Most people consider it common knowledge that healthy food is expensive and unhealthy food is cheap—that’s why we’re all so fat, right?
But for most people it does not need to be this way. Since I upgraded my healthstyle not only have I lost weight and become healthier, I have also managed to save more money.
In a nut shell, I started cooking more at home.
It is a sad reflection on our culture that so many people rely on fast food for their daily sustenance, and my heart goes out to those who truly cannot afford better. But I contend that many of the bad decisions we make about food each day are more an issue of (perceived) convenience than price.
Last I checked burritos in San Francisco averaged over $5. And if you have properly set up your kitchen you will find it actually takes less time to cook a healthy meal than it does to place and fill your order at El Farolito.
Every penny counts in this brutal economy. Here are a few tricks you can use to save a buck and get a little healthier too.
10 Tips For Eating Healthy On A Budget
- Cook at home The most important change I made to save money was to turn cooking at home into my default option rather than rely on neighborhood eateries as my go-to cop out. Eating out is expensive, no matter which way you cut it.
- Shop on weekends If you already have fresh food in the fridge you will be more motivated to cook for yourself instead of going out and spending money. Make the habit of buying food ahead of time and you won’t be as tempted to waste money going out.
- Shop seasonally When choosing what to eat, taste trumps health 90% of the time. (That’s why you rolled your eyes when I suggested you eat fewer burritos.) If you really want to start eating healthy you must want to eat vegetables, and that will only happen if the ones you buy taste delicious. Seasonal, farm fresh produce can completely change how you feel about vegetables and fruits—it also tends to be the best deal in the produce section.
- Shop at the farmers market In my experience the best tasting produce in a chain grocery store is at Whole Foods. But if you have ever been shopping there you know what a dent it can put in your wallet (this does not apply to their non-fresh items, which are competitively priced and often cheaper than other stores). Rather than handing over your Whole Paycheck or settling for less than inspiring options at Safeway, do your weekly produce shopping at your local farmers market. If you shop intelligently (see below) you can get 2 meals for the cost of one burrito.
- Focus on leafy greens Leafy greens like kale, chard, collards, spinach and broccoli are some of the most nutritious, least expensive things you can buy. And this is true at any grocery store, not just the farmers market. Frequently, half a bunch of kale with some beans, grains and herbs is my entire dinner and costs around $1.50. It also takes less than 15 minutes to prepare. Can you beat that?
- Buy in bulk Canned beans are fine, but dried beans taste better and are way cheaper. Grains from the bulk bins at your local health food store are only pennies per serving. Cook these staples in large batches and save them in your freezer for cheap, quick and nutritious food anytime. This is also true of lentils. Just add some greens and you’re good to go.
- Eat less meat This is probably the easiest way to save money. Whether at the grocery store or at restaurants meat is always the most expensive thing on the menu. I do not advocate a vegetarian diet, but limiting meat to once or twice a week is an easy way to cut back on both calories and expenses. If you are worried about protein (you needn’t be) you can eat beans, eggs and lentils instead.
- Use fish from cans Fish is an important part of a healthy diet, but fresh fish can be expensive (especially the wild sustainable kinds). Canned salmon, sardines (boneless, skinless), smoked mackerel and anchovies are inexpensive alternatives for protein, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids.
- Make fruit dessert If you think the farmers market is expensive my bet is you spend most of your money on fruits. I am the first to admit that fruit can be very expensive, especially summertime berries and stone fruits. While I do recommend you invest in some high-quality farmers market fruit, it will be easier on your wallet if you consider fruit a treat.
- Think long term I am not arguing that buying every single food item at the farmers market is the cheapest way to shop, but it is almost certainly the healthiest. Our hedonistic tendencies may incline us toward cheap, greasy foods but you should consider what you are really paying for in the long run. Poor diet can be attributed to most cases of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer and a generally difficult, painful life. And I probably don’t need to convince you that a farm fresh salad costs less than a hospital trip and a lifetime of medication. Healthy eating doesn’t have to be expensive, but unhealthy eating can cost you your life.
What are your favorite money saving tips for healthy eating?
This post was originally published on May 20, 2009.