By Jaime Rice
Often times I hear that eating healthy is too expensive or it’s too overwhelming deciding what to buy to clean up a diet. It is true eating healthy can be more costly than the over-processed, sodium bomb, and sugar-filled cheap foods, but there are tricks to eating healthy on a budget. The endless isles of “healthy options” can also be overwhelming, so lets start with the first issue — healthy eating is too expensive.
First, compare how much you spend going out to eat for lunch during a work week with how much a week’s worth of healthy lunches, snacks and dinner cost. You will be surprised. Let’s say it’s an average of $7 per day for lunch, so $35.00 for the week. Throw in one night for happy hour, perhaps $25.00, and now you are at $60.00 for lunches and one night out. This does not include snacks and dinners for the week.
What if I told you, you could shop for a week’s worth of healthy food for $50.00? Its true, I do it every week. I don’t eat out at work because I like to save my money for my weekends, going out for my “free” meals and any entertainment. Plus packing my lunch allows me to know exactly what I am eating and what is in my food. Now $50.00 a week may sound like a lot money but when you compare it to what you would spend eating out, its actually more cost effective. So where do you begin at the grocery store to stay on budget?
First, identify the key items you always want to keep on hand. You may not need to purchase each item every week but it is good to have a plan of attack before you begin your shopping. For example, I always have eggs, rice or potatoes, Greek yogurt, fruits, chicken, beef and almond milk. With these key items, I can make numerous meal variations. I also download all digital coupons from my local grocery store before every trip. If you do not have a rewards card with your grocery store, get one! You will be surprised how much you can save.
Today I did my weekly shopping and didn’t need to purchase eggs or chicken because I purchased them in bulk and on sale the week prior. I needed to stock up on fruits and Greek yogurt. Plus I had coupons for the produce department. I always start in the produce department and get all my key fruits. I usually buy what’s on sale because fruit can break the bank. Today apples were 5 for $2.00! I bought 10. Apples last longer than most fruits therefore, I don’t have to worry about not eating the apples fast enough. Oranges were $1.00 an orange, I purchased 3. Bananas were their typical $.59/LB and the grapes were not on sale, $1.99/LB. I almost did not buy the grapes, but since I was saving so much on apples, I decided it would fit in my budget for the week.
After my fruit is picked out I go to the potato section. This part is easy, whichever type of potato is $.99/LB is the one I buy. Today it was the sweet potato and I bought two large sweet potatoes. Next up, mushrooms. I saved money buying the whole mushrooms, the store charges more for pre-sliced ones.
After the produce isle, I pick up my unsweetened Almond Milk. Again I buy the brand that is on sale. Beef is up next and this is where it can get expensive. 90% Lean ground beef is typically $5.99/LB and that adds up quick. Be mindful of your most expensive items and try to adjust your list as needed. Greek yogurt is usually $1.00/yogurt making it easy to add or subtract them as needed for your budget that week. Since I did not need chicken or eggs, I was able to buy more yogurts and some Buffalo sauce for my shredded chicken. Jasmine Rice was the last item on my list, again I buy the brand on sale. I rang in at $45.00 and all this food will last me over a week.
The second issue; how do you decide what to buy at the grocery store?
A good rule of thumb is to shop on the outside isles. For example, the produce section is on the outside isle, as well as the meat and dairy departments. The freshest foods are on the outside isles. This does not mean you can not purchase anything from the inside isles; cereals, chips, cookies, etc, but you should not spend most of your money or time there. Also check out that Athletes Kitchen for more ideas on what foods to keep in stock.
The key to successful grocery shopping trip is to identify the key foods you want or need for the week and stick to it when at the store. Like with anything, if you plan properly and are committed to a healthy lifestyle, you can be healthy on a budget.