“Eat right and exercise.” How many times have you heard that advice? It’s true that a healthy diet, coupled with regular workouts, can help keep your weight in check and your heart in good shape, but it’s often easier said than done. Busy schedules coupled with tight budgets often lead families to turn to processed, packaged convenience foods or restaurant meals. What they save in time and money, though, they often spend on health care down the road.
Budgetary issues are often the primary reason that people don’t eat as healthfully as they should. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, feeding a family of four a healthy diet including all meals and snacks costs an average of $150 to $300 per week. A number of factors influence that amount, including grocery store variations and actual items purchased. Another key factor is geographic location. In some areas, both urban and rural, a wide variety of fresh healthy food simply isn’t readily available, and residents must rely on restaurants, convenience stores, or small markets for their food.
Even with these barriers, with some planning and preparation, it is possible to overcome them and still have a healthy diet. Try some of these tips for maximizing your food budget.
Make Friends With the Freezer
When it comes to healthy eating on a budget, your freezer can be your best friend. Buy meat, bread, and veggies when they are on sale, and freeze them to use later. For example, the average price per pound for boneless chicken breast is about $3.40, making a five-pound package about $17. Purchase chicken when it’s on sale for $1.99 per pound, though, and that same package is less than $10. Freeze the package into 2-3 smaller portions, and you’ll be able to cook several meals for less.
And speaking of healthy meals for less, when you’re on a tight budget, your slow cooker can be your best friend. Cheaper cuts of meat actually work best with this type of cooking, meaning that you don’t have to pay extra for the premium cuts to have a tasty meal. A simple, hearty stew can fill up a family of four for about $8.00, without all of the preservatives found in the canned varieties.
Canned vegetables are also an option when it comes to adding produce to your diet, but frozen vegetables might give you more bang for the buck, health wise. Fresh produce can be expensive; broccoli crowns, for example cost about $1.80 per pound, with most families purchasing two pounds for a meal. However, a one-pound bag of frozen florets runs about $1. In some cases, frozen produce has an advantage over fresh, as it’s usually frozen at the peak of freshness and maintains all of the essential nutrients. It’s also less likely to spoil, meaning less waste. In short, if you are on a tight budget, it’s possible to include a serving of veggies with each meal for less than $10 per week.
Buy in Bulk
Warehouse clubs can be a great bargain for a family on a budget, especially when you are purchasing snacks or frozen items. However, you don’t need a warehouse membership or space to store a dozen boxes of crackers to save money.
Many grocery stores offer bulk purchases of certain grains, nuts, and spices and usually, the per pound price for the items are far less than packaged versions. Dried beans, for example, cost about half as much when purchased in bulk than when pre-packaged. Learn to read the unit prices on your food. While the larger bottle of ketchup may cost more up front than the smaller version, the unit price could be significantly lower, making the larger bottle a better value.
Growing your own food is the cheapest way to access a supply of vegetables and you don’t need a much space. Patio pots are ideal for growing tomatoes, peppers, and lettuce, for example.
If you don’t have the time, space, or inclination to grow your own produce, consider joining a food co-op. Co-ops allow you to purchase a “share” entitling you to fresh veggies every week or two; most cost from $25-$100 per month to join, or even let you work for some or your entire share. If you don’t have a local co-op, consider forming one with friends. Or make your own version of a “community garden,” with each member growing one or two crops, which are then shared with the other members.
Eating a healthy diet can be challenging when money is tight, but it’s not impossible. Take a close look at how you shop and cook, and make some small adjustments that will have big benefits for your health and your wallet.