//This is the third post in a blog mini-series called “The Down and Dirty of Clean Eating.” To learn more about the DDoCE series, check out the intro post here and the DDoCE basics here. Everything I share here is based off my journey in clean eating. Check with your doc before doing anything crazy. //
Anything in life that is worth doing requires a bit of hard work.
People in the blogosphere will readily tell you that eating a clean, unprocessed, healthy diet costs just the same as the frozen, boxed and processed version. That simply isn’t true. But that doesn’t mean you need to spend the bulk of your income on food. Making small changes will snowball into larger changes and greater benefits.
Maintaining a food budget has been the hardest part of our family’s clean eating journey. Although I have expensive taste, that part of me usually go hungry because I’m a stay at home momma and we have some very particular diets and we’ve chosen to make our health a priority.
Eating a clean diet is a choice that you have to make and it will require sacrifices in other areas of your life – namely time and money. Most people can’t find a balance between the two and end up falling short on one or both. If you want convenience in your lifestyle and are short on time, it’s going to cost more money. Conversely, If your budget doesn’t have much buffer, you will need to spend more time preparing and planning to be successful. But it is possible.
We were thrown into a cleaner way of eating because of multiple food allergies so we needed a total kitchen overhaul quickly and easily and as a result, our finances took a hit. Convenience and simplicity was most important. For our family, the initial struggle wasn’t adjusting to a new way of eating but instead working to make this new lifestyle fit within our budget.
There are ways to stick to a budget and make a healthy diet work with your current financial situation. Sometimes this means sacrificing what is ideal for what is still good. I will always prefer to buy local, organic and sustainable foods but there are months when someone needs new ballet shoes and unexpected bills arrive and something has to give. This isn’t failing. It’s making decisions on what’s best for your family and selecting an option that is good, even if it isn’t best. Don’t be discouraged.
So, how do I make it work?
Plan meals – and stick to the plan. The easiest way to ensure I stay within budget is smart meal planning. I write down what’s needed for a week’s worth of breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, late night snacks (ahem) – everything. This ensures that I actually use what I buy with little waste and I don’t wander the store to find inspiration for dinner and impulsively buy half of the ingredients for something I hadn’t planned.
Stock the pantry. When coconut oil is on sale, you better bet your bottom I buy several. Yes, it’s more money upfront so only buy things you know you will use. This makes meal planning easier because I can shop my pantry before heading to the store for fresh ingredients.
Trade convenience for quality. Quality foods that are ready to eat or packaged cost a lot. Make food from scratch. Spend a bit of time cooking, baking and portioning foods instead of buying it that way. I spend a few hours each Sunday preparing breakfasts and grab-and-go lunch items like paleo muffins, cubes of cheese, granola, bread, soups and so on.
Buy in season… It’s apple season here in North Carolina. Guess what we’re eating? Lots of apples. It is not strawberry season in North Carolina and we can’t afford to pay $7 for a quart of organic strawberries. So much to my daughters’ displeasure, we are not eating fresh strawberries.
…And stock up. Stock up on fruits and veggies when they’re in season and preserve them. You don’t need to be an incredible homemaker with an impressive root cellar and canning skills. Freeze berries when they’re in season. Most anything can easily be preserved for later use.
Don’t fall for marketing. Forget about “all natural” and even – gasp! – some organic labeling. There is currently no regulation of the use of the phrase “all natural” on products so don’t pay extra for it. Research companies, check labels and make an educated decision.
Buy in bulk. Costco has an impressive selection of organic meats, produce and pantry items with a far lower unit cost. Alternately, talk to a local farmer and consider buying your meats in bulk. You will pay far less per pound for a quarter or half of a cow than you would purchasing meat a la carte.
Shop local. Truly free-range, organic eggs are ridiculously expensive if you’re shopping in a grocery store. Buy them directly from the farmer and they become much more affordable. Check out farmer’s markets and you-pick farms. If your living situation permits it, put in a small garden or make a home for some potted herbs on your windowsill. Nothing is more local than what comes from your own backyard.
Shop online. I know, it seems counterintuitive to my last point. Nut butters, allergy-friendly chocolate chips, specialty seasonings and oils are usually cheaper online than in your local specialty market.
Eating a clean diet doesn’t have to break the bank. But you do need to consider that real, nutrient-dense food will cost more than processed alternatives. I have found that we actually consume less food now than previously because we’re providing our bodies with the calories and nutrients it can actually use. So we are buying less food which helps offset the increase in prices.
Of all this advice, meal planning has been the best tool for keeping our budget modest. If it’s cool with you guys, I’ll talk more about that next time.
How do you keep your real food budget under control?