I VERY OFTEN hear people complain that they can't afford to eat healthy. Well, as a single mom on a tight budget, I'm here to tell you that eating healthy is possible for basically everyone! Here are the ways that I have found to get quality food for very little money:
1. Farms and Farmers' Markets! Local farms provide cheaper, fresher, often cleaner produce than in the store. I am very lucky to have a couple of farms and farmers' markets in my area and, for a large portion of the year, I get fresh (often organic) produce for a fraction of the price I would pay in the store for the substandard counterpart. I can leave a farmers' market with a giant bag of organic produce for under $10. I can leave my local farm with the same size bag for under $5. Plus, I'm supporting small farmers and local business. It's a no brainer!
2. Salvage Stores. I recently discovered a type of store that has changed my life!! Grocery salvage stores. These are often run down stores that smell funny and you don't give a second glance when you're driving by. In fact, I live in a very small town yet I have 3 salvage stores (that I know if so far) within a 5-15 minute drive. These stores receive the regular grocery store "rejects". Sometimes it can be because the expiration date has passed or is about to pass and, other times, it could be something as small as a slight tear or scratch on a label. The savings in these stores is AMAZING! I LITERALLY can leave one of these stores with 2 giant cloth bags absolutely packed to the brim with organic produce for $3-$10. For instance, the BIG plastic shells of organic spinach or salad mix that are about $6.99 at Walmart are....brace yourself....$0.25 at the salvage store that is 4 minutes from my house. And these are almost never even out of date. Sometimes the expiration date is a week out and the produce looks exactly like it does in the grocery store where I would pay 28 times more for the same thing!
3. Order online in bulk! Okay, this might not be for everyone but, for me, it saves a lot of money on certain items that I eat frequently. Here is an example. If you buy 100 calorie snack packs (which are almost always horrible choices that leave you hungrier, for actual hormonal reasons, than when you started), you are spending anywhere from $2-$5 for about 500-800 calories of junk. Meanwhile, you can buy a 5 lb bag of raw cashews on Amazon for $36.65 (this includes shipping). First, raw cashews are an excellent balance of carbs, protein and healthy fat. They will keep you fuller longer and they have a thermogenic effect which means that a 100 calories of cashews is actually LESS calories than 100 calories of the over processed simple carb fake food that you get in the snack packs. More and more we are learning that a calorie is NOT just a calorie. It's much more complex than that. So $36.65 seems like a lot? Well, there are 12,400 calories in 5 pounds of cashews. Which means there are 124 100 calorie "snack packs" in this package. This translates to $0.30 per snack. If it came in a box of 5, it would be $1.50. THAT is bargain shopping!
4. Shop the markdowns. Doing this one thing has saved me SO much money! When I grocery shop, I have a set list of staples and then I make my rounds through the produce and meat section looking for markdowns to build my meals around for the week and to buy extra of to freeze if it's a really good price. For instance, my son loves Harvest Farms all natural hot dogs. They are generally $6-$7 a pack so we don't get them very often. However, when they were recently marked down to $2.99 a pack, I emptied the case and loaded up my freezer. Also, I check the expiration date of the organic chicken and always try to hit the store the day before it expires because I've learned that my store marks it down to an insanely cheap price that's less than regular chicken. Sometimes I've had more than 10 packages of organic chicken frozen. And it's a great feeling to know it's there! And my son is eating a lot of bananas this week because they had a bag of probably 20+ perfect looking organic bananas for $1.49.
5. Get the staples. Some of the cheapest foods are also the healthiest. Eggs, for example, are a perfect food! Forget what you've heard about eggs being bad for you! Eggs contain healthy fats that your body needs! The key is to get eggs that have omega-3 in them. It will generally indicate this on the package. These run about $2.50-$3.00 per carton. Which comes to $0.21-$0.25 per egg. I try to keep about a dozen eggs boiled at any given time because they are my go to food when my son and I need a quick meal or snack. Other low cost, healthy foods include tuna fish, bananas, sweet potatoes, and dry beans.
6. Stop eating out! Nothing bugs the crap out of me more than people who tell me they can't afford to eat healthy, yet they eat at fast food places on a regular basis. If you find yourself in this category, try not eating out for one month. Any time you find yourself refraining from eating out when you generally would, write down the date and how much you would have spent (including tip if applicable) and keep a running tally. At the end of one month, multiply that total by 12 and divide it by 52 to see how much extra money could be going into your grocery budget for healthy food each week.
7. Grow a garden. I haven't actually done this one yet but, after knowing enough people who can stroll out in their garden and pluck fresh produce straight from the ground for their meal that evening, I am chomping at the bit to get started this Spring. Don't have room? How about a few herbs in your kitchen window? It brings a little nature inside (which can lift your spirits) and plants actually clean your air!
8. Decide that you can't afford to NOT eat healthy!!!! Yes, healthy food can sometimes be a little more, even when put to use all of the above. However, disease can easily be much more costly. And not just financially. How much is your happiness and comfort worth? How much are the extra, QUALITY years that you may get to spend with the people you love worth?
Also remember that our dollar is our vote. It is our communication to manufacturers and the government (who currently subsidizes crops that are almost exclusively used to create the poisons that are going onto the shelves and into our and our childrens' bellies) of what foods we want to see more or less of. As we cast our vote each week at the grocery store in a healthier way, we will create much needed change in this country. Health care costs are higher than they've ever been and continue to rise. If we don't pay for our health on the front end, we will continue to pay for it on the back end and we will be miserable in the process.