Healthy Eating on a Budget

Today we’re talking about healthy eating on a budget. It’s Friday, and it’s time to tackle some more reader questions. I have two related questions today. I’m definitely going to need some reader help with these questions today, as I’m still learning to eat healthy on a budget.

Without further ado, let’s get to the questions!

First, Jennifer asks,

I really want my family to eat as much organic food as possible and as little processed, enriched, preservative-laden foods as possible. However, when you are on a tight budget, organic sense goes out the window. Any ideas, suggestions, or tips on how to eat to the best of our health while shopping to the best of our wallet?

And then Jan asks,

Hi Lynnae!

With the prices raising….it is hard to eat a “heart healthy” diet. Expensive! Do you or your readers have any suggestions for those of us who must eat healthy….because of high cholesterol and/or the need to watch sugar intake???

Thanks, Lynnae! BTW the Amish Oatmeal that your son loves sounds good. It was that recipe that prompted my question.

Jan

I’ve been really struggling with eating healthy on a budget lately. June was the first month I bought all organic fruits and vegetables, and it definitely impacted my budget. This is what I’ve learned from my readers so far. And I’m sure you’ll find even more great advice in the comments.

First, if you’re making the commitment to eating healthy, you’re going to pay more. But if you’re going to allow yourself a splurge in your budget, healthy food is a good place to splurge a little.

Second, when it comes to organic foods, local is better than organic. Fresh, locally grown produce is better than organic produce from Chile. Plus, if you buy at the farmer’s market, you can ask the grower about pesticide use. Sometimes a farmer hasn’t taken the steps to become certified organic, but doesn’t use pesticides.

If you hit the farmer’s market late in the day, you might even be able to get a good deal on produce, though the selection won’t be as good. Some farmers will lower their prices at the end of the day, so they don’t have to bring extra produce home.

Consider signing up for a CSA. It will expose you to new fruits and veggies, you’ll support your local growers, and it’s generally a good deal for organic produce.

And if you can’t afford to go completely organic, know which foods are important to buy organic, and which don’t matter as much.

My biggest tip for healthy eating and eating a heart healthy diet is to cook from scratch. As a general rule, making things from scratch is less expensive and healthier than eating processed foods.

I like cooking from scratch, because I can choose what goes into my food, and I can make substitutions where needed. For instance, in the Amish Baked Oatmeal recipe, I tried to cut the sugar in half and replace all the oil with applesauce. It didn’t turn out too well, but I think if I add half the oil back in, it will work better.

If you have a recipe that calls for an egg, use two egg whites instead to lower cholesterol. I’m not very good with substitutions yet, but as I learn, I’m hoping to get better. And if you can do it, adapting recipes is a good way to make sure your food meets your needs.

Also, base your meals on beans, rather than meats. Meats are expensive, and red meat is not good for cholesterol. Beans are cheap, tasty, and very good for you. We’ve eaten a largely bean based diet this month. I thought it would get old, but I’m really enjoying the variety of things you can do with beans. It helps that I love Mexican food.

That’s about the extent of my knowledge on this subject, so I’ll turn it over to the readers. I know some of you are much more adept than I am at healthy eating on a budget, so let’s hear your best advice! What do you do to make sure you have a healthy diet without breaking the bank?



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By , on Jun 27, 2008
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.

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{30 Comments}

  1. The one change that has made the most difference in my grocery bill is to make as much as possible from scratch. Anything boxed, prepared or convenience packaged – organic or otherwise – is insanely expensive. I save tons on bread using the breadmaker, and hit the farmers market for produce.
    I also agree with the comment above that I avoid using the stock-up method unless its for tp. I walk to the store a few times a week if I run out of some produce, but I’d rather do that than have extra I have to throw out.

    Now, if I could only make my own wine…

  2. Late to the party, but this is a subject I find very interesting, so I couldn’t pass it! There are excellent comments, so I will try to avoid repeating anything.

    If you want to go organic but still stay on budget, just buy organic foods that are otherwise exposed to/absorb the most pesticides. These include:

    Peaches
    Strawberries
    Grapes
    Cherries
    Lettuce
    Green Beans
    Bell Peppers
    Celery
    Pears
    Apples
    Nectarines

    Fruits with a thicker skin are “usually” safer – bananas, grapefruit, oranges.

    Be sure to read the label on the produce. To be sure if the food is organic look for the USDA Organic label (It’s a circle with green and white lettering that says “USDA Organic”).

    “100% Organic” means it was made with 100% organic ingredients.

    “Organic” means it was made with at least 95% organic ingredients.

    Only these two are allowed display the USDA Organic label.

    Hope this was helpful!

  3. Lisa:

    If you are interested in intensive gardening How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits by John Jeavons is an excellent resource.

    Also there is a family in Pasadena who literally grow tons of food on 1/10 of an acre check out their web site at pathtofreedom.com.

    As far as girls maturing earlier I think it is something else or at least something additional. I don’t drink milk, my mother, a life long vegetarian turned vegan, doesn’t drink milk and dd has only had hormone free milk (though she doesn’t drink much of that). She isn’t overweight and she is still starting to develop at the age of 11.

    I wonder if it is more of an evolutionary path having something to do with calories available consistently. If your population is eating well over a period of time I could see the body changing to make babies sooner. That old Life Force in action.

    Though it doesn’t preclude the wisdom of eating hormone free/pesticide free food. I just wonder if there isn’t more to it.

  4. Great article, Lynnae! I second the idea of basing a meal on beans rather than meat. Once we made a commitment to going meatless 2-3 times a week, and then only adding meat as an ingredient instead of a main feature, our grocery bill was saved.

  5. Marci:

    Rob – My doc said the same thing about eggs and butter! And as my cholesterol is hereditary, and wanted to loose weight, he said the eggs were a perfect food, and good for me – especially compared to what I might be eating instead :) He did tell me to try and keep in under a dozen a week, or 2 a day! And it worked. Eggs in a cast iron frying pan, usually an omelet in butter, every morning for 3 months.(Oatmeal once in a while) Along with exercise and watching diet, and it dropped 20 points at the first 3 mo checkup, and has dropped to Great at this point.

  6. Marci:

    Regarding “organic” – a dairy farm only has to prove one year of organic practices, and then it can be accepted as organic… so use that time frame of one year when you are thinking about your own situation, etc. I don’t know what the certification timeline is on other things – only that 4 local dairies switched to organic this past year, and that was the waiting time frame for 3 of them to have their milk to be accepted by the new milk processing plant. The 4th could prove years of organic practices, widely known, and was accepted in 90 days.

  7. Marci:

    Besides a garden, edible landscaping. My hedges are going to be providing currents and berries. My fence line borders are set up with perenial vegetables, like asparagus (think lacy ferns), rhubarb (focal point), blueberries, herbs, walking onions, dandylions (I like the early salad greens), and delicious nasturium leaves. Swiss chard is a great perenial substitute for spinach – and it grows like a weed! Green all winter long!!!

    As I get further into the “Foods not Lawns” plan, I’m getting more perenials and dwarf fruit trees. There are great books at my library on all the above.

    I get beef on the hoof, grass raised, from my son, local eggs, local pork, fresh fish and clams, and deer and elk.

    Try container gardening, and vertical gardening. There are so many things that will grow in a pot and can be trained to grow up instead of sprawl on the ground if your space is limited.

    I get my patio containers free mostly – an odd assortment garage sale free box items – but they grow things…. and most of my lumber for my raised veggie beds is free scraps also.

    Farmer’s market for local. Ask ‘em what they use. Local farm stands also. I’d rather eat local than insist on organic as some of that is trucked or freighted so far that I worry about the fuel expenses wasted in getting it here. My son’s beef is not certified organic, but I know it is. He says the cost of the certification makes it unprofitable for him to jump thru the hoops.

    Get a dehydrator for surplus – nice to eat for free in the winter also with the dried items in soups and stews.

    Cook from scratch!!! and lots of soups and stews.

  8. One thing that is very important to not when talking about organic farmers and growing things yourself is this: it’s more than just not using pesticides that makes something “organic”. It also has to do with the soil. There are lifecycles in soil if any kind of pesticide has been used in the past, and when a producer is certified as organic by the FDA, it means the soil meets certain “organic” requirements, too.

    Think of it this way: if you move into a house and plant a garden, you might think it’s organic. But what if the previous resident had a flower garden for a while, and used pesticides to protect those flowers? Depending on the lifecycle of those pesticides, your garden wouldn’t necessarily be pesticide-free.

    I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade about locally grown food (I think the locavore movement is fantastic) — I just want people to understand local doesn’t always equal organic. People use “organic” as a label and it has become a form of marketing. It’s important to understand what actually constitutes what organic really means.

  9. Looby:

    I’d just like to point out that there really are no scientific studies that say organic is better for our health. However I do like to buy local and a lot of local farmers are organic, I just don’t want people to be completely stressed about the need to provide only organic food.
    Regarding the early onset puberty, again there are no studies linking it to hormones in food, the single most likely cause is increased obesity levels.
    Foxie is actually right, it’s best to balance your diet and limit your portion sizes, this will have the biggest effect on your health.
    I’m personally more inclined to spend extra on free range chickens and eggs than organic vegetables, not only is it better for the animals but their nutritional value is much higher than battery farmed.

  10. Rob in Madrid:

    one of the other reasons for eating eggs is a minor wheat allergy, unfortunately as much as I love wheatabix and Shreadies my body doesn’t once a week max!

  11. Lynnae:

    @Petersonclan – Argh! That IS an obvious one, and since I have a garden, I shouldn’t have missed it! Thanks for catching that!

    I highly recommend the book Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew for starting a garden. It’s perfect for making the most of your space.

  12. Rob in Madrid:

    Oh yes, another big money saver is buying fruit in season, they not only taste better but are cheaper.

  13. Rob in Madrid:

    I should add a disclaimer, there is a strong vocal minority on the web who believe that milk and butter are the root causes of all things evil, but if you read further you find it’s the factory farming methods that are the real problem.

    Personally I’d rather stick to foods that are close as close to nature as possible.

  14. Jennifer Dodd:

    Did we all turn out fine? With auto-immune disease on the rise in a substantial way in our parents generation, our generation and our children’s, there has to be some reason for it. Also, did you know that a chemical used in lettuce significantly lowers thyroid function? The hormones in milk can effect the development of our young children? It’s really something to look more in to.

    We spend less money since we went organic. Simply because we don’t buy packaged food beyond pasta and crackers. Whereas before we bought alot of packaged food. We spend $160 on produce, $150 on cans, jars and other staples and $25 on meat weekly ( though we aren’t able to get organic or farm local meat anymore due to new off the wall regulations). I’ve grown a garden this year and I’m hoping to eliminate the need for any store bought pasta sauces, tomatoes and salsas as well as dried fruit, etc. We rarely eat out- period anymore. Water instead of juice. I’d say that we’ve cut our grocery bill by a quarter since we decided to eat organic, less processed, and healthy.

    I second the amazement about the development in girls. In BC we ahve really strict regulations about what is put in our daily. I went to Texas last year on a cruise and was blown away by the development of the 10-13 year old girls compared to back home- it was noticible by all of my family and friends

  15. Rob in Madrid:

    I should point out that its a myth that eggs and butter cause bad cholesterol, it was a marketing campaign by the margarine and corn oil producers to get people to eat more trans fats. Let me give you a simple example.

    A few years ago my Wife when on Atkins to lose weight (about 79lbs in total) and for about a year she had fried eggs in butter for breakfast, and I can hear the gasps of horror already’

    “You Eat Eggs,,, don’t you know…”

    Well at during that time she went for a medical checkup which included blood work, when it came back the doctor was flabbergasted, said she had the best blood he had seen in years for someone over 40 (sounds soooo old :( ). It turns out that eating eggs and butter actually lowers your bad cholesterol and increases your good cholesterol.

    Google “oiling of America” for more info, it’s long but you’ll never eat margarine again

    Now everyone repeat after me

    EGGS DO NOT CAUSE HEART DISEASE THEY PREVENT
    BUTTER DOES NOT CAUSE HEART DISEASE IT PREVENTS IT

    again!

    EGGS DO NOT CAUSE HEART DISEASE THEY PREVENT
    BUTTER DOES NOT CAUSE HEART DISEASE IT PREVENTS IT

    and keep repeating it till it’s in your heart!

  16. Lynnae:

    @Foxie,

    I can’t speak for everyone else, but for me it has to do with a couple of things.

    First, my husband’s family has a nasty history of heart disease, plus both our families have bad histories with diabetes. And as we’re getting older, I’m realizing we need to take our health more seriously.

    Second, I have a daughter who just completed the 4th grade, and it’s shocking to see how quickly young girls are developing these days. One of the causes seems to be hormones in dairy products. As someone who has struggled with hormone issues & infertility for my entire adult life, I want to help my daughter avoid that as much as humanly possible.

    I do think that moderation is key, and nobody is going to die if they aren’t able to eat all organic. But having a lot of friends who are nurses, I hear horror stories, and I don’t want myself to become a horror story. LOL

  17. Rob in Madrid:

    My biggest money saver (should be noted that we don’t have kids)is simply buying less, every week when I do my list I look at each item and think, “can it wait another week”. I know it goes against the ‘stocking’ up mentality but I found that stocking up only pushed up my average bill.

    Secondly now the sales, certain things go on sale regularly when they do I buy (but not over buy) for example I know need TeePee paper and guess what, it’s on sale bulk pack buy 3 pay 2 unfortunately 96 double rolls not only takes up a lot space but lasts forever. If it’s not on sale I buy the smallest package.

    As Lynnae has mentioned before menu planning, this is another trick I use to prevent over shopping, once a week I make a big meal and freeze it into singe portions (remember no kids) I buy only what I need for that meal.

    Rather surprisingly cooking has turned out to be quite relaxing, find some great recipes and simple recipes. Also realize not everyone is a baker, I love stews but still buy bread.

  18. Foxie:

    You know, this is one of those things that make me wonder… Why didn’t we all care before? I didn’t eat organic food growing up, I think I turned out fine… I’m quite healthy, too. Are we all just waking up to the food thing because of the health risks? I’m really curious as to why everyone seems to be jumping on this health food craze. What happened to simple moderation and portion control? :(

  19. Thanks for providing that list. It’s kind of scary how many items are on it. I do agree it’s more important to eat locally than it is to eat organically. Here in Toronto, there are lots of farmers markets in the summer and I think it’s a great way to get seasonal, locally-grown, high-quality produce. Hopefully Jan and Jennifer have markets in their area.

  20. Jane Smith:

    I subscribe to the menu-mailer. It gives me a list of what I need for the week, we only buy what we need and we eat healthy & save money.

    Before, I would buy what was on sale without a plan… if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

    http://savingdinnerfundraisingshop.com/

  21. BRH:

    Ooo, one more thing. I also use fish to cook a lot too. It’s way better than red meat and there a many, many, healthy ways to prepare it.

  22. BRH:

    I think that you are right in some aspects that you have to be willing to shell out more money for the healthier food. I find it easier to cut back or shop around for deals on the boxed stuff if I have to get it. Also, I’ve found you can cut back just by growing some stuff yourself. I live in an apartment complex and I have had quite good luck growing cucumbers, melons (cantelope), and cherry tomatoes in pots on the edge of my little balcony. If you search, you can find types of veggies that are meant to grow in pots (e.g. very small spaces). I also grow several common spices like basil, oregano, and parsley. I’m sure you can grow others, but these are the ones I use the most. There are also very cheap ways to preserve the excess as well. Of course, if you have house and the room, you could grow quite a bit.

    The next thing I do it cut back on my eating out part of my budget. As most of us no that are trying to eat healthy, eating out can come with a lot of calories and a lot of unhealthy stuff. These are the main two things I do. But basically, you have to be ready to make the sacrifice in that part of your budget. You need to decide: do I want to pay a little bit more per week for good food or wait several years to pay big time in health problems for eating crap?

    You decide.

  23. The thing that saves us the most money is baking from scratch and buying bulk from a local farm wholesaler (they grind their own organic wheat which I get for less than the price of regular cheap flour in 50lb bags.) It costs me about 50cents a loaf to make healthy homemade bread, which is even cheaper than Wonderbread.

    The other thing we do is eat mostly beans and lentils and cheese. We eat meat maybe once a month, maybe.

  24. You missed an obvious one… growing a garden! Square foot gardening is a great option for people in small spaces (good if you have acreage too…). I have blogged about our gardening adventure… So far we have spent around $200 and already gotten about $40 of lettuce. We don’t have anything else ripe yet. I also am comparing prices with non-organic prices since that is what I actually mostly buy. But my garden is organic. I am asking for two 4′ by 32′ boxes for my birthday next week so next year we can increase our growing abilities even more.

  25. CSAs are a good idea… sometimes you get so much stuff it’s best to split with another family!

    The only thing is trying to join a CSA now can be next to impossible. I’ve called six in my area and all told me to call back in April for next year. I’m crossing my fingers for farmers markets…

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