A frequent complaint about making dietary changes is that healthier foods are more expensive. Some people go as far as stating that they can’t possibly afford to eat more healthfully. It is true that organic apples cost more than conventionally grown apples, and that grass-fed beef is more per pound than CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) beef, but market prices are really the least important variable. Today, I’ll share some tips for making healthy eating more affordable. My tips fall into two categories: philosophy and food selection.
This may seem like an odd topic to incorporate philosophical musings, but I find it quite relevant. The viewpoint you choose to look at healthy eating is essential. If you see organic produce, for example, as a hippy-dippy extravagance reserved for those with cushy incomes and hybrid cars, you’ll fail to notice their potential benefit in your own life. Many people have sensitivities to herbicides and pesticides without realizing the source of their symptoms. But “organic” isn’t anything new; it’s the way foods had always been until the introduction of chemical fertilizers and sprays after WWII. Wholesome, natural foods ARE for you, not just someone else.
The biggest philosophical shift, however, comes from the reconciliation of “real cost.” Though you may be able to slip out of the grocery store with a smaller bill by buying cheaper, processed foods, will that keep your bills down long-term? It’s unlikely. Trying to save on foods by sacrificing quality will often result in larger bills down the road: medications for diabetes, professional care for Alzheimer’s, treatments for cancer. A greater investment in health today will pay back dividends in the future.
Once you’ve decided that healthier eating is worth the price, there are many things you can do to keep that price under control. Try some of the following:
-Avoid “healthier” versions of processed foods like chips, crackers, cookies, and pretty much anything that comes in a bag or box. This is the area where you could end up burning through your food budget the fastest. An organic, gluten-free bag of pretzels is still a bag of mindless snacking, but will put you out about twice the cash. Not worth it in my book.
-Avoid single-serving foods. Choices like 16 oz. bottles of kombucha and 2 oz. pouches of apple sauce are real cash hounds. Consider the apple sauce: it might seem like a deal to get a convenient little snack for $2, but that means you’re paying $16/pound for apple sauce! That’s the same as grass-fed rib eye!
-Buy in bulk….but be smart about it. Only buy in bulk what will keep, or what you’ll consume before it goes bad. I don’t, for example, recommend buying fruit in bulk, unless you have a very large family. Meats that can be frozen, veggies or berries that are already frozen, and nuts and seeds (that should also be stored in the freezer) are good choices. Looking outside of the box of Costco, purchasing a whole beef, pig, or lamb from a local grower is another great choice.
-Choose the less expensive cut. Remember the grass-fed rib eye I mentioned? While you’d be getting more bang for your buck than with the apple sauce, it’s not as economical as organic grass-fed ground beef. And those convenient organic chicken breast tenders? Quite a bit more per pound than a whole organic fryer. The whole chicken, when roasted well, serves quite a few people, is delicious, and also provides a carcass for brewing up some wholesome bone broth.
-Make it yourself. There are so many food products that have come from the central aisles of the grocery store for so many decades that it’s easy to forget that they’re made from the whole food ingredients found in the outer aisles. You can easily and cheaply make that hyper-expensive apple sauce yourself! Soups really don’t need to come from a can, and hearty peanut or almond butter can be made in a high-quality food processor without any of the junky additives found in the jarred variety.
-Plan, plan, plan! Another grocery-budget killer is taking your cash and throwing it directly in the trash, which is what you do every time you throw food away. This is easy to avoid with intentional planning. I choose a healthy cookbook or recipe blog and select 5-6 dinner recipes for the week. I like to pick a combination of both quick and easy meals and slow-cooker meals to fit into my busy week, and plan to make the meals large enough to have leftovers for lunches or especially busy nights. I make a grocery list to go along with the meals, and add in the few things I need for my normal breakfast rotation and a couple of snacks like bell peppers and nuts. With this strategy, all the foods I buy have a plan, so I minimize the amount of food that gets lost and moldy at the bottom of the produce drawer.
Though I categorized these tips into groups, ultimately it all comes down to choices and priorities. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless when it come to the higher prices of individual items, but making choices that match your priorities is something you are completely in control of. The next time you find yourself questioning whether the healthier version of a food is worth the monetary price, remind yourself that it’s actually you, your health, and the health of your family that’s worth it. The price of less healthy food is truly what’s not worth the cost.
Come back next week when I’ll share my thoughts on the other healthy eating stumbling blocks: time and convenience.