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Activism Green Living Healthy Living Kids & Family Real Food

Food Budgets – Using Creativity and Prioritizing For Healthy Eating


Does the idea of changing your diet to healthier foods seem completely overwhelming?  So many people have the idea that there is simply no way they can afford to eat healthy…but I’m here to assure that this couldn’t be farther from the truth!

This concept is so important, and one that I feel cannot be emphasized enough. With a little prioritizing, determination, planning ahead, and research about how to accomplish healthier meals in incremental steps, you really can be on your way to eating healthier while keeping costs down.

I’m not going to lie to you: you may spend more money than you are spending right now; or you may even save yourself some money up front (depending on your shopping habits). But the cost of eating unhealthy, processed foods on the back end is going to add up to much more overall money spent than if you are eating healthier foods to begin with. Just think about it in terms of where you want to spend your money, and it really might start to make more sense (and cents, no pun intended!).

Mainly, I want to emphasize that you do not have to buy all organic foods in order to eat a healthy diet. Don’t get me wrong – buying organic is a good thing to do for our health and the environment, but not everyone can afford it. The key is removing processed foods and buying whole food ingredients. If you are confused about what exactly the difference is between these terms, read How Well Do You Know Your Food? Find Out!

This post was inspired by my recent trip to the Grocery Outlet in the city where I live, Boise, Idaho. I hadn’t been to this store for many years, but was told by friends that good deals on food could be found here. I admit I was a little skeptical, but I wanted to go have a look. It was surprising to see things like grass-fed organic cheese on the shelf, but I also know that the selection changes from trip to trip, so going back and looking carefully at what’s available is useful to getting the most out of your dollar at stores like this.

As costs continue to rise, I have slowly been developing strategies to save money on food.  Other than from local farms, I used to shop almost exclusively at our local health food co-op. It is only a mile and a half from our home, so the convenience of it has always been appealing. Of course, this was also back when we had the steady income of a regular job. Last summer we started a solar/green IT business, and as anyone who has owned a business knows, things are slow to start – especially in a bad economy.

Over the last year I’ve also started shopping more at Fred Meyer, which isn’t terribly close to my house. But I’ve started going there about once a month. I stock up on Organic Prairie bacon (I haven’t yet found a good local source for bacon that is acceptable to my standards) and hot dogs from this store because they are $1.50 to 2.00 cheaper per package. Just think of the savings there!

UPDATE – 11/2010 since this post was written, we have stopped buying Organic Prairie products because they are affiliated with Organic Valley which does not do things as sustainably as they should – earlier this year they decided to prohibit their farmers from selling raw milk to their customers, and they use ultra-high heat pasteurization which kills nutrients in foods. Now we get our pork from the local grass-fed, organic farm where we get our raw milk and beef. Find a local source for this food – it tastes better and ultimately is safer. With food recalls happening left and right, you can’t afford to buy processed, industrial foods from the grocery store.

Here are some of the things I’ve discovered which enable our family to afford healthy food:

Don’t feel like everything has to be done all at once. Avoid getting into the trap of thinking that if you can’t do everything, you can’t do it at all. Make small changes as you can and when you can. If you believe the only way to eat healthy is to convert everything in your home from conventional food to organic food overnight, you’ll only hold yourself back from making any changes.

The most important aspect of moving from processed to healthier foods is doing small things one step at a time. If you allow excuses to get in your way of a healthier life, change will surely never take place.

Implement simple changes you can realize benefit from immediately. Instead of buying margarine or fake butter spreads, buy real butter – even if it’s not organic. Trade unhealthy vegetable oils and shortening for coconut oil, olive oil, and palm oils. Try shopping at grocery outlet stores – these are great places to find items like organic butter and cheese for half the price you would spend in expensive health food stores. You can also find reduced prices on healthy oils at these types of stores such as olive oil.

Realize that all organic foods are not necessarily healthy. The main point about eating healthier should be about removing processed foods. Many packaged foods labeled “organic” and even “natural” and “healthy” are just as processed as other packaged foods that aren’t labeled with this terminology.

For more information about what to look for when reading labels in the store, read Reading Labels in the Store – Don’t Be Fooled By Marketing Lingo!

Learn to cook and prepare foods from scratch. Here are some examples: if you are making Hamburger Helper or Kraft Macaroni and Cheese from a box, stop buying these processed foods and start making the equivalent from scratch. It does take some extra time, but with some research and practice, you can come up with several meals with the same ingredients made at home that you can prepare relatively quickly and on a regular basis that are delicious and nourishing for your family.

If you have not spent much time in the kitchen – now’s the time to start. There are many fantastic and free resources on the Internet. Web sites and blogs devoted to food and cooking can give you motivation and some great ideas – you could pretty much find all the recipes, support, and ideas you need if you have an Internet connection without ever having to buy another cookbook again. For some easy recipe ideas, visit our recipes page.

For a cost analysis of feeding a family of 3 (the foods used in this were mostly organic), read Proof That Real Food Doesn’t Have To Cost a Bundle, Is Nourishing, and Satisfies!

If you don’t have time to cook everyday, start preparing foods ahead of time. For example, you can soak oatmeal or other whole grains bought in bulk from the store. Use filtered water and lemon juice or apple cider vinegar overnight – it only takes about two minutes of time. Then you will have a healthy breakfast in the morning instead of boxed cereal which contains extruded grains (stripped of all nutrients during processing), is full of chemicals and other toxic ingredients. You can add whole milk yogurt, fruit, and real maple syrup to it.

Another example would be to buy a whole chicken, roast it in the oven, and then use the carcass and remaining bones and other meat to make a bone broth. This can be done in advance and left on the stove or crockpot for many hours (up to 24). When you are done making broth, you have a delicious and nutritious base for soups, casseroles, and many other uses that can be spread over multiple meals. You can also substitute meat bone broths for meat in a meal.

Eliminate processed foods from your kitchen as you can and trade them out for their whole food equivalents. One of the most important reasons I can think of to stop buying processed “convenience” foods is that these foods are full of fillers, chemicals, and preservatives and are, in a nutshell, not real food. Your body will gain neither nutrition nor a feeling of fullness from eating these foods.

The cost of these foods may be cheaper up front, but over time, your health will suffer and you will be in a constant state of hunger, which doesn’t justify the cost of the food to begin with. Over time, these foods also cause a state of malnutrition due to their lack of nutrients, and can actually cause nutrient depletion in your body due to the content of their ingredients.

If you believe your children won’t eat something different that might be healthy for them, then that’s exactly what will happen. Just by assuming your children would never bother eating something, you set yourself up for failure.

In our house, I’ve converted our meals from something unhealthy to something healthier many times by not having those unhealthy choices around anymore. When I got questions like, “where’s that other food?” My answer was simply, “we’re not eating that anymore, this is what we’re having.” Just remember, you’re the parent.

Make no mistake, it can take some time, but eventually this practice becomes acceptable. Your family will forget about the other foods you were eating and start to look forward to the replacement, and you can feel good about it because it’s healthier.

Decide what your priorities are and stick to them. One of the most important types of foods to eat organic or sustainably produced are meats, meat products, and fats. These foods are stored in our cells and can have lasting effects on our health. If you decide to buy some things organic while others not, prioritize based on this type of knowledge available about food.

If you can’t afford to buy any meats, meat products, or fats organic or sustainably raised, then at least buy the closest you can to the whole-food versions of these foods. Only buy meats with no other ingredients in them – avoid meats with preservatives, seasonings, flavorings, and other ingredients that look suspicious or you cannot pronounce. Look for “nitrate free” or “hormone-free” versions of these foods in your grocery store. These types of foods are available on the conventional market more and more, and are better alternatives to meat that is full of chemicals, preservatives, and other toxins. Read labels and begin to know what your choices are. Sometimes there are better choices in your grocery store than what you’ve been buying. And if you take the time to read and do a little research, you could be buying healthier meat, meat products, and fats for your family than you are currently.

Consider eliminating grains from your diet. Grains can be very bad for your health and cause a lot of health issues such as allergies, weight gain, digestive problems, yeast overgrowth endocrine disruption, (i.e., thryoid problems), infertility, asthma, bone loss, and others. For some great ideas for grain-free eating, read Go grain-free & still eat delicious, healthy meals.

Learn to rely on items in your cupboard for home-made cleaning formulas. Use lemon juice, vinegar, baking soda, borax, essential oils, hydrogen peroxide, and coconut oil for cleaners, clothing detergent, and many other useful things you might otherwise spend a lot of money on at the store and damage your health and the environment.

Choose one new concept to learn on a regular basis and practice it until you feel comfortable. For instance, try making yogurt with some whole milk. This is a great way to get fermented foods in your diet. Fermented foods help maintain friendly bacteria levels in your immune system and are a good way to keep healthy. Or instead of cooking with unhealthy, rancid vegetable oils, switch to stable fats with healthy saturated fat like butter, lard, tallow, or coconut oil. For an overview of why real [saturated] fats are important, read The Importance of Dietary Fats.

Make a habit of keeping lists with things that you know you are going to need at the store. If you keep track of what you want to buy before and when you go to the store, you will save forgetting something important and possibly having to make additional trips that would otherwise be unnecessary.

If you do shop at the grocery store, stay on the outer perimeter of the store. Most processed and unhealthy foods are in the middle aisles, and whole foods tend to be on the outer walls – such as meats, seafood, and produce.

Use coupons. There are some organic foods on the market that you can use coupons to purchase if you are in a pinch and can’t buy local foods. For links to coupons for organic foods and organic products, read Saving Money On Your Organic Life.

Learn what your “staples” and basics are. These are the foods you’ll want to have regularly so you can depend on certain foods for your regularly prepared meals. For some ideas, here is My Kitchen Staples post.

Buy local. Purchasing local foods often reduces the cost of the food since transportation fees calculated into the price of foods are not a factor. You can often get a better deal on foods if you are willing to go out to the farm and pick them up. Find other people who also share your desire to support local farms and eat healthy food, and arrange to carpool or take turns picking up food.

Do the research and get to know others who are also interested in a sustainable lifestyle. The more you network and learn, the better off you’ll be and the more opportunities you’ll find to get healthy food and gain knowledge of how to prepare it. There are many places to look – both within your local community and on the Internet – the majority of them are free to access. Just from keeping this blog, I became friends with a lovely woman who sent me starter cultures for a kombucha scoby and dairy kefir grains. Thanks Jen!  :)

Be willing to sacrifice other items in your life that aren’t as important. In our family, we make healthy food a priority which means we do without a lot of extras like new clothes, going out to the movies, going out to dinner, or just buying something on the spur-of-the-moment that we really don’t need (a luxury item like a new CD, DVD, a video game, or whatever on your list that you can do without).

I realized years ago that I definitely don’t need more stuff (in fact, I need badly need to purge my house of stuff), and the most important things in our life are paying our bills and buying healthy food. We don’t go on vacations anymore because we are in frugality mode, so all of our available income is focused on necessity only.

But I’m not complaining. I feel truly blessed to have been able to make it through this first year of being a new business owner in an unstable economy, were successful in keeping our house, and have still been able to buy healthy food. Besides my family and close friends, those are the only things in life that matter. If the house would have had to go, it’s really just a house, We would have dealt with finding a rental, and life would have gone on.

Look for opportunities to trade or barter. If you have a product or service you can offer to someone for trade, do it! Many people are happy and willing to trade for something they want that you have to offer.

Remember, if you are committed to a healthy lifestyle, and you dedicate yourself to making things work, sometimes things just have a way of turning out in ways you would never imagine. Our family is on a tight budget because of our new business. Last year we made arrangements to buy a side of grass-fed beef with other families so we could afford it. The meat also comes with weekly raw milk. Our family really relies on the raw milk because we are all intolerant of pasteurized dairy products. This year, it was looking like we just wouldn’t be able to afford the meat and milk because our money situation was becoming very bleak. When we filed our taxes this year, we learned that we were getting a large refund that would come just in time to pay for our milk and meat. This was nothing short of a miracle and I am so thankful to God this came through. It was indeed an unexpected blessing to us.

Buying healthier choices on occasion as you can afford and they are available is better than not buying them at all. If you can only afford organic once or twice a month, it’s better than nothing. Do what you can when you can, and don’t compare yourself to someone else.

Learn how to stretch out your food. Since meat is one of the more expensive foods, use less of it and more of other protein containing foods that are lower-cost and still nutritious such as eggs or whole-fat dairy (look for non-ultra pasteurized and hormone/antibiotic free varieties – which are becoming more pervasive). Use bone broths in place of meats with meals. We save bacon or sausage for the weekends and eat eggs, fruit, yogurt, and other foods on the weekdays. We also eat a lot of Organic Prairie hot dogs because they are pretty cheap and sustainably-produced.

Learn which organic fruits and vegetables are a priority. The Environmental Working Group has a list of the most contaminated fruits and vegetables called ‘The Dirty Dozen‘. For those of us on a budget, this guide can help you prioritize which foods are most important to buy organic, and which can be bought conventional and thoroughly cleaned.

Consider growing your own food.  To start, try growing a just a few plants producing foods you are likely to use a lot each year. You can start from seed a lot of things you’d like to grow for not a lot of money – even organic seeds.  It has taken me about four years to get my garden to a condition where it is actually producing, and a lot of learning.

Last year the biggest change I made was very minimal – I added one bag of Happy Frog to my garden box (I spent $20) when I was tilling and planting, and my yield was higher than ever, and I had virtually no weeds. This is a sharp contrast to previous years where not much was growing and I had a forest of weeds to pull every week. Here’s my post on budgeting and planning for my garden.

However, learning what items to buy high quality and which to not worry about as much are important. Here are some items I won’t compromise on quality, period:

These supplements (which are the same as food) have made a huge difference in the health of my family. If you have a compromised immune system, are lacking important organs like appendix or gallbladder, and have eaten a modern diet for years, you likely need all of these supplements. Our food supply has become so adulterated with toxins and thanks to conventional farming practices, has effectively stripped many trace nutrients from our soil, rendering our food much less nutritious than in the past.

The cod liver oil is food, and it contains Vitamins A, D, and EPA, and DHA. For more information on the significance of cod liver oil in the diet, visit the Weston A. Price Foundation. The WAPF is a non-profit organization seeking to educate about sustainable living, food, and farming. They do not receive funding from companies to endorse their products.

Probiotics are the friendly bacteria necessary to maintain a healthy, diversely populated immune system and digestive tract, which is the foundation of our health. It is also extremely important to rotate probiotic formulas, because like bad bacteria, good bacteria have to continually change in order to be most effective. The key to maintaining ideal good bacteria levels in the gut is making certain you have a diverse population of different bacteria in your body.

You cannot get good quality probiotics from most store-bought sources (including dietary supplements and conventional dairy products). Even though they are cheaper than good quality products, the cost is less because the claims made on packaging about strains and cultures are usually overstated. In processing, conventional foods loses its potency, nutrition, and efficacy. They are therefore a monumental waste of your hard-earned money. It’s very true that in many instances you get what you pay for, and this is no exception.

Is a good multi-vitamin important?

That depends. If you have been eating a modern diet for many years and have health issues, it is likely that you would benefit from a good quality multi-vitamin for a period of time. You should consult a knowledgeable health care practitioner for advice. The body takes years to disintegrate, and conversely, years to build back up to health.

If you are going to take a multi-vitamin, the best kind to take is one that is whole-foods based, organically-sourced, and contains co-factors and enzymes naturally present in foods that allow your body to assimilate those nutrients properly. A cheap, synthetically-produced vitamin simply won’t achieve this (99 percent of what’s on the market), and is not only a waste of your hard-earned money but can also damage your health.

Real food will never damage your health as it contains all the correct ratios of enzymes, co-factors, and nutrients needed by the human body. Nothing produced in a laboratory will ever compare to nature’s perfect formula.

For an informative article about dietary supplementation, read The Importance of Proper Supplementation.

For more money-saving ideas and tips about maintaining a healthy, happy home, read Embrace and Perfect Your Home-Keeping Skills.

Do you have some great ways to save money on healthy food and living? Please share!