One of the biggest obstacles that I often hear when people begin on the real food journey, is that healthy food is so expensive. Many people feel like they can’t afford healthy food. While I do agree, healthy food is expensive, so is just about everything else. I can make meals at home with quality ingredients way cheaper than I can eat at the fast food joint down the street.
I am very frugal by nature and try very hard to pinch my pennies on just about everything. Our house is furnished with used items. We do a lot of DIY home projects. All our kids’ clothing are hand-me-downs. We cloth diapered our kids. And I make almost all of my toiletries and cleaning supplies. Frugal I am! The food budget is no exception to the rule. I like to spend $100 a week on food and toiletries for our family of four. This also includes eating out. We could do it for less, but this is where we feel most comfortable. Any extra is fun spending money or savings for something special. You better believe I try to save that extra cash! Here are my best tips on how to keep the grocery budget in check so you can afford healthy food for your family.
Update: I’ve been saving even more by using these money saving apps!
Keep it simple:
I don’t bother with a lot of strange ingredients and strange “super foods.” Most of those types of expensive obscure foods sit in my pantry and fridge unused and wasted. I’m not saying never try anything new, but for the most part I stick to simple meals using simple ingredients. Civilization has been kept healthy for thousands of years on simple food. I trust the same to be true for my family. I like to have protein, carbohydrates, and fat in every meal with lots of healthy vegetables. A pot of beans, a roasted chicken, simple roasted vegetables, stewed greens, and lentil soup all are very humble foods, but incredibly delicious and satisfying.
If you want to save money, meal plan. If I don’t have a plan, I spend WAY too much and then have a bunch of random ingredients that don’t go together and then still I end up eating out. Here is a post on how I meal plan. Again, keeping it simple is key. After you meal plan, make a list and STICK TO IT! Impulse purchases are where you get in trouble and really jack up the bill.
Make it yourself:
Sauces, gravies, stocks and broth, breads, smoothies, yogurt, kefir, condiments, snack items, etc. are all common grocery items that can jack up the cost of food. They can easily be made at home with ingredients in your well-stocked pantry. Get to learn the art of cooking from scratch and making something out of nothing. My mom was great at this!
Buy in bulk:
Big blocks of cheese, sides of beef and pork, bulk grains, bulk beans, gallon of coconut oil, etc are a great way to save money. Bulk is usually more expensive up front, but cheaper in the long run. I was buying coconut oil for about $10 for a small jar. It was seriously taking a toll on my budget. I saved and bought a gallon for $50 and saved a tremendous amount of money over the next several months. Also, consider buying bulk and splitting with a friend if you don’t have the money or space upfront.
Stock your pantry
Here is a list of what we keep stocked in our pantry. If you get a good stockpile going by buying a little at a time for your pantry, you can even have one meal a week that you don’t specifically “buy” for that week. Simply shop from what you already have at home. This will cut down on costs tremendously.
Grow and preserve your food
Honestly this is the best way to save a buck. Consuming less and producing more is always going to be a money saver. Start small and have fun with it. Even if you don’t grow your own food, you can learn to preserve the bounty from your local farmers. I pretty much freeze everything, but canning, fermenting, and dehydrating are other great options. I got a dehydrator for Christmas this year and can’t wait until the summer when I can start using it more.
Don’t waste food. Use your leftovers
Please don’t ever let your produce go bad if for some reason you don’t use it all. Learn to use them. Add them to soups, eggs, casseroles, etc. If nothing else, put some in a smoothie or juice them. You can also freeze produce before it goes bad. Bananas are a great one to put in the freezer. Peel, slice and freeze. You can add them to smoothies, make “ice cream”, or banana bread. Also eat your leftovers or transform them into something new. If you have leftover rice, make fried rice another night. If you have leftover mashed potatoes, make potato cakes or add the potatoes to a stew to thicken it.
Stretch your meat/protein:
I’ve written entire posts on stretching meat and protein and making the most of your whole chicken. I use this technique frequently with all kinds of things. Roast or stew a whole chicken and use the meat and bones for 3-4 different meals. I like to take the de-boned meat and put it in the freezer in 1-2 cup portions. They are great for quick fajitas, stir fry, soups, quesadillas, casseroles, salads, etc. I do the same thing with beans, beef roasts and pork roasts. Beef roast can be a delicious roast dinner one night, bbq beef sandwiches another, and vegetable beef soup the last. Pinto beans can be a pot of beans, greens and cornbread one night, Mexican burrito bowls another, and pureed for refried beans on the last night. All of this can be frozen if you don’t feel like eating the same protein multiple times in the same week.
Eat meatless a couple times a week:
Since quality meat is a big splurge for us, I like to eat meatless a couple of times a week to stretch the budget. Meatless dishes that we like are pizza, beans and rice burrito bowls, veggie soups, omelets or frittatas, bean soups, pasta dishes, quesadillas, stir fry and fried rice, salads, beans, greens and cornbread, grilled cheese sandwiches, veggie paninis, and breakfast foods like pancakes, biscuits, eggs, oatmeal.
Buy produce that is in season:
Produce in season not only is better for you, it is much less expensive. Strawberries from the supermarket in the middle of winter are going to cost $8-9. In the spring at my farmer’s market, I can get them for a couple of dollars for a large container. Eating in season is definitely easy on the pocketbook. In the fall, you can find winter squashes for around a dollar each, which can be turned into a fantastic side dish or stuffed for a meal all on its own.
Get familiar with inexpensive items and use them frequently:
Eggs, dried beans, lentils, rice, oats, potatoes, cabbage, greens, squashes, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, lettuce, carrots, bananas, and canned salmon are some of my favorite healthy cheap eats. I heavily rely on most of these items weekly in my meal plans. I wrote an entire post on this.
Use fewer expensive products:
Meat, seafood, dairy, maple syrup, raw honey are some of my more pricey items. I definitely don’t want to skimp on the quality of these foods, but in order to keep the budget in check I have to buy fewer of these items, less often, and maximize them to their fullest potential.
Don’t buy junk
This is my biggest pet peeve. People say buying healthy food is so expensive, but most of the time they are still buying junk food along with the healthy food. If you are still buying oreos, chips, granola bars, blue yogurts, sodas, and energy drinks, adding healthy food will be expensive. I have no room in my budget for both. I choose to buy quality food with our hard earned money. The junk, to me, is a waste. My kids get rashy, itchy, irritable, and snotty when they’ve had too much junk. Why would I want to spend my money on food that contributed to those things? In my mind, it’s not worth it. Also beware that just because something is labeled organic, natural, heart healthy or whatever, it does not necessarily mean it’s healthy. There is a lot of organic processed junk out there that I don’t bother buying. It’s expensive and not good for you.
Stay out of expensive stores
You don’t have to shop at Whole Foods to find healthy food. My bill at whole foods is often double what I would spend elsewhere for similar products. Here is a post on where to find healthy food.
These are my tips. Now I want to hear from you! Let’s learn from each other. What are your best tips for keeping healthy food affordable? Leave your comments below.
Want more information?
Check out my ebook Eat Well, Spend Less! It breaks down many of these principles to teach you how to trim your food budget while still eating whole foods.
Interested in frugal meal plans already done for you?
I have almost a year’s worth of monthly meal plans ready to go for you. All you have to do is buy the groceries and cook. The plans are free. The printable pack with shopping lists, detailed recipes, prep notes, and a calendar is $3.99.