An (Almost) Top Ten List of How We Eat Healthy on a Budget

save-money-on-food-openIt’s no secret.  Healthier foods are typically more expensive.  Why?  Because it takes time for food to grow, ripen and mature at nature’s pace.   When chemicals, GMO’s, hormones, antibiotics aren’t used to improve and increase production, it costs more for the farmer and therefore the consumer.

But eating well doesn’t have to completely break the bank.  Take if from a SERIOUSLY financially compromised family.  I don’t mind being real about the financial struggles we’ve gone through…some self induced but most due to Dani’s diagnosis.  This past year has been a crash course in budgeting, spending wisely, reprioritizing, and placing well-deserved value on our health.  Here are some things we’ve learned.

Tip #1 – Buy Local, In-Season Fruits and Veggies  

Better yet, grow your own garden!  Now mind you, this is a totally hypocritical statement in that I have NEVER been successful at growing anything.  My home is even full of fake plants.  I honestly can’t even keep my already-potted tomato plant alive…it’s embarrassing.  But even if you have a red thumb (red is the opposite of green on the color wheel, did you know that?), buying local, in-season produce will save you lots.  In addition, they taste amazing because they’re freshly harvested.

Tip #2 – Follow the Clean 15+ and Dirty Dozen Lists  

1512844_893316137397586_4777181975145829308_nWe try to buy as much organic produce as possible.  But if pinching pennies is a big deal, consider not worrying so much about paying more for organic versions of foods on the Clean 15+ list.  The EWG (Environmental Working Group) updates these lists every year.  Wanna know why you should avoid conventionally raised food on the Dirty Dozen list?  Check this out.

Tip #3 – Buy in Bulk

It sounds like a lot up front but when you buy a portion of a cow or pig or whatever, you pay quite a bit less for the meat per pound than if you pay for it little by little from the supermarket.  Visit www.eatwild.com for local farms.  In addition, don’t write off big warehouse stores like Costco or Sam’s Club.  Even larger local grocery stores can carry some good, organic, nonGMO, clean foods these days and they’re usually quite a bit cheaper than the little organic stores.

Tip #4 – Consider Raising your own Animals  

This is unrealistic for some…us included.  I have this dream of owning our own chickens someday (I know…”reach for the stars, Kari”) but with as much as we travel, it can be hard enough having a dog.  Not that we’re jet-setters…I mean even just to the cabin in the summertime.  Collecting eggs a couple times a day just can’t be a part of our lifestyle right now.  But there are coop situations out there…consider starting something with neighbors and sharing the responsibility!

Tip #5 – Make Things from Scratch 

I get it…it’s way more labor intensive than buying things that are pre-packaged but it truly saves a ton.  I try to use Sundays as our cooking/baking day.  In addition to saving money, you also get to control the ingredients…bonus!  We love these grain free muffins, pancakes, dinner biscuits, our fave chicken and veggie soup (scroll down blog post)…I like to make a bunch and freeze so they last throughout the week.

Tip #6 – Farmer’s Markets and Co-ops!  

If you live in the frozen tundra like we do, you obviously have a limited time frame in which to do this.  But it’s helpful in saving money and so, so, so fun for the kiddos!  Another little FM tip: ask about the vendors’ farming practices.  I remember first starting to go to farmer’s markets and was discouraged because I rarely saw the words “organic” or “nonGMO”.  But I’ve learned that it actually costs a LOT of money to get certified with either one of these labels.  Many farmers DO use organic practices and DON’T use GMOs, but can’t “claim” it because they haven’t paid for the certification.  You often need to ask to know for sure.  To find a local Farmer’s Market in your area, visit Eat Local Grown.

Tip #7 – Buy Almost-Expired Meat

I got this one from my genius friend and chef extraordinaire, George Bryant (a.k.a., The Civilized Caveman).  Buy meat when it’s on sale – even if it’s on the day it expires, and FREEZE IT!  As long as you freeze immediately, bacteria won’t have a chance to grow.  Stock up your freezer and thaw when you’re ready to use!

Tip #8 – Order Online  

Seems like this wouldn’t be a money-saving tip but in some cases it is!  We do a lot of online ordering, thereby saving us money on gas as well as a lot of time (which IS money, as they say).  In addition, many of these online sources will email you coupon codes regularly if you join their site.  My faves are Vitacost.com, Wise Choice Market, and Thrive Market (who just began sponsoring our KICKcancER Movement, by the way…so big ol’ shout out to them!!!).

Tip #9 – Drink WATER!  

Spending money on beverages is one of my absolute pet peeves.  Yes, I still do it sometimes.  But in our house…as a way to keep our food budget in check (with a bonus of being healthier), we only allow water or white milk during meals.  Dani is the only white milk drinker, the other two kiddos choose water every time.  Cold-pressed organic juices are a treat and only served once in awhile.  Be sure your water has been tested and is free of harmful contaminants and neurotoxins.  Even well-water can be surprisingly unclean.  Under-counter water filtration systems are fairly inexpensive and well worth the money spent up front.  Radiant Life has many options.

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Finally…while I know that there’s reality in having to shop on a budget, I also think it’s worth it to rethink our priorities when it comes to where we DO spend our money.  When we first started overhauling our eating and had such an increase in our monthly food budget, it was a bit discouraging, I admit.  But when faced with Dani’s cancer, and learning about the further potential damage we could do be feeding her the icky stuff in cheaper, conventionally raised, mass-produced, raised-strictly-for-profit foods, we realized it was time to challenge ourselves to look at all the areas in our life that we spend more money, but where the return is simply not as important.  We had totally fallen into the trap of needing to have something to “show” for our spending for it to matter.  New cell phones, cable or satellite TV, internet, new clothes, eating out…the list of the things we spend money on that are soooo much less important than our family’s heath was actually embarrassingly long.

We came to the simple conclusion that we must start seeing the value in eating well.  That feeding, nourishing and strengthening our bodies from the inside out is a precious and important investment for our family…ESPECIALLY when our baby is fighting for her life.  And we can’t put a price tag on that.

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