I think that many people who hear of trying to eat healthy while on a budget may get overwhelmed or consumed with feeling pressure to have the best and most sustainable quality food such as pasture-raised meat, wild-caught fish, organic/free-range poultry and locally grown/organic fruits and vegetables. In a perfect world, this would be great, but the reality is that many families cannot afford to do this all the time. This doesn’t, however, mean that you should give up and not attempt to eat whole foods that you have to cook from scratch and/or eat in their most pure form. The reality is that non-organic meats and produce are still far healthier than eating processed foods with little to no nutritional density and value. A major thing that family needs to consider when living this lifestyle is to identify and focus on what truly are the priorities in their lives. Once priorities are determined, then money-saving solutions can come into play. Here are some tips:
Tip #1—IDENTIFY YOUR PRIORITIES: Let’s talk about your LIFE priorities. Yes, I know this is just about food…but let’s take a look at the big picture. I have seen many people place so many things as important priorities above buying and cooking sustainable, clean and nutrient dense food. How many TV shows and ‘bloggerbuzz’ type articles do we have to see about how people are trying to “cut” their food budget first before any other conveniences? There are always all these factors that make us “feel” like we spend too much money on food. Why? In my opinion, there are four things that are a priority—food/health, shelter, and family. Some might say, well a job is important too…and yes it is, but if you don’t have your health (which has been shown time and time again in various studies such as this and this to be related to the food you eat). Our society is very much caught up with keeping up with the Jones’ and many of our priorities have kept right up with them. Food will always remain a top priority in our house…no questions asked. What are your top 3 priorities…IN LIFE? Identify them and if you have to re-prioritize them.
Tip #2—IDENTIFY EASY SUBS: Now that we have LIFE priorities out of the way, let’s talk about how to prioritize what we do actually spend our budgeted money on. We would all love to exclusively buy the best pastured-raised meat, but we can also get some of the same omega-3 nutrients from bpa-free canned salmon and quality eggs full of omega-3s. When we are shopping for produce, we buy what is in season, try to grow our own or use the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 List to help us identify which items would be the absolute best to buy organic. In season produce is cheaper so, yes, unfortunately, we will go without fresh strawberries in the winter. The price (pun intended) is so worth it! In season produce is tastier, fresher and cheaper! Think of how you might substitute items for items in order to try to always have the highest quality food with the most nutrients.
Tip #3—MEAL PLAN: Plan your meals and when you will cook them. Make a list of all the things you need and then make a plan for the meals you are going to cook with them. Pick a protein and vegetable side(s) that you want to pair up together and alternate so you are not eating the same thing every day. Then, plan when and how you will cook them and/or prep them and even consider BATCHCOOKING! Once a week or once a month we write ours in a shared calendar on our computer and on the wall (just in case), that way we both are reminded what we will be cooking and when. Some people use apps, chalkboards, picture frames with dry erase markers…you name it. Whatever you do, keep it simple and stick to it. Be sure to account for when you go to a friend’s house, have leftovers, etc.
HERE IS AN EXAMPLE OF A HOUSEHOLD WEEKLY DINNER PLAN:
- Monday- Jerk chicken with Jamaican coleslaw
- Tuesday- Taco Tuesday
- Wednesday- Jerk Chicken salad (rollover meal from Monday)
- Thursday-Egg Roll in a Bowl (rollover meal from Tuesday)
- Friday – Pizza night / Takeout
- Saturday- Kitchen Sink Soup Night
You will also want to plan for breakfast, lunch and snacks, but remember, anything from a hard-boiled egg and a banana to a full on omelet or chicken soup is acceptable for breakfast food. Leftovers are always an easy way to have lunch for the next day, so you can also make a double batch of dinner rather than thinking about cooking or preparing a separate lunch. Nuts, seeds, dried fruit, fresh fruit and protein bars make great snacks. Keep it simple and focus on nutrition above all.
TIP #4—MAKE A SHOPPING LIST: Once you have your meals planned, write down how much of each item you will need to buy to make those meals. Honestly for us, it doesn’t change much even if our recipes vary. Once we have good ingredients and seasonings on hand, we can cook whatever we want. Our list is in excel and we just update it when we run out of something. Using a grocery planning template (see last page of book) we have made may be helpful, but you can use any form, template or app for what works for you. You can also do it for the week or month—whatever works for you. We like to do it by the week.
TIP #5—BE A SAVVY SHOPPER: Know your prices! Since you will be cooking and prepping at home more often, it is good to know which stores and online retailers have the best price for those items. By using the same grocery planning template as we recommend for your shopping list, you can begin to keep track of prices and over time you will begin to know which places have the most competitive prices. You don’t always need to get the best prices, but it helps if you are buying those items every week. Buy in bulk when you can but pay attention to weekly sales! Look to see if there are deals each week on specific things like produce and quality meats. For example when onions, bell peppers, scallions and garlic go on sale, we buy a bunch and cut them and freeze them since we use them for almost every Jamaican recipe. Even stores such as Whole Foods will put meat on sale or have sales on whole organic chickens…get on their email update list to stay on top of when these things happen. We also will buy certain things such as frozen items or specialty items in bulk at Costco or online at amazon. We save a lot of money by having our coconut oil, unsweetened coconut flakes, allspice berries, canned salmon, canned sardines and coconut flour shipped to our house. You can also try to locate a farmer’s market where you can also get a great deal on pastured-raised meat and eggs there and going once a month to stock up saves us a ton of cash.
TIP #6—MAKE TIME: Planning and prepping ahead is a huge factor when trying to save money and/or avoid processed and convenience foods. By making time each week to prepare for the week ahead you will be more inclined to avoid pitfalls during the week and ultimately save money. We do things like wash and cut all of our veggies and even cook double batches or several meals in one day and freeze the extra. If you know that you are having several dishes that will have diced onion, then cut up a bunch of onions and freeze them ahead of time so you can grab them and cook up a dish quick later in the week.
Tip #7—WASTE NOTHING: Try your best to repurpose meals and/or ingredients. If you have a bunch of ripe bananas, freeze them for a smoothie or banana bread later in the week and if you make chicken use the bones for bone broth/stock. If you have left over veggies, freeze them before they go bad and stash them with other left over veggies until you have enough to throw into a soup.
Those are the top 7 tips that we have for food budgeting. Oh and one final thing, remember that one of the most important sacrifices that my wife and I have made not only to eat healthy but to help with our financial goals is to limit how much we go out to eat. In fact we do it so rarely that it really is a special occasion and we enjoy it that much more. Hope these tips help you…let us know what you do to when it comes to budgeting food prepping.