Eating whole foods on a budget
People in my life know that I am on a very tight budget, and live month-to-month sometimes — so when I tell them where I shop for food, (Whole Foods), they look at me in sheer disbelief. We all know that Whole Foods is also known as “whole paycheck” — and while that’s funny, it’s not so accurate – IF you know how to shop. Yes, you could easily spend your monthly food budget in one hour, if you’re not careful. But, if you eat plant-strong, there’s no reason why you can’t stay on a budget and stay healthy at the same time! As a matter of fact, eating whole foods on a budget is very manageable.
Not only that, eating plant-based, whole foods is actually an investment in your health. Take a look at the physical costs of eating a “Standard American Diet” and you will see how the SAD diet (great acronym) is mostly responsible for many diseases and health concerns that many of us have faced. Cancer, heart disease, stroke, high-blood pressure, high cholesterol, dementia, weight gain, inflammation, fatigue, brain fog — the list is very long — suffice it to say that you get the idea. So when you combine these disease states with the high cost of health insurance deductibles, prescriptions, and health care costs in general, you see how expensive this can be. (I’ve written about easy and safe ways to detox off processed foods, which may be helpful to you, if you decide to go in that direction…!)
I have not even mentioned the high-stress and emotional cost of caring for a loved one who is ill, and dealing with all of those issues —there are many. So I think there has to be a certain amount of awareness that is important for us to have, relative to eating plant-based, whole foods, versus eating the regular, standard fare. The cost of eating plant-strong is just so much more affordable, on so many levels!
So then, what am I buying?
When I go to Whole Foods, Wild by Nature (here in the northeast), Trader Joe’s, or any number of “health food” stores, I am not buying organic steak or organic salmon at $19.99 a pound. I am buying a variety of organic beans, organic brown rice, organic vegetables and organic fruit. I can make a delicious meal for under $5.00. Not too bad, considering that what I am eating are foods that are not processed or filled with chemicals, salt and preservatives.
Don’t get hung up on what your plate is supposed to look like.
Eat fewer foods at each meal. There is no rule that says that you need to eat a certain variety of foods at every meal. The key to remember is this: as long as you are eating a varied diet of wholesome plant foods, then your meals can be arranged any way you’d like.
Have a plate of baked yams with hummus, or a big bowl of oatmeal with walnuts and almond milk, or a salad of greens, carrots and beans. Throughout the course of the day, you will have gotten a well-rounded, well-balanced, affordable variety of healthy foods.
The Environmental Working Group has released a list called the ‘clean fifteen’ naming the vegetables with the least amount of pesticides. If you can’t afford to buy all organic then these fruit and vegetables are the best non-organic produce to buy – avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwis, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower and sweet potatoes. These are the “dirty dozen” – or the best to avoid: apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, sweet bell peppers, imported nectarines, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and potatoes.
Repeat what you eat!
I tend to eat the same types of foods over and over, with slight variations. It keeps things simple, and simple = less expensive. Soups or salads, whole wheat pasta or brown rice, black beans instead of kidney beans, pea soup instead of lentil, cauliflower instead of carrots, muffins instead of ezekiel bread. You get the idea.
This is a great way to keep food costs down, because you’re not filling the cart with new and expensive ingredients for every meal. I think this happens pretty naturally – at least it does for me, because different seasons present different fruits and vegetables, and I always adjust my shopping so that I am only eating what is locally available for my neck o’ the woods.
Do you plan ahead?
Yeah, we’ve heard about that, but never seem to get around to doing it. If you can find some time on weekends or whenever you can, to do a little prep for the week ahead, you’d be surprised how much money you’ll save. Why? Well, for one thing, you won’t be running to the store when you are tired and hungry, which is a set-up for immediately going over-budget. Doing things ahead of time makes your life so much easier. Meals are at the ready, with some small preparation, and you’re not tempted to eat out or bring in, which adds up pretty quickly.
How about making pasta sauce over the weekend? Rice and beans? Muffins? I love to make lentil or pea soup that I divide into 1-cup containers and stick in the refrigerator. Mason jars are the latest craze, and it is a lot of fun to put all the fixin’s for a salad in them, layering the vegetables, and putting the dressing at the bottom. When you’re ready, you just shake and go…!
I recently started the Forks Meal Planner, thanks to the folks over at Forks Over Knives, just to jump-start my plant-strong diet, which has taken a hit since my son has been home from college. This plan helps me a lot because each day has a list of meals, ingredients, recipes and a food list for grocery shopping. So on any given day, I can select my menu in advance, or mix and match, and all the work is done for me. You can plan for your own success by keeping a notebook handy and writing down your favorite meals or ingredients, so that at a quick glance, you are ready with meal ideas. You can rotate the meals, repeat the meals, whatever works.
Other ways to shop.
Some of the well-known big-box stores are starting to carry organic, healthy produce and other foods. If you have room for storage of the bulk items, this may work for you, and is certainly less expensive per unit, than buying smaller sizes at the conventional stores. Local farmers’ markets and farm stands are an amazing way to save money as well. Most of them are from the local communities, and need to sell their produce in a timely way, so they usually will sell at a really reasonable price, especially at the end of the harvest.
Keep the pantry stocked!
Nothing worse than planning to make a meal, only to find that you don’t have the necessary ingredients. At that point, if you’re like me, you’ll end up spending way too much money at the store, and buying things that don’t serve your health and nutrition, because your sugar has crashed. If you keep your favorite staple items at home, you’ll always be prepared. Most days it is late, you are tired, and so you need to make your life easier. Canned beans, nut milks, whole grains, pastas, frozen foods, vegetables and soup mixes, all make for great storage in a cool pantry. Then, when the mood strikes and it’s time for dinner, you have everything you need!
Grow your own!
No matter where you live, relatively speaking, you can grow fruits and vegetables! I live in a condo, and my patio is small, but every spring and summer I plant tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, herbs, and lettuce in pots and large containers. If you don’t have room, you can grow them on windowsills, on the porch, or at the top of your driveway. Repurpose old egg boxes, old wooden crates, milk bottles, and bean cans. It is very exciting to see the fruits of my labor, and to enjoy picking fresh vegetables off the vine. Not only do I save money this way, but I have the extra-added joy of knowing that my family is eating foods that I have grown in my own backyard. Just a note, though, to make sure to plant your organic seeds or small plants in organic soil.
So I think you could see that eating whole foods on a budget is absolutely possible. All you need is some planning and creativity and you’re on your way to wellness! Leave me a comment below, and let me know if you’ve tried a plant-based diet, and how you’ve managed…!
Peace and plants…!