By Gretchen Powell
One of the most common arguments I hear against revamping one’s eating habits is based in finances. And hey, I get it! I mean, how do you eat real food without going really broke? When you hear the stories of people dropping big money every time they walk into their local Whole Foods, it’s easy to want to write off the entire thing. After all, real food is relatively expensive. Ramen is cheap compared to produce. But our health and wellbeing is definitely one area where we don’t want to scrimp. Thankfully, there are some surefire ways to make sure we’re getting the most bang for our buck when it comes to healthy eating.
1. Eat at home.
This should probably go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: If you want to save money, do the majority of your eating at home. Shop for your own groceries, and prepare your own food. I can spend $20 at the store and be covered for three days’ worth of meals. If we break that down, we’re talking something like $3 a meal! I’m not saying that you have to sacrifice going out, trying new restaurants, or even grabbing eats at your favorite takeout joint – I know I wouldn’t – but if you make eating out more of a special occasion than everyday event, you’re sure to see the savings.
2. Meal plan.
Right up front, I will admit that I’m not very good at creating and following meal plans. I try to pretend it’s because I’m spontaneous and like to be creative with my meals, but in reality, I’m just lazy. Even knowing how bad I am at following meal plans, however, I continue to try creating them. Why? Because one of the best ways to ensure you’re not wasting your money is to ensure you’re not wasting the food you’re buying with it.
Create a meal plan, make a grocery list, and stick to both of ‘em. Buy only what you know you are going to use. I feel that the biggest money-suck when it comes to eating real food is letting it spoil because you weren’t able to utilize it in time. Meal planning is a fantastic way to avoid this.
3. Buy generic and price compare.
Okay, let’s talk actual prices. Name brand pita chips cost $2.99 a bag. House-brand pita chips, on the other hand, cost $2.49 a bag. Which product are you going for? I mean, sure, 50 cents might not seem like that much, but it all adds up fast. And this rule applies across the spectrum: groceries, pharmacy items, etc. People will pay a lot more just for a particular brand slapped on the packaging, when the generic version is just as good. In fact, oftentimes, both products are manufactured in the same plants or by the same companies, so you are literally choosing between branded and generic versions of the exact same thing.
One more note when it comes to price comparison is to make sure you check the per unit pricing on the tag. You might think you’re getting away with a dollar in savings, but you could also be getting four ounces less of product.
There are creative ways to make the more expensive items you buy – like meat – last longer. It’s easy to stretch the amount of product you use by subbing out portions of other ingredients. Try adding beans and veggies to ground beef or turkey when making burgers, or use less heavy cream by subbing out some for milk in sauces.
In some cases, it might be best to eliminate a recipe ingredient altogether (does that stir-fry really need saffron?). I bet you can find tons of ways to put your own spins on recipes that will help lessen the burden on your wallet, but still keep them healthy and delicious.
Gretchen Powell is a fitness and healthy living blogger in Falls Church. She is not a registered dietitian, nutritionist, or medical doctor, and a medical professional should be consulted before undertaking dramatic diet changes. For more, visit honeyishrunkthegretchen.com.