Are you are ready to eat in a way that supports your physical and mental health? Then you probably know there is a strong connection between nutrition and your overall wellness, and understand the dietary strategies you can implement. You could be asking yourself "How can I eat healthy on a budget?" or "How can I build a budget friendly meal plan?"
There is one main obstacle: finances. It is a common experience to feel like finances and health are competing priorities. On the surface, shopping for healthy food and staying within a healthy budget can be at odds.
The positive news is that it does not need to be an either/or decision. There are several strategies that allow you to focus in on choosing the foods that will best support your wellness and help you stay within your money saving parameters.
Focusing on foods that are in season is a great strategy to lower costs as well as get the most nutritional value. When produce is at peak season, it offers the most micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and antioxidants) while simultaneously being at a lower overall cost because the crops are in abundance. More bang for your buck! A great resource for understanding peak seasons for various foods is Seasonal Food Guide (https://www.seasonalfoodguide.org). If you’d prefer to skip the reading, you can also find out what foods are in season by heading over to your local farmer’s market and taking a look at what produce they’re selling.
Meal planning and preparation is more than an instagram worthy pass time. It can be an essential step to reduce food costs all while saving time and stress with cooking. Thoughtfully planning and preparing meals ahead of time can reduce waste, allow you to revolve around sale items and utilize what you already have onhand as well as cultivate less last-minute scrambling. For example, spend 30 minutes each week to take inventory at home, research recipes, write out your weekly plan and associated grocery list. Although this might be technically a time consuming activity, the dividend for time and money saved is three-fold. For added support there are many free templates and online apps such as Yummly (https://www.yummly.com/).
According to the Bulk is Green Council, in comparison to packaged foods, bulk foods can cost up to 89 percent less. Many grocery stores now offer a variety of foods in bulk such as nuts, seeds, flours and spices. Browsing this aisle can also help exposure to health foods that you might not normally consider, like Omega-3 rich walnuts. Buying in bulk for a two pound bag brings the cost down to about 38 cents an ounce, in comparison to 90 cents per ounce for a smaller package. With an increasing produce and organic meat section, stores such as Costco and Sam’s Club can additionally be huge wins when it comes to purchasing food on a budget. Want to save without leaving your couch? Thrive Market (https://thrivemarket.com) is a fantastic online resource for healthy and budget friendly food and household products that will ship right to your door.
Keeping organized at home and with your schedule can be a huge value add to life. As discussed in Clean Home, Clear Mind there are significant benefits to your mental wellness by keeping a tidy life. This can also extend to financial health. When your freezer, pantry and refrigerator are well organized, you are more likely to know exactly what you have on hand and avoid buying more stuff you don't need. A great strategy is the 1st day of every month, spend 30 minutes to go through your kitchen. Label containers, take note of what’s missing, and throw out expired items. You can even write down the foods that you may have forgotten you had, so you can use them in an upcoming recipe!
A simplified approach of cooking focuses on balanced nutrition, keeping preparation basic and optimizing your ingredients. Many find it helpful to plan their weekly grocery list around the most essential categories- vegetables, fruit, protein, starch/carbohydrate sources and healthy fats. To lessen food prep overwhelm, simply pick up a few items of each category each week until you get a better sense of how much and what you need. It can also be helpful to repurpose foods. An example could be grilling chicken breasts with your favorite sauce for dinner tonight, and then using leftovers for chicken salad lunches, or fajitas on Tuesday night.
Although budgeting for food can be challenging, it is made easier by finding and continuing to discover your why. Why do you want to eat healthy? Why do you want to save money? Your why is different than mine and might change over time, but if we can continue to reflect on our greater purpose for the tough sacrificed, it tends to make the hard stuff a little, or a lot, easier. A significant reflection we all can lean on is focusing on a healthy lifestyle. A real food diet NOW can be at the sacrifice of some funds, but the saving potential for our health and happiness LATER is immeasurable. Pay the farm now or pay the pharm later!