what we’re out of, but my bulk cupboard is a DISASTER and I need to figure out a way to organize it so that I can keep track of what I need. I have a date with Ikea sometime this summer to take care of this hot mess!
Eat Less Meat:
We are a family of five (of six when our daughter is home from college) and appeasing everyone all the time is almost impossible. My younger kids aren’t big meat eaters, and I’m pretty convinced one will become a vegetarian soon enough. But, I don’t have the time or the energy or the patience to cook multiple meals. What I do on occasion, and when we aren’t in the midst of baseball for my boys, I will prep a few vegetarian meals on the weekend. My kids LOVE beans. So, I break out my cookbooks and prep and/or cook a dish for them to eat throughout the week while I have meat with my dinner. They will share in the vegetable side dish that I’ve prepared because they aren’t too picky on veggies. It comes out as a win win because I listen to less arguments, I prepare less meat, and everyone is relatively happy. It’s a compromise I’m willing to make when I have the time. I just wish I had more time!
Buy in Bulk:
Now, I visit Costco every week because we have a big family and my younger kids are knocking on the door of teenage land. I buy most of our meat here, especially the rotisserie chicken! Besides Costco, I will hit Winco as I mentioned earlier. I pick up nuts and chocolate chips to assemble trail mix for my kids lunch. I buy sugar, almond flour, cocoa powder in bulk as well…anything use on a semi regular basis, I pick up in bulk and save a lot of money.
Don’t go Shopping Hungry:
This. This is the biggest change. If I’m hungry I will NOT go shopping. I overspend and buy stuff I’m not supposed to be eating. Here’s where the snack food sneaks back into the house. And of course, everything sounds good, and I’m ready to cook a feast. Which is a big fat lie. I’m to the point in my life that I hate cooking. I do it because I need to and that’s it.
There are dozens of other shortcuts to save money. Buy cheap cuts of meat, buy whole chicken and cut it yourself, buy frozen veggies, etc. I’m sure they are effective, but they just aren’t effective in my family. It doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with these or other ideas, but I just highlighted what works and why for my family.
My best advice is to do a search and find what looks practical for you and your family. Don’t do something that isn’t practical for your situation and be honest about what steps you’re willing to take. I can promise you I don’t have the energy or desire to cut up a whole chicken. Not happening. I’m not knocking anyone who does this, but I just know that this isn’t practical for me personally. So, after buying a couple of inexpensive whole chicken and never using them, I do know that this isn’t something that will save my family money. If I’m not going to do it, it’s not a money saver. You know your time, your family, and your willingness better than anyone. Some things will resonate, others will not. That’s okay! We all are on our own journey and hopefully some of these will work with your family!