Who says eating healthy has to be expensive?
I recently graduated college— ok 3 years isn’t so recent, but that’s beside the point. I was the queen of frugal living and I can proudly say that only on a few occasions did I divulge in eating the ‘Ramen noodle’ diet that so many college students eat. I knew that I wanted to stay healthy and I also knew that diet is absolutely essential to staying healthy.
When you mix frugality and healthy eating, you manage to come up with some pretty creative ways to save money, while still eating delicious food! The following are a few tips for anyone who is looking to eat healthy on a budget.
1.) Learn to cook
I can’t stress this enough! Learning to cook will save you money in the long run. Healthy food, even in the fast food industry, is priced high. Specialty shops that cook healthy meals are even more expensive. With so many places offering dollar menus, it is easy to get distracted by price and opt for the unhealthy decision.
Start by cooking simple meals. Once you’ve learned to cook a few basic things, you can start to prepare whole meals. The more you practice and the better you become, the more you’ll enjoy the food you make, and the less likely you are to go out to eat (which is expensive).
2.) Buy In Bulk
Although this may sound counterintuitive, it is one of the best ways to save money. Often times, a product that you use will go on sale. This is the best time to stock up! In doing so, you are purchasing the product at a cheaper price and freeing up some money on the next trip.
The best day to go shopping is Wednesday. Not only is this the least busy day, it is also usually when items start to go on sale. Plus the stores tend to stock on Monday and Tuesday so you will be receiving fresher produce and products if you go early in the week.
3.) Meal Prep
I’ve come to realize that if I put my mind to it, I don’t mind eating the same meal every day for a week. I started to prepare my meals in advance on a weekly basis. By doing it on a weekly basis, I knew the food I cooked would still be good to eat later in the week and I also knew that I could change the menu the next week. Surprisingly, this routine never got old for me!
My suggestion is to take the least busy day of your week, typically Sunday, and devote about 2-3 hours just cooking for the week. Choose one or two meals, make large batches and put them in individual containers for a convenient grab-and-go meal.
You can plan your breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks all for the week. The better you plan, the less likely you will be to eat out, or buy unnecessary snacks at the convenience store. And you will be buying exactly what you need, nothing more. Not only will this method allow you to save money but it will also save you time during your busy work week— and who doesn’t love extra time to devote to other hobbies, like exercise or just relaxing in a bubble bath?
4.) Freeze Your Food
Often times I find the stores have a good sale on a particular produce item. Little did I know that I could freeze some of these items! After doing some research, I found out that many fruits and veggies could be frozen and used later. I am a big fan of green onions. Typically at the grocery store they do deals for 2 for $1. Since I only use a little at a time, I would often end up buying 2 but throwing one out because I wouldn’t use it in time. Now, all I do is cut up the green onion into quarter inch pieces, throw in a food container and freeze. Voila! They stay fresh in the freezer and I can easily pull out the amount I need because they don’t stick together as long as you dry them thoroughly.
Other popular items you may not know you could freeze are bananas (I prefer mine without the peel), avocados (peeled), peppers (cored and chopped), berries, corn (on the cob or off) and peas. You may need to do a little research to learn the best way to freeze these, as some need to be blanched to maintain their consistency. Next time your favorite produce item goes on sale, buy in bulk and freeze the portion you won’t be using right away!
5.) Shop Around
I often get grocery store catalogs in the mail with weekly specials. I am also fortunate in the fact that there are 4 grocery stores within a 5 mile radius of me. Before I go grocery shopping, I start by perusing the weekly specials in the catalogs. I’ll take note that store A has corn and berries on sale. Store B may have chicken and potatoes on sale that week. Based on what I decide to meal prep that week, I come up with a plan to hit both stores to get the best deal. (This strategy may not necessarily work for you if you live in a small town with only one grocery store in a 15 mile radius.)
You will need to weigh your options based on if the savings will be worth the extra gas you will use. Also be sure to pay close attention to whether you can stock up on an item or not. If the item has an extreme discount, they may put a limit on the amount you can purchase. If there is not a limit, then have at it! (And refer to rules 2 and 4 above.)
It takes time and effort— and a little creativity— to save money while also eating healthy. Planning is crucial in the process. If you are extra diligent, you can try your hand at couponing, but that requires a good deal of time and organization to accomplish extreme savings.
Once you have mastered these steps you will begin to notice how easy it is to save! Next time you get in a financial bind, follow these simple steps and remember that you don’t have to put a healthy diet by the wayside!