In our Healthy & Whole series, we’ve been talking about barriers to embracing healthy eating: no time, fear, lack of inspiration, guilt, and judgement. We’ve also talked about practices like mindful eating and how to create a recipe. One big barrier to healthy eating we haven’t talked about yet? Money.
When we asked you what holds you back from eating healthy, most people we heard from said things like “time”, “lack of energy / creativity”, or even “don’t know how”. But we know one other important practical factor that also stands in the way of a lot of good eating: money.
It’s a common excuse: whole / organic / healthy foods are just too expensive. We also know from research that lower-income families in our country have poor access to nourishing food, living in “food deserts” with ready access only to processed, packaged foods devoid of many nutrients.
Here’s the part where we should do the whole “Eating healthy is actually cheaper / here are 10 budget-friendly meals” thing. But first, we to you with a challenge. Here’s the thing: Eating healthy costs money.
Since the 1950’s, our country has been working to make food as cheap as possible. At this time in history,we’re spending less as a percentage of our income on food than we ever have. As a side effect, our food has become gradually more processed and less nourishing than it has ever been.
As a culture, we need to decide: is our health worth a little less in the pocket book? Is it worth it to spend a few more dollars on groceries — and perhaps eventually a few thousand less on diabetes or heart disease treatments?
OK, we’ll hop off the soap box. But, we wanted to mention this since it was a big turning-point for us in our eating habits. We had to make the conscious choice to sacrifice our income to the goal of eating healthy. And it was hard. It’s hard to spend $50 and only end up with a bag full of items at the grocery or farmer’s market. However, the way we feel about our health (and the incredible difference in the taste of quality whole foods) makes it worth the pain.
That said, it’s actually not that painful on the checkbook to eat healthy, especially if you try eating “mainly meatless at home” like we do. Here are a few of our tips for spending a little less on a whole foods diet:
1. Eat a few meatless meals per week. This helps drive down the cost, and is good for your overall health as well.
2. Cook dried beans and grains from scratch. Beans and rice are incredible budget foods. See this tutorial from Annie’s Eats on how to cook dried beans.
3. Shop in bulk for dry goods, nuts, and spices. We love bulk bins, especially for things like grains above.
4. Find deals at your local markets. If you look hard enough, you can find things like cucumbers or eggplants for 50 cents each. In general, fresh foods are tastiest and cheapest when they are at their peak.
5. Plan ahead! This is one is probably the most difficult for us, but planning out your meals, taking advantage of leftovers and minimizing waste can provide big results. Giving a bit of your time can result in saving a fair amount of money.
Keep in mind, it’s not as easy as 1, 2, 3. (That’s the hard part about this Healthy & Whole series — nothing is a set of easy steps.) However, once you’ve committed yourself to spending a little more time and dollars on your diet, you’ll actually find the difference in your health is worth it – and you just might start falling love with the joy of cooking in the process.
What are your favorite ways to save money and eat whole, fresh, healthy foods? We’d love to hear your tips!
About the Authors
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.