Let’s face it–eating healthy foods can be expensive. “CAN” being the operative word. I have many people ask me how to eat healthy on a limited budget; and since our family of 7 lives off of income from my husband’s two minimum wage jobs (well, one now, and the tiny bit of income I get from nutrition counseling since I let so many clients get help without paying!), I think I’ll go ahead and share how we do it.
A few years back, I wrote this post for Mothering Magazine entitled Eating Naturally On An Unnatural Budget. http://mothering.com/recipes/eating-naturally-unnatural-budget
Apparently, there are many of us who want to feed our families healthy foods for less because the article soon became one of their top 25 most popular online articles. I’ve learned a lot since then and want to offer even more tips for eating healthy on a limited budget. So in this article, I’ll elaborate on the points listed in the above article and add some more advice.
But before you can save money on your groceries, you have to remember one thing: Most groceries are not worth a single penny. They do not offer nourishment, which is the whole point of eating foods, right?! 90 percent of Americans’ food budget goes towards processed foods.
So basically, 90 percent of our groceries are giving us just enough nourishment to barely keep us alive. We are overfed and malnourished, as opposed to those in impoverished countries where they are underfed and malnourished.
Eating real, whole foods will not only give our families better physical health; it is also better stewardship of the money and resources God has entrusted to us. And that spiritual health is worth so much more as it benefits us eternally as well!
So how can we be good stewards of our money, resources, and our bodies? Here are the tips and advice I find myself saying the most. To me, they are the most important first steps:
1. Spend the extra on natural sweeteners. Sure a 5-pound bag of sugar costs a fraction of that bottle of pure maple syrup, but that change is so worth the extra money! (If you haven’t seen my posts on refined sugar, start here. At the same time, learn to reduce the amount of sweeteners your family uses, no matter how natural it is.
2. Oils–Another one to spend the extra money on. Either virgin or refined organic coconut oil, olive oil, and real butter are an absolute must for a healthy lifestyle. Eliminate those cheap corn, soybean, and canola oils. They are slow suicide.
Now that I’ve actually INCREASED your grocery budget, let’s go onto the ways to more than make up the difference!
1. Buy In Bulk & Shop Around
If you’ve never bought in bulk, it’s time to start thinking about it! Most of our family’s bulk items are purchased through Azure Standard. http://www.azurestandard.com/
This 2,000 acre form in Oregon delivers bulk natural food orders to drop-sites around the country once a month. Through Azure, we are able to get organic rolled oats for less than we were paying at Walmart for generic conventional (non-organic) oats.
Other things that I get through Azure which are much, much cheaper than anywhere else are organic spices, organic flour/wheat berries, organic apples, organic beets, carob powder (our “chocolate”), and so many more things!
Warehouse membership stores like Sam’s Club and Costco have also made it possible for us to get things like fresh, organic foods, toiletries, and more at incredible prices, even once you factor in the annual membership fee.
Some of our favorite finds that are cheapest at Costco are organic spinach, organic baby and whole carrots (we snack on the baby carrots and juice the big ones), nuts, organic frozen broccoli florets, organic frozen green beans, and organic brown rice.
It can be hard to have the money to buy in bulk initially, but it gets easier after the first investment as long as you budget well.
2. Buy Local
Last summer, I bought boxes of organically-grown green bell peppers at our tiny local farmer’s market for 50 cents per pepper, diced them, and froze them so I could have organic bell peppers for sauteeing year round! A friend also tipped me off to a local farm where we can get a gallon of raw honey for $26, which is cheaper than store-bought pasteurized honey from China where they pump it full of chemicals! And because it’s raw, it offers medicinal benefits as well as natural sweetness!
Farmers’ markets and local farms not only give your family healthier food (remember–many nutrients are lost in the days of transportation to the grocery store), but you are supporting your local farms–people committed to preserving the healthier ways of living!
If you need a good place to start finding local sources of real, whole foods, start with http://localharvest.org/ . Make sure to ask your local farmer if they use chemical fertilizers, pesticides, etc. If you buy animal products from them, take a look around the farm, see how the animals are raised, and ask questions. Farmers who take a lot of pride and put a lot of effort into raising animals the way God meant for them to be raised will be more than happy to answer questions.
3. Cook From Scratch
Homemade mayo, salad dressings, breads, tortillas, crackers, the list goes on! Sure it takes time but we all know that many of us have more time than money nowadays anyway! How badly do you want your family to be healthy? It may take some changes and a stronger commitment to spend more time in the kitchen than on the computer or in front of the television, but here’s the thing: It’s so rewarding!
You wouldn’t believe how many moms call me up or message me and tell me about how pride they feel of their accomplishments in the kitchen and the time they started investing into their children’s health when they began making changes!
Did you know that it’s about 1/4 the cost to buy and cook dried beans than it is to buy canned beans? If you buy them in bulk and cook a large amount at a time, you can freeze them in individual portions.
And don’t throw away those meat bones–make homemade broths and save a HUGE amount of money! My favorite way to do it and get every bit of nutrition and money out of them is by doing a “perpetual” pot of broth in the slow-cooker. It takes barely any time at all and you can get gallons of homemade broth every week from just a few bones! Here’s instructions from Nourished Kitchen: http://nourishedkitchen.com/perpetual-soup-the-easiest-bone-broth-youll-make/
Here are some of my favorite recipes for homemade foods:
Mayo: http://www.realfoodwholehealth.com/2011/02/homemade-mayonnaise/ (Except we use all olive oil instead of some coconut oil. We like coconut oil and use it for many things, but didn’t enjoy it in the mayo.)
You can even make your soaps and cleaners homemade. This saves us TONS of money! We make our own:
Hand soap from a bar of soap (this one costs me about 30 cents for a 16-ounce bottle and it doesn’t have those nasty ingredients like triclosan in conventional antibacterial handsoaps): http://www.savvyhousekeeping.com/how-to-turn-a-bar-of-soap-into-liquid-hand-soap/
Homemade cleaners are an incredible way to save money and also avoid dangerous chemicals from invading your home and your family’s air. They are easy to make as well! For instance, for everyday cleaning/disinfecting, we mix 6 ounces distilled vinegar, a few drops of essential oil/tea tree oil, and 18 ounces of water into a spray bottle and use it on windows, floors, countertops, etc.
4. Cheap Protein
From my research, I believe store-bought meat offers more health dangers than benefits. Consequently, the only meat we eat is from animals raised naturally and clean. But it can jack up the grocery budget in a hurry. Fortunately, beans and lentils can cost about 1/10th the price of meat from naturally-raised animals, so we make good use of them around here. Curried lentils and black bean burrito bowls are some of our favorites. Even just using half meat and half beans for many recipes cuts costs significantly.
Because our budget is so tight and our family is rather large (including a teenager!), we eat 2 organic chickens, 2 pounds of locally-raised organic grass-fed ground beef, 2 meals with wild salmon, 1 with a white fish, and 2 pounds organic ground turkey each month. Since that ends up being only 9 meals out of the month, it is quite clear we eat a lot of beans, lentils, and other vegetarian dishes.
If you’re thinking, “My husband would never go for that,” I want to encourage you that it can be done! My husband used to be the guy ordering the mega-meat pizza before we changed our diet! And he savors and enjoys all of our beans and lentils now! As an added bonus, you get the benefits of dietary fiber to help keep your digestive system running smoothly with beans!
Finally, be sure to check out my newer post How To Get CHEAP and fresh organic produce! This is a tip you’ll want to be sure and investigate!
I hope those tips help! I won’t lie–it’s not easy. It takes time, energy, and effort. I have learned a lot in the last 6 years of eating real, whole foods. And I work hard around our home. But I enjoy it. A lot. And my kids can cook things from scratch that you wouldn’t believe kids their ages could do!
Blessings of good health,
Sara Jo Poff