I spend a lot of money on food. And I’m proud of it.

It’s my investment in my family’s health. When you put food costs in context with total health care spending, you get a clearer picture of how much you’re saving. That’s right, buying healthier, more expensive food saves you money.

Did you know that diabetes costs an average of $1200 a month? I would rather spend that on yummy, high quality meat than glucose testing strips (I don’t spend that much, but I would).

Think about how much money people spend on different medications for cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid disorder, depression and so on. And the more medications you take, the more side effects you encounter which then requires more medication to deal with the side effects. It can cost you a fortune.

It’s also important to remember that processed foods are so cheap because they’re subsidized. It’s really not a fair comparison. And when you price out nutrition per dollar, it’s certainly not fair to just compare the face value rich foods versus poor foods.

I always ask Total Body Reboot clients to keep all this in mind when calculating the cost of well-sourced food. And guess what, by making smart choices you won’t spend much more than you used to! You can eat healthfully and still keep your budget in check by following these 15 tips for slashing your healthy food spending.

  1. Avoid expensive packaged foods. Packaged foods (bars, mixes, and anything pre-made) will drain your food budget. It’s much better to buy ingredients, not products. This is especially true when eating gluten free. Nothing will drain your wallet (or your health) faster than a bunch of processed gluten free products.
  2. Focus most on veggie consumption. Produce will be the cheapest thing you buy and when cooked or served with fats like extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, lard, tallow or butter, it will be more filling. Just use meat as a side to the meal and make veggies with fat the main deal.
  3. Buy meat in bulk. If you don’t have enough room to store the complete amount or enough money to buy enough up front to make the bulk purchase worth it, split the cost and quantity with a friend. You can get well-sourced animal meat at a huge discount this way and you’ll reduce the amount of shopping you need to do throughout the year.
  4. Eat nose to tail. Organ meats tend to be cheaper than muscle meats. This is even more true when calculated based on nutritional impact per dollar. By using the whole animal, you’re going to get more nutritional diversity and more meals for less cost. Besides, the more nutrition you pack into your meals, the more sated you’ll be overall. Nutritional poverty is one of the top eight unhealthy eating triggers
  5. Spread out your proteins. Use one protein per meal. IE: have eggs with kale or spinach for breakfast, tuna or canned salmon and avocados for lunch, broccoli and stew meat stir fry for dinner. Combining more than one protein per meal will get more costly.
  6. Go meatless for one meal each day. Every day, every other day, or even once a week, have a meal that relies on veggies and added fats (butter, coconut oil, etc.) versus animal proteins. I suggest making this meal dinner to aid in digestion, sound sleep and get the best use of the carbs from veggies. 
  7. Eat more eggs. These little guys are cheaper than cuts of meat and can be just as filling. Try them as omelets, scrambled, muffins, fried, poached, baked in avocados, stir frys, fried cauliflower rice, hardboiled or deviled.
  8. Go for Ground. This is one I stick to a lot. Ground meat is usually cheaper than cuts of meat. You can also ask your butcher to create a ground mix for you by mixing in heart and liver for the added nutrition and reduced cost. Bonus points. 
  9. Mix in well-sourced canned fish. Canned fish is cheaper than fresh, but just as nutritionally dense. Two of the canned fishes I recommend — salmon and sardines — also happen to be in the top 8 animal-based foods for health. The third canned fish I recommend is Tuna. My favorite brand for all three is Wild Planet.
  10. Find the Frozen Foods. Frozen veggies, fruits and meats can be a lot cheaper than fresh and also last longer. Watch out for extra additives including sodium, sugars and acids.
  11. Only buy organic if it’s a dirty dozen member. The dirty dozen list tells you what foods really need to be purchased organic and which are safe to eat conventional. There’s no need to buy everything organic. Pick your battles.
  12. Buy local. No, I don’t mean the local Whole Foods. When I say local I mean getting in touch and building relationships with local farmers. To make it even easier, go through local co-ops. Find great sources in your area at locallygrown.net and eatwild.com.
  13. Hunt and forage for wild foods. Hey, did you know that food can be free or relatively free? Get into hunting and you can fill up your freezer with high quality wild protein for dirt cheap. Learn how to harvest wild, local plants in your area (possible regardless of where you live) and you’ll have free sources of wild plant foods (which are also more nutritionally dense).
  14. Grow some of your own food. How much room do you have? Get to work growing some of your own food. Many people in my area (we live in a densely populated suburbs) even have chickens. This is no joke — you have complete control over the quality of what you’re producing and it’s dirt cheap. Yes, it requires more work, but there are always tradeoffs if you’re on a limited budget.
  15. Go shopping with a clear plan. One thing people forget to factor in with grocery costs is the time factor. Wasting time wandering around the store can add up to dozens of hours of lost productivity each year. And the wandering often means you’re adding things to the cart willy nilly. Either way, this is not a recipe for budget success.

Using these tips will not only save you money, but time as well. Becoming an efficient, savvy shopper will help you invest in your families health while keeping you on budget. That alone ensures better health — financial stress is just as deadly as other stressors.

Do you have a tip of your own that wasn’t mentioned? We’d love to hear it in the comments!

Comments

  • Sierra says:

    Great post, Kim! Especially when shopping for quality meat in bulk, using a Foodsaver (or similar device) is handy to reduce waste and stretch your meat. I also noticed that Costco has Kerrygold in the Portland area for about $7.50/lb.

  • Wenchypoo says:

    Okay…black-belt frugalite housewife here to tell you that you’ve missed the most important one of all: shopping by unit price, not shelf price. Some things you are simply not going to be able to buy or store easily for daily use (like coconut milk), and you’ll need to buy canned or boxed, or packaged somehow. When you encounter those things, you shop by price per unit, not those BIG numbers on the shelf label that make up the price.

    Here’s what I’m talking about: http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2008/06/05/unit-pricing-get-more-food-for-less-money/

    This is how to save money on food without the use of coupons, rebates, free shipping, or other gimmicks.

    • Kevin Geary says:

      That’s a great tip. I don’t know if it’s the most important, but a good tip nonetheless. One of the issues with it is that the products people should really be buying are not the cheapest per unit.

  • Jessica says:

    I like to make equivalent to “packaged” foods as much as possible. I’ve made jam by buying a flat of local strawberries at the end of their peak season straight from the farmers at a slashed price because of their ripeness, and made enough jam for about 4 years (2 people, occasional users) and even gave jars away. We also brew beer, which we started for the fun of it, but we’ve definately saved money that way. Gallon batches of tomato sauce for pizzas and pastas are better than bought. Cookies and other desserts are also always better homemade. I make my own flavored coffee creamers and salad dressing exclusively now. I need to tweak my hummus a bit.
    There are several books with recipes for making a “homemade pantry” – everything from poptarts to almond butter (my main reason for the purchase). I also have a book about making my own cheese. I recently discovered how easy it is to make Kombucha, a favorite treat, and $3.50 a bottle at the store. I’ll soon be making weekly batches of that as well.
    I’ve also been talking about making my own protein/granola bars, almond butter, cheese, yogurt, and jerky. There’s a satisfaction to making it yourself, it seems to tastes better, and it’s definately cheaper.

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