Although the economy is improving by baby steps, you can always benefit from some useful ways to save money. One of them is to change your diet (for the better) and buy less expensive, yet still high quality foods. You might be surprised to know that there are many relatively inexpensive foods that can actually improve your health. A few of my patients shared some of the ways they were able to cut their food bills, and I’d like to pass those on to you – my readers. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how well you can cut your food costs and improve your health at the same time.
10 Ways To Save Money and Still Eat Healthy
One of the easiest ways to cut money from your food bill is to simply use a replacement method – replacing more expensive foods with less expensive. Yet, you have to be careful to get comparable quality nutrition otherwise it won’t do you much good if you’re short-changing yourself on nutrition. From there, it’s more a matter of learning better value economics. Here are 10 good ideas of how to eat healthy and still save money:
1. Protein Replacement: Instead of eating expensive beef several times a week, limit it to once a week. Be sure to make use of buy one/get one sales, or “manager specials” on meats nearing expiration date. Buy several pounds and put them in your freezer. Bags of frozen chicken (breasts, thighs, legs, etc) are more economical than buying fresh chicken and still as nutritionally sound. There are so many recipes you can adapt to chicken so you can eat it a few times a week and not get bored.
Buy more legumes which are very economical, yet have high quality nutrition. Kidney (both red and white) beans can be used as a meat substitute in many recipes (meatless chili, stew, etc), garbanzo beans can be made into hummus, or as a higher protein substitute for mashed potatoes. Navy and pinto beans are good in soups and even as stand alone side dishes. You can buy canned, cooked beans usually 10/10$ at most stores – that’s 1.00 a can. With 2 servings per can – that’s 50 cents each serving for 8 grams protein, about 12 carbohydrates, good potassium levels and no fat.
Cottage cheese is another good protein replacement for meat and has about the same amount of protein per serving size (15 grams). It has added calcium (to save your bones!) and very low in carbohydrates (3 grams per serving) and about 3-4 grams of sugar (lactose).
Eggs also make a good protein replacement for meat and are very economical. You have to eat 2 eggs for every 4 ounces of meat you replace. Recipes like quiches and omelets are great tasting egg based dishes.
Canned water packed tuna fish is a very economical, low calorie, source of protein. In most grocery stores, you can find them for 79 cents per 6 oz can with 22 grams of protein, no carbs, and good Omega-3 fats.
Whey protein powder supplements can also decrease your protein costs and up your health. Make a protein shake at least once a day or add protein powder to other foods.
Calves liver is an excellent source of protein and iron and very economical if you like the taste.
2. Limit Packaged Foods. Making your meals fresh is always cheaper than buying packaged “convenience” foods and doesn’t contain all the sodium or sugar that they’re packaged with. The only exception to this would be frozen or canned vegetables or fruits. Because they’re frozen right after harvesting, frozen/canned fruits and vegetables almost always contain more vitamins and minerals than “fresh” produce that has sat at the farm or on your grocer’s display for a while before you buy it. You can stock up on canned fruits and vegetables when they’re on 10/10$ sales. Just be sure to rinse them in cold water before using to rid them of excess sugar and salt that they may be canned with. When you do buy fresh produce, make sure you get the most antioxidants for your money: vegetables like kale, bok choy, parsley, spinach, broccoli, are all high value vegetables with low to moderate price tags. In the summer, high antioxidant berries are almost always on a “buy 1/get 1 free” sale.
3. Grow Your Own. If you have space on your property you might think of growing your own vegetables. It’s not that hard and just requires a little time from you every week. You will need to block your garden from wild animals who’ll want a free lunch but simple chicken wire wrapped around stakes can do that. You could go in on a piece of small property with friends, or family members and make growing vegetables a social effort as well. You might also join a co-op where, as a member, you have access to cheaper, bushels of fresh vegetables. If you live in the city, you might look into hydroponic gardening – growing vegetables indoors with a simple arrangement of Rubbermaid storage bins, light and water. You don’t need dirt.
3. Buy Real Fats. Skip the expensive margarines and processed “spreads”. Buy a large bottle of generic/store brand extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil. Use olive oil as you would margarine on vegetables, bread, etc. Your heart will love you for the switch and so will your wallet. Coconut oil is a better, healthier pan-oil to sauté or low-heat fry foods in than margarine.
4. Buy Generic/Store Brands. You can save a lot of money buying the store brand and usually they don’t taste any different. For example most large chain grocery stores sell their own version of V-8 vegetable juice for much less. If you read both labels you’ll see that they’re identical in ingredients. The cheaper brand actually has less sugar per serving in it and is a better nutritional buy. Also plain, canned versions of V-8 juice are cheaper than plastic bottle versions with all the colorful photo labels. An 8 ounce glass of V-8 juice has 2-3 servings of vegetables, good levels of potassium, and low carbs and sugar. Other staples like rice, beans, pasta, bread, can all be bought the generic way. As always with raw beans, be sure to cook them completely before eating to remove natural toxins.
5. Buy in Bulk. Get a membership to a discount “bulk store” like Costco or Sam’s Club. Stock up on foods on sale. Buying in bulk lowers the cost and assures that you will always have some on hand. But you need to use leftovers quickly to make it economical, otherwise you’ll be throwing out your savings in the garbage.
6. Save Your Gas. Gas is pretty expensive these days too so try to coordinate all your grocery needs into 1-stop shopping to also help you save gas money. If you live close to a nearby large chain grocery store and just need a few items, walk or ride your bike. Put a grocery basket on your bike which can hold several bags on each side. You can also put that old child carrier that you used to pull your kids behind on your bike and re-purpose it as a grocery cart. A 2-child carrier can carry quite a few bags of groceries and help you save a lot of gas and money and give you some much needed exercise to boot.
7. Coupons, Store Card, and Dollar Stores. Using them takes a little time and planning but if you’ve ever watched that television show on cable, Extreme Coupon, you’ll be amazed at how much money you can save using coupons.
You might be surprised to learn that some dollar store outlets carry good canned food and dairy bargains. One chain carries very high-quality coffee that tastes a lot like Starbuck’s dark roast and only costs $1 a bag. Depending on how much coffee you drink per week, 1 bag can last about 1-2 weeks. That’s 50 cents-1.00 a week for coffee! Some dollar stores also carry brand name canned soups for $1 that your regular grocer sells for about 2-3$ a can.
Remember too to always get the customer store card especially for stores you buy from frequently. They don’t cost anything and they can really save you a lot of money on discounts for “loyal customers”. Some of them are even partnered with gas companies and you can also get gas discounts as well.
8. Buy a Water Filter. Are you buying gallons of distilled, spring, “drinking”, or reverse osmosis water from your grocery every week? Even if you use the personal refill water machine for 39 cents a gallon, it can still add up. Putting out the initial money, about $20, for a good quality water filter that attaches easily to your kitchen faucet can save you a lot of money and you don’t have to waste gas running to the store for more water.
9. Bring Your Lunch. If you’re still working, pack your own lunch and save $$$ on going out somewhere for lunch everyday. Use the extra time you’ll save too to take a walk during your lunch break.
10. Eat Before You Shop. Studies show that people who shop for food when they’re hungry tend to over-buy and impulse buy. Everything looks and smells so much better when you’re hungry – especially from the on-site deli that’s cooking lunch or dinner at a much higher cost than what you could have made it for at home.
Well, there you have 10 good ideas on how to save money on your food bill and actually improve your health. Research has shown that even the Mediterranean Diet – hailed by doctors and nutritionists as one of the healthiest around – is built around less expensive foods like grains and vegetables, and very little red meat. Now that you know what to look for, you’ll get better at finding food value bargains everywhere. Remember to read labels to compare nutritional value between higher and lower priced foods – if they’re comparable, why pay more for the fancy label that you can’t eat?
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.