10 Tips for Eating Clean on a Budget

Photo by Kelley Melvin

Photo by Kelley Melvin

One of the most common excuses and/or complaints I commonly hear regarding making the switch to a whole foods diet is that it’s too expensive.  I won’t argue with you that grass fed meat and wild fish are pricier than Hot Pockets and Pizza Bites. By buying organic and making your meals from scratch using real food ingredients, you will no doubt notice a jump in the grand total on your grocery receipts. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll see that there are ways to eat clean and save $green$. You can also think about it this way – eating high-quality, nutrient-dense whole foods is an investment in your health. By spending a little more each week now, your healthy and disease-resistant body will actually save you in medical bills and expensive treatments later on!

Even on a tight budget, you can make small upgrades that will have a massive impact on your health for the better. Below are some thrifty tips for transitioning into a more plant-based, healthy and happy lifestyle:

Budget and meal plan

First step, set a comfortable budget. Then take a poke around in your fridge and pantry and see what kind of goodies you have in there to work with. (While you’re in there, throw out the ‘frankenfoods’ with the unrecognizable ingredients.) Then, peruse a few recipes that look good to you (I’ve got some on the blog to get you started) and make a meal plan. This planning step will be crucial to setting you up for an economical and organized week!

Don’t shop when you’re hungry

Now that you’ve meal planned and written your shopping list, you should be able to whiz around the grocery store with your game face on.  Try to avoid shopping when you’re hungry. This sets you up for knee-jerk spending and budget leaks because that $7 bag of refined-sugar-free coconut macaroons is irresistible when your tummy is empty.  

Buy bulk

Head to the bulk bins to stock up on pantry staples, like beans, grains, nuts, seeds, coconut, and dried fruit. There is also a bulk section for herbs/spices in most grocery stores. If you are following a recipe and only need a teaspoon of garam masala or a quarter cup of raisins, you can get just what you need without buying the whole jar or pack.

Shop local

Farmers markets are an awesome place to buy local, organic and seasonal produce on a budget! When produce is in season and abundant, it’s almost always going to be cheap. Not only will you be saving money but also you’ll be eating nature’s harvest which is definitely the healthiest, most cyclical way to nourish your body.  

Get Familiar with the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15

Do you want to eat 100% organic but can’t justify those tiny organic avocados that cost $3? I hear ya! The Environmental Working Group does a great job of outlining which produce items are most and least contaminated with pesticides. They make it easy to prioritize your purchases. Check out their website here, and their iPhone app here

Buy frozen

Supplement fresh produce with frozen. When vegetables are in-season, buy them fresh and ripe. When fresh produce is limited, especially in the winter, buying frozen can be your best bet for lower prices and a higher concentration of nutrients.  Skeptical about frozen? Learn more about how they’re pretty awesome here.

Cut back on dining out

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy going out to dinner just as much as the next girl. BUT I am very aware of how dining out, especially when it involves a glass of wine or two, ain’t cheap! It’s totally worth it for special occasions, etc. but instead of making dining out something you do on the reg, open up an exciting cookbook and make your kitchen the new hot spot. You’ll eat cleaner and save some coin.

Batch cook

Batch cooking saves time and money. It’s an excellent way of setting yourself up for ease in preparing nutrient-dense home cooked meals instead of resorting to take out, which we know adds up fast! For example, spend a couple hours on Sunday making a pot of soup, a batch of beans, and a batch of grains. Then when you get home from work at 6:30pm tired and hungry, you can pull together a meal in 10 minutes by adding in some fresh veggies.

Get creative with leftovers

I’m a huge proponent of ‘cook once, eat many times.’ When I cook a dish, I usually make it serve 4-6 so I get at least a few more meals out of it. This goes hand in hand with batch cooking. If I have three cups of cooked quinoa in my fridge, for example, I might have quinoa porridge on Monday morning, toss it with a few veggies and my Asian dressing for lunch on Tuesday, and then have it under a piece of salmon for dinner on Wednesday…. You get the jist. Also, if your produce has been in the crisper drawer too long and is looking a little sad, don’t toss it out! Wilty produce provides a perfect opportunity to make a veggie soup!

Grow your herbs

It is certainly more economical to grow your own food, especially when those organic herb packets at Whole Foods cost $3 a piece. For those of us in the middle of downtown where having your own veggie garden is impossible, there is still room for a few pots of herbs.  I have mine in a hanging basket over the balcony. A packet of organic seeds is only a few bucks or, even easier, you can pick up potted herbs at Whole Foods and just put them in your own pots. Parsley, cilantro, mint, thyme, oregano, rosemary, sage, etc. – pick your favorite and have your own herb babies. All you have to do is water them!

As you can see, there are lots of ways to make a plant-powered diet work for your wallet if you are willing to put in a bit of time for planning and you’re smart about your purchases. When my food expenses start creeping up, it’s usually because I’m buying things like those $7 coconut macaroons, not because of my produce-packed shopping cart. Create new thrifty habits by trying out one of the above tips this week.

Do you have any other money-saving ideas to add to the list?

Steph x