The one about budgeting…

Any time I have conversations with my friends about my switch to healthy living, there is one inevitable question that arises:

“Isn’t eating healthy expensive?”

Admittedly, I used to think that. In fact, when I first started eating healthy I was spending an astronomical amount of money on food because I wasn’t being as smart as I could be about the way I was shopping and how I was preparing my food. A lot of what I was buying was going to waste and into the compost with it was my hard earned cash.

I saw this theme appear on Facebook today, so for the purpose of this blog post I’m going to have to pick on one of my besties for a bit. Sorry, Hannah. 🙂

Hannah mentioned to her adoring public that she’d been talking with a woman at work about eating healthy and then felt compelled to go and buy ingredients for a stir-fry and a few other things, noting how expensive it was to purchase healthy food. Healthy food is only expensive if you don’t get all you can out of it so here’s a few ways that I’ve been able to save money by making my food go further.

Things you need:

– Kitchen scale (I don’t know how I ever lived without one)
– Measuring cups & spoons
– A little time

Plan ahead

The reason convenience foods exist is because, well, they’re more convenient than cooking a roast for 6-hours. Slow cookers with built in timers have made this issue nearly obsolete and ultimately, I spend no more time cooking now than I did when things came out of a box. The difference? I only do it once. I make all of my lunches and some of my dinners in advance so that I’m rarely ever in a situation where I have to buy lunch on the fly and if I don’t have any ideas for dinner I know I already have something waiting for me when I get home.

Don’t impulse shop! Know exactly what you’re going to get before you walk into the grocery store. Even for things as small as snacks. If you know that your snacks for the week will be almonds and fruit then you have no reason to buy anything other than almonds and 5-7 days worth of portable fruits.

Ditch the recipes 

Ok, I’m not saying you should make all of your food bland or something but unless a recipe is something you know you’ll make often, or is 10 ingredients or less, don’t bother. You’re going to waste a bunch of money buying things you won’t use up. It’s much easier when money is tight to build your meals out of basic components then use seasonings and sauces to change it up.

Know the seasons 

This of course is a regional thing depending on where you live but, for example, I don’t eat fresh berries in the winter or apples in the spring. Why? Because the berries were driven in from California and the apples from Chile and they’re twice the price of the fresh, local products that I can buy in season that didn’t spend a bunch of time sitting in a truck.

In Hannah’s case, she lives in Nashville, TN. Lucky for her they have a farmer’s market in Nashville that is open year round! They also have an excellent website that has things like this seasonality calendar which makes it super easy to plan meals based on what fruits and vegetables are in season.

Buy bulk

The bulk food store is awesome, really. There’s not much you can’t buy in those places if you really look. Everything from baking stuff to cereal to rice, pasta and spices… don’t pay a bunch of money for packaging if you don’t need to. Get a plastic container, fill it up and when it’s empty go back to the bulk food store for more at half the price!

You can do this in the grocery store by avoiding things sold in single serving packages. Per serving, they’re considerably more expensive than buying a large container and portioning it out yourself (using your handy measuring cups!) I always buy big containers of Greek yogurt then spoon it out into a measuring cup because it’s twice the price for portion-sized containers.

Buy frozen

When you don’t have a lot of money, letting something rot in the fridge isn’t an option. Frozen vegetables and fruits are just as healthy as fresh ones (note I said frozen, not canned) and in some cases are MORE nutritious because they were flash frozen just after harvest and didn’t spend time sitting on a shelf losing precious nutrients. Whenever frozen veggies go on sale I buy up a whole bunch of bags that will last me a long while and usually by the time they’re gone, another sale will be on. Be sure to steam them, not boil them though. Veggies lose a lot of vitamins when boiled.

Another advantage to frozen is that quite often more expensive vegetables will be a bit cheaper. If you can’t live without asparagus, opt for frozen. Asparagus costs around $6 a bunch here but the same volume from the freezer is more like $2.

Same goes for meats! When chicken breasts go on sale, buy however many as you can. Spending a bit more money up front on this round of groceries will save you so much more over time. Toss them in the freezer and they’ll be good for up to a year.

Portion control

This is where you make it or break it. The most important element to making your dollars go further is knowing exactly how much you have. I’ll use the example of the meals I made today.

I purchased:

Local spaghetti squash – $3.19
Mixed pre-cut veggie tray – $6.99
Baby spinach, large container – $4.50
Local cherry tomatoes – $2.50/pint
Chicken breasts – $11.75 (4 breasts)
Ground turkey – $5 (1lb)

Let’s say after tax I spent roughly $35, and I splurged a bit by buying fresh vegetables that were pre-cut but I was feeling kind of lazy.

You may think that four chicken breasts will be good for four meals but not really. When the butchers are doing up the containers, most don’t make any particular effort to keep consistency throughout the sizes. In my container I had one breast that was 4.5 ounces and one that was 9.8 ounces. (That’s where that kitchen scale comes in handy!) The amount that I eat in a day doesn’t change depending on the size of chicken in the package, so I do my own butchering. I cut my chicken breasts down to roughly 4.5-5.5 ounces each and VOILA! Four breasts suddenly became six meals.

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I always have brown rice handy (bought it in bulk, of course) so I cooked up some rice which I will measure out in 1/2 cup portions and I’ll pair that with a fresh salad made from the baby spinach and cherry tomatoes I bought along with some peppers that were growing in the garden.

Meanwhile, my spaghetti squash was baking away in the oven and I quickly threw together some basic turkey patties with the ground turkey, some poultry seasoning, garlic and a dash of egg whites to help it stick together (you can add bread crumbs, too!) Then I portioned and weighed out six, four-ounce patties and threw them on my George Foreman grill (the staple to my cooking, I kid you not).

The spaghetti squash finished while the cooked patties were cooling and I steamed the fresh mixed veggies that I bought. I then grabbed a bunch of Rubbermaid containers and into each one I put one turkey patty, one cup of steamed vegetables and one cup of spaghetti squash.

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A couple of the containers went in the freezer because sometimes things come up and I end up eating elsewhere or I decide on something else and I don’t want to risk having to throw any food out. In the end I took my $35 worth of groceries along with the foods I always have on hand, and turned it into TWELVE meals. That’s less than $3 a meal!

I think that kind of price is not out of reach for most people who forget that they spend more than that on coffee and snacks through the day. It just takes a bit of planning and a bit of time. How much time? That food took me about two hours from start to finish.

If you want to throw breakfast into the mix, overnight oats are a great option to keep the price down. Oatmeal is relatively inexpensive (especially when bought in BUUULK), again you’re measuring it out to make sure nothing goes to waste and you can use frozen berries/fruit that will thaw by the next morning. 🙂 Don’t know how to make overnight oats? Google it, you won’t regret it – so many options!!

Bonus tips:

– Don’t think that things like pork and beef are suddenly out of reach just because you’re on a budget. You’re not stuck eating chicken forever. Keep an eye out for sales! When you portion out your meat to make it work for your meals, suddenly a $6 steak becomes a $3 steak and ten, Costco-sized pork chops suddenly become 21! (True story.)

– A standard-sized can of tuna or salmon is 4-ounces. If you find yourself unprepared, always keep a couple tins on hand for a salad or sandwich. My go-to for a quick lunch: can of tuna & 1/4 avocado mixed with mustard and a dollop of Greek yogurt. Scoop with celery, carrots or cucumber!

– If you find yourself in need of something quick on the go, opt for the grocery store deli over the drive-thru! It’s cheaper and more nutritious to pick up a freshly made salad, a rotisserie chicken breast or packaged boiled eggs and a fresh roll from the bakery than it is to grab a burger or even a “healthy” sandwich from somewhere like Subway.

– I sometimes hear people say “It’s no wonder people can’t stay healthy, compare the price of milk to the price of pop!” and I agree the expense is a challenge for many people. A gallon of milk is over $6 here! You know what’s even cheaper than pop and better for you, though? WATER! It’s free from the tap!

Let me know if any of these tips came in handy for you, I’d love to hear about it! 🙂

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