We live in a world where eating healthy is perceived as something that’s just not possible for people who aren’t well-off. Junk food is quick, easy and dirt cheap, and we’re all so busy that it can be hard to find the time to devote to cooking nourishing meals. But eating healthy on a budget is definitely possible – it just requires some extra planning. Here are 10 tips to slash your grocery bills and improve the quality of the foods you eat every day.
Plan Ahead – Make Food For the Week
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Never shop without a grocery list – you’ll be too tempted by all the eye-level junk that’s on sale, and purchase things you don’t need. Eating healthy on a budget requires pre-planning, and that means writing out a list each week. Plan the meals that you’ll have each day, buy the ingredients you need and spend an evening pre-cooking some of those meals and sticking them in the freezer so they’ll be ready for quick-and-easy eats when you’re too busy to cook. Check out Money Saving Mom for some tips on ‘Freezer Cooking.
Cut Out Processed, Packaged Junk
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There’s no doubt that pre-packaged foods are convenient, and while they’re sometimes paradoxically cheaper than buying the ingredients to make meals yourself, the opposite is often the case. Cutting out junk food can be a difficult process for many people, because we’re so hooked on these foods, it’s hard to imagine finding the time to replace them. But do it slowly, and you’ll find that you change your eating habits for the better, and before long you won’t miss those frozen microwavable meals or canned soups in the slightest. Try cutting one packaged food from your grocery list every other week.
Buy in Bulk
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Not only are little packages of nuts, rice, beans, oats and other grocery goods a waste of plastic, they’re far more expensive than they need to be. To save cash and stock up on essentials, head to the bulk section of the grocery store. Many stores offer everything from salt and spices to soup mixes and cereals. Get a set of reusable mesh drawstring bags, and transfer the bulk goods to canisters or half-gallon mason jars when you get home to keep them fresh for months on end.
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Ever notice that strawberries, pineapple and other summer produce staples get much more expensive in winter? Out-of-season fruits and vegetables often have to be grown and shipped halfway across the world to keep them available year-round, upping the price. Save money by sticking to foods that are in season as much as possible. Get your produce direct from local farmers, if you can.
Make It Yourself
Bottled salad dressing, condiments, pesto and pasta sauce not only cost more than making it yourself, they’re also typically loaded with extra sugar, sodium and preservatives. Making these items can be much easier than you might imagine. Check out recipes and instructions for making 20 basic supermarket staples, including pie crust, tortillas, refried beans, almond milk and hummus.
Eat More Greens
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Greens can be some of the least expensive items in the produce section, and few foods pack a stronger nutritional punch. Kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, swiss chard and collards can be purchased in huge bundles for just a couple bucks. Steam them, roast them with a little olive oil, add them to stews or chop them up as a flavorful accent in pasta dishes.
Use a Slow Cooker
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If you feel like you just don’t have time to cook healthy meals from scratch, consider investing in a slow cooker. These appliances use very little energy and can be found very inexpensively (check thrift stores and eBay!) Toss a bunch of ingredients into the pot, plug it in before you leave for work and you’ll have a tasty dinner waiting for you when you get home. You can find lots of crockpot recipes, from meaty classics to fresh vegetarian dishes, with a quick Google search.
Substitute Beans for Meat
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Eat less meat and you’ll not only slash your grocery bill, you’ll also reduce your environmental impact. Most of us get plenty of protein from plant and dairy sources, so you don’t have to worry about replacing meat with something else, but you can still make hearty meat-free dishes with the help of beans. Dried beans are very inexpensive, last a long time and are a cinch to cook in a slow-cooker or pressure cooker.
Grow What You Can
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Even if all you can manage is a small herb garden in your kitchen window, it’s something – a little extra fresh flavor to make your meals taste even better. If you’ve got a balcony or a yard, give a few veggie plants like tomatoes and greens a shot. There are lots of ways to incorporate gardening into your life without dedicating a ton of time, space and money to it.
Use Coupons Selectively
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Coupons can be a great way to save cash, but don’t let them dictate what kinds of foods you eat. It’s tempting to give in to unhealthy treats just because they’re on sale. Most food marketers are pushing high-margin junk. Use coupons for whole, nourishing foods, and stick to the perimeter of the grocery store when shopping.