Friday, September 3, 2010

9 Tips for Eating Well on a Budget

A few people have expressed to me recently that they'd like to change the way they feed their families, but a) they don't know where to start, and b) they're afraid it will be too expensive.  These are legitimate concerns that many of us have had at some point.  I've thought a lot about the "where to start" subject and I have a few suggestions, but first I want to address the cost of nourishing food.  We live on one modest income and we eat pretty well, so I feel fairly qualified to advise in this area.
  •  Menu plan and budget!  This is first and foremost.  Eating well on a budget absolutely requires planning, especially if you're just starting out toward healthier eating.  Once you get into it and have a good healthy meal rotation, you can afford to be more general in your planning, but I really believe that you need some sort of system when trying to stretch quality foods and your dollars.  I won't go into any depth on money management, but if you don't already have a budget, take the time to make one and stick to it.  You won't regret it!  I highly recommend Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover.
  • Swap the bad for the good.  High quality food may seem expensive, but if you consider the soft drinks, processed snacks, and boxed foods you won't be buying, $4-5 a pound for a pastured chicken probably won't bust the budget.  Start by swapping those expensive, chemical laden cold cereals for nourishing and frugal old fashioned oatmeal or eggs for breakfast (check out this blog post for tips on how to replace breakfast cereals in your kid's diet and why you should do so NOW).
  • Focus on frugal, but nutrient dense food options.  These include homemade bone broth, eggs, cabbage, broccoli, zucchini, potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, and organ meats (such as liver...I know, I know, I'm still trying to talk myself into that one, but it is very nourishing and very inexpensive).  Another great option is wild game.  If you're blessed to have a family member who hunts, you have access to frugal, pastured meat!  Just try to convince your hunter that "baiting" his game with Round-up corn is not a healthy practice (seriously, Dad, bad idea!).
  • Meat:  Choosing quality over quantity and making it stretch.  Quality over quantity is especially important with meat and dairy purchases...It can also be really hard for those of us who pride ourselves on bargain shopping.  Before I knew the dangers of meat/dairy/eggs of unknown origin, I loved stocking the freezer with "bargain" meats from supermarket sales (read about the hidden costs of industrial food).  I didn't have to think much about stretching my meat because it was so cheap!  Now, I roast one pastured chicken every Saturday, debone it, use the meat for two meals during the week, and make a few quarts of broth from the bones. Similarly, you could stretch your grass fed beef by using half a pound of ground beef in chili or casserole recipes and compensate with extra beans or veggies.   
  • Make it yourself.  Cooking from scratch saves a lot of money!  However, if you're new to cooking from scratch, don't overwhelm yourself.  Start by learning to make one thing that you would normally buy packaged.  Homemade bone broth is something that anyone can do and it offers so much nutritionally (The Benefits of Bone Broth).  Consider learning to make soaked whole grain tortillas.  They're frugal, easy, delicious, and much better for you and your little ones than the store bought kind.  Once you've mastered a few recipes, you can graduate to learning to bake bread.  Believe me, unless you were somehow blessed with innate baking skills, it can be a frustrating process; when faced with bread failures, take a breath, take a break from trying if you need to, but do try again.  I've made my fair share of bricks and I've got a freezer full of bricks-turned-bread crumbs to prove it!  If you're already an experienced baker, consider purchasing or starting your own sourdough starter.  Sourdough breads provide for optimal digestion and bio-availability of nutrients from the whole grains, plus not buying yeast means saving even more money.  I highly recommend GNOWFGLINS Sourdough E-course if you're ready to go sourdough (no pre-set fee is charged for the course, but they accept "pay as you can" payments).  I've just signed up this week, and I've learned so much already!  
  • Make your own household cleaners.  There are so many reasons to do this; homemade natural cleaners are better for you and your family than chemical ones, they free up more money that you can put toward good quality food since they cost next to nothing, and it's so nice not having all of those bottles of products that are just for one specific cleaning job.  There's not much that plain white vinegar, baking soda, or a combination of the two can't clean.  I occasionally use oxygen bleach (OxiClean), but I don't have even a fraction of the cleaning product clutter that I used to have.  No chemicals or fumes to breathe is also a major plus if you or your kids have allergies or skin sensitivities (not to mention, you can put those little helpers to work with a cloth and a bottle of vinegar solution with no worries!).  So many pros and I can't really think of any cons, can you?  Get started with these articles for recipes and tips for frugal, natural cleaning:  Top 5 Homemade Cleaners and Simple Routines for Homemade Green Cleaners.
  • Look to the Dirty Dozen, Clean Fifteen.  If you can't afford all organic (I can't), The Dirty Dozen, Clean Fifteen is a great guide for buying produce (there's even a handy iPhone app).  Stick to conventionally grown items from the clean fifteen, but avoid non-organic items from the dirty dozen.   
  • Prioritize.  Make the health of your family a priority.  What's more important, a fancy gadget, a new beauty product, or nourishing food that will keep your family well?  When I'm tempted to buy another cute outfit for one of the girls or a kitchen gadget that I can live without, I have to remind myself of all the good food that I can buy with that money.  It may be hard at first, but in time it will become second nature to avoid buying "stuff" so that you have more money to invest in your family's wellness (the doctor's bills you won't be paying will be further motivation!).
  • Don't stress.  Finally, don't stress about the things you may not be able to change right away, or even at all.  Do what you can when you can and rest knowing that even the smallest changes can improve your family's health in big ways.      
So, these are some of the ways that we make real food work with our budget.  If you follow some of the links to other blogs that I've included and browse around, I'm sure you'll find many more.  I realize that what works for me might not work for you, but I hope that at least something in this list causes you to have a "Hey, maybe we can manage this!" moment!  I'll follow up with a post that addresses where to start when you're ready to take the real food plunge!

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday at GNOWFGLINS.


    1. Wonderful information! We live on a tight budget, so I buy high quality meat and organ meat and make 2-3 meals a week with it. The rest of week we eat vegetarian meals, with raw milk bone broth, and eggs as our protein. We really don't mind this setup!

    2. I bought some liver from our farmer and I've had it in the freezer for a couple of weeks...I'm thinking about taking the plunge this week and putting it on the menu! My husband actually loves liver, so he'll be thrilled! If it goes over well with the kids (and me), it'll really help our meat budget.

    3. @ Cassie - I hate liver! I mix it with ground beef, 1 part ground liver - 3 parts ground beef. It works great!!! I do this for meat loaf and hamburgers =) <-Hubby has no idea I do this! If he did...he would barf! Lol

    4. I've thought about that...I guess if I don't like it straight we'll try that. Do you grind the liver? I've got an old Osterizer stand mixer with a meat grinder attachment that I've never tried. I'm thinking about trying it out on beef heart and mixing that into the ground beef. I've heard that the heart is actually much more palatable than the liver.

    5. Excellent post!!
      I tried mixing in liver with meatloaf and think I had too much liver ... the expression on my husband's face was priceless and he asked if I had let the meat go bad!! :) I'm still working on getting organ meats into other things without the whole family know about it.
      One other thing I would add is to not make the mistake I made for a couple of years ... mistakenly thinking that switching to "organic" cereals and frozen convenience foods was a good thing. They are terribly expensive and usually not much better (if at all) for you than conventional foods. Cooking from scratch is the way to go!

    6. Ya'll are so lucky that organ meats are cheap in your area. When I bought liver, it was 3.98/lb! Apparently, Cajuns love some liver, so demand equates cost. We also have a large Hispanic population since Katrina and apparently they love organ meats too!

      I'd rather spend the $$ on ground meat which I know everyone loves.