I thought I’d kick off the weekend with a “Reader’s Request” post, starting with a question I’ve been asked quite often- “How do you eat so many fresh veggies on a budget?”
First of all, I think it’s important to point out that budgeting is all about making priorities.
Eating healthy food is one of the top priorities in my life, and I definitely cut back on other purchases (such as clothes and shoes…) to give my food budget a little “breathing room.” Simply eating at home most of the time is a great way to start saving–> and you can save more by being a smart shopper!
Here are my Top 10 Tips:
Tip #1: Shop around. If you’re lucky enough to have multiple grocery stores in your area, be sure to compare prices! Trader Joe’s is my go-to for fresh produce, so I’ll always start there for my salad greens, organic bagged spinach, bananas, lemons, and avocados, if they’re available.
At Trader Joe’s, these tomatoes were less than $3. At Whole Foods, the EXACT same box and brand were priced at $6!
So, my lesson learned is: If there is a Trader Joe’s in your area, get EVERYTHING you can there. Here’s what a typical shopping trip looks like for me at Trader Joe’s:
As you can see, I got about 7 bags of organic greens, a bag of organic avocados, a box of organic cherry tomatoes, two organic cucumbers, organic zucchini, a bag of frozen organic blueberries, a bag of organic lemons, a bunch of organic bananas, a bottle of Grade B maple syrup (something I only need to buy every 2 months or so), and a bar of 72% dark chocolate. I also usually get my raw almond butter there, since it’s $5 a jar, instead of the usual $10 a jar at other places!
While I love Trader Joe’s for cheap produce, their selection isn’t always stellar–> so there will almost ALWAYS be groceries you’ll have to find elsewhere. That’s when I turn to my other local grocery stores. If you get weekly ads in the mail, definitely check those out for specials. You never know when your local Kroger or Ralph’s might have a great sale on fresh, organic kale or beets! (two products TJ’s usually doesn’t offer). Whole Foods is usually my last resort, but I can almost always count on them for quality organic apples, kale, bulk dried coconut, coconut oil, and my favorite raw goat cheddar!
Edited to add: Trader Joe’s now does carry coconut oil and bagged organic kale! Perhaps someday they’ll offer whole kale leaves, which work better for juicing.
Tip #2: Make a list… and STICK to it! I always keep index cards or scrap paper nearby, and start making my grocery list as soon as I start running out of things. When it’s time to go to the store, I take my list with me, and try to stick to it as closely as possible!
When I stick to my list, I am in-and-out of the store in less than 10 minutes– a key to staying on budget, I think! The longer you linger in the grocery store, the more likely you are to make an “impulse” purchase!
Tip #3: Never shop HUNGRY! I know this is one that we all probably know… but it’s worth repeating! Even yesterday, I broke this rule, and left Whole Foods with these:
I was starving, and these strawberries smelled SO GOOD! But it would have been more affordable to buy them elsewhere… (and unlike these berries, many impulse purchases made out of hunger are not often the most “health conscious,” either– you might end up with junk food in your cart!) Save your money, and your waistline, and eat before you shop.
Tip #4: Shop seasonally. If you have access to a local farmer’s market, that is a great place to buy seasonal and affordable produce! Even if you can only shop in the grocery store, seasonal produce is almost always more affordable than the stuff that they have to ship long distances or grow hydroponically. Click here to find out what’s seasonal in your area!
Tip #5: The freezer is your best friend. Frozen fruits and veggies are usually cheaper than fresh, so definitely take advantage of your grocer’s freezer selection! I almost always use frozen berries in my smoothies for this exact reason. Also, the freezer is great for storing fruits or veggies that you haven’t gotten around to using yet– before they spoil, simply store them in a sealed bag or container, and freeze until you’re ready to use them! I always freeze my ripe bananas for smoothies or banana soft-serve, and often will freeze greens or my homemade dips, like pesto, if I don’t think I’m going to use them before they go bad! If you eat meat or fish, buying it frozen is also usually more economical. I have a SMALL freezer, but you can be sure it’s almost always stuffed to the brim!
Tip #6: Know when to splurge, and when to save. While I like to buy as much organic produce as I can (because I like to vote with my dollars for MORE organic produce, please!), when the budget is tight, you should familiarize yourself with the EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” and Clean 15!
If you don’t have access to this list while you’re shopping, you can simply ask yourself, “Am I going to eat the skin on this?” For produce such as apples, berries and bell peppers, I almost always eat the skin–> so I prefer to buy those organic. Produce such as bananas, avocados and oranges don’t worry me as much, since I will probably avoid most pesticides just by peeling them!
Tip #7: Stick to the basics. Many of us jump into a healthy diet– whether it be raw, vegan, low-carb, you-name-it…– and want to eat “specialty items” to keep ourselves from getting bored or feeling deprived! Specialty items include raw “un-baked” treats, “superfoods” such as goji and acai berries, and protein powders, just to name a few. These are things you don’t need to waste your money on if you’re on a tight budget!
Basic staples, such as baked sweet potatoes, steamed veggies, whole-grains, bulk beans and lentils, smoothies, and fresh fruit can be JUST as comforting and satisfying– and not nearly as expensive! One of my favorite “splurges” is 72% dark chocolate– and I can get it at Trader Joe’s for $1.99! Dark chocolate is just as satisfying as many raw desserts, and may even digest more cleanly than a raw, nut-heavy treat!
Tip #8: Want some specialty items? Buy them online! I definitely indulge in high-quality cocoa powder and liquid stevia for my smoothies and puddings, but I save money by buying them online! The exact same cocoa powder available at Whole Foods, is significantly cheaper when you buy it on Amazon! Same goes for my probiotics and Natural Calm drink.
Tip #9: Shop often. This is one that I have to do, because I have a tiny fridge! And I’m sure many of you college students and tiny-apartment-renters, like myself, can relate! As difficult as it was to get used to my smaller fridge space, I actually consider it a blessing. I almost NEVER waste produce now, because I only buy as much as I can use in about 3 days! (That’s truly all that fits!) Yes, this means I have to go to the store 2-3 times a week, but I think it’s worth it to NOT WASTE any produce! You also have to get creative with your fridge space:
My single produce drawer is filled to the BRIM with greens! While I prefer to keep ALL my produce cool, I have to prioritize what can fit in my fridge– so greens take up the WHOLE produce drawer! The rest of my shelves are stocked with other veggies, and I actually use the “egg holders” in my fridge door to hold my ripe avocados!
Tip #10: Learn how to “fill up” on less. (i.e. Eat more fiber and healthy fats!) One of my favorite things for breakfast is green juice– it fills me with enzymes, vitamins and minerals, without burdening my digestive system. But juicing can a) be expensive, b) take up a lot of fridge room, and c) leave me hungry soon after!
Lately, you’ll notice I’ve been enjoying green smoothies for breakfast, instead. Green smoothies are more filling than green juice, since they include all the fiber of the fruit and greens that you include, which also means I can get away with using LESS produce each morning! Get creative with your meals, too. Try making a hearty lentil-vegetable soup using bulk lentils and frozen veggies, for a cheap, filling meal. Cooked whole grain, such as bulk quinoa or millet, with a heaping pile of roasted veggies is another affordable, and filling, option! I find when I eat fiber-filled meals, balanced with healthy fats (typically from avocados, cold-pressed oils, or raw nuts and seeds), I stay full longer and don’t go through fresh produce quite as fast!
Okay, that’s all the suggestions I can think of for now! Any other great tips I missed?
Reader Feedback: What do you guys do to eat healthy on a budget? Any other “Reader’s Request” post ideas?