Last week I wrote on the importance of exercise and movement, and some easy ways to get moving. This week, I’ll focus on easy ways to eat well for less. You got it: well for less!
There’s a huge misnomer out there that healthy eating is hard, complicated, and time-consuming. I believe that this is partially perpetuated by the fast food and quick, boxed food industries. I think this myth also exists because we all know at least one nut who really goes go all out by hoeing out a huge garden and living some odd way we’ve never heard of but that’s supposedly the best way ever to live with regards to health and wellness. The Hunter-Gatherer diet comes to mind. It’s great for the few who can actually manage it but the majority of us simply don’t have the time, energy, funds, or know-how to succeed at it.
The truth is simple and easy. Our bodies are made to digest things that grow and creep. They are not made to digest preservatives, genetically altered, and chemically enhanced or changed products, and do not do well doing so.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. The stuff piled beyond reach in the grocery aisles is much cheaper and there are coupons! (Commence short tirade: coupons do not save you money–and don’t even get me started on those shows that follow the sickos around the store buying 200 bottles of mustard. Coupons promote consumerism. They get you to buy something once at a decent price so that you will buy it again, usually at a much higher price than before. Furthermore, I believe that coupons promote a certain amount of greed as you feel that you can buy more stuff for the same price. Again, what are you going to do afterward? Eat five bottles of ketchup when the mac-n-cheese runs out? End tirade.)
I lived this way too. Not too many years ago my husband was an under-paid, over-worked lance corporal in the USMC trying to support a wife and live in an apartment. We had nothing. I mean it, like I-won’t-use-the-A/C-during-the-middle-of-July-in-NC-who-cares-if-I-get-a-rash-for-three-weeks nothing. We bought the cheapest, quickest foods possible because we believed that we couldn’t afford the “healthy stuff around the perimeter” and we still ended up spending roughly $200 every two weeks. Not only did we run out of the things we liked (the stuff we bought from crate sales and/or coupons often sat forever because we really didn’t like it all that much), but we couldn’t seem to keep slim. That is saying something for a young twenty-three year-old Marine who hauls around 75-pound gear like it’s cool.
I eventually had enough. We also moved to Japan. (It seems like everything began there for me.) Cost of living is high there and even though we were getting overseas pay, things were still bloody expensive. Food, however, was not. Nor was the stuff you find in Japanese markets processed (most of it). Yes, we had the commissary on base but I quit shopping for produce and meats there fast. They kept rotting in our fridge before we got to eating them. Plus, the home-grown stuff in town tasted so much better. Oh, the eggs! I still think of them. What I didn’t get in town, I got at the commissary, and it wasn’t much. We spent only around $150-$175 every two-weeks, and when he was gone doing Marine stuff, it was more like $75.
Here back stateside in the most expensive of states, CA, I still manage to keep my bill around $150-$175. Why? Because I don’t waste my money on the “easy” crap. With few exceptions, I buy around the perimeter of the store. Most importantly, I shop with a list from which I do not deviate. This is the key to both healthy eating and saving money.
So, how can you eat healthfully and inexpensively? Here are 10 ideas:
1. Plan your meals a week or two in advance (depending on how often you shop).
2. Hunt down quick, easy recipes online that use whole foods and healthy ingredients and write down what you need on a list. Stick to that list! Don’t buy more than what you need to prepare that meal. Whole Living Magazine has a great newsletter called the Natural Pantry (free, I believe) chalk full of healthy, organic recipes that are quick and easy to make.
3. Cook enough for leftovers. Generally, I cook enough so that we have lunch the next day, which has totally saves us a boatload of cash.
4. Commit to cooking. If you are busy during the week, great! Spend a few hours on the weekend preparing, storing, and freezing meals for the week. If your weekends are crazy, enjoy them! Make some extra food when you cook during the week and eat those on the weekend.
5. For breakfast, switch up sweetened box cereals for oatmeal (which helps lower cholesterol levels), fruit, and/or two eggs (any style) and a piece of toast. Eggs, whole grain bread, and oatmeal are much cheaper and more healthful than many breakfast cereals. Plus, you can make your own granola with rolled oats.
6. Have fruit, vegetables, and cheese and crackers around for snacks. Most often, we get hungry between meals, particularly between lunch and dinner. Don’t fight it. Eat an apply instead.
7. Buy a filtered pitcher or water filter for your faucet instead of bottled water. Not only does it save you loads of money (as you ought to be drinking at least four of those bottles daily to stay hydrated and–yes, it’s true–full), it also is eco-friendly.
8. Buy locally and seasonally. Meaning: in November, buy the pumpkin that is grown in the town, state, or country rather than the tomato that was picked too soon and genetically altered to survive the journey from New Zealand to your grocery store. Not only will it taste much better than the tomato, it will save you a few extra dollars. (To read a great resource on local and seasonal eating–and gardening, if interested–read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, one of my all-time favorite authors…and a book that changed my views on a lot of things “food”.)
9. If and when possible, buy in bulk. You can usually get more for less.
10. If and when possible, buy meat, eggs and dairy from a butcher, local farm, or farmer’s market, looking for naturally grown, unaltered foods. They may be a bit more expensive than those in your local supermarket, but you won’t be upset by the quality of the products you buy.
Remember, it takes time, energy, and resources to change a behavior. Also remember, it’s still okay to have that indulgence you crave every once in a while. Healthy eating (living!) is not about denial. It is about balance. It is about ingesting as many good things into your body and doing as many good things for your body, mind and soul while enjoying those treats guilt-free!
So, go ahead! Give yourself permission to add those Milano cookies onto your grocery list. You’re planning on sticking to that list anyway and one small treat won’t hurt you; it will gladden your soul. Then, after that cookie (or two), you can go on and cook great, healthy, inexpensive meals for the rest of the day!