Eating well matters. Eating well keeps health costs down, it provides necessary fuel for the workday, and it’s affordable. If that last one surprises you, then you may be one of the millions who believe that eating well means scratching a food budget altogether. With a little forethought and mindfulness, however, you can trim your budget without skimping on the quality or quantity of your groceries.
- Make a list. Before you set foot in a store, have a list. You can keep a mental one, but I recommend writing it down. Stick to this list. Don’t flit down every aisle; don’t gravitate toward the all shinies; get in, get what you need, and get out. You can take this tip up a notch by planning your meals for the work week, and even the weekends, too. Planning in advance reduces stress, primes the appetite, and supports a lifestyle decision to eat healthier foods. If you don’t have a bag of potato chips in easy reach, you’ll go for that apple, instead.
- Bulk up. Check out the bulk foods section of your grocery store. By cutting out the cost of packaging and the pricing attached to “convenience sizes,” buyers stand to save a bundle. Items on which buyers will save the most include spices – the days of paying $5 for a small container of nutmeg are over! – nuts, oats, and grains. You’ll notice that many offerings in this section of your grocery store are healthier, as well. Stock your pantry with raw almonds to grab on the go; fill your purse with self-packed baggies of dried fruit. Why buy beans in two-serving packages when you can buy fifteen servings for the same price?
- Know the dirty dozen. Buy organic whenever possible, but save money by skipping the fruits and vegetables that don’t make the dirty dozen list. Onions, asparagus, broccoli, mangoes – these are safe to buy at the unorganic price. Apples, grapes, and spinach, however, are best purchased from the organic section. By buying only the produce you intend to use that week (remember The List!), and by knowing when and on what to spend more, you stand to halve your produce costs.
- Reduce waste. This one you can do at home. Not only do you reduce waste by buying only what you need, but you can also convert any extraneous food into a pantry item. Take your onion, carrot, and other vegetable trimmings and store them in the freezer. When you have a big bag full, make your own vegetable broth! This works with meat bones, too. If your dairy items are aging, consider it an opportunity to whip up a quick homemade chocolate pudding to take with you to work the next day.
- Go unprocessed. Look at your weekly budget – what percentage is processed food? Be realistic about your choices. Some items, like potato chips, stimulate appetite and encourage consumption of more food. If you find that your kids are eating you out of house and home, fill them up on apples and almonds instead and they’ll stay fuller for longer. Emphasizing unprocessed foods where possible also reduces immediate and future medical costs by supporting immune function, mental health, and general well-being. Many unprocessed foods (remember the bulk foods section!) also cost significantly less than their processed counterparts, which means your dollar will go a little farther at the check-out stand.
Do you have any additional tips for eating well and paying less?