Okay, I will admit it. I am a little bit of a health nut. I love to run, do obstacle races, and do CrossFit and decided to also do the Insanity videos because I felt I needed a little something extra. My husband just looks at me, shakes his head, and loves me enough to give me the Epson salt when he sees me struggling to get off the couch – without commentary. Now that is true love.
I also cook everything from scratch. I wish I could say that this was a result of deep desire to put the very best foods into my family, but that was not my initial motivation. I had one child who developed allergies to a variety of foods and a husband diagnosed with diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. After a few months, I got tired of dissecting every package of food I bought to make sure that everyone could eat it so I stopped buying processed foods.
Whenever I mention this, I always hear how expensive it is to eat healthy. I tell people that when I added up the cost of the doctor’s bills, medications and hospital bills, I found that cooking with better qualities of food actually came out much cheaper. My oldest has not had a problem in at least a year and my husband is not only down over 30lbs (I am so proud of him) but has reduced his medication to the point where the doctor is considering taking him off of everything. As a friend once told me, “You are paying either the farmer or the pharmacist.”
I also learned that with a few strategies, you can significantly reduce the cost of eating healthy. The first key to eating on a budget is to meal plan. I found that we were wasting food, because we bought it without a plan as to how we were going to eat it.
I am a little challenged both in time and thought to develop meal plans worthy of The Cooking Channel so I quickly turned to online meal planners. eMeals.com is one of my favorites. For about $60 a year, you get an email sent to you weekly with 7 meals. I double the recipes so we have lunch and dinner. You can choose from a wide variety of meals – 30 Minute, Slow Cooker (a great time saver), Diabetic, Gluten Free and Budget Friendly to name a few. You can even match some meal plans to a grocery store so you save on your food items.
You also get a shopping list. I am so rushed I often forget my list. With the eMeals app, you can always have your grocery list handy. This works great if you are single or have a family of 8.
The Crockpot has become my favorite cooking time saving tool. You can put all of the Crockpot items in a freezer bag and dump them in the Crockpot in the morning. This is especially helpful on the days your kids lose their shoes, coats, homework or whatever they decide to forget about that morning five minutes before you have to leave.
The second thing I had to learn to do is prioritize exactly what I would spend money on. Our doctor recommended as many organic meats and vegetables as possible to reduce our daughter’s exposure to allergens. I only buy organic beef and chicken. I figured that if I had to choose, I would rather not have the foods pumped with antibiotics and hormones vs. pesticides.
I found a local farmer and partnered with a few friends to “cow share.” We actually shared a cow and split the meat. This got the cost of our organic grass fed beef ground beef down to about $4 a pound.
We also found another farmer and got organic, pastured poultry and eggs through a CSA much cheaper than in a grocery store. A CSA is community supported agriculture that brings local farmers and consumers together to offer monthly supplies of fresh meat and produce. Some do this seasonally and others do it year round. Many deliver the food supplies locally, so you don’t have to travel. Localharvest.org is a website that explains CSAs and can even help you find one in your area.
As for my fruits, I only buy what they call the “dirty dozen” organically and the rest conventionally. (The Environmental Working Group, ewg.org, lists the “Dirty Dozen” foods which they consider to be high in pesticides and the “Clean 15,” which are foods they consider low in pesticides that some consider okay to buy conventionally.) Again, I am prioritizing. The “dirty dozen” are produce that is considered to have the most pesticides – apples,spinach, lettuce, and strawberries are almost always on the list. A rule of thumb is that you can buy any fruit with a thick skin conventionally like bananas, pineapples, avocados and mango.
There are also veggies that have few pesticide residues that some consider okay to buy conventionally like onions, asparagus, sweet peas, cabbage and broccoli. I also learned to get creative with the veggies. I found the healthier pasta expensive so I sub with veggies. I got a spiralizer that makes just about anything into a noodle – sweet potatoes and apples to name a few.
I found zucchini to be the most versatile. Two zucchinis are inexpensive and make enough “pasta” for our entire family for dinner and lunch. It also absorbs the flavor of whatever you put into it.
Better yet, you can spiralize it in about 2 minutes without having to cook it first (my 5 year old does it). Cook it if you wish in about 2 minutes (it cooks quickly) and you have an easy meal. I use zucchini as pasta for everything. Spaghetti squash is also a good alternative, but I will admit I am too lazy to cook it first.
It took some time (and a lot of whining) but eventually everyone’s taste buds changed and now I get requests for veggies. My kids love them now. With a little bit of strategizing and planning, you can really eat healthy on a budget.