How to eat on the cheap: Healthier groceries for pennies

Quick note: Today I am a guest teacher over at The Skool of Life. Check out my class today!

My buddy Srini runs a pretty sweet site over there and is the founder of Blog Cast FM. One of the bigger influences thus far in my writing career.

For many people, the biggest roadblock to healthy eating is their grocery budget. At least that’s what they might say. But as the saying goes, you are what you eat, and a body fueled by cheap junk is not going to work hard, or look good, meaning healthy eating has to be a top priority for a healthy life.

And while you might think it’s impossible with what’s available in your grocery budget, it will be worth it to look for innovative ways to ensure healthier eating on that limited budget, because you’ll look good and feel better.

So let’s toss the Ramen noodles (so much salt, so little nutrition) and look for some other solutions to getting a great meal for pennies. (And even though the boxed version is pretty cheap and can be a suitable carb, we’re not talking macaroni and cheese, here, either.)

Healthy trades

First things first – get the brownies out of the shopping cart. That’s right. Goodbye brownies. A grocery bill that seems enormous could be big because of a cart filled with junk food, soda and other empty calories, as well as wasteful items masquerading as health food.

Trading or substituting healthier foods for some of your not so healthy choices won’t likely cause any major upset in your budget, especially if done gradually. Junk foods used to be somewhat inexpensive; however, their prices have increased with their demand, which happens to be at an all time high. The price of most junk foods are at a premium now-a-days. And the more grandiose the treat, the more it will cost. So, sticking with junk food will not only cost you health, but it will also cost you health and your desired body.

Better to buy fresh vegetables than to choose a box of whole-grain crackers, since the price of the crackers is high and the label is likely just a lot of hot air that doesn’t reveal that the cracker is too processed to have any real health benefits.

Remember the foods closest to their natural state are the healthiest. When it comes to food, the less processed, the better, and those are important words to keep in mind while shopping the grocery aisles.

Small changes can make a big difference

Too often people think they have to make major chances or change everything all at once. That’s not the case. For those who can, that’s fabulous. For those that cannot or choose a more gradual transition, that’s also fabulous.

The following are small changes that will benefit anyone – whether choosing to make all of the following changes at once, or gradually adopting each:

  • Buying items in season is key to saving money. A cantaloupe or another melon can cost as much as $5 in winter, but in the summer months when all the local farmers have melons for sale, vine-ripened fruit can be as low as $1 or $2 each.
  • Buying in bulk can save big bucks, especially when it comes to items like veggies, fruit or meats. If you have the space to store it, investing big once will save you bigger bucks over the long haul. I’m a big believer in Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. I’ve been known to walk the aisles aimlessly for no apparent reason. But if times are tight, hit up Costco or Sam’s Club. The quality might not be as high but neither will your body if you keep eating hot pockets and cup o’noodle.
  • Cook at home instead of eating out. Not only will you be able to save money on a restaurant bill, you’ll have an easier time keeping track of fat and calories in food you make in your own kitchen. Restaurant meals often have hidden calories, and even if calorie counts are available, it’s wise to take them with a grain of salt.
  • For staples like canned tomatoes, tomato paste, olive oil, and veggies, buying store brands will save a few cents on every purchase, and you are unlikely to know the difference.

Go local

Save a little bit of your grocery budget for a trip to the farmer’s market. Not only is it possible to barter a little with vendors, the prices for farm-fresh foods tend to be better tasting than those found in the grocery store.

Here’s a kick ass link to find a farmer’s market near you, no matter where you are.

Say you pay $3 for a pint of strawberries. Unless they’re locally grown, those at the grocery store were probably picked way before they were ready, leaving them either sour or tasteless. Spend the same amount on locally grown berries (pop them in the freezer so they’ll be around throughout the year) and you’ll be enjoying juicy, flavorful berries that are worth every penny. Spend the same money on berries grown in another country and you’ll feel like you’ve wasted those pennies when they could have been spent on something tastier.

Also, items picked at their peak for flavor are also at their peak for nutrients and vitamins. Go for items that have the richest colors – red beets, dark green spinach and kale, bright orange carrots and sweet potatoes – to get the most for your money nutritionally.

Top choices for any budget

  1. Pork. Rich in protein and nutrients, pork is a great choice for any budget. A batch can be whipped up with only a few added ingredients, making them perfect for penny pinchers. Usually you can find it on sale for 99 cents a pound.
  2. Eggs. Another great source of protein, eggs can be had for as low as 23 cents a serving, making them a great staple for any kitchen. They also have antioxidants that are great for the eyes.
  3. Sweet potatoes. Rich in vitamin C and fiber, the often-maligned potato is a great choice for a tight budget. A bag can be had for only a few dollars, and as long as you don’t slather them with butter and sour cream, they are not only great for slim budgets, but also bodies. Might not totally be on your paleo menu but if used post exercise a great option.
  4. Apples. Priced about the same as potatoes, a bag of apples can be yours for only a few dollars, making the juicy red fruit a great choice for any budget.
  5. Yogurt. At about 40 cents per serving or less, a yogurt is an excellent snack or part of a great breakfast. It offers calcium and protein, so it will fill you up, too. Opt for greek yogurt that is unsweetened or goat milk yogurt. They offer more beneficial bacteria for you gut than traditional yogurt. Although not paleo, Greek, Kefir, and Goat milk yogurt can have their place in the diet.

But what about organic?

I am all for organic but be smart about it. The following will give you a guide on where it may be smart to buy organic and where you may want to pass. P.S. What the hell does organic mean anyway?

But don’t think that has to keep produce out of your shopping cart. Only some items are considered to be especially dangerous thanks to pesticide use, and these – the so-called dirty dozen – are the only ones that experts recommend you buy organically grown.

  • Peaches
  • Cherries
  • Apples
  • Strawberries
  • Nectarines
  • Grapes
  • Pears
  • Bell pepper
  • Celery
  • Lettuce
  • Kale
  • Carrots

Top the list thanks to skins that tend to hold pesticides in. Everything else is easier to wash or can be peeled, making an organic label less necessary.

Check this link out from the EWG shoppers guide detailing the “clean 15″ and “dirty dozen.”

So, if you think that all of your produce must be organic, think again. You have countless delicious fruits and vegetables to choose from that are perfectly fine despite not being organic.

 

Pack a sack lunch

Many people have assumed a way of life where having lunch at nice restaurant or buying fast food for lunch is a necessity. Doing so is only a habit. An expensive habit that will not only negatively impact your bank balance, but also negatively affect your health and weight.

A week of lunches at a fast-food restaurant will cost at least $25 to $35, even if you’re eating off the value menus. Low-quality lunches, especially fast food, seldom satisfy because they lack nutrition. What this means is that you’ll be hungry again in an hour or two. I call this the “Chinese food dilemma.”

Many people handle those after lunch munchies by visiting the vending machine. So you see, packing your lunch will save you from spending money for lunch and from spending money eating from vending machines.

Trading burgers and chips for tuna or turkey lettuce wraps made at home and packed with veggies like lettuce, tomatoes, fresh pepper slices and cucumber slices will cost less and serve you better, even leaving a little bit of change for a special treat.

Water, water everywhere…

The money wasted on a daily espresso, cappuccino, late, or case of sugary sodas can easily be spent on the fresh vegetables and lean meats that most people say they can’t afford. You can be different by making the switch to water.

I realized I was spending about $50 bucks a month on coffee. WTF!!! I kicked that s@#* immediately. How important is eating healthier to you? Enough to skip the latte?

Your skin will look better and you’ll feel better, since most caffeinated drinks tend to leave you a little dehydrated, making them less than smart choices. If you need a morning boost, make coffee at home, and pour a cup in a travel mug so you have some at the office.

Drinking more water will save you money and serve your body well.

Again, it all comes back at AWARENESS. Grab a dollar notebook at Target and keep a record of the grocers you by, keep receipts from meals out or coffee break, where else are you spending unnecessary mulah? Can you cut back on your wardrobe shopping, are the dudes out there spend unnecessary dollars buying collectibles on eBay?

I recently cancelled a gym membership I no longer needed, cut the cable TV, and starting riding my bike more often to save on gas. Are these options that you can partake in in-order to be able to buy higher quality foods like grass-fed meats?

What did I miss

Anyone else have some tips out there that I may have missed. Share them in the comments so we can all bask in your glorious cheap knowledge :D

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About Justin

I'm inspired by how simple changes made to your nutritional, exercise, and lifestyle choices can effect your overall well-being in such dramatic ways. More energy, improved mood, increased happiness, strength, power, and sheer enjoyment for life is what I do.

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