Saturday, May 28, 2011

Eating Healthfully and Saving Money (Welcome!)

I think the most unfortunate fallacy that exists regarding eating a healthful diet is that it has to be expensive. I recall watching a program where a family said they couldn't afford to eat healthfully, and they went through a fast food drive-through and spent around $18 for the four of them. Are you kidding me?! I could easily take that $18 to the grocery store and turn it into three easy-to-prepare, healthful meals! Yes, there are expensive healthful ingredients, and it can get pretty expensive when you start getting into the organic, natural and socially/environmentally conscious items (when you can find them), but there are many ways to save as well. Here are some things I do to save in my area/stores, and you can feel free to share your own tips!

1. Go to the Facebook pages and websites for the brands you use. If they do not have an option to print coupons or request them by mail, ASK! I just printed coupons for Smart Chicken, Kashi, Muir Glen, Mom's Naturals, Stonyfield Farm and Organic Valley. Sign up for their newsletters to be notified of savings as well. There are also often coupons in the weekly newspaper inserts for dairy and dairy replacements, whole wheat pastas, whole grain rice and breads, etc., so make sure you look through those too!

2. Buy produce when it's on sale and plan your meals around it. There are some staple produce items I have to have no matter what, but there are many that I enjoy when they are on sale. Buy extra and freeze.

3. Don't automatically assume you can't afford organic. My grocery store often marks down organic produce to move it quickly, and I can get it for less than the non-organic equivalent. Same with organic pantry, dairy and other items--they mark them down to move them and/or entice people to try them. Stock up when you find a good deal! And compare prices--an organic can of black beans is the same price as the non-organic ones at my grocery store!

4. When it comes to produce and buying organic, keep the Environmental Working Group's "Dirty Dozen" in mind. Due to the heavy use of pesticides, these are the 12 produce items you should buy organic when you can: celery, apples, peaches, strawberries, blueberries, kale, grapes, nectarines, bell peppers, spinach, cherries and potatoes. The Clean 15 require less pesticide use or have thicker/protective skins and are safer options for buying non-organic: onions, avocado, sweet corn, pineapple, mango, asparagus, sweet peas, kiwi, cabbage, eggplant, papaya, watermelon, broccoli, tomatoes and sweet potatoes. The selection of organic produce is still very limited in my area, and I am sure it is many other places as well, so I don't always have the organic option for those it is recommended for. Whatever you buy though, WASH WASH WASH your produce thoroughly so you don't transfer any residues that may be on the outside to the edible inside!

5. Buy local. Check out the farmers market(s) in your area. I can get organic, locally grown produce, grass-fed beef, organic eggs, organic chicken, honey, maple syrup, breads, etc. for much cheaper than I can at the grocery store, and I also have the pleasure of knowing exactly where and whom it came from! My locally owned meat market also has great deals on organic chicken and locally raised, grass-fed beef.

6. Plant your own garden. It will be a few weeks before I start harvesting any of the fruits of my labor, even longer for most of it, but I am really excited to be able to pick fresh, organic produce right out of my own garden this year! And it's that much less I will need to purchase at the store or farmers market.

7. Organic aside, there are many staples for a healthful diet that are very affordable, i.e. cheap.  Brown rice, whole wheat pasta, canned tomatoes/sauce, frozen vegetables, oatmeal, beans (canned, and even cheaper, dried), just to name a few. Watch for sales and coupons too.

8. Keep price and serving size in perspective. And "level of healthfulness." Yes, I spent $10 on a box of organic quinoa and could have paid $1 for a box of Hamburger Helper, but along with a few other healthful ingredients,  I will get at least 5 meals out of that box of quinoa for two adults and three children plus a couple trays of "quinoa cubes" for the baby! ;) And I don't have to explain the difference in "level of healthfulness" that exists between the two. While the price of a good bottle of olive oil can induce gagging for a cheapskate like me, especially when I see less healthful oils for exponentially cheaper prices, I remind myself that it really equals pennies per serving, it is something I will rarely have to buy, and the health benefits are worth it.

9. Go vegetarian! Well, not really, I know many people couldn't/wouldn't, but you can really stretch your meat, and ultimately, your money! Commit to one vegetarian meal per week to start out--there are great resources on the internet for vegetarian meals, as well as some terrific cookbooks (I'll be sharing some recipes from my vegetarian cookbooks). Stretch your hamburger, chicken, pork, etc. by adding some black beans, kidney beans, etc., or extra if the recipe already calls for beans--I always do that for tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, burritos, taco salads, soups and chili. I even have a terrific recipe for lentil sloppy joes I am perfecting! ;) The recommended serving size for a portion of meat (chicken, beef, fish, etc.) is 3 oz, the size of the palm of a woman's hand or a deck of cards. Most people eat waaaaaaaay more than that in a sitting! Weigh or eye your meat portions (yes, you will be shocked and probably pretty bummed at first) and fill the void on your plate with more of the veggies/salad greens you got on sale this week.

10. Use smaller plates! Really--invest in smaller plates and avoid filling up a second time. Not only does it of course save money, but it really keeps your portion sizes in check and might even help you lose weight or keep you from gaining more if that is a concern. Eat slowly, and if you're still hungry after you've let your meal settle, drink a glass of water or grab a piece of fruit, some fresh veggies or a small handful of nuts. As you may have deduced, my new smaller plate is red! :)

About My Recipes and Cost Calculations

Warning--I am not a recipe follower. I make up a large portion of my recipes, and when I do come across a recipe I am interested in trying, it is often unrecognizable by the time I am done putting my own spin on it. I am also not a strict measure-er. So when you see a recipe from me, know that there may be some approximations versus exact measurements and some "this or that/whatever you've got" versus exact ingredients. The first recipe I am going to post is a very good example, as it is more of a process than an exact recipe. ;)

If you decide to try one of my recipes, keep in mind that you will of course decide when and where you can/wish to buy organic. However, I will always note what I use and calculate the cost accordingly. Spices, oils, condiments and other pantry items, while they certainly require an initial investment, will be "freebies" in recipes, and their cost will not be calculated unless the recipe calls for a large amount in proportion to a typical package size.

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