Sunday, June 12, 2011

eating healthy without breaking the bank (and it doesn't involve coupons!)

there are two things in my life that i am passionate about: being frugal and being healthy.  neither is my ultimate passion (God is) but they do stem from my faith in him.

sometimes these two things don't seem to be able to coincide.  if you think that being very healthy means that all of your grocery shopping should be done at whole foods, then you probably don't think it is possible to eat healthfully while saving money.  i have found that though some healthy food is ultimately going to be much more expensive than conventional food, there are many ways to save a lot of money.  in fact, from the statistics i have read about how much the average american household spends on food, i know that we spend much less, while eating much healthier.

many people have asked me for tips on how to save money on food while eating healthy, so i have finally gotten around to writing a series on this topic.  though there is some overlap, i am going to divide up my strategies by type of food, since there seem to be different strategies with different categories (produce, meat, dairy, grains, beans, etc.).


when it comes to produce, i look for fruit and veggies that are highest in nutrients while being lowest in pesticides.

what do i look for in produce?

the best way to save money while getting the healthiest produce is by becoming very familiar with the dirty dozen/clean fifteen list.  this is a list of the most and least pesticide-laden types of produce, which will help you to know when it is worth your while to buy organic, and when its not.

since organic produce is usually about twice the cost of conventional, it is very helpful to know when to spend more, and when to save.  note that the tests were done after the produce was rinsed and peeled (if applicable). you can also read the list of all 50 of the fruits and veggies that they test.

i also concentrate on what the nutrient contents of various fruits and vegetables are.  in addition to being free of (or at least much lower) in pesticides, organic produce has also been shown to be higher in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.  leafy greens (spinach, kale, chard, etc) are among the most nutrient dense, and have been linked to many health benefits.  on the other hand, many different types of fruit have been bred to be extra sweet (ie high in sugar) and are low in nutrients.  when it comes to fruit, berries are usually one of the best bets.  in general, though, eating a variety of colors is best when it comes to produce.

in general, i try to include at least one vegetable in every meal (including breakfast) but i dont make any great attempt to have fruit in the house (since they are relatively low in nutrients).  however, we do enjoy fruit (and it is still healthier than lots of other foods), so i buy it when it is on sale.  some people are shocked to hear that i dont believe that we need fruit in our diet every day, but i point out that in the winter time in traditional cultures, they went for months without fruit.  when fruit is picked before it is ripe and shipped across the country (as most of it is, especially during the winter), it is especially low in nutrients, making it a poor investment.

how do i save money on produce?

i have found that in order to save money on produce, i cant be picky.  i have to form our meals out of what i can get for a good price, rather than going to the store knowing exactly what i would want to get before i get there.

*buy in bulk and stock up during sales.  buying a large bag of carrots, apples, onions or potatoes will always be cheaper than buying them individually or by the pound.  i regularly buy 5 pound bags of carrots, which are cheaper than conventional carrots.  also, most grocery stores will have weekly specials on one or two kinds of in-season produce.  when there is a really good price on something we use a lot i will sometimes buy ten or more pounds, and freeze some of it if necessary.

*buy from the reduced produce section.  i regularly buy browning bananas at less than half the normal price, and peel them and put them in the freezer (they are great for smoothies or chocolate banana shakes).

*shop at farmer's markets.  the best part about farmer's markets is that you can talk to the farmers and ask them about their farming practices.  many times you can find farms that basically follow organic practices (ie no chemicals or pesticides, all natural fertilizer), but haven't been officially certified organic.  in these cases, the prices will probably be similar to conventional produce, but you can feel more secure about the safety and nutrient density.  another benefit of farmer's markets is that you can often negotiate lower prices if you buy 2 or more pounds of something.  also, you will sometimes find a farmer who has had a very large harvest of a particular item, and are selling it at a very low price.  going an hour or so before closing is the best time to negotiate deals, as farmers usually want to get rid of the last of their stock before the market is over.

*join a CSA.  a CSA (community supported agriculture) is a program where consumers buy produce directly from a farm.  usually you have to buy a subscription for a whole season or a whole year, though some go week to week (ours goes week to week).  sometimes you will even get a discount in exchange for working a certain number of hours on the farm.  then each week (or every other) you will receive a box of fresh fruits and veggies straight from the farm.  another advantage of this, similar to farmer's markets, is the fact that you can talk to the farmer and learn more about his growing practices.  to read more about CSA's and find one near you, i recommend the local harvest website.

*buy in-season produce.  the advantage is two-fold: produce is higher in nutrients when it is in season, and cheaper.  consider stocking up on produce (though canning and freezing) in the summer to use through the winter months.

*plant a garden.  this is a great way to get pesticide-free produce at the lowest price.  start out with a few simple vegetables, such as squash, tomatoes and bell peppers, and add to your garden each season as you learn more. 

do you have any tips to share?  how do you save money on produce?

go on to part two about meat and fish...


  1. I was curious, you posted wheat as a GMO thing, but I was looking at the non-gmo shopper's guide and it said it wasn't modified (yet of course). Where did you hear about wheat?

  2. hmm... after doing some research, it looks like you are right. i dont remember where i heard that wheat was GMO but looks like that isn't true. i will update my post. thank you for your comment!