5 Easy Ways to Make Healthy Eating More Affordable
Fresh ingredients should be accessible for everyone. Here's how to buy them without breaking your budget.
Want to eat healthier and save more money in 2020? Contrary to popular belief, those two things aren't mutually exclusive. It's possible to make better food choices without spending a fortune; you just have to know where to look.
First things first. Start by cooking more at home, because it hits two birds with one stone. Home cooked meals are both more nutritious and more affordable than getting takeout or eating in restaurants. And according to Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst from DealNews, there are several simple steps you can take to eat (and buy) healthier ingredients when you’re on a budget, too. Here are her top recommendations.
In addition to injecting some variety into your diet, cheaper protein sources offer you a chance to be creative with your meals. Yes, boneless, skinless chicken breasts are a healthy option—but if you opt for a whole chicken instead, it's both cheaper and gives you more cuts to work with. You can turn the breasts into a salad, use the thigh meat for a healthy soup, and throw the drumsticks on the grill. “We practically sous vide everything, which can turn even the toughest cut of meat into a tender meal,” says Ramhold.
And if you want more than meat, dried beans and lentils are excellent sources of protein and an easy way to bulk up soups and other dishes without spending more. While you're at it, make eggs part of your regular grocery lists. They're decently versatile, and not just in choosing between scrambled and fried: they make a great addition to salads, healthy snacks, and easy dinners, like omelets, frittatas, huevos rancheros, or quiche.
When you join a CSA, you'll get a guaranteed amount of fresh-grown produce for the season and support local farmers. How does it work? Typically, members will buy a share of a farm's harvest at the beginning of the season, and then receive a weekly box of the in-season crops they're growing. “Shares will typically cost you $400 to $700 a year, which isn't bad when you know where your produce is coming from,” explains Ramhold. We recommend CSAs because they’re a more sustainable option than most of what you’ll find at your local grocery store, as the produce is from local farmers. They’re also a great way to guarantee fresh food for the season and are a great way to introduce new types of fruits and veggies into your diet. “Our CSA enabled us to try things like kohlrabi, as well as giving us access to fresh blueberries and muscadines every summer. We also received fresh eggs every week as part of our share, and were able to try a variety of winter squashes, microgreens, and the best cherry tomatoes I've ever tasted,” adds Ramhold.
To save on the slightly pricey share fee, consider joining a CSA with friends or neighbors. You'll likely be given a hefty haul of produce, so it's smart to split with others if you can't see yourself eating everything in a weekly box (food waste!).
Warehouse clubs are a great way to stock up on canned goods, dry goods, and frozen produce—and having a solid stock of shelf-stable items at home means you’ll always have healthy options on hand. “And if you need to buy healthy grains in bulk, stores like Whole Foods and Earth Fare are great options,” explains Ramhold. “Though other items there might be pricey, their bulk bins tend to be comparably priced.” Amazon Prime Pantry is another smart place to go for looking for items in bulk.
Meal planning may seem like one more thing to add to your already busy schedule, but we promise it makes healthy eating (and eating in general) significantly easier. As a jumping off point, try to reframe how you consider meal prepping. It doesn't mean you have to spend your entire weekend cooking food and portioning it out. Rather, start by formulating a menu to turn to during the week—a clear plan of action (shopping list included) makes grocery shopping and cooking at home a lot easier, so you’ll start to rely on fast food and takeout less. Once you’ve gotten into the swing of organizing your meal schedules in advance, you can jump into prepping batches of grains, veggies, and protein ahead.
Many home cooks might think ethnic markets and aisles are just a great place to find ingredients that other stores might not carry, but it goes far beyond that. “Spices can be ridiculously expensive for a small amount, but by buying packages and bottles at specialty food stores, you'll get way more bang for your buck,” Ramhold says. “They’re also an excellent place to shop for pantry staples in bigger sizes, like rice and beans, and often stock delicious produce at super affordable prices, like fresh jalapenos, bok choy, cilantro, Thai basil, and more for way less.”