Often my patients, friends & family ask me, "How do you eat healthy on a budget?" or they plainly state "I can't afford to eat healthy, it's just too expensive!" Do you hold this belief? Let's take a moment to examine it- it might just change your life!
Our lifestyle (the way that we live, our daily habits & beliefs) have a deep impact on our health. One out of every two adults in the US have a chronic disease, 70% of deaths among Americans each year are from chronic diseases, and much of the illness, suffering & early death related to chronic disease are due to four "modifiable health risk behaviors": lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, tobacco use & excessive alcohol consumption. (1) In other words, changing the beliefs we hold, the way that we live & the habitual choices we make can improve the length & quality of our lives.
This is why it is so important to evaluate, examine & change beliefs & habits that we hold, that hold us back. Healthy eating=expensive is one of these beliefs. Healthy eating does not have to break the bank. In fact, it can save you & your family money, both up front & in the long run. Healthy eating can be practical, affordable, & delicious for an individual or family on a low budget, it just takes some education, strategy, planning & practice. So let's bust the myth!
TIPS FOR HEALTHY SHOPPING & EATING ON A BUDGET
(1) CAN THE FALSE BELIEF
The belief that healthy eating=expensive could negatively impact your life. We may be using the belief as an excuse to avoid a change that seems hard, impossible, or overwhelming. Take a moment to entertain & expect that healthy eating can be affordable.
Now, sit back, relax & let's address the "HOW?!?"
(2) BUDGET FOR HEALTH
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, in 2011, Americans spent 11.2% of their annual post-tax income on food, and devoted less of their income to food than any other country-half as much as households in France and one-fourth of those in India. Interestingly, of the 11.2% spent on food, about 5% is spent on restaurant meals & 2% on "miscellaneous food & non-alcoholic beverages".(2)
Find out how much you/your family is currently spending on food in and away from your home. Now, assess "money leak areas" where your earnings are being spent unnecessarily. This money could be filtered into your food budget if needed. Most people will be able to implement the following tips, & keep their family satisfied & well fed while staying on their current food budget.
(3) PREPARE FOOD AT HOME
If half of the money most families in the US spend on food is spent in a restaurant, you & your family can save A LOT by simply eating in more & eating out less. Eating at home is almost always healthier than eating out. In order to make this happen it's important to...
(4) PLAN AHEAD
Often we eat out because we don't have the desire or the time to cook. Dedicating one day per week to prepare meals is a great strategy to cope with this. You can stock the fridge with dishes you love that take a few minutes to reheat. Try turning your fridge into a health food bar, where you can mix & match veggie, protein and starch dishes you've prepared ahead of time and create a meal out of whatever you are in the mood for! Or, pick out a few recipes that emphasize vegetables & whole foods, make them on your cook day so they simply need to be reheated. Make your grocery list ahead of time & do your best to stick with it. This will help when those cakes, chips & cookies plead you to take them home with you. Which brings me to...
(5) DON'T SHOP HUNGRY
We've all been there. Our bodies & wallets may have suffered for it. Eat something before you go shopping. That is all.
(6) DRINK WATER
We waste a whole lot of money on non-water beverages. Water is essential to our health & the function of every cell in our body. Most of us don't drink enough, and instead drink sugary sodas, juices, milk, & excessive amounts of coffee & alcohol that leave us dehydrated. As noted above, we spend a good percentage of our food budget on non-alcoholic beverages & about 1% on alcohol.(2) I understand, I love me a cocktail from time to time! Remember- it's all about DAILY habits. When we shift what we do on a daily basis, our life changes. Drink more water, buy a water filter for your home instead of cases of bottled water, & save more money.
(7) BUY WHOLE FOODS
Whole foods are foods that you can look at (& our great grandparents could look at) and name exactly what's in the food. Whole foods often have one ingredient, & are what they are; an apple, lettuce, beans, a whole chicken or fish. Whole foods are foods that have not been processed or refined from their natural state, & are free of additives, artificial substances, & ingredients that you can't pronounce or identify. You will not find them in a box, bag, can or jar. Whole foods hang out on the perimeter of the grocery store. Processed foods hang out in the center. Stick to the perimeter. Processed & prepared meals & food run up the grocery bill while providing little nutritional return on that investment.
(8) BUY LOCAL
Buying locally grown food (food grown close to your home) supports not only the health of you & your family, but the health of the local economy & our beloved planet. It does all this while cutting down on your grocery bill. Make trips to the farmer's market, team up with a CSA, a local farm or shop at grocery stores that stock plenty of local groceries when in season. Make this a part of your regular grocery gathering routine.
Here in Charlotte one of my favorite local grocery crews is Go Local NC Farms, an online grocery store/farm collective where you place a weekly order depending on their availability & your needs. For you readers outside of Charlotte, check out Local Harvest to find local-buyer resources near you.
(9) BUY IN BULK
If you are lucky enough to live near a store or market that has bulk bins with dry & wet goods priced by the pound then take advantage of this! In addition to being whole foods, these bulk foods are often cheaper than their packaged counterparts.
(10) EAT LESS MEAT
In 2000 in the US, total meat consumption (red meat, poultry & fish) reached 195 pounds per person, 57 pounds above the average annual consumption in the 1950's, with current diets containing a third fewer eggs.(3)
Meat & animal products are more expensive then produce & we eat way more of them than we need too. I believe that animal products raised in an ecologically & biologically conscious & sustainable way, consumed in reasonable amounts can be a part of a healthy diet. For you meat-lovers out there (I am one of you!) a palm-sized or 4-6 ounce portion of meat/day is plenty. Eat less meat & your grocery bill will surely decrease.
As a naturopathic doctor with a passion for social justice & empowerment through affordable, accessible health care, health education & the promotion of healthy living, this topic is very dear to my heart. I am a firm believer that food is our medicine, & one of the foundational pillars to a long, vibrant, healthy life. Let's take our health into our own hands & do what we can to make informed decisions that taste delicious & do our body good!
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(1) "Chronic Diseases and Health Promotion." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 Aug. 2012. Web. 08 Feb. 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/overview/index.htm
(2) Thompson, Derek. "Cheap Eats: How America Spends Money on Food." Bloomberg Business Week. Bloomberg, 8 Mar. 2013. Web. 08 Feb. 2014. http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-02-28/americas-shrinking-grocery-bill
(3) "Profiling Food Consumption In America." US Department Of Agriculture. 08 Feb 2014. http://www.usda.gov/factbook/chapter2.pdf
Dr. Stephanie Mottola is a naturopathic physician passionate about health education and the freedom it affords. By focussing on and nurturing our individual health we nurture the health of our families, communities, and the planet that graces us with life.