When I switched to a clean and whole food diet, I was surprised by how little my food bill changed. I will admit that, at first, the waste was higher, but within a short amount of time, I stopped over-buying produce that I could never eat in a week’s time and found value in freezing leftovers. I found that small purchases of fresh local ground meat went a long way and large meat purchases could easily be divided and frozen for a cost savings. Visiting Mega food stores like Winco and Costco aided in my transition but preparation prior to shopping day was key.
Tips for saving money when shopping:
• Find a nearby location that has multiple options in shopping, saving you gas and time in traffic getting to multiple stores. Look for low buck shopping like Costco and Winco as well as specialty stores like Trader Joe’s and a good health food store.
• Take coupons whenever you can. Those providing a percentage off a “total purchase” are golden opportunities to save. Those for a single item are a good time to stock up.
• When you prepare your meals, look for opportunities to make a large batch. Saving leftovers for lunches or another dinner is a great way to conserve energy, time and money.
• Know your grocer. Get to know the manager of the store by ordering special products as needed. Ask questions about where they get their produce and from how far away. The more they hear interest in clean eating, the better and more local the stock. This often means a better price from their vendor. Hopefully, they’ll pass that on to you.
• Find a neighborhood organic group. They’re around. You can go in with a neighbor to have larger bags of frozen blueberries, for example, and split them between you.
• Don’t buy precut foods. Take the extra few minutes to prep your own food. You get more for your money.
• Freeze your excess greens and other fruits and vegetables before they go bad. Catch them before any signs of decay occur to optimize nutrition and taste.
• Avoid packaged foods. They require expense for packaging and time for people to wrap and label them. Save this money (and the earth) by shopping at your farmers markets, grocers and stores that focus on fresh unpackaged foods. I love Trader Joe’s for specialty goods but you need to know what items you can only get there and what you can buy elsewhere that has less packaging.
• Purchase a BPA-free freezer storage system (at a one-time cost) and use them! Stow away chicken broth, leftovers, sauces, greens for your smoothies and food from the garden rather than buying canned.
• Buy in bulk. Use your storage system to house a pretty pantry full of bulk items such as flour, beans, granola and rice. It is far less expensive to buy bulk rice than buying a microwave version, a precooked frozen bag or a premixed blend. This goes for cereals, baking ingredients and specialty legumes. Many stores now have bulk aisles, even Safeway.
• Have group cooking meet-ups. Get together and make large batches of chili, soups, sauces, healthy cookies and salad buzz. Divvy them up and save. It’s also a lot of fun. You can take turns offering up your kitchen, while others buy the groceries and you can split the costs.
• Grow your own whenever possible. Greens and herbs are a great way to start. If you have limited space, it’s often easy to work around. You can grow 8-10 varieties of greens most of the year with just a 8 foot outdoor fence wall that gets some sun. You can also grow herbs on a sunny indoor windowsill or tomatoes on your patio.
Know your organics:
Not everything you buy needs to be the most expensive item; you learn to pick and choose and know where you can cut corners.
This list of produce called “the dirty dozen”* is notorious for being highly toxic with tests showing positive for roughly 50 chemicals when grown without organic practices. For these items, GO ORGANIC! It’s worth the extra dollars.
• Domestic blueberries
• Sweet bell peppers
• Spinach, kale and collard greens
• Imported grapes
On the other hand, if your food expense is getting you down, here are some shortcuts for saving money. These “clean 15”* can be bought in most grocery stores.
• Sweet corn
• Sweet peas
• Kiwi fruit
• Sweet potatoes
• Sweet onions
A rule of thumb I personally use is: if it has a peel that I will discard, like a banana, grapefruit or watermelon, I feel okay about buying non-organic. If I will eat the fruit or vegetable whole, like an apple, berries, or grapes, I go organic. Sometimes it’s not that easy, because the skins are tougher on some produce than others, but it helps in a pinch. For a complete list of food to buy organic vs conventional growing practices, visit “the list” at: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/list.php
Meat, organic or not?
When selecting your meat, choose wisely. While a few pennies extra for organic apples may not break the bank, an organic steak might. Yet, there are significant differences in how cattle, fish, hogs and poultry are raised. Whether or not they were fed properly has a direct impact on your health. My advice on meat is to go organic, or at the very least, anti-biotic and hormone free. Local and fresh is always a great way to eat clean and support your local farmer and ranchers. Here are a few tips for saving money on meat purchases.
• Continue to ask at your local butcher or large chain store for organic. Over time, they will make changes based on consumer desires. Understand that poultry has NO hormones added by law so don’t be fooled by the “Natural” stickers charging more for hormone-free poultry. Hormone free is important all cow products, like hamburger, milk and cheese.
• Visit your nearest Costco for great deals on large quantity of organic meats. Split a large pack with a friend if you’re concerned about keeping it as fresh as possible.
• Buy organic ground meat instead of whole pieces to save on the cost. Similar to scrambled eggs over fried to serve more people, ground meats spread your servings further.
• Buy the entire animal – whether it’s a side of beef once a year or a whole chicken, your costs go down as you buy bulk meats. 2 organic chicken breasts can cost $9 while a whole one costs can run around $12. With that whole carcass, you get more meat, but you can also make your own chicken stock instead of buying it. The gelatin that comes from the organic chicken bones when boiling for soup, helps your nails and hair, naturally and for no additional cost.
You deserve to fuel your body well, regardless of your income. As the demand for clean, whole foods grows, the price will inevitably go down. We’ve already come a long way from Soy Milk being the only dairy replacement, whole grain breads being dry and tasteless and an organic vegetable looking small and speckled while costing a fortune. Things are looking up and eating clean becomes more affordable every day.