Eating whole, healthy food isn’t always more convenient than eating pre-made, processed foods, but it can be more affordable. Here are a few tips my wife and I use to eat healthy on a budget:

1) Planning meals – Meal planning allows the most efficient use of food. Planning a purpose for each item bought or grown helps us avoid eating the tastiest, expensive, and convenient ingredients right away, ingredients that would otherwise contribute to more nutritious and enjoyable meals.

2) Shopping at local farmers markets – When we shop carefully, we almost always find a good deal on local produce. Some vendors even offer discounts on produce they haven’t sold by the time the market closes.

3) Looking for sale items – When we spot a special promotion on any whole food items that can be canned or stored in the freezer, we stock up! Even greens freeze well and can be added to scrambles, soups, stir-frys, and green smoothies.

4) Shopping in the bulk section – Many popular and healthy products like beans, rice, grains, nuts, and spices can be found in the bulk section at discounted prices. Other benefits of shopping in the bulk section include: reduced packaging waste, fewer preservatives or chemicals (like BPA), and the ability to sprout or soak foods like beans, nuts, and grains (which you can’t do with canned or prepared foods).

5) Planting trees and a garden – Even one fruit or nut tree and a small garden can contribute a significant amount of healthy food to a family’s diet and at very little cost. For example, one mature fruit tree can produce hundreds of pounds of fruit in a year, which is equal to or more than what’s consumed by the average American (273 lb per year). We have a small garden and several fruits trees, and the produce really adds up!

6) Purchasing free-range meat with friends or family – If you want to get free-range meat, which is lean and high in important nutrients like Omega-3s and vitamin K2, at a good price, then find a few people to buy and split a large purchase with. Local ranchers often sell their products at a significant discount when purchased in larger quantities, such as a whole, half, or quarter beef.

7) Minimizing waste – Americans are the most wasteful society in the world. Every year we throw away billions of dollars worth of food. We try to minimize waste by eating perishable items right away. Purchasing fresh food means it won’t last on the shelf forever, and we have have to go to the market more often, but it’s worth it. We also try to make a special point about taking servings size into consideration and being realistic about what we’ll enjoy as leftovers.

8) Re-thinking the value of food – Many of us have been raised to believe that “more is better” or that expensive food isn’t a good value, but neither of these assumptions is always true. Instead of thinking about food in terms of quantity, we try to think in terms of quality. When it isn’t getting enough vitamins and importnat nutrients, the mind will tell the body to keep eating. In fact, we can consume thousands of “empty”calories and still be starving. The result is that many of us are obese and simultaneously undernourished and prone to disease. Our bodies don’t need many calories when they get enough nutritionally rich food. Nutrient-dense foods can seem more expensive, but they’re actually a better value in terms of nutrients per dollar. For example, butter from grass fed cows is more expensive than conventional butter, but it provides two powerful nutrients (vitamin K2 and CLA) that are almost entirely absent in conventional butter.

9) Using the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen Shopping List – Another way we’ve learned to save a few dollars and still be sure that were only eating good food is by making our organic purchases really count. While studies indicate that conventional and organic foods go head to head in terms of their actual nutrient content, what those studies fail to mention is the harmful pesticides that many conventional produce items contain. At the same time, some conventionally grown plants use very few pesticides and are safe to eat (though they’re still not always grown in a way that’s good for the environment). To help us figure out what foods should be purchased with the assurance that they were raised organically, the Environmental Working Group created a list of the “cleanest” and “dirtiest” foods. “The Clean Fifteen,” as they call it, are the fifteen fruits and vegetables that were tested and found to have little to no chemical residue. “The Dirty Dozen,” however, are the twelve fruits and vegetables that should be purchased in the organic section, as they commonly harbor pesticide residues. You might not have guessed it, but apples were the number one offender. For the full shopping guide, check out the EWG’s site here.

We’ve found that following these strategies has improved our household economy and personal health. We also feel good knowing that what’s good for our economy and health is good for the larger economy and environment. Hopefully you’ve discovered at least one tip that you hadn’t thought of before, and if you have one that we missed, please let us know, and we’ll add it to the list!

Originally posted 2013-04-06 02:29:00.


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