How to Buy Healthy Food on a Budget
The topic of buying healthy food on a budget is always a big debate, with the ‘it’s too expensive to eat healthy’ line frequently thrown around. While I do agree that if you want to live on 99c burgers and items off fast food dollar menus, then yes, junk food probably will be cheaper, but there is more to consider with food than just cost. The World Health Organization has some scary statistics on obesity and illnesses that are related to diet and I strongly believe that you CAN eat healthy food while sticking to a budget, and that it doesn’t have to be more expensive than an average ‘unhealthy’ supermarket shop.
How to Buy Healthy Food on a Budget
There are a few simple ways to make healthy eating budget friendly and they’re really not that difficult. My top tips for healthy eating on a budget are:
Shop in season
Fruit and vegetable prices fluctuate a lot, generally in relation to seasons, but sometimes availability due to weather events makes an impact as well. When I menu plan, I consider what is in season and make sure that these items are the main ingredients in my dishes. My kids love bananas and we can often get them really cheap, but when the prices go up we stop eating bananas and look for a different fruit. As well as saving money, this method encourages variety too. Sustainable Table is a great site for finding out what is in season and when. If there are seasonal fruit and vegetables that you love, think about whether or not they will freeze. If you love smoothies, stock up on your bananas and strawberries when they’re cheap and freeze them. Love capsicums? In winter they are always really cheap so buy them in bulk, cut them up and freeze them.
Often buying from the one large grocery store is not the cheapest option. I often find that it is cheaper to shop around. If you have a discount butcher in your area, visit them for your meat. Find a cheap greengrocer or visit the local markets for your fruit and vegetables. Make the grocery store the last place on your list, especially for meat, fruit and vegetables as they are often more expensive. Beware of many health foods shops, as there is often a huge markup on their items. Most of the items you buy from there will be available in other stores, generally for a much cheaper price.
Buy in Bulk and Freeze
It is generally cheaper to buy in bulk, and the same applies for healthy foods. If you love meat and fish, buy them in bulk and freeze in single or family serve portions. Most butchers will cut up a large side of meat for you for no extra charge and you can normally request what styles they cut it into. I do the same with fruit and vegetables. I know which fruits and vegetables I can freeze (for use in smoothies, casseroles, slow cooker meals, stir fries etc) and I will grab these when they are cheap.
Rice, pasta, lentils and beans all last a really long time when stored well in an airtight container. If you know that you will eat them, buying these items in bulk will save you money in the long term.
Buy in bulk and make your own portions
Often we pay more for the convenience of single serve packages. While most of us know we are paying more, we don’t always realize how much more. One of the best examples of this is yoghurt. The difference in price between a single serve pouch or tub and a large tub is ridiculous. Often up to 3 times the price. I prefer to buy the larger tub and portion them out into quality containers or reusable pouches.
Buy Marked Down
No matter what I go into the grocery store for, I will always have a quick look at the fresh food areas for marked down stock. If it is protein and I know we will eat it, I grab it and freeze it. Items with a short used by date are fine to eat if they are frozen immediately and consumed as soon as you defrost them. They are also fine if you cook something with them immediately and then freeze (like a meatloaf or spaghetti bolognaise). If it’s fruit on markdown and they look a little sad, then I blend them up and use them for smoothies, or make fruit ice blocks for the kids.
I always try to visit the bakery aisles of Coles and Woolworths just before closing time when all of the bread is reduced. This allows me to buy the better quality bread (they generally always charge more for wholemeal and multigrain styles) for the same price as the cheaper, preservative filled white breads. Bread freezes really well and it means that you’ve always got a staple in your freezer.
Frozen vs Fresh
While it’s nice to buy all of our food fresh, there’s actually nothing wrong with buying whole foods that are frozen. Fruit and vegetables are normally snap frozen and retain all of their nutrients. Meat and fish is still healthy if you are buying it frozen. Frozen foods are often cheaper in the stores, as it’s easier to package and transport them. Be aware that not ALL frozen foods are cheaper – it pays to check around. The key to eating frozen food and sticking to a healthy diet is not to buy highly processed foods. Look for meat that is just that. No added anything!
Shop with Friends
As we’ve mentioned, shopping in bulk is often the key to bigger savings, but if you don’t have the room to store everything or a deep freezer, then this option is tricky. A great way to solve this problem is to shop with friends. Combine your money and buy large sizes of everything and then portion them out. You’ll be amazed how much you can save with this method.
I hope that you can see that you CAN eat healthy food on a budget and that it isn’t hard. I’d love to hear some ways that your family is tackling healthy eating while sticking to your grocery budget.