Improving our diet is undeniably one of the most powerful ways to improve our health. It’s one of the ways Vine Healthcare tends to clients’ needs from root to branches.
But patients often ask me how their family can afford to eat fresh, whole foods on a regular basis.
It’s true that organic vegetables and pasture-raised meats come at a premium. And since many of the unhealthy foods in our food system benefit from government subsidies, the unfortunate truth is that a Twinkie can sometimes be cheaper than a bag of carrots.
As a mother of 5 (and several teenage boys!), I understand! The good news is that eating healthy on a budget can become second nature with a few small changes to your routine.
Healthy Shopping on a Budget
Saving money on healthy food starts with making a shopping list each week. Planning meals ahead allows you to reuse leftovers, prioritize what’s already in your pantry and avoid food waste. Translation: it saves you money!
After making a list, we can divide it up into fresh veggies, fruit and legumes (if you eat them), lean proteins and healthy fats, the foods that make up the bulk of our healthy diets.
When shopping for produce, buying organic is ideal—but it can also break the bank. Instead, use the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists to prioritize which produce you’ll buy organic.
In most cases, fruits and vegetables that are peeled—citrus and avocadoes, for example—don’t have much pesticide contamination. Fruits with thin skins like apples and peaches, as well as leafy greens, are very susceptible to spraying and should always be purchased from organic sources. The EWG keeps tabs on which produce is most heavily sprayed, and their lists are updated yearly, making it a great resource.
Freeing up some of our grocery budget by buying non-organic vegetables may also allow us to prioritize appropriately-raised protein sources. Since animals store much of their toxic load in fat, it’s important to buy organic and pasture-raised cuts of fatty meats, or drain the fat when cooking.
Pasture-raised chicken can be particularly hard to find in stores, so going directly to a farmer you trust is a great choice. Purchasing these meats through a CSA (community supported agriculture) share, farm store or at your local farmer’s market usually saves money as well.
Beyond the farmer’s market, nearly every grocery store now has healthier options. It’s not necessary to shop exclusively at Whole Foods—Trader Joe’s, Kroger, Costco and even Aldi offer options at a much lower price point. If you’re buying organic, look for store brands. Just like traditional store brand products, they’re usually very similar but offer a lower price point. Kroger’s Simple Truth Organic line is a great example.
Finally, avoiding convenience foods like snack bars and baked goods can help your family save money. Make these foods at home instead! If you do find yourself relying on these foods, discounts can be found through online retailers like Thrive Market. Amazon’s Subscribe and Save program also offers steep discounts, especially on products you regularly buy.
Strategies for Saving at Home
Once you’ve stocked up on groceries, you can stretch your dollar even further with a few at-home strategies.
First, just the simple act of cooking at home can save loads of money. Eating at restaurants isn’t cheap, and finding healthy options can be difficult. Instead, cooking family breakfasts, packing lunches and eating dinner at home can often keep meals to around $5 or less per serving.
For breakfast, try baking a big batch of something filling and healthy that your family can quickly reheat each morning. Not only will this help you avoid the ease of sugary cereals and snack bars, but you’ll save money as well! As long as you’re not allergic to eggs, our Turkey Bacon Breakfast Casserole is a great option.
To avoid the temptation of eating out during a busy weekday, we like to pack healthy lunches ahead of time so we can grab and go during the week. One amazing option is our Vine’s Salad in a Jar. It’s completely customizable, so you can add whatever produce is in season and cheapest and whatever protein is most convenient for your family.
This makes a fun meal for kid and adult alike. Just pack a container of our Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette or Ginger-Lime Vinaigrette dressing to round out your salad, and you’ll be set! If packing salads ahead of time is too time-consuming, try having ingredients on hand to whip up a quick smoothie, like our Vine Lunchtime Smoothie.
One of our favorite dinner strategies is to use our Crock Pot to break down tougher, cheaper cuts of meat into juicy and tender meals. Bonus—this is a time-saving strategy too! Instead of slaving over the stove or oven, you can set a Crock Pot in the morning and return home to a complete meal.
Soups are also a fabulous way to pack lots of nutrition into a meal and stretch ingredients. We love to make our Tasty Lentil Soup, which is surprisingly high in protein and SO affordable per serving.
Healthy Eating: An Investment in Your Future
If you still find yourself resistant to the money it might take to clean up your family’s diet, think of it this way: every dollar you spend on healthy food is an investment in your health and longevity. Missing days of work due to illness or paying for monthly prescription medications is a whole lot more expensive than making healthy choices now.
Food has the power to make us healthier (or not), and by investing a little more in healthy foods now, you’ll likely save your family money in the future. Try taking just a few steps at a time, whether that’s switching to organic veggies or heading to your farmer’s market to shop.
If you have questions about healthy eating or improving your lifestyle, please reach out to the Vine Healthcare team! We love helping you make a healthy lifestyle attainable.