You’ve heard it all before: Eating right takes too much time. It’s so expensive. There’s just no way I can afford to feed my family whole foods when the processed stuff is soooo much cheaper. Well, that can be true, if you let it. Below are 10 ways to take your budget back under your control and feed yourself and your family real food at great prices!
1. Take stock of what you already have to work with.
You don’t have to start out by replacing every item in your fridge, freezer and pantry. You can replace items as you use them with more healthy, less processed versions. This baby-steps version of jumping into clean eating allows to to add items you’ll use and not go overboard buying a bunch of things you’re not even sure you like. This brings me to….
2. Buy what you will actually eat
We all have good intentions. Really we do. We buy a fridge full of produce, alternative flours, chia seeds and ancient grains that we can’t pronounce. And then it sits there. We don’t know how to cook it, what to make it with, or just plain don’t like it. And just like that, $200 is flushed down the drain. Or more likely, starts growing unknown mold spores in the bottom of your crisper. Which is why….
3. Meal Planning is THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP
This is the one thing that will make or break a budget. If you go into the store without a plan, you will undoubtedly spend 50% more than you would have otherwise, and risk wasting food as well. If you take the time to plan what you are going to feed your family for the week (or month, if you’re feeling adventurous) ahead, you will know exactly what you need to buy and how much it will end up costing. This step has several mini steps within it.
4. Shop the sales.
When you are first starting out, I recommend weekly shopping trips. It gives you a chance to check out the sales cycles at your favorite stores and see what the selection is for this new way of eating. Base your weekly menu off of what whole foods are on sale this week. This will also make it more likely that you will be eating a seasonal diet as most sales revolve around items that are in season and plentiful.
5. Only use coupons for items that you actually need.
Yes, coupons can save you tons of money. But not if you fall prey to the siren’s song they sing in order to get you to buy something you never would have bought if you didn’t have said coupon. Look at coupons with a hard eye and ask yourself if it is really a great deal. Is it something you would buy even if it wasn’t on sale? If not, put the coupon down and run away!
6. Make a list, and check it twice
Now that you have a meal plan, you can use that to make your shopping list. Look at your list and check what you already have on hand to see what you’ll need to make your plan go from ingredients to meals. Don’t overlook the little things! You don’t want to get home to cook at 5:30 (or 7:30, like me) and realize you don’t have that one thing that makes or breaks that night’s meal.
7. Don’t deviate from the list once you get to the store.
The grocer’s job is to draw your eye to all those SALE signs and bright displays in order to have you buy what you DID NOT COME FOR. Your list holds the key to the week’s meals, you already checked the sales ad and you don’t need anything else.
8. Check out the local farmer’s markets or CSAs available to you.
Farmer’s markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares may be a hidden gem in your quest to save money on whole foods. Often the prices are much better than at the store and you can pretty much guarantee that you are getting a fresher product and supporting the local economy at the same time. It’s a win-win!
9. Don’t bring the kids (or the husband).
If you know that your family is, shall we say, resistant to all of the great healthy changes you are making and will sneak in the cheeze doodles and happy puffs, don’t bring them with you. You can knock out your list with laser focus and get back home much easier without the distractions. And the whining. And the crying. And I’m sure the kids will have their complaints too.
10. Prep meals ahead to save time during the week.
Now that you’ve brought home all that food, how do you make time to cook it all? Meal prepping is a great start! You can take the idea of prepping as far as you want it. If you don’t have a ton of time on shopping day, a minimal prep of fruits and veggie snacks cut up and leaving the next night’s meat in the fridge to defrost may be all you can handle today. If you have a little more time, getting some freezer meals together may be a great step. You can prep meals to go in the crock pot and in the mornings you can set it, forget it and come home to a delicious hot meal with hardly any effort.