Is it possible to enjoy a nutritious, mostly organic diet on the cheap? Yes! It's all about basing meals on nutrient-dense, high-fiber, whole foods; eating quality protein sparingly; and cutting back on processed foods and snacks. Try these shopping solutions that fit even the strictest budget.
Picture different proportions. Rather than making pricey, animal-based protein the centerpiece of each meal, rethink the balance: No more than one-fourth to one-third of your plate need feature meat- or cheese-heavy dishes. Focus instead on less expensive and nutrient-rich plant-based combinations, such as beans and rice or leafy greens with lentils and tofu. For extra protein, use nuts or eggs, which cost less than meat and provide valuable vitamins and minerals.
Use your bean. Organic legumes are the cheapest and most nutritious protein sources available, says Laura Halfpenny, certified nutrition consultant and author of What Every Parent Needs to Know About Raising a Healthy Family. Dry beans offer an even better value than canned and are easy to cook in quantity. (read our related article Use your bean) Freeze leftovers to save energy on future meals.
Choose smart proteins. When you do buy meat, shop carefully for affordable lean cuts that you can stretch in stews, stir-fries, and casseroles, or pair with beans in chili or burritos. Organic ground turkey, whole fryer chickens, or chicken thighs, as well as grass-fed chuck roast and bottom round, often cost less than $3 a pound. Other worthwhile protein buys: organic milk, yogurt (buy in large containers and separate into reusable one-serving tubs), eggs, canned sardines, and some cheeses (cheddar and mozzarella are usually the cheapest options).
Pick produce in season. Strawberries and asparagus in winter can cost double their peak-season price. Tailor your cooking to seasonal foods and freeze or can items like corn, tomatoes, and berries when they're in season. Root vegetables and some fruits and leafy greens tend to come cheap nearly year-round, including bananas, cabbage, carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, kale, and chard. Look for large bags of apples, pears, onions, and other foods for significant per-pound savings, says Halfpenny.
Go for bulk. Rather than prepackaged options, hit the ever-economical bulk aisle to save on costs (and reduce packaging). Healthy, inexpensive buys include organic oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, millet, sun-flower seeds, pumpkin seeds, nut pieces (instead of whole nuts), raisins, and flaxseed (grind your own for an excellent and inexpensive source of omega-3s). Many stores also sell spices in bulk for significant savings.
Get real. Processed foods, such as canned soups, breakfast cereals, toaster waffles, and frozen meals, add up quickly on your bill, so pass when possible. Also skip premade snacks and drinks; in addition to carrying hefty price tags, “they're metabolic poison,” says Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, author of The Healthiest Meals on Earth (Fair Winds, 2008). Watch out for “healthy” versions of cookies and bars that may still be packed with concentrated sweeteners and contain little fiber, he says. For nutrient-dense and affordable nibbles, try nut butter on apples or bananas; make-your-own trail mix; and hummus with carrot sticks. Make water your main beverage, livened up with citrus juice.
Get clever with leftovers. The worst value is food that's thrown out, so plan meals that put leftovers to work. Add cooked vegetables and chicken to a stir-fry, and boil poultry bones with onions and celery to make stock; make fish tacos with leftover fillets, beans, and cabbage; or create a fabulous chili with precooked mixed legumes.
|Price-per-serving bargains||Nutritious splurges|
|Dried beans||Pomegranate juice|
|Sweet potatoes||Wild Alaskan salmon|