Eating healthy and sticking to your budget isn’t always easy. In this day and age, junk food is easily available, flavor-enhanced and relatively cheap – no surprise then, that nutritional surveys show that people are eating less fruit and vegetables than just a decade ago.
Is Healthy More Expensive?
But is eating healthy actually more expensive? If you accept this study by the Economic Research Service, it isn’t. To make a long study short, they say that past comparisons of food costs were flawed because they only looked at price per calorie; whereas, comparing cost per average portion is a better measure in their opinion, and one which, incidentally, shows fruit and vegetables to be cheaper than most moderation (e.g. junk) foods.
Protein, was still more expensive than junk foods, dairy was on par with vegetables and grains were the cheapest. You need to get your calories from somewhere, and fruit and veggies alone just isn’t going to cut it – unless you’re happy to do a lot of non-stop chewing.
It’s easy to get enough calories if you don’t consider your health: 1 dollar can get you about 1000 calories worth of potato chips and about 200 calories worth of carrots. So, to fulfill caloric needs in a healthy way can work out to be quite expensive – especially if you eat meat, don’t eat grains, or don’t eat dairy.
The Real Cost
However, monetary cost is only one factor you should consider, the real cost of eating junk is your health, and as a result, the effects on your vitality and your mood. But there are also subtle things, like having the energy to play with your kids, being a good role model for others, having the energy and clarity of thought to seize opportunities.
This isn’t to convince you to eat healthy, you already know why it’s a great idea (which is probably why you’re reading this now), rather it’s to point out that you also need to look beyond budget when you consider all the benefits of eating healthy.
Having said that though, are there ways to put healthy eating on friendlier terms with your budget? Well, as the saying goes: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Let’s look at some of those ways now.
14 Tips for Healthy Eating on a Budget
Before we even get into the tips, what’s your definition of healthy eating? When you’re on a budget you need to be flexible about what you consider healthy eating. For example, you may love to eat grass-fed beef, wild Alaskan salmon and all-organic fruit, vegetables and dairy, every day of the week. But, that level of healthy eating is going to blow your budget fast.
So you need to determine an acceptable level of healthy eating for you. One strategy is to get your nutrients from high-quality, nutrient-dense sources and then to get the rest of your caloric needs from cheaper sources (dairy and grains).
Buy whole foods.
We know that whole foods are healthier, but are they cheaper than processed foods? Most people would say that isn’t the case. But we don’t believe that to be true, for a number of reasons. If you consider the short-term costs, in terms of time and money (especially if you use coupons), then yes, processed foods seem like the best budget option; however, as soon as you extend the time frame just a little bit, whole foods are a clear winner.
Why? First, healthier foods mean more energy, more vitality and better mood, this directly translates to being able to make the most of opportunities at work, in your relationships or wherever the case may be. Next, when you think about the long-latency effects of eating processed foods, what will the cost to your health be in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years? If you were to suffer ill health as a result of eating processed foods (mainly) wouldn’t the medical bills and time it takes attending to your illness actually be more costly in the end?
Not only that, but there are many anecdotal reports of people who have been able to save money by eating whole foods rather than processed foods, by shopping around, making judicious use of sales, coupons (yes, they exist for whole foods too) and buying seasonally and locally. We love organic, but it can be more expensive, so if you drop the organic requirement you can make further savings (just make sure you avoid the dirty dozen).
Frozen vegetables and fruits.
Frozen veggies and fruits are typically much cheaper than their fresh counterparts. In addition to this, they last a lot longer than fresh foods and the freezing process locks in many of the nutrients to the vegetables and fruits. When vegetables and fruits are in-season, buy them fresh, but when they’re off-season buy them frozen for better savings, while still getting all those essential nutrients.
Buy small, frequent or freeze.
When you are buying fresh foods, buy small amounts and more frequently, or if you buy in bulk (great for savings) – freeze it!
Drinking water is the best way to hydrate your body, and it’s cheap! And if you’re a big soda drinker, then making the jump to water will be even more beneficial for you (especially for fat loss and if you want to cut down sugar intake).
It doesn’t need to be that fancy bottled water either! Stick to tap water for maximum savings, and if you’re worried about water quality, get yourself a water filter (which will work out relatively inexpensive in the long run).
Like most people know, buying in bulk can be a great way to save money. Not only do you save on transport costs and the time it takes to shop, but you can also pick up some awesome discounts when you buy in bulk – just remember to freeze your foods, so they last!
Using supplements is a cheap and convenient way to fill in any gaps in your nutrition, or even replace certain meals. You don’t have to go as far as this guy, but adding supplements to your diet can be a great way to cut some costs and make sure you’re getting those all-important nutrients; take a look at our essential workout supplements guide for some ideas.
Buy in-season produce.
In-season produce is almost always cheaper than off-season produce (which is often imported). Here’s a useful list of which fruits and veggies are in-season and when.
Buy canned foods.
Canned foods are convenient and usually much cheaper than fresh foods; however, there are a couple of issues for canned-food lovers. First, there is evidence that BPA (a hormone disruptor) found in can linings can pose a health risk and they can also have quite a high salt content. So, when buying canned foods aim to get BPA free cans (list here and here) and opt for low-sodium versions.
Savvy shoppers know where the savings are: bargain shelves and food close to the sell-by dates. You can pick up some good bargains, buy in bulk, and freeze them when you get home.
Yes, locally produced food tastes better, but it’s more expensive. Well, that’s not actually always true – it can be quite a lot cheaper. In other words, you can get cheaper, better tasting (and probably more nutritious) food by buying locally – yep, that’s about right. And if you want to go local, here’s how to get cheap locally grown food.
Grow your own.
One of the best ways to eat cheap and healthy, is to grow your own! Of course, this isn’t a viable option for everyone, so if you’re able to do it – make the most of it.
Meat is usually the most expensive ingredient you’re going to buy, so naturally, one way to easily cut costs, is to cut down on the amount of meat you eat. Even if you simply have one or two vegetarian days per week, this can add up to significant savings.
Eat in most of the time.
Save the restaurants and take-outs for special occasions (they’ll mean more that way too); make your own food for work (and cut out the double mocha frappa latte – brew your own).
Planning and saving go hand-in-hand. When you pre-plan a week, or a month worth of meals, you know which foods to buy in bulk and you won’t be prone to impulse buys – you’ll also save time in the long-run.
So there you have it: it really is possible to eat healthier while staying budget-friendly – it takes a little more prioritizing, planning and time, but the payoff, in terms of health and vitality, is certainly worth the effort. Make your health a priority and the rest will follow!
What are some of your favorite healthy, budget foods? Let us know in the comments below!