Lately I've been spending a lot of time thinking about how to budget and plan a healthy, plant-based diet. If you've been following my blog for a while, you'll know that I work as a nutritionist for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, which helps low-income women and children get access to healthy food. I really love educating and helping my clients make the best food choices, especially because many people think eating healthy is expensive. Although it can be pricier if you shop at exclusively organic health food markets, healthy eating does not have to cost you your entire paycheck. Today I'm sharing some tips on how to get the most bang for your buck when it comes to food. Feel free to share any of your tips or advice by leaving a comment on this post or via facebook or instagram.
1. Plan your meals
Before you do any food shopping, have a plan of what you'll be preparing and eating for the next week or weeks to come. This is super helpful because you don't want to buy a ton of food but have zero recipe ideas or inspiration. For inspiration, I like looking at vegan food prep ideas by searching the hashtags #veganmealprep, #veganmealplanning, or similar phrases. Be realistic with how much time you want to put into preparing your meals and whether you want to prepare your meals for the week ahead of time or on an as-you-go basis. Keep in mind that some food (especially fresh fruits and veggies) will only stay fresh for several days.
2. Stick to the basics
If you're on a budget, now is not the time to buy several different varieties of truffle oil and exotic $30 tropical fruits. Stick with produce that's in season, and stock up on items that you use on a daily basis (for me, my staples are whole grains such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta, whole grain cereal). If you feel like treating yourself, choose one specialty item that you'll use sparingly. For my "treat", I like to buy a pint of chocolate coconutmilk vegan icecream, which is about $5-6/pint and treat myself to a serving once a week or less, which really does make it feel like a special occasion treat.
3. Canned + Frozen are your friends
Fresh produce can be more expensive in the winter months, which is why canned and frozen produce can be more economical depending on the season. You'll typically find the prices of canned and frozen peas, broccoli, spinach, peppers, and berries are less expensive than the fresh varieties when it's cold out. If you're buying canned goods, you can cut down on the sodium by rinsing your veggies before you use them.
4. Befriend your local farmer (or become a regular at the Farmers Market)
During the warmer months, you'll often find that locally grown, fresh produce is a lot cheaper than going to the supermarket (although it depends where you live). Locally grown fruits and veggies have so many benefits to both you and your community. Not only can it be the more economical choice, locally grown produce is typically higher in vitamins, minerals, and taste due to less time in transit from the farm to where it's being sold. If you have space and a green thumb, you might also want to try your hand at growing your own fruits and veggies (but be patient, all good things take time and skill!)
5. All hail dry beans
I used to be intimidated by dry beans because I heard they were really labor intensive to prepare. While it's true that dried beans require soaking (usually overnight), the actual cooking process is pretty simple (just bring water to a boil, add soaked beans, lower the heat, and in 2 hours you'll have a big batch of delicious plant protein!). Dried beans tend to be cheaper per pound than the canned variety. Another benefit to dried beans is that they don't contain added salt or preservatives and you can control the amount of seasonings you add as you cook them.
6. Shop around
Become a master at shopping on the cheap. Compare prices at several stores. Some stores may have inexpensive produce, but other items may be more costly, which is why it's totally ok to do your food shopping at a few different stores (hopefully they're close in location though). If you don't have a car, you may want to do your shopping in one location, so feel free to skip this tip. In my experience, items like peanut butter, cereal, grains, and (some) produce like bagged spinach and baby carrots are less expensive at my local Trader Joe's, but for other items, such as apples, cucumbers, dried beans, I've found them cheaper at my local non-specialty store. I also like to visit local farms whenever I can and this tends to result in the least-expensive produce finds.
These are just come of my tips that I've found the most useful from my experience. I try to practice what I preach and I know I'll be using this advice throughout the next year as I do my (unpaid!) Dietetic Internship. Happy shopping, eating, and occasional treat-ing to you!