A friend of mine emailed me yesterday and asked for some advice on eating healthy on a budget. Since this is an area of passion for me, my email back to her basically came out in the form of an essay, which I’ll share with you!
Geoff and I have a budget of £45/week (about $65) for groceries.
Here’s how we make it work:
-Cut down on meat and dairy and opt for veggie meals at least a couple times a week. I know it might make you feel like you’re wasting away, but that’s mostly psychological. You will not die because you’re only eating half as much meat. You will, however, have a lower impact on the environment, save a good chunk of change, and enjoy meat more when you do have it!
-Learn about substitutions: chicken thighs are way cheaper than chicken breasts; ground turkey can be cheaper and healthier than ground beef; and you can almost always cut down the amount of meat in something and add more veggies or vegan protein like lentils, chickpeas, or beans.
-Cook meat as an ingredient rather than a main course. We don’t generally have chicken breasts or steaks or whole fish fillets for dinner at this point except for on special occasions. Instead, we’ll usually have pasta with a little chicken cut up in it, or stew that has a little beef and lots of carrots and potatoes.
-Buy meat in bulk or on sale and freeze it. Most stores have shelves with just the food that expires today or tomorrow, at really reduced prices. I always go here first and grab whatever they have, and then I just throw it in the freezer as soon as I get home if I’m not going to cook it that day. I end up saving at least 1/3 on meat this way. Score! Same goes for buying more meat than you need. Wrap whatever you don’t use in foil, label it clearly, and freeze it
-Opt for whole foods rather than pre-packaged! They are so much cheaper, and you also get to avoid all of the terrifying-sounding mystery additives in processed food. Cooking whole foods does take longer, and this will be an adjustment for most people, but below are a couple of tips for making it work for you.
-Set aside a block of time once or twice a week for prep work. If you’re already chopping veggies, it doesn’t take that much longer to chop a few more. Most things can be prepped a few days before you cook them. Then, when you go to cook a meal, you’re like the guys on the cooking channel with all their bowls of pre-chopped veggies and it takes you 20 minutes to cook a meal.
-Cook in bulk. If I’m making chili, I make about 4 times what I need for a meal. Then I freeze half of it, leave a quarter of it in a tupperware in the fridge, and eat a quarter of it. 4 meals, one cooking time. Bonus: Most foods are less expensive per pound when you buy more of them.
-Eliminate waste! I am hyper-vigilant about waste. If I buy something, I’m going to eat it. This means I’m always watching expiration dates, ignoring them where acceptable (veggies), freezing food before it expires (meat and dairy), and cutting out bad spots rather than throwing a whole food item away. I decide what I’m eating on any given day based on what is going to go bad soonest. Yes, sometimes this means I don’t get to eat a frozen pizza (guilty pleasure) because my leftover vegetable soup is one day away from destruction. But I’m saving money and learning something about appreciating the resources I have. The Western mindset about waste is one I don’t want anything to do with.
-Remember that a luxury is a luxury. Steak is a luxury. Alcohol is a luxury. Really good chocolate is a luxury. We do buy those things, but only when we have extra money left over within our budget. We’ve had to do some redefining about luxury versus necessity in our lives, but I find myself appreciating the luxuries that much more as a result. They’re special again.
Does it take some adjustment? Yes. Do we always end up safely within our £45? No. Do we make exceptions for special occasions and celebrations? Absolutely.
Give it a try!