Some people are under the impression that eating healthy is expensive. I’ve often heard the rationalisation that “buying all these groceries to cook myself a meal will cost me more than just getting some takeout”. I’ve also heard arguments that buying fresh and healthy ingredients is much more expensive than buying pre-made frozen convenience foods. Although this may be true in some situations, this doesn’t always have to be the case.
I personally pride myself on being a bit of a grocery store ninja and will now share some tips for eating clean on a budget.
One of the biggest tricks that famous chefs like my dear Jamie Oliver use all the time is to buy local and eat seasonal. And it’s not for nothing – when you eat seasonal, the flavour is inherently better naturally and it’s more nutritious, too. An important thing to consider is also the idea of supply and demand: when something is in season, the supply is much bigger which drives the prices down. (Have you ever tried buying asparagus out of season? Yikes!) Another advantage is that if an item is in season, it will be more widely available so you can do more price comparison shopping.
Unfortunately, we’re still living in the era of organic food costing more than regular food, although the price gap is slowly closing. If you’re eating clean on a budget, you should simply stick to buying organic versions of the “dirty dozen”, and buying regular versions of the “clean 15”. The dirty dozen is a term that was coined to group up the foods which contain the highest traces of pesticide residue, like most berries, leafy greens and thin skinned fruits and veggies. Other foods only absorb minimal amounts of crop chemicals and are okay to consume conventionally-grown.
Meat is most certainly the most expensive product to buy organic. I would recommend looking up local farms online which sometimes have monthly delivery services if you order in a large enough quantity. Alternatively, sometimes these farms have stands in your local farmer’s markets and sell the products for a smaller markup than you would see in an organic grocery store. Another option is also to go half-way and try to buy conventional meat, but of the highest quality. For instance, you can try buying eggs from antibiotic-free chickens, or pork from humanely raised pigs with no growth hormones or antibiotics. There is more and more variety available in grocery stores nowadays, so do your homework!
Some items can be kept for a very long time, so there really is no point in buying them in small quantities because you’ll not only be overpaying, but you’re wasting time having to go buy these items when you run out. Things like quinoa, barley, dried lentils, chickpeas and beans as well as whole grains stay good almost forever if you store them properly, so don’t be afraid to buy that huge package when you go to the bulk food store.
Another tip for eating clean on a budget is knowing when to pick your battles. Some products are of absolutely fine quality no matter what brand they are. Most of the time, these foods are actually made in the exact same facility that produces the brand name product – the only difference is that the name brand will have the “prettier” ones upon visual inspection. Just make sure to pay attention to the ingredient lists because every once in a while, the store name brand will sneak in some chemicals because they are cheaper than using real flavours or higher quality ingredients.
I cannot emphasize this one enough. People poke fun at me because I have a spare chest freezer that’s absolutely filled with meat and home cooked meals, but the joke’s on them because I never have to go out and buy anything if I’ve got last minute company or if I’m craving a particular dish.
The key is to stock up on products when they are on sale. Grocery stores often have 3-5 week cycles for which items go on sale, and when you spend as much time as I do looking at flyers, you start to become familiar with them. You also start to get a better understanding of what is and what isn’t a good price for a product.
Another suggestion is buying family pack sized products (like a pack of 8 skinless boneless chicken breasts) and freezing the portions individually. I have one of those vacuum sealers and I have to tell you that it’s an absolute life saver. Again, I get made fun of for being so enthusiastic about this wonderful machine but I’ve got meat that’s been in that freezer for nearly a year without a single trace of freezer burn. If you’re serious about stocking up your freezer, I definitely recommend investing in one of those vacuum sealers.
A great idea is also making big batches of certain meals and freezing them in individual portions. I often used to do this so that I could have homemade lunches for work that I just thawed out in the fridge overnight and popped in my lunch bag the next day. Of course, some types of meals freeze better than others (I don’t recommend freezing meals that have veggies with high water contents like mushrooms or zucchinis), but generally speaking, casseroles, soups and stews freeze beautifully.
That about sums it up! With these tips for clean eating on a budget, you’re well on your way to become a money saving ninja yourself. Enjoy!