We’ve all heard the old excuse that it’s too expensive to eat healthy. If you’ve ever switched from your local grocer to a Whole Foods, it probably doesn’t seem like an excuse to you. I like to think that my food choices are healthy, for the most part. I shop at a local organic grocer in my home town of Milwaukee, where the prices can be a bit on the higher side when compared to your average grocery chain. However, I also consider myself a cheapskate and manage to eat healthy on a set budget with a few simple options for keeping the sticker shock at a minimum.
Here are a few swaps I recommend on your next trip to the food store:
- Frozen fruit and veggies vs. fresh ones - Fresh fruit and veggies are often very expensive, especially when they are out of season. The frozen varieties cost much less and they're just as nutritious for you. Plus, you don’t have to worry about eating them before they go bad. I hate having to compost veggies that I don’t use before they go bad. It’s a waste on many levels.
- Oats vs. instant oatmeal - Instant oatmeal is great in a pinch, but buying a huge canister of quick oats is a much more cost-effective option. If you compare unit price on the two items, it's much more economical to purchase the quick oats. Most people don’t realize how easy (and fast) it is to prepare oatmeal from dry oats. Plus instant packets are often packed full of added sugars (and calories!). I prefer to sweeten my bowl with more natural options, like thawed frozen berries or raisins.
- Canned salmon vs. fresh salmon fillets – Don’t get me wrong, a fresh salmon filet on the grill is one of my favorite things in the world, but certainly not on the cheap side. To get the health benefits of salmon on a budget, I like to prepare salads with canned salmon for a side dish or to take to work for lunch. Still a tasty treat and much more cost effective.
While making these swaps will certainly save you a few bucks at checkout, there is no substitute for diligent planning and preparation. When it comes to saving money at the grocery store, much of it happens before I even leave my house. Typically, on Saturday mornings, I take the time to meal-plan for the week.
The first thing I do in my meal-planning process is take stock of what I already have. I take the time to move things around in the refrigerator and scour the cabinets to see what I have on hand. Most of the time, I am surprised by what I find. Instead of buying these items again or letting them go to waste, I incorporate them into the coming week’s menu.
Before I go shopping, I also look at my calendar for the upcoming week and create meals around when the whole family will be home for dinner. We typically plan a new meal for each night at home and make sure to take into account using leftovers on nights where either one of us will be gone for dinner. I keep in mind that Friday or Saturday is usually a "wing it" night because we’ll often end up going out to dinner or meeting friends for appetizers.
Last but not least, stock up when you can. If you see a staple of your diet on sale and it’s an item with a long shelf life (canned tomatoes/dried beans/peanut butter/etc), go ahead and get a bunch. You’ll use it eventually and it’ll save money in the long run.