It’s quite the conundrum. Unhealthy foods are cheaper, yet they can lead to expensive medical conditions. Healthy foods tend to be more expensive, but they can prevent illness and help you thrive and live a vibrant life. Sounds like a no-win, if you’re on a tight budget. Not so fast. It’s possible to eat healthy on a budget. It just takes some planning and creativity. Here are four steps you can take to adopt healthy and budget-friendly eating habits:
STEP #1: DETERMINE THE HEALTHY DIET THAT IS RIGHT FOR YOU
‘Healthy’ may mean something different to you than it does to someone else. There are so many ‘diets’ to choose from. Go with what works for you. The most important thing is to get the right balance of vitamins and nutrients your body needs to give you energy and prevent illness. Start by educating yourself and making a list of foods you like and that you deem healthy.
• Consider what your body needs – what foods leave you feeling satisfied and give you energy? Which ones make your gut cranky and leave you feeling lethargic?
• Take into account any allergies or other known conditions you may have – educate yourself and determine which foods have healing properties and which ones will make your condition worse.
• Make a list of the foods you enjoy eating – put them at the top of the list. Leave off the ones that don’t taste good to you. Give foods a try that you haven’t eaten before. The goal is for you to look forward to eating healthy foods and not to plug your nose at the ones you don’t.
STEP #2: CREATE A FOOD SHOPPING BUDGET
Once you’ve personalized your diet and prioritized the foods you want according to nutritional value, you can decide how much you want to spend each month on groceries.
• Determine how much your monthly food expenditure will be – include anything you purchase to eat such as meals out, morning coffee, and work lunches and snacks.
• Make food categories – decide how much you’ll allot for each one.
• Reconsider the ratio of each food type in your diet:
– 50% fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains: High nutritional value and low in price (make them most of your meal).
– 25% meat, fish, eggs and dairy: High nutritional value when they are free-range raised and organic yet higher in price (eat sparingly as a side dish or at every other meal).
– 25% cheese and processed foods: Low nutritional value and higher in price (limit them as much as possible).
STEP #3: FIND THE COST-EFFECTIVE PLACES TO BUY YOUR FOOD
By doing some leg work, you can determine where to find the best deals. It takes a little effort on the front end, but eventually you’ll know the best place to go for each item.
• Be open to shopping at more than one store – one-stop shopping is not budget-friendly. Each store carries local brands and exclusive products. In time, you’ll find where to go for the lowest prices and get the specialty products you like at the best value.
• Watch for sales and coupons
• Take advantage of ‘Loyal Shopper’ programs
• Buy foods that are in season – prices drop at harvest time, so you can eat freshly picked food and save money at the same time.
• Shop at your local farmer’s market – they are full of fresh and organic seasonal produce. Sometimes vendors will sell at a discount when you buy frequently or in bulk.
STEP #4: KNOW YOUR BUDGET AND GO SHOPPING
You’re ready to put your research and budgeting to work. Remain budget-minded and stick to your list. Use a calculator to keep a running tally while you shop. If what you’ve chosen adds up to more than what you’ve budgeted, put the lowest priority items or the ones that aren’t on your list back on the shelf.
• Give yourself plenty of time to shop – when you’re in a hurry, convenience usually wins over taking the time to find the best bargain.
• Shop on a full stomach – you’ll be less likely to make choices that sound good in the moment but aren’t the best value or on your list.
• Resist the temptation to buy items that aren’t on your list – only substitute for things that are cheaper or on sale.
• Buy the least expensive of the healthy options – variations include fresh, frozen, bulk, canned or dried in bags.
• Be open to alternative choices – if strawberries have jumped in price, choose another fruit that is on sale
Eating healthy doesn’t have to break the bank, but eating junk food can cost you twice – the cost to your energy and productivity and the medical cost bad health brings. You can’t afford not to eat healthy!
• Learn to cook from scratch
• Buy from the bulk food section
• Process food yourself
• Invest in food storage containers
• Eat out infrequently