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Eating Healthy on a Budget

By Dalisha D. Herring, CFP®

Americans typically live in a faced-paced society where eating out seems to have become the norm for everyday life. However, eating out often equates to not-so-healthy diets, and quite frankly, the quickest way to blow the food budget is to slip into the habit of take-out and drive-through meals. Cooking meals at home can certainly save money, but still, eating healthy can be expensive.

I was recently diagnosed with a long list of “food sensitivities” and have had to do an about-face on my diet. Cutting out gluten alone is staggering enough, but adding to that “don’t eat” list soy, eggs, tomatoes, beef, peanuts and all items made from cow’s milk is daunting. If it has been suggested to you by your doctor (or even required) to stick to a gluten-free or paleo diet, then you know exactly what I mean. So here are a few money saving tips to eating healthy and staying within your food budget:

  1. Grow your own produce. Growing a garden can be a lot of fun and a great way to spend time with kids to teach them about healthy eating habits. If the bounty of your garden is so plentiful that you can’t possibly eat everything before it spoils, then great! Can or freeze your produce for use in the cold winter. An abundance of tomatoes (if you can eat them) and jalapeños can be combined with fresh onion, garlic, lime juice & chopped cilantro to make an outstanding salsa, so can for tailgating. Don’t forget about herbs! Fresh herbs add rich flavor to home-cooked meals (or even an occasional quick frozen pizza night.) A few easy-to-grow herbs are basil, oregano, mint, thyme, sage, and rosemary. If you are confined to apartment living, then consider container gardening. Many vegetables and herbs will grow in pots on your balcony if you are sure to keep them watered and well-drained. 
  2. Eat in season.  Columbia has an outstanding farmer’s market where shopping for the freshest fruit and vegetables is made simple. Produce that is in season during the fall months include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, acorn squash and other winter squash, grapes, pears, muscadines, turnips, sweet potatoes, and much more. In winter months, add to that list clementines, collard greens, grapefruit and other citrus fruits, kiwi, and more. The internet is full of great sources of information on what’s in season and also how to can or freeze fresh produce for later use. Don’t rule out local grocery stores. Many of even the largest chain stores still purchase much of their produce from local growers for the freshest produce. The buying power of some of those stores will reduce your costs significantly.

  3. Eat like a vegetarian once per week. Even if you aren’t a vegetarian, cutting out meat one day each week will save yourself some green and maybe a few calories. Try Meatless Monday for example and substitute another protein source for your meals that day. Eggs for breakfast and hummus and carrot sticks or whole grain pita chips with a large spinach or kale salad for lunch both provide a good source of protein and the fresh greens give you iron. Add nuts like slivered almonds or walnuts for added omega-3 fatty acids for a healthy touch. A pot of homemade minestrone for dinner provides an opportunity to feed your body with lots of fresh (or frozen) vegetables and the beans in the soup provide the protein. If you want to add a little indulgence (and don’t have to avoid the bread & cheese like me) add a grilled cheese made with 100% whole grain bread and low-fat cheese.

  4. Buy in bulk when it makes sense. Have you ever been to the Amish auction in Clark, MO? I hear it’s pretty awesome. Go in with a friend (or two or three) to provide for your families at a cheaper cost than in the local grocery store.

  5. Shop around! If you are on a gluten-free diet, you probably know that many stores have caught on and realize this isn’t some fad diet. It’s a real thing and those of use suffer from celiac or some gluten intolerance really are serious about it. Aldi has some great-tasting products in their gluten-free line. Walmart has stepped it up and has a decent selection now. Of course other grocery stores like Hy-Vee, Schnuck’s and Lucky’s Market have an incredible selection. But beware, gluten-free can be expensive. Decide on your food budget for the week (or month) and stick to it. Beans are cheap and filling and an excellent way to add protein and carbohydrates to your diet. Rice and potatoes are also cheap and filling, and you generally don’t have to wonder if they are gluten free.