Affordable Healthy Eating: Health Food Should Not Be Expensive
Over the years, I have often heard people say they cannot afford to “eat healthy.” I can assure you that truly healthy eating should be very affordable! Today I want to discuss the nutrition myths surrounding the idea that healthy eating is too pricy. I will give you a new way of approaching healthy eating that will help your wallet and body stay well cared for.
When you think about eating healthy, what is it you picture?
Does your mind conjure up ideas of an expensive new diet plan? Are you picturing walking through the aisle of one of the many specialty or health food stores?
I am very happy to tell you that neither of these is required for you to eat healthfully. Furthermore, purchases that take a chunk out of your bucket are not likely to be sustainable over the long term. If you would like to listen to the 4-part podcast covering this topic, check out episodes 52-55 of the True Food Freedom & Faith podcast!
Let’s first want to look at what might be causing such a high expense in your food bill. Then we will talk about how to eat in a healthy and very affordable manner.
Where is the money bleed in “healthy eating?”
Let’s start with a little exploration to discover where the food money is actually going when you are trying to eat healthfully.
Some of the biggest expenses people succumb to are buying specialty “health food” products and purchasing ready-made meal plans. Although this seems like a reasonable thing to do and may feel like your only hope for healthy eating, let me state plainly that this is not the case.
Another area draining the purse is the area of any prepared foods. This would include restaurant, drive-in, and gas station prepared foods. Not only are these foods pricier than the equivalent homemade version, but they often contain a LOT more sodium and usually a good bit more fat and sugar than the homemade version.
And one final area that stretches the budget is meat. Meat is quite costly, and although there is plenty of important nutrition to be found in meats, they may make the difference between staying in your money zone or going over budget.
So, to recap, the 4 main areas that are costing you $$$$ are:
- “Health food” products, protein powders, weight loss supplements, and “superfoods”
- Diet membership plans that require you to purchase their products to achieve health
- Prepared foods, including restaurants and fast food
- Daily meals based largely on fresh meats
There is a better way to affordable healthy eating
So, you may ask, what is another option for healthy eating? I’m so glad you asked!
I would like to share three overall concepts for you to think about. These three foundational truths will help set the stage for making great, money-saving, nutritious food-buying decisions. Let’s look at the three concepts now.
Concept #1: More Plants Are a Win-Win
Not that you will be surprised to hear this, but as it turns out, God has provided what our bodies need. He knows our spiritual needs and provided a Savior. He knows our soul needs and provided the Holy Spirit to live in and change our inner man. And since He knows our physical needs, He created the abundance of the earth to provide for our nourishment and fuel.
And as you learn the science of nutrition, you get to see just a bit of the genius in man’s interaction with the earth through God’s clearly-designed creation. It looks a little something like this: People are made from and need the elements of the earth in their bodies. Plants grow from the earth and absorb all types of these nutrients. People eat the yummy plants and receive the vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins, and even some fats to keep their bodies healthy.
On top of this, plants are the only source of fiber, which is so important for our health and provides us with the feeling of fullness – a fullness that lasts.
So if you want to talk about affordable healthy eating…
…you MUST start with a discussion on eating plants. Plants are chock full of nutrients we need. Plants provide the fiber we need in abundance, allowing us to fill up on less food and feel fuller longer. And plants are very, very affordable!
When I mention plants, I am talking about vegetables, fruits, and grains. But I also want you to remember that beans and legumes are plants, as well. Beans and legumes are a great source of protein and can take the place of some of your weekly meat-laden meals. Instead of a large serving of meat with just a veggie, think of combining different beans and grains for a satisfying, protein-rich, and money-saving meal. Tex-Mex foods and chilis are excellent starting points for experimenting with this!
You can fill up a shopping cart with fresh veggies and fruits, dried beans, and grains like oats and wheat, and feel pretty good about yourself at the checkout counter knowing that you have done a great thing for your health AND your bank account. A win-win!
However, there is one caveat here. If you buy fresh produce that you don’t actually get to eat and must toss because it has gone bad, you really haven’t saved money, have you? You’ve actually wasted money, so be mindful of this. Another economical choice is to purchase frozen fruits like berries and frozen veggies to eat when you want to without having to discard your fresh groceries.
Concept #2: The Money-Labor Scale
I have a little word picture for you. Can you imagine a balance-type scale? You know, one that has two discs attached to chains on a pendulum that compares the weights of different items? On one side of that scale, picture the word “MONEY.” On the other side of that scale, picture the words “TIME & EFFORT.”
The inescapable principle I want to share is that we cannot save both money and time/effort. If we are short on time, we spend more money to pay for someone else’s time. If we are unable to do something for ourselves, we pay money for someone else’s labor (or effort).
Therefore, the only way to keep more of your hard-earned money is to put in more of your own time and effort. In the area of affordable healthy eating, this means that in order to save money, you will likely have to do more food preparation and cooking. And nutritionally speaking, this is optimal, as well!
When you have developed skills to cook delicious dishes and prepare satisfying snacks that contain more of that plant foods haul, you will have control over what goes into your food and you will eat what you like, how you like it best!
Concept #3: It’s All About the Plan
Let’s look at some of the biggest money-wasters in your weekly haul. Buying lots of items that aren’t used, go bad, or are pre-made simply because there is no strategy for eating and preparation equals money down the drain. This will make affordable healthy eating a huge challenge.
Think about how different it would be to sit down one day a week and plan out all the meals and snacks. Of course, we don’t need to get crazy strict here. Think how great it would be to know exactly what you need to buy, how it will be used, and be able to limit wasted food.
By planning in advance, you will end up having:
- Freedom from the daily stress of “what do I make for dinner?” (often ending in a run to the drive-in joint)
- A specific shopping list to work from (preventing the very expensive impulse and “hmmm maybe I need this” buying)
- More time because you are streamlined in your shopping and daily lunch and dinner prep (when your planning includes bulk cooking for leftovers)
Check out what planning looks like
Walk through this planning session with me and notice that it works well for health, finances, and sanity!
One day a week, I think about how many dinners I need to make, how many lunches need to be packed (for both kids and adults), and how many snacks I want to have available. Then I start with the (usually) most expensive meal, dinner. Now I am ready to find recipes for vegetable-laden dinners with less meat, even some meat-free dinners. I try to keep in mind that I am trying to be economical, so I want plant foods to make up the bulk of my shopping. Finally, I decide how many days of leftovers I want from each meal (including leftovers to use for lunches).
When selecting which meals to make, I try to find those that use a lot of the same vegetables, meats, grains, etc., but are not too similar in taste to each other. For example, I might use fresh corn on the grill with one meal, then cut it from the cob to put in my salad entrée the next night, and use it in my black bean & rice burrito the third night.
Once the meals are pretty much decided on, I make a detailed ingredient list. I then check which of these ingredients I already have, a step we often skip. Then I can make a shopping list for the rest of the items. Notice these are two separate lists. It is easy to purchase items we already have because we didn’t take a moment to see what was sitting in the pantry or freezer.
Once at the store with my shopping list, I find by following my plan that my cart is largely filled with fruits and vegetables…some of the most economical items! Grains and beans can be bought in bulk, although not at all stores. Frozen or canned produce can be chosen instead of fresh for longevity. For all other needs, I can choose store brand or generic items as much as possible.
Work Smarter, Not Harder
And finally, I will take the time to write down and keep a reusable record of what worked for me! I can put this in a binder and add more of these meal plans as I go, including all shopping lists and recipes. Then I can use this information over and over again with much less work!
You can do this!
This takes a bit of up-front work, I know that. But as you develop this new way of planning, shopping, and preparing your foods, it becomes much more natural. And with your growing binder of meal plans that work well and are loved by your family, you will find you are making affordable healthy eating sustainable for a lifetime. And your wallet will thank you, too!
Now it’s your turn to impart your wisdom and experience! Let other readers know what has worked for you in eating healthy without breaking the bank or what challenges you the most in this area. Happy planning everyone!
If you would like help to stop binge eating, an obvious strain on the grocery budget, you can get your free copy of my ebook, “Escape the Binge!” HERE.