A common concern about eating a health-promoting diet is that it is expensive. Yet, there are ways to purchase food on any type of meal plan that range widely from simple to extravagant, basic to gourmet. In fact, you can eat on a budget even easier when focusing on staple foods, which is what we recommend. Bonus – you may also save thousands of dollars (or more) in healthcare expenses by eating a wholesome plant-centered diet.
Here are 10 tips to help you maximize savings and get the most nutritional bang for your buck:
- Buy in bulk. For foods that have a longer shelf life, you can stock up to save in the long run. Shop warehouse stores (e.g. Smart and Final, Costco, and Sam’s Club) for large packages of whole grains (oats, brown rice, quinoa), dried or canned beans and lentils, dried spices and herbs, frozen veggies and fruits, plant milks, tea, coffee, jarred or canned goods (tomatoes, tomato sauce, marinara sauce, olives), dried fruits, sun-dried tomatoes, dehydrated mushrooms, whole grain pasta, nuts, and seeds. Or buy from the bulk section at your local health food store.
- Shop local farmer’s markets for fresh, local, seasonal fruits and vegetables. Try to show up towards the end of the day, when farmer’s will typically discount their remaining items. You can opt to buy from farms that may not yet be certified organic (it takes years and costs money to be certified), but do not spray their crops with pesticides.
- Minimize or avoid processed and convenience foods at the grocery store. Packaged food costs more because of the convenience factor, the marketing and production costs, etc. You are better off health-wise and wallet-wise to eat the most whole form of foods, found as close to nature as possible. Note that certain convenience products, such as shredded salad/slaw mixes and pre-cut veggies, may be worth the investment if you factor in time saved in chopping.
- Cook more often. Simple skills – such as cooking grains and legumes, whipping up soups and stews, blending smoothies, dressings, and sauces – are easy to learn and will save you tons of money in dining out or relying on take-out meals. These are the healthiest meals to create, keep in your fridge and freezer, and enjoy as regular staples. Batch cook foods so you can freeze some, and have plenty left for your week’s worth of dishes.
- Prepare ahead. Decide what you will make for the week ahead, check your kitchen to see which ingredients need to be purchased, and shop with grocery lists to stay on point.
- Never shop hungry. This is a recipe for purchasing less healthful, more expensive, and unnecessary items, racking up your bill. Everything looks more tasty when you are hungry.
- Stick to your list. No matter what, commit to ignoring all of the temptations in every aisle and at the point of purchase. If you stick to what you know you need, you can easily stay on budget and avoid wasting food that often accompanies these whimsical purchases.
- Read the fine print. If your math skills are not stellar like some of us (yes, me 🤷🏻♀️), look closely at the unit prices on the grocery store shelves. They spell out the price per ounce or pound on those little labels, which can help you choose between different brands for the most cost-effective option.
- Simple Swaps. Practice getting cozy with swapping ingredients in a recipe so you can opt for the ingredient that is similar and may be on sale, in season, or simply cost less at the time you are shopping. For example, spinach can replace kale (or most any leafy green), different beans or lentils are easily interchangeable, and there are similar types of squash year-round to offer a smooth culinary exchange.
- Grow (some of) your own food. Planting a garden – if you can – is a great way to save money on fruits, vegetables, and fresh herbs. There are multiple ways to do this in small spaces, indoors, using hydroponics, aquaponics, and small or large pots outdoors if you are limited in space or land.