Recently, I hosted a discussion on eating healthy and on my new book 10 Reasons You Feel Old and Get Fat. During the Q & A session, I was reminded by one of the attendees about one of the fundamental concerns people have about eating for wellness – for many people, it’s the cost. It’s not always cheap to eat well, but eating better is within reach for most people if they’re willing to make the effort and get creative about how they shop, cook and eat. As I often say, eating as healthily as possible now is far cheaper than trying to fix medical problems down the road. Here are some practical tips to keep in mind particularly if you’re keeping a tight watch on the bottom line:
1. Shop the Produce Aisle Like a Chef
Look for fresh, local, in-season veggies and fruits, which are often considerably less expensive than those flown in from another hemisphere or trucked across the country. Shop several types of stores, from supermarkets to farmers markets, to green grocers, to the corner store to increase the odds of finding good deals on healthy, fresh foods.
2. Kick ‘Convenience’ Foods
Studies show that convenience foods cost more than whole ones and are less nutritious – so steer clear! All that manufacturing, packaging, trucking, shipping and advertising doesn’t come cheap, you know.
3. Keep It Real
Healthy foods are real foods – and none of them come out of the ground with nutrition labels! If it comes in a box or bag labeled with more than 3 – 5 ingredients, leave it on the shelf. Also, if you can’t pronounce or easily identify the ingredients (no matter how few or many there are), you’re better off without them.
4. Mix It Up
If eating all-organic, all-the-time is too pricey, then eat of mix of organic and non-organic foods. When it comes to foods like broccoli, spinach, apples, tomatoes, etc., try to eat organic most of the time to minimize your exposure to pesticides and toxins, and to ensure the most nutritional bang for your buck.
5. Shop With the Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen List
One of the easiest ways to save money on organic produce is to shop the aisle with the Environmental Working Group’s ‘Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen’ list in hand or on your phone. The list lays out which fruits and veggies you should always buy organic and which ones you don’t need to.
6. Embrace the Frozen Food Aisle
A great place to pick up fruits and veggies is in the frozen food aisle. Frozen foods, be they organic or otherwise, are picked at their peak so they retain much of their nutritional value and are ready anytime to toss into stir-fry dishes, soups and casseroles. Unlike fresh produce, they won’t spoil, which will save you money in the long run.
7. Fortify Meals Frugally With Inexpensive Fermented Foods
Like their frozen food cousins, fermented foods are fantastic money savers because they last for months in the fridge, so there’s little spoilage or waste. Better yet, fermented foods are excellent for supporting the health of your gut, are simple to make and taste delicious – they’re the total package!
8. Shop Around
Like the song says, ‘you gotta shop around’ to get the most nutrition for your buck. To keep costs in check, track the cost of your go-to foods and staple items with help from a shopping app so you can easily compare prices between local supermarkets, farmers markets, green grocers and ‘big box’ stores.
9. Take Advantage of Discounters
A cost-conscious patient recently shared her secret source for healthy food bargains: discounters Costco, TJ Maxx, Home Goods and Marshall’s, where she often buys her organic and non-GMO Project certified staple items like chia seeds, flax, quinoa, coffee, teas, coconut sugar and nuts.
10. Share the Good Stuff
Another way to get your share of healthy produce for less is to join a food co-op. You can also buy a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) membership and split costs with a neighbor. For low-income individuals, many CSAs offer low-cost memberships, making access to healthy food easier regardless of income.
11. Grow Your Own
Supplement your produce purchases by growing some of your own. Even if it’s the dead of winter or you’re a pressed-for-space apartment-dweller, it’s still possible create a small indoor garden. Among the easiest edibles to grow indoors: basil, lemongrass, radishes, mushrooms, salad greens, dwarf fruits and turmeric.
12. Mind Your Meats
One simple way to keep dollars in check is to eat less animal protein and buy it in smaller quantities, because no matter how you slice it, it can be costly. But look for 100% grass-fed meats from animals that have been humanely-treated, pasture-raised, without hormones or antibiotics, from organic or small local producers at the farmers market.
13. Manage Your Meats
Buy cheaper cuts of high quality meats and stretch them by using them as an ingredient in stews, soups and casseroles, rather than being the centerpiece of the meal. Love chicken? Try eating half an organic chicken breast instead of a whole one, or use shredded chicken as a tasty add-in to soup, salad or grain bowls. With less animal protein on your plate, there’ll be more room on your plate for plants, which is great for the health of your gut.
14, Slip the No-meat Cheats
If you’re cutting animal protein consumption, try to avoid swapping them for processed meat substitutes. Mock meats tend to be loaded with sodium, preservatives and anything-but-healthy ingredients – so you’re far better off eating a small amount of the real stuff instead.
For more ideas on how to make room on your plate for foods that truly enhance and support wellness, check out my healthy eating tip sheet.