We’ll tell you straight up: Eating healthy is expensive. But you’re worth it. Think of it in terms of an investment in your future self.
Buying healthy food now will save you serious dough in the future on medical costs for issues that might have been avoidable. For example, the right nutrition can prevent common running injuries like stress fractures. X-rays and a few physical therapy sessions are way more expensive than a month’s worth of high-quality groceries.
Here’s a shocking statistic: Americans spend less of their income on groceries than people do in any other country in the world. According to the US Department of Agriculture, we spend just 6.4 percent of our household income on food. We have come to expect food to be cheap, but inexpensive food is nutrition-less and directly linked to a wide range of health issues.
That being said, we understand that money is a real issue for many people that want to eat and serve their families healthier meals. So we’re sharing our tried-and-true tricks on how to eat healthy while saving money.
1. Shop Seasonally
Sure, you can buy strawberries and tomatoes in the dead of winter, but they’ll be flavorless and cost you a fortune compared to in-season produce. Out-of-season produce is grown in greenhouses or shipped from halfway around the world. Produce that travels great distances is more expensive and less nutritious, since it’s picked before it has the chance to ripen.
2. Beeline for the Bulk Bins
Dry goods like flours, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit are often much cheaper when you buy them from the bulk bins. These foods have a long shelf life, and if stored properly, they’ll stay fresh for months (invest in a set of large glass canisters). Many grocery stores also sell spices by weight, so you can bag the exact quantity that you need for significantly less (spices lose flavor quickly, so only buy what you’ll use up in a few months).
3. Sign Up for a CSA
If you’re committed to cooking and eating more veggies, join a CSA (community-supported agriculture) to receive a weekly delivery of seasonal, local produce. The veggies will be significantly more flavorful, fresh, and nutritious than anything you’ll find at the grocery store and less expensive than the farmers’ market.
4. Leverage Your Freezer
Your freezer can help save you moola if you keep it organized and ensure that foods are well labeled. Often things that go into the freezer never come back out, so labeling everything and keeping a running tally of what’s hiding in there can help.
In Elyse’s freezer you’ll find a drawer dedicated to meat bought in bulk directly from local farmers, a shelf dedicated to ingredients for smoothies (you can rescue fruits and veggies that are about to go bad by popping them into the freezer), a space dedicated to wholesome, baked goods individually wrapped for convenience, and a shelf dedicated to homemade sauces, broth, and cooked beans and grains. Elyse also freezes soups and stews into individual serving containers for speedy work lunches. You’ll have less temptation to buy lunch or order takeout when you have meals at the ready for “hangry” days.
5. Buy Organics Strategically
Don’t stress at the store. Not everything you buy has to be organic. If you’re on a budget, Google “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” for a list of the most pesticide-and least pesticide-ridden produce. As a rule of thumb, anything with a thick skin that you toss like oranges and melons is safe to buy conventional. The foods we are always willing to pay organic (or local) prices for include produce, dairy, meat, and eggs. When we’re shopping at the farmers’ market, we don’t stress about buying only organic. Small farmers can’t always afford organic certification, but their farming practices are commendable.
6. Pack Your Lunch
You can save some serious money if you start taking your lunch to school or work. Plus, homemade lunches are guaranteed to leave you feeling more nourished and energized, so you’ll be less likely to reach for a $5 afternoon latte.
Skip highly processed turkey sandwiches and instead opt for simple, healthy recipes that may include time-saving prep methods, like our Turkey Trot Meatballs. Dishes like these are designed to be packable and portable, for people that are always on the go.
7. Cook from Scratch
Some of the most expensive products at the grocery store are things you can easily make from scratch at home. Skip the expensive ready-made dishes in the deli counter and leave the fancy packaged sauces, dressings, and healthy-sounding snack foods behind for real deal homemade goodness.
8. Stock Up on Staples
Now that you’re buying a lot less packaged snack foods, you’ll have more room in your pantry to stock up on real food staples when they’re on sale. Grocery stores are very cost competitive. You’ll likely come across major sales on expensive essentials, such as olive oil, coconut oil, vinegar, fancy whole grains and flours, maple syrup, honey, canned goods, and so on.
9. Less Meat But Make It Count
A vegetarian dinner of beans (or Crispy Tempeh), whole grains, and sautéed greens will only set you back a couple of dollars. Meat is expensive but worth eating for its recovery superpowers. If you’re on a budget, limit meat to just a few nights per week or opt for less expensive cuts. Chicken thighs, ground beef, and canned sardines are cheap and nutritious. When it comes to meat and seafood, it’s better to eat higher quality and less of it. Buy your meat in bulk direct from a local farmer and you’ll be set for months.
10. Bring a List
If you’re incorporating time-saving tips and planning out your meals for the week in advance, you’ll be able to head to the store with a detailed shopping list. This will prevent you from buying unnecessary items that end up growing mold in the back of the fridge. During the week, jot down in your phone ingredients that are getting low. On your shopping day, write out a complete list with produce on the left side of the page and other ingredients on the right side of the page. As you shop, check off what’s in your cart by simply making a little tear mark on the paper. Or you could download a fancy grocery app, but we found this system to be faster.
Excerpted from Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow. by arrangement with Rodale, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2018, Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky.
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