I’ve often heard that it’s difficult to afford a healthier lifestyle. I won’t argue with you there. Real food is pricier than processed food made in a lab or a factory. And you will certainly see a jump in the grand total on your grocery receipts. But over time you’ll get the hang of it, and I promise it will become more manageable. There’s always a silver lining, my friends — and the price “jump” can be more of a baby bunny hop.
Today I’m sharing my top tips for saving money on nourishing, plant-based foods. But before I dive in, I hope to inspire you with this one statement:
Do your best to invest in yourself today; your future depends on it.
Even on a limited income, we can each make small upgrades that have a massive impact on our health. And get this, your body will be so grateful that it will reward you tenfold. It will literally move mountains when you give it the slightest improvement.
1. Budget and meal plan. First step, set a comfortable budget. Then, examine your fridge and pantry. I bet you’ve got a lot of goodies in there. Next, map out your menu. Don’t skip this step, hot shot. Kitchen champions succeed not because they are the best of chefs, but because they plan their arses off. With more experience, you’ll get the hang of it.
2. Buy bulk. While navigating the grocery store head straight to the bulk bins and stock up! As your bulk food staples grow, you’ll have shorter shopping lists and an arsenal of inspiration for your home-cooked meals. Added bonus: Display your beautiful beans, grains and spices in mason jars throughout your kitchen.
3. Shop local. Farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Farmers markets are a great place to buy organic foods on the cheap. In-season produce is almost always going to cost less, so try to be flexible and cook with the harvest. A CSA is another thrift-tastic way to eat with the seasons. If a CSA half-share seems like more veggies than you could eat or afford, see if a friend wants to go in on it with you. You can also freeze a portion of your haul for later or make a green juice! Here are some great websites for finding a market or CSA near you: Local Harvest, Eat Well Guide, Farmers Market, Farmer’s Market Online.
4. Learn the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen. If you can’t afford a 100-percent organic lifestyle, don’t sweat it. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s lists to determine your priorities for organic purchases. They even created an iPhone app. Now that’s handy!
5. Stock up on the essentials during sales. I know it may seem like I’m giving you mixed messages, but if you arrive at the supermarket and there’s a big sale on organic bananas, snag those babies! They may not have been on your meal plan, but you can cut them up, freeze ‘em and pop them in your smoothies or soft serve ice cream later. The same goes for dry staples like grains and beans that aren’t going to go bad in your pantry.
6. Grow your greens. It’s exponentially more economical to grow your own food. Whether you live in a studio or a McMansion, there’s always room for a few pots of greens. A two-dollar packet of mixed lettuce seeds will support your salad habit for months.
7. Cut back on restaurants. Rather than escaping to the local Denny’s, make your kitchen the new hot spot. Fabu cookbooks, romantic dinners at home, potlucks, picnics and rowdy get-togethers all make dinner a family affair. I’m not saying that you should never step foot in a restaurant again; just try to limit your visits.
8. Make your food last and get creative with leftovers. When your produce looks like it’s about to go south, resuscitate it in a delicious stew. How about leftovers? Don’t toss them. With a little TLC, leftovers can be transformed into fresh new meals. Batch cooking is another way to save time and money. Double or triple your favorite recipe and freeze the leftovers for a quick and healthy meal when you’re in a pinch.
9. Buy used. Buying a new juicer or blender may not be in your budget, but what about a used one? Craigslist, eBay — even your friends and family — might have an affordable, gently used model. In the meantime, you can still juice with any old blender and strainer (cheesecloth or nut milk bags work great!).
10. Skip the bells and whistles. Identify where you can tighten your belt and invest in your company (you are the CEO of your health after all), not someone else’s. Don’t let transforming your plate be intimidating or cost prohibitive. As always, you don’t need to upgrade everything all at once. Make a plan and pace your bank account.
As you can see, there are tons of ways to make a plant-powered plate work for your wallet if you’re ready to use a little elbow grease. When my food expenses start creeping up, it’s usually because I’m being a bit of a slacker, not because of my veg-inspired diet. I’m not planning my meals. My apron is dusty. The takeout menus get more play than my ukulele. Make new habits by trying one of my tips per week. You can do this!