Is Eating Healthy Expensive?
I say no, it does not have to be.
I hear people say all of the time that they want to eat healthy, but that it is just too expensive. I used to say the same thing as well. I remember one of the many times I decided to “get it together” and eat better, I went to the grocery store and spent $200 for a week’s worth of groceries for just myself. After a couple weeks (I grocery shop every week), I was like “yeah, this isn’t going to work” and I fell off the wagon very quickly. Why spend $200 on healthy food, when I could eat fast food for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a little over $100. Even if I only ate food that I cooked, I could get by on about $50 in groceries if I needed to. Hotdogs, buns, cheap lunch meat, etc are all very cheap.
The next time I decided to “get it together” it was the same thing. $200. This time I decided to bite the bullet, and try to make it work. Fast forward to today. On average, I spend about $30-$60 a week on groceries and I eat healthier now, than when I first started two years ago. What changed?
The mistake that I think many people make (myself included) when deciding to eat healthier, is that they go out and buy every “healthy” option that they have ever heard of or read about. They try to replace every “bad” thing that is currently in their cupboard. This could be everything from low carb bread, olive oil for cooking, organic peanut butter, healthy frozen dinners, etc. If you try to replace everything in your cupboard in one swoop, yeah, you’re going to spend a butt load of money and you will probably get discouraged. To add insult to injury, you may find that you don’t even like half of the “healthy” stuff that you bought.
I say, start slowly. Start by replacing a few “staples” that you always have on hand. Olive oil is not cheap. It’s also not the only “healthy” option you have to use. Coconut oil is also another option that is actually commonly found in most grocery stores. It may not be organic, first pressed, etc., but it is better than the oil you may be currently using. If you eat a lot of rice and pasta, try switching to brown rice, wild rice and wheat or whole grain pasta. Many large chain grocer’s carry generic brand options that are only a few cents more if not the same price as the one’s you may currently eat.
Turn to the internet and do your research. You may find that what you may have thought was healthy is not necessarily so. For example, healthy frozen dinners, may look healthy with all of their vegetables and grains, but they are not necessarily the healthiest option. Most frozen dinners (healthy and bad) contain a lot of sodium. Salt is a preservative and most frozen dinners contain a day’s worth if not more. For such a (usually) small portion, that normally leaves you kind of wanting, that’s a lot of salt. You may think that salads are the best option. That’s fine if you don’t bore easily and you are not drowning it in salad dressing. Salad dressing’s also usually contain a high fat, sodium and caloric values. It is actually pretty cheap to make your own salad dressing. If you have a wisk, a knife and/or a food processor. You can whip one up pretty quickly.
Don’t go recipe crazy. I did this. Keep it simple. Most people do not cook something different every single day. Maybe every other day, but not every single day. If that was the case, there would not be a such thing as leftovers. If you plan your meals for the week, you are also planning your grocery list. Build meals around what you already have in your cabinet. Choose a few recipes that pique your interest and include some of the ingredients that you may already have on hand. Experiment some, but don’t go overboard. Eventually, you will have a repertoire of “go to” recipes that are easy to make.
Buy what you need, not what looks/sounds like it might be good for you. Sometimes the idea or the notion that something is or should be healthy, causes people to feel the need to buy them. If the jar of peanut butter that you have has been sitting in the pantry for almost a year, then you don’t need almond butter as an alternative. Maybe that is something you can cut out all together or keep as a splurge item on a later grocery trip. If you only have one or two recipes for the week that call for basil, rosemary, dill or any other herb, you don’t need to buy fresh herbs. Use the dry ones you already own in your spice rack. Fresh herbs are expensive and they do not keep very long, even in the refrigerator. If it is not likely that you will use up the whole bunch with in a weeks time, do not buy them. Instead, you may want to buy a small plant for the herbs that you commonly use and keep it in the windowsill. This is a much cheaper alternative.
Shop around. For some it may not be cost effective to shop at multiple stores due to time constraints or gas prices. If you can, you will probably find that it’s better to buy some things at one store and others at another. The large chain health food grocery stores are great, but they are not the only place to buy some of the items on your list. For fresh produce both organic and non-organic (I’ll talk about those in a later post), try shopping at farmer’s markets and ethnic (Asian, Indian, Latino, etc.) grocery stores. The county that I live in has a large population of Asians and Latinos. Because of this, there are some pretty decent sized Asian markets and a chain Asian grocery stores. They have great prices on fresh produce, herbs and organic foods. I have found great prices on oils (olive, grapeseed, etc.) at Indian/Pakistani grocery stores in my area and there are a lot of Latino markets as well. If you are a big meat eater, you may find better prices and a larger selection of meats and cuts at the ethnic markets. I have heard a lot of people say that they have gotten better cuts of meat at great prices from carnicerías (Latin meat markets). I buy almost all of my stuff from a local farmer’s market. The one I like best is a little distance from me, but the cost savings makes it worth it.
Eat in season. Find recipes for produce that is currently in season. If the strawberries have to be shipped in from Mexico or Brazil during the winter because they are not in season here in the states, then yes, they will be expensive. They will be cheaper when they are in season, because they do not have to travel as far to get to you. Not only will they be cheaper, but you will be supporting the economy here, which we really need right now. If possible, buy produce that is produced locally. It really helps the local farmer’s. You may also want to look into local co-op programs run by local farmer’s. You pay one price or fee and you receive a box of whatever they produce on their farm. Some do weekly or monthly pickups and some do quarterly pickups.
I think following the above tips will help to reduce the cost that many see when trying to eat healthier. If filling your belly with healthier options is not emptying your wallet, then you will be more likely and able to stick with it.