9 Unbelievably Easy, Budget-Friendly Ways to Eat Healthy

9 Unbelievably Easy, Budget-Friendly Ways to Eat Healthy

These days, conversations with friends, acquaintances, or even virtual strangers tend to quickly turn to the ever-increasing cost of food. It does, indeed, seem that prices are rising weekly, with no end in sight. Looking me in the eye, people firmly and confidently state, “Eating healthy is impossible on a tight budget!”

As one who feeds her family of four a whole food, plant-based diet for an average of $300 a month (USD), I can assure you that (even in the midst of pandemic-driven inflation) this is definitely a misconception.

Over the past three decades I’ve discovered a number of ways to cut my grocery budget and yet still offer my family delicious, nutrient-packed food for very little money.

When your diet is based on produce, beans, and whole grains, you won’t go hungry and you won’t spend a fortune!

Local CSAs, farmers markets, on-line merchants, ethic food stores and even mainline supermarkets can yield quality products at bargain prices.

Looking at each of these venues in more detail will reveal strategies which are particularly appropriate for each option.   

Join a CSA

CSA, short for Community Supported Agriculture, is a program in which farmers sell a specified number of “shares” early in the year to help raise funds for seeds and supplies. In return, members receive a bushel basket of produce each week for the length of the contract.

CSAs encourage you to sample items which you may not normally have purchased. The produce is incredibly fresh, having most likely been picked that same morning.

Although not every CSA is equal and prices vary, some are known for their generous-sized shares. For more than a decade, I have used the contents of our weekly CSA basket as the backbone of my 7-day menu plans, noticeably dropping my overall grocery bills during the growing season. 

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Visit Farmers Markets and Roadside Farm Stands

Farm fresh produce can also be found at roadside stands, farmers markets, and even in the back of pick-up trucks. When you purchase from small, family-owned farms, you are providing jobs and support to those in your local economy.

In addition to this, you are able to look those who grow your food in the eye and ask questions about their growing methods.

Finally, those same farmers can give you advice and insight on how to store and cook with the produce that you purchase from them. Prices are often incredibly reasonable. For me, that low price signals that a bulk buy is in order, allowing me to freeze or dehydrate a lot of bargain bounty for later use.

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Accept Excess Produce from Friends

During the height of the growing season you’ll undoubtedly be offered excess garden produce from green thumb friends, neighbors, and relatives.

My friends and neighbors know that I accept any and all produce. When their zucchini plants just won’t stop producing, I’m their “go do” girl for dropping off baskets of glorious green goodness.

My rule of thumb is to take everything that is offered and then make sure that I schedule time to either freeze or dehydrate it, preserving it for use during cold weather months.

Grow Your Own Produce and Herbs

If you’d like to try growing your own, begin with patio plants. Herbs are quite easy to propagate. Mint, for instance, spreads with the aid of rhizomes, root-like structures, allowing it to quickly fill nearly any given area.

Tomatoes and peppers flourish in deep pots and sunny spaces.

Finally, even though our first home had a diminutive yard, square foot gardening allowed for enormous harvests on a very small footprint.

Order Bulk On-line

Although it may seem an unlikely source, ordering in bulk from on-line merchants can yield big savings in the whole foods department.

Shipping or trucking fees are sometimes waived once you reach a specified order size. Although reaching that minimum may seem daunting, when you pool your orders with other health-minded folks residing in your area, it’s generally an easily achievable amount.

You’ll need to choose one address as the shipping point and then divide the order amongst the families when it arrives.

Buy in Bulk from Local Stores

When ordering in bulk, think in terms of large, 25 or 50-pound bags of shelf-stable items. Oats, rice, beans, and grains will all last for months (or years) if stored properly. If your family is small, ask around to see who would like to share a large bag.

It’s helpful to have a food or postal scale to ensure that the split is equal. I have saved 20-50 percent, as compared to traditional supermarket prices, by buying in bulk and participating in informal, food co-ops.

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Score Great Prices at Ethnic Grocers

Turning to more traditional grocery options, ethnic markets are a treasure trove of organic produce at bargain prices. Since you are most likely talking to the owner of the shop, you can ask about buying a case lot for a lower price per pound.

I love shopping local, family-owned ethnic markets – and with good reason. You make new friends, your shopping dollars stay right in your own city, and you can purchase specialty items and produce at exceptionally good prices.

I regularly purchase certified organic items at our local Mediterranean market for 40% less than large supermarkets.

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Shop Grocery Store Sales and Markdowns

You should not rule out large grocery chains as a place to find food for less. Begin with the weekly sales flyer. You will generally find super, low-priced, loss leader items on the front and back pages.

These products are offered specifically to drive foot traffic into the establishment. When fruits or vegetables are featured, buy multiples, using that ingredient in several dishes.

For instance, 99¢ heads of broccoli may make an appearance in salads, soups, and main dishes in our weekly meal plan.

A second way to save at large grocers is to look for markdowns. Once or twice a day, stores will mark items which are close to the sell-by date down to half price.

This food is not rotted or bad. It simply can’t be sold after a certain date. To find the best array of markdowns, ask an employee in that department when they do the markdowns.

Then, time your shopping trip as close as you can get to that time of day.

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Stop Wasting Food

Surprisingly, the absolute best way to drop your grocery costs has nothing to do with shopping. Knowing what you have on hand and using it before it rots, is actually the primary catalyst that plummet your food bills.

Our family has a stated goal of no more than 3% food waste. That means that I keep close tabs on the contents of my fridge, freezer, and pantry with inventory-tracking forms. Using these lists, I menu plan and bulk cook, minimizing the number of times I shop for food each month.

By using a combination of every strategy I’ve listed, I keep my grocery budget extraordinarily low, while still feeding my family a balanced, healthy diet.  

Need More Help?

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4 thoughts on “9 Unbelievably Easy, Budget-Friendly Ways to Eat Healthy”

  1. Since I live alone one would think it would be easier and cheaper to budget and of course it can be. However, buying in bulk can be a waste for me and I wind up giving away food items.
    Also can you address buying markdown packaged produce and its shelf life as it will sit in my frig because I can only eat just so much at meals. Salads especially.
    I wash everything and store the best way I know how to keep purchase from turning to soon.

    • I would focus on markdown produce that you know can be frozen. So, sugar snap peas can be blanched and frozen, while leaf lettuce must be eaten or it gets slimy. Kale, however can be frozen and used in casseroles, soups, or smoothies. So, that’s a better “green” for you. Moisture is the enemy of salad greens. Too much moisture and it turns quickly into a soggy mess. Fresh greens can be rinsed. Dry them by laying them flat on top of a clean dish towel and blotting off most of the water with a second dishtowel or you can use a salad spinner if you have one. They should be about 90% dry. Place the greens in a container which has been lined with a slightly damp paper towel. Put on a lid and place in the fridge. Mixed greens are troublesome because some greens wilt faster than others, resulting in that lovely feeling of picking through the greens and taking out the “yucky” leaves. I like to move the salad mix into another container where the leaves have room to breathe. If they are already washed, you can just line a container with a slightly damp paper towel and dump in the greens. This should extend the shelf life. I hope this was helpful.

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