How To Eat Well On Any Budget

Thirteen years ago, I became very serious about my physical health. I started to exercise and eat better and lost over 100 pounds over a period of three years. I didn’t follow diet programs or plans. I researched food and simply began to move my body, and changed some very unhealthy behavior. It was hard, but that’s a story for another time. What I want to focus on in this piece is what I learned about food. It really boils down to:

  1. Food is preventative medicine.
  2. Eating real, nutrient-dense food helps alleviate health conditions. 
  3. Eating good food takes commitment.

A few quick Google searches on eating healthy and organic on a budget quickly turned up great articles, but they weren’t what I was looking for. The word budget has become synonymous with “thrifty” and “deprivation,” and that’s not how I roll. So here’s how I manage my food budget and eat like a yoga-loving, Malibu-living, Hollywood movie star.

Buy Meat From Your Farmers Market, Local Farm, Food Co-Op or Raise Your Own

Meat, if you eat it, isn’t where you can cut costs. You want to eat better meat, even if it means you eat less of it. Most farmer’s markets have local/regional farmers who sell chicken, pork, beef, lamb and various fish. Higher quality meat is going to start at $7-$9 per pound and go up to $15-20 per pound (it's well worth the cost). Eating locally raised meat that’s been raised on all grass diet has been a game-changer for me. I literally taste it. While partial grain diets in animals are okay, commercial meat just has too many factors that surround the health and welfare of the animal so I stay away. 

If you don’t have access to a farmer’s market, you may be able to find a local farmer that sells meat. A local food co-op is another resource as most co-ops have direct agreements with their suppliers and have stricter standards on meat than general grocers. For example, Sacramento hasMarket 5-one-5, theSacramento Food Co-op, Seattle hasPCC Natural Markets and Los Angeles hasErewhon. Whole Foods is another option if you buy meats rated at least a “4” on their animal welfare scale (like the Hearst Ranch Beef they carry). 

If you have land and are permitted to do it, you can raise your own meat. Last year, I raised a goat and pig on the farm where I keep my horse. The cost per pound to raise my own meat was by far the cheapest and most rewarding option. It came out to around $3.49 per pound (because I even went non-GMO, corn and soy-free). The next year I raised my hogs in pasture, gave them whey from a local dairy and also continued with organic feed, which brought the cost up to $5.49 per pound. I did what’s known as a farm kill, so the animals were put down on site instead of being sent to a facility (yep, it’s legal!). Good, quality meat is something you don’t skimp on, PERIOD. 

Buy Organic When Necessary, Conventional Won’t Kill You

Contrary to popular belief, not all the fruit and vegetables you eat need to be organic. Buying only organic fruit and vegetables doesn’t make them healthier for you and can strain your budget. Buying organic is mainly about avoiding extremely toxic chemicals applied to our food. A quick trip to the grocery store clearly shows that organically grown foods cost more. But, there are some fruits and vegetables that are healthy, even when not organically grown. Buying a mix of organic and non-organic fruits and vegetables will help balance out the cost.

Some fruits and vegetables have thin skins that allow chemicals and pesticides to permeate the inner flesh, allowing harmful chemicals to enter our bodies. In the case of greens, pesticides are sprayed directly on them (that’s not salad dressing). EWC recommends that these fruits and vegetables always be purchased organic:

Apples, Strawberries, Kale, Blueberries, Grapes, Cherries, Tomatoes, Peppers, Peaches, Nectarines, Celery, Peanuts, Potatoes, Milk and Salad Greens. 

These fruits and vegetables are safer bets to buy non-organic because they have outer skins that offer protection from chemicals and pesticides: 

Avocados, Sweet Corn, Pineapples, Onions, Papayas, Eggplants, Kiwis, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Cantaloupe, Broccoli, Grapefruit, Sweet Potatoes, and Honeydew. 

If you’ve got even a small amount of outdoor space, you can grow some of these yourself. Tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, and peppers are really easy to grow in containers and give a single person a pretty large yield. In general, don’t go overboard trying to eat completely organic, you’ll go broke! I’d rather eat an in-season, California grown squash than organic, imported veg that’s not currently in season any day. 

Macala’s Pro Tip:
If you’re shopping at a Farmer’s Market, ask vendors who don’t have organic certifications if they “no spray.” Organic food certifications take a long time to get, many farmers grow crops that they don’t treat with herbicides or pesticides. Unsprayed crops are just as good as those with organic certifications (and they often cost $.50-$1.00 per pound less!). 

Buy Staple Goods In Bulk From Online, Natural Food Retailers

Azure StandardThrive Market, and Mountain Rose Herbs are staples for me. I order everything I can’t get from a local market or farmer online. I’ve stopped shopping at traditional grocery stores because ordering online (even if there’s an annual subscription fee) has continually shown to save me 15-30% over the shelf price. Olive oil, rice, canned goods, loose leaf tea, tinctures, and supplements all come from one of these three resources for me. 

The best part of ordering online is that these companies can ship anywhere, even the most rural backroad in the middle of nowhere! Other places to check are Brandless,  MOVE (relaunching 2019 with new offerings),  Public Goods and if you want mainstream, conventional brands, you’ve got Amazon and Boxed. 

Find Alternative Food Companies With Shipping Capabilities

If you have food intolerances or sensitivities, finding companies that ship your specialty goods is critical if local stores don’t sell things like gluten-free, dairy-free or vegan options. While alternative milk (mylks) are a challenge (maybe make your own Oat or Coconut mylk), you can get bread, crackers, and cookies. Great resources for gluten-free, vegan, allergy-friendly (meaning no corn, soy and/or nuts) areDelicious Cookies,  Grindstone Bakery,  Bread Srsly,  Preservation(pickled goods, marinades and sauces),  Mauk Family Farms,  Pushkin’s Bakery, and Sugar Plum (not currently taking online orders). 

Learn To Cook and Streamline Your Menus

In order to maintain healthy eating on a budget, you’re going to have to cook your own meals. The best way to eat really well is to make it yourself. Meal order services and restaurants are going to blow your cost consciousness out the window. My best advice is to buy an Instant Pot, a food processor/blender combo (I love my Ninja), and invest in a decent set of cookware and utensils to go with them. Cooking may take some time, but if I do it in bulk, I have food for the week. 

Macala’s Pro Tip:
If you love juices, then invest in your own juicer. Juicing is cheaper in the long run vs. buying juices at the store. 

While I love the diversity in my food, I also learned to streamline my menu, cooking things I like to eat frequently. By doing this, I’m buying fewer ingredients and have less food waste; this means spending less. Using my simple kitchen setup, I makeblack beansfaux pancakes (that don’t taste like crap), sweet mashed potatoes, veggie burgers, and my own hummus, pesto, and applesauce. These things can be paired with most meats or salads I decide to create. Speaking of salad, I also recommend buying high-quality olive oils and vinegar and to have mustard, honey and herbs on hand. You’ll never buy salad dressing again once you know how to make them yourself. They are simple and take under five minutes to make. 

Give Yourself Time To Change Your Eating Habits

In the years it took me to learn how to eat better (and cook), I came to realize that eating well can be synonymous with spending more money; organics, supplements, juices, cleanses and premium meat were costing me a fortune. While I was willing and able to pay a premium for my food as I wasn’t paying for it with poor health, there came a point where I started to try and figure out ways to make eating well efficient and cost-effective because I wanted to put money elsewhere. Hopefully, my practices will help you navigate your way to better food budgets and finding a way to shop, eat and cook that works for you. 

Remember, cheaper isn’t always better. You’ve got to balance your life and needs with achieving health goals. By following the steps outlined above, I’ve streamlined my food budget from $800-$1000 per month down to about $400-500. 


Image Credit: iStock Photo

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