A common myth about eating healthy is that it costs more. Packaged, processed foods do often appear to be cheaper, and certainly easier to prepare.
Yet, saving money on processed foods can add a high cost to your health. They may contain chemical pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, not to mention empty calories.
Eating healthy food does require an investment in time, but can cost far less money than you might think. Hannah Wallace, a journalist in Portland, Oregon, set out to prove that her family of three could eat organic food for $526 per month—the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP food stamps) allowance for a family of three.
- Buy in bulk! Buy more items you know you’ll finish before they expire. You won’t pay for unnecessary packaging or for someone else to process or prepare the food for you. Plan ahead and consider your eating patterns so you’ll be sure to use up your bulk items.
- Look for sales. Watch for when organic or other healthier food options go on sale, and then plan that week’s menus around those foods. Vani Hari (The Food Babe) also compiled a list of online coupon sites for organic products.
- Shop at the farmers’ market. This is a wonderful opportunity to talk directly to the people who’ve grown your food. You’ll be eating fresher food, grown in season, that didn’t travel far to reach you. As Wallace reported in her story, many farmer’s markets will actually accept food stamps.
- Buy lower-case “o” organic. Many farmers avoid pesticides and use sustainable farming methods, but they opt not to certify their products so they can keep their costs down for their customers. At the farmer’s market, or on-farm markets in your area, take the opportunity to find out about their growing practices.
- Eat meat sparingly. Wallace’s family was used to eating many vegetarian meals. If yours isn’t, try doing a few vegetarian meals a week because they will save your food dollars and are a healthy choice. Try stretching out your meat by combining it with beans or other hearty foods like mushrooms or quinoa. Eating more plant-based proteins can also reduce your family’s intake of antibiotics and hormones often given to livestock.
- Love your leftovers. Coming full circle from our first point about buying in bulk, planning ahead helps here also—so nothing goes to waste. If you get bored eating the same thing again, find creative ways to incorporate it into a new recipe. For example, Wallace turned a leftover salmon entree into the next day’s omelette.
Food advocate Vani Hari (also known as the Food Babe), echoes Hannah Wallace’s point that it’s not necessary to buy everything USDA-certified organic. She recommends choosing organic for these eight items   :
- GMO crops (corn, soybeans, zucchini, yellow squash, canola, sugar beets, papaya, cottonseed oil)
- The Environmental Working Group (EWG)’s Dirty Dozen list of produce—apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, hot peppers, nectarines, peaches, potatoes, leafy greens (kale, arugula, collards, spinach, cilantro, parsley, dandelion, chard, etc.), berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries), and sweet bell peppers
- Tea and coffee
- Dried herbs and spices
Her blog post about eating organic on a budget offers 75+ tips with many links and resources.
Lisa Leake, another popular blogger, embarked on a similar healthy food challenge called 100 Days of Real Food on a Budget. Her food budget was $125/week (less than the food stamp allowance) for a family of four. Check out her summary of victories, challenges, and lessons learned. You’ll find all the motivation you need to makeover your diet without sacrificing taste or breaking the bank.
You don’t need to choose between healthy eating and financial survival. With planning and a little extra time and effort, you can eat delicious, healthy meals, contribute to your local food economy, and improve your entire family’s health and wellness.