Squeezing whole foods out of a tight budget.
Whole food, aka unprocessed and unrefined food, has the stigma of being expensive, but that’s not necessarily the case. Processing food and packaging it adds to the price of a product. A plain board from the lumber yard cost less than one that is sealed or stained and those cost far less than a finished piece of furniture. Labor, machinery, materials, and the facility all contribute to an increasing cost for any product, including food.
To cut costs, many of the cheaper processed products use fillers and chemicals to get the desired product. This moves further away from wholesome food and while the cost-saving benefits in your short-term budget might be attractive, this can have long-term ramifications in your health. Diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic health problems are expensive and largely preventable with a healthy diet.
So how do we add whole food to our diet without breaking the bank? The good news is that the difference in shopping for healthy verses unhealthy food is about $1.50 per day. That’s only about $550 per year and is easily made up for in health benefits. While this cost might be doable for some, there are additional ways to approach shopping to save money.
Sales, Deals, and the Shopping Strategy
When it comes to getting wholesome food at great prices, coming to the store with precise plan of exactly what recipes you want to make might backfire. It’s important to be flexible. You might stumble across a great deal on squash you pass up because it’s not on the list or perhaps you had your heart set on a recipe with strawberries, but they’re overpriced that day. Either way, you’re not getting the most for your dollar.
Come to the store with an estimate on the amount of food you’ll need and a flexible idea of what you want to buy. Your cart should be at least 50% fruits and vegetables, about 25% animal protein (meat, raw dairy, poultry, and eggs), and the remaining 25% fats, oils, and whole grains. Start by looking for great prices on a variety of fruits and vegetables then move to animal products. Don’t be afraid to go with a different cut of meat or switch from one type to another if it’s on sale. Deals are the name of the game so remember to utilize coupons (check mailers and online) as long as you stay away from coupons for processed junk foods.
You might be wondering what to do with all this food and no recipes. Thanks to the internet there are many sites that let you put in what you have, and it’ll provide a list of recipes you can make with those ingredients. Try sites like myfridgefood.com and supercook.com to get you started, just don’t forget to keep your spices stocked.
As with everything, this flexible approach will take time to master. Be prepared to overbuy and underbuy a few times and try some recipes that aren’t you’re favorite. Eventually, you’ll find a good variety of recipes you like that fit with the seasons and your buying habits. If you’re really new to this, stick with mostly planned meals and try this process for just a few days during your week.
Shop Local, Shop Seasonal
One way to avoid high costs of whole foods is to shop at a local farmers market or shop for seasonal goods at your local grocery store. They’ll be cheaper and fresher since they won’t have to be shipped from far away. Go for the bulk bins at the store to avoid added costs of packaging, labeling, and advertising.
Stay on the edges of the grocery store where the fresh produce, meats, and dairy products tend to be. Avoiding the aisles can keep you from tempting processed foods.
Do you need to buy organic?
When it comes to quality, organics tend to be healthier, more nutritious, and avoid added pesticides in the diet but generally comes at a higher cost. If you’re on a tight budget, the biggest organic benefit can come from buying organic animal products. Animal products tend to accumulate toxins from their highly treated feed and have higher concentrations than fruits and vegetables. If this is still a budget buster for you, try to buy these products from local producers, butchers, or grocery stores that prepare products in-house for the freshest meats possible.
With produce, it can be easier (and cheaper) to chose local produce over organic brand foods without sacrificing quality. Just remember to wash any produce well at home before you eat. The best produce to forgo the organic label are broccoli, eggplant, cabbage, bananas, kiwi fruit, asparagus, sweet peas, mango, pineapple, sweet corn, avocado, and onions.
Make sure to pass on processed junk foods like chips, soda, candy, and other snacks even if they’re labeled organic. They’re still highly processed and unhealthy choice.
A good way to save on food costs is to throw away less food. A study found that the average household throws about 1 pound of food per person per day! That’s hundreds, if not thousands of dollars a year, wasted. Now, don’t solve this by loading up on processed foods that have an almost infinite shelf-life. It’s better to start with the freshest foods you can find. Foods coming right form the vine will last longer.
A good time frame to shop for is 6-7 days. You can keep most fruits and vegetables for this time. When you notice wilting veggies or fruit that is about to spoil, try making a juice or a smoothie to last a few more days. When you run into surface imperfections, like small “bruises” on fruits or a minute speck of mold on a piece of cheese, you can cut around some of the minor “bad spots” as these are unlikely to make you sick. Food borne illnesses come from pathogens that are odorless, colorless, and invisible which is why washing and cooking to correct temperatures are important food prep tasks.
Make the Change
With a conscious effort you can shop healthy and fill your home with whole foods, however, changes like this do not happen overnight. Start small and do a little at a time to slowly change your habits. Remember to set S.M.A.R.T. goals. If you try to do it all at once, you are more likely to get frustrated and quit. It’s okay to fail but if you do, ask questions, learn from it, and try again.