I often hear "I'd love to eat healthy and organic, but I can't afford it". I could debate this issue for hours on end (it all comes down to priorities) but I do understand that for some people, healthy food is simply financially out of reach.
So last night I sat down with pen and paper and put together 22 tips on how one can eat good healthy food, without breaking their budget.
Enjoy! And if you know someone who would benefit from these tips, please share this article with them.
We live in a world where we can eat pineapple in the middle of winter. We can eat Alaskan Salmon in a town miles from any rivers. We can eat maple syrup in a country that doesn't have any maple sugar trees.
Thanks to technological advances in refrigeration and freight, it's possible to eat what you want, when you want it.
But eating out of season food from the other corner of the world comes at a cost.
If you are tight on cash, but want to eat the best food possible, then look local.
What ever is growing or produced locally is going to be your best option for inexpensive food.
Here in New Zealand we have a climate that grows a lot of grass, in turn we have a thriving dairy industry producing some of the worlds best grass fed butter and milk (and meat for that matter).
As a result, high quality grass fed milk and butter is readily available at a good price.
However for someone living in the middle of an African plain in summer time, grass fed butter may be hard to come buy. No matter how badly you want your bulletproof buttered coffee, it's going to be expensive!
So look around, head down to your local farmers markets, buy what's in season and locally grown. Not only will it be fresh and high quality, but you will be able to get a great price on food that is in abundance.
It may mean giving up on some food items until they're in season, but hey, beggars can't be choosers.
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If you live close to the equator, take advantage of the abundance of tropical fruits. If you live in Australia, make the most of the cheap macadamia nuts. If you're living in a coastal area, tap into the fresh seafood etc etc.
Following up on point one, when food is plentiful, stock up.
Freeze vegetables for the future.
Learn how to preserve foods to take advantage of the abundance you have now.
If it's pumpkin harvest season, buy a dozen and store them for the year ahead.
If it's cabbage harvest time, buy a organic cabbages while they're at a great price and make sauerkraut. Not only will you have plenty of quality food to eat in the coming months, but you will save on expensive health foods such as sauerkraut (once you learn how easy it is to make your own, you will never buy store brought 'kraut again!)
Think ahead, think beyond 'whats for dinner tonight', but think forward two or three months.
This is how our elders have lived for generations. They were not fortunate enough to have supermarkets and imported fresh fruit and vegetables. Instead they had to preserve seasonal food to get them through tougher times.
Learn from them and you can save a few dollars whilst still having year round access to quality food.
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Eat protein and fat rich meals instead.
Seriously, from a cost per calorie, or even a cost per nutrient point of view, salads are extremely overpriced.
Instead of paying $15 for a bunch of rabbit food with a few seeds thrown in, order the eggs and avocado, or sardines and tomato dish instead.
You'll be getting a lot more nutrients and calories from that meal than you would from a salad dish.
If finances are tight, you need to be smart with your purchases. Just like you shop around to get the best price on gas, you need to do the same when it comes to food.
Salads are low calorie, low nutrient meals. People who don't have financial woes, will happily buy salads exactly for this reason (low calories), but if you need to be tight with your money, this is a luxury you cannot afford.
Just think - if you could spend $15 on a salad - low in nutrients - that left you hungry an hour later, or $15 on a egg dish that had complete proteins, fats to keep you full, an abundance of nutrients for your body and it kept you full for 3-4 hours, which is the better option?
In all seriousness though, if you are trying to eat healthy, and you are financially limited, eating out is not wise.
Instead you should be preparing your meals at home.
Even if this means planning ahead, and preparing lunch to take to work the night before.
Not only will you save money, but you'll have control over the food you're putting into your mouth (no one cares more about your body than you do, and even those 'healthy cafes' will still use junk oils and inferior ingredients).
Buy direct from the farmer or grower. The middle men simply take a cut - bumping up the price.
Reach out to your local farmers, see what they are selling direct.
Head down to your local farmers markets.
If you have a favourite product you always buy from the supermarket, find the companies details and see if you can buy direct from them. You may find you can get a better price.
Plus farmers love hearing from the people who consume their products - instead of a faceless corporation.
I know this may be hard to do when finances are tight, but if you can stretch the budget a little, buying in bulk will save you a heap of cash in the long run.
If there is a product you consume a lot of - especially if it's food that will store well such as coconut oil, or rice, or canned fish - look at buying it in bulk.
In the Fergus household we go through a lot of coconut oil. I became sick and tied of always running out and having to go to the shops to buy more, so I decided to reach out to the manufacturer directly (see point 5) and ordered an entire bucket of the stuff!
In turn I discovered that I was saving A LOT of money by buying in bulk. Now I don't have to worry about running out of coconut oil as I'm cooking dinner, and I've saved money as well.
Most households waste a lot of food. Leftovers and spoilt food being the main culprits.
If you are buying quality food, only to throw it out, you are simply pouring money down the drain.
There are a few things you can do to remedy this. The first one is to plan ahead and make a meal plan. Only buy what you need for the upcoming meals.
The second is to reuse leftovers. If you cook a big roast up for dinner, have the leftovers for lunch, or throw the remaining meat and bones into a slow cooker and turn it into broth or a stew base.
If you make up a big pot of mince, use the leftovers to make another dish - such as shepherds pie.
If this is all too hard, or you have left the food too long to consume, then recycle it. No I don't mean putting it out with the empty bottles, but use it in your compost or feed it to some chooks you keep in the backyard.
Composted food scraps (either in a worm farm system or a hot compost) will provide you with nutrient rich soil to feed your vegetable garden, and chooks will give you fresh eggs.
Speaking of chooks, why not get your own?
You really don't need much space to keep a laying hen or two. You could whip up a simple chicken coop from some old pallets and crates, and you can leave it in your back yard (youtube is your friend here).
Most councils are fine with owners having chooks - it is only roosters that are problematic (or large numbers of chickens), and you can pickup some laying chickens for a few dollars.
Then all you need to do is buy a few bags of chicken pellets of grain, and feed them this with your food scraps (potato peels, apple cores, left over meat etc) and in turn you will get fresh eggs.
Not a bad return on investment, plus the eggs will be fresher than anything you get in the supermarket.
And after your girls stop laying, you could always harvest the chook for it's meat (though laying chooks are breed for their eggs, not their meat, so don't expect a family sized roast dinner from it).
Personally, I prefer some cheaper cuts of beef over the premium cuts, and this is simply due to flavour and taste.
But if I was on a strict budget, the cheaper cuts of an animal are not only better tasting, they usually give you more calories from the higher levels of fat.
You see the market shuns animal fats. People are wrongly concerned about saturated fat (read 9 Reasons Why Your Doctor Is Wrong About Fat for more on this topic) and thus fattier cuts of meat are often seen as inferior cuts of meat.
Typically the most expensive cut of beef is eye filet. It's extremely lean with next to no fat on it. Here in NZ, grass fed eye fillet retails for around $39-59/kg at supermarkets.
Compare that to brisket - a high fat cut of meat that I have seen for as little as $9 /kg at the supermarket (though $15-19/kg is more the norm).
Both cuts of meat could be coming from the same grassfed animal. And the brisket is going to have a much higher caloric and nutrient level given the addition of fat.
Sure there is a catch - you can't fry up the brisket in 5mins on the BBQ - it is a chewy cut of meat so it does require longer cooking time (slow cooked or slow roasted is best), but if you are trying to save a few dollars and still eat quality food, then this is a small price to pay.
Why don't you through the diced brisket into a crock pot with some vegetables, spices and broth in the morning before you go to work. When you come home you will have a ready to eat hot, tasty, nutritious low cost meal.
The same applies to many other 'inferior' cuts of meat. Bacon hocks have a ton of flavour and make extra soup bases, you can pick them up for a few dollars.
Lamb neck bones make excellent stewing meat, and if you're lucky you'll still get some of the nutrient rich bone marrow.
Chicken drumsticks roast up to create a tender juicy dish, much more enjoyable than plain jane chicken breasts (and a lot cheaper as well!)
If you really want to take a deep dive, check out the book 'Nose To Tail', you will be surprised what amazing dishes you can do with cuts of meat that no-one values.
It's funny, those of us in the health space value pasture raised animals, and wild caught fish, we're happy to pay a farmers a huge premium for these meats as we understand the health benefits.
Yet the purest, organic food is ready for our taking out in the oceans and seas.
Anyone can go hunting or fishing (though check local rules and regulations) and shoot themselves a deer or goat or pig that has only ever eaten food from it's natural habitat. It has never been vaccinated, injected with hormones, or feed GMO soy beans in a feedlot setting.
The same applies to fish. Farmed raised fish is worse than feedlot chicken from a health point of view, yet we can take a fishing rod and go and catch our own fish from the wilderness.
It will also be fresher than anything you get in the store. And as an added bonus it will be the most satisfying meal you have had in a long time!
If you don't have any experiences hunting or fishing (at some point all of us had no experience) then ask around. Ask your family or friends, ask your neighbours, leave a note in the classified section saying you are new to hunting/fishing and would love to learn from someone who has experience.
Failing that, head in to your local hunting/fishing store and ask the staff there.
Even if you don't want to go out on your own, if you tag a long with someone who has some experience and help out carrying things and cleaning up, you'll no doubt get a share of the haul in return.
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The humble egg is a wonderful thing. All these fats and proteins to sustain life packaged up in a handy size, available at any food store and they only cost a few cents.
If you are seeking to eat as healthy as possible, then eggs should be a staple part of your diet.
Omeletes, scrambled eggs, quiches, hard boiled, soft boiled, in smoothies... there are so many ways to consume eggs you should never get bored.
And with all those vitamins you know you are doing your body a world of good.
I know this might sound radical - but if you are desperately tight on funds, even cage eggs would be better than nothing. Sure they're not going to be as nutritious as an egg from a free ranging organically fed chicken, but still you will know the egg is packed full of protein, fact and nutrients.
Head down to your local farmers markets and see if you can pick up some quality (fresh) eggs at a bargin rate.
Or of course you could have your own chooks in your back yard...
Behind eggs I would recommend consuming lots of inexpensive full fat grass fed milk. Raw is best (unhomogenised and unpasteurised), but may be hard to come by in some parts of the world.
Milk is the sole food for baby animals - it's purpose is to grow and nourish the animal. Milk is a complete food - with fats, proteins and carbs and a host of awesome nutrients and minerals.
If you can't tolerate lactose, try goats milk (though it may be more expensive).
For a few dollars you can get a gallon of milk that will supplement your meals.
Remember - you need to spend your dollars on foods that will return the highest nutrient and caloric value. Milk (and eggs) are two amazing food sources that will bring you your best bang for your buck.
Check out my article on protein quality to see why I'm such a fan of milk.
I was recently in my towns only health food store. I went to buy some organic maple syrup when I saw the price.
I quickly jumped on iHerb.com and saw that I could get the same product shipped to my door for literally half the price.
My point is simple - shop around. Buy online. Ring stores before going in and ask for their price. Often people will cave to convenience, I could have easily brought the maple syrup from the store to save me the 2 minutes it would take to buy it from Iherb. But I wanted to save money, so I was happy to sacrifice time to save cash.
If you're trying to eat healthy on a budget, you need to take the same approach.
Their may be a cheaper store on the other side of town - spend the extra 10 minutes to go to that for instance.
Or look online, I get a lot of my non-perishable items from Iherb.com. Organic rice, canned foods, flours etc I can get all these things from iherb at a much better price than my local health stores.
By the way - I have a discount code if you want to buy from iHerb, just enter the code BHS654 to save on your first order.
I have written about the health benefits of bone broth in my article - Everything You Ought To Know About Bone Broth.
Bone broth is one of the simplest, nutrient dense foods you can make. And best of all, it only costs a few dollars to make (if you are buying broth from the store you are getting ripped off!)
Head to your local butcher and ask for some soup bones, ask them to cut them up with their band saw. Chances are if you buy some meat whilst you're there they'll throw the bones in for free, otherwise you'll only pay a few dollars for the bones.
Come home, put the bones in a pot with water and salt (and some people add herbs, I'm lazy so I don't), cook on low heat for 12-48 hours.
Take off heat, strain the bones out, keep the meat and the broth.
You now have gelatinous rich bone from that will last you a few weeks.
Also, if you get really meaty bones, you may have enough meat leftover to make a stew from it. I do this when I make my beef bone broth. I will freeze 3/4 of the broth for later use, and then with the leftover meat bits, add that back into the broth, throw in some vegetables and make myself a stew.
Super easy, super cheap, and super tasty.
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Who said healthy eating was expensive?! 🤑 I paid less than $10 for these grassfed beef bones (brisket bones with lots of meat and fat on them). From which I made a few litres of top quality beef broth and have enough meat to feed a family. A big family. I'll be adding the meat back to some of the broth, throwing in some chopped vegetables, some spices and a can of coconut cream and I'll end up with a delicious hearty healthy dinner that will feed Rebecca and I for 2 or 3 nights 🙂 ➖$10 for bones/meat ➖ a few home grown veggies plus a few from the store - $5 ➖ spices - $1 ➖coconut cream $3 = 5 epic servings of a good healthy food for less than $4 a serve 😁#winning
You can also do this with fish heads, or even with the leftovers from a roast chicken.
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Fresh batch of Chicken Bone Broth done for another week 😍👍🏼 I'm super lazy when I make my broth. No vegetables, no spices, no fancy vinegar soaks... Just good quality spring water 💧 along with free range quality bones (or in this instance a few chicken carcasses) 🐓 and some Himalayan salt... I cook under pressure for 2 hours then slow cook for 12-18 hours 🕔 The end product is always amazing. And I love picking off all the meat after i have strained the broth. The chicken bones are so soft I even eat a few 💪🏽 got calcium?!
This ties in with my points on eating low cost cuts of meat. Organ meats such as liver, heart and kidneys and extremely nutrient rich and like soup bones can be picked up for a few dollars - or if you go hunting you can get them for free!
Though most people turn their noses up at the thought of eating organ meats, with a few culinary tricks you can make them very tasting. Plus knowing you are eating a true superfood makes it easier to get them down the hatch!
In my article on supplements I explore the need of supplementation in todays diet - as we're not eating nutrient dense foods like liver.
Also, in my own diet analysis I found that I personally don't need supplements as I'm eating such a nutrient rich diet - including multiple servings of chicken livers each week.
So if you're looking for low cost, nutrient rich foods, organ meats such as liver should be in your diet. Plus, you can probably cut back on your supplement orders if you are eating these foods!
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If hunting and fishing for your food is not going to happen, trying gathering instead.
Grab a book on edible plants, head down to your local wilderness zone and get collecting.
A lot of cities have wild food foraging clubs, so google around before going out on your own.
Here in Taranaki New Zealand we have a lot of wild edible plants. We have watercress growing in our streams and wood ear fungi in the bush.
It's funny, when I was in Sydney I would buy a lot of wood ear to add to my beef stroganoff meals. I loved it! But when I moved to New Zealand I couldn't find it in the stores.
Anyway, I was out on the farm not long after moving home and I saw it growing on a rotting tree! I couldn't believe it.
It turns out that my region has the perfect conditions for growing this mushroom, so much so that a few generations ago there was a Chinese man who identified this fact and made a fortune buying it from farmers, drying it and exporting to back to China!
So this is one less food item I will be buying from the stores!
And stick with it.
Sit down one night and look at what foods you can get for a good price. Maybe you can get some brisket, local fish, eggs, grassfed mince, potatoes and pumpkins.
From this list make up a meal plan for the week ahead.
Having such a plan will help you stay focused and you will be less likely to buy food items on a whim - blowing your weekly budget.
If you know what you are having for dinner, it makes shopping and meal prep much easier.
This is more of a time saving hack than money saving, but I had to include it.
When you cook a meal, cook enough so that you have leftovers. That way you can either freeze the leftovers for a day when you can't get to the shops (or when nothing is on special), or you can take the leftovers to work for lunch (eliminating the need to eat out).
Plus, if you follow the tips in this article, you will find that cooking in big batches complements the steps you will be taking around buying inferior cuts of meat and in bulk.
For instance, you can get get some bones, make a big batch of bone broth in a slow cooker, add some beef brisket, and then any low cost - in season - vegetables you picked up from the farmers market and have a nutritous hearty stew that will last you the week!
You may want a big fillet of wild caught Alaskan salmon, with a basil pesto made from olive oil served up next to organic sweet potato fries cooked washed down with organic wine, but if having such a meal will blow your food budget for the week, you will have to go with something else.
Maybe you can get canned wild salmon ( a fraction of the cost), and make fish cakes with some fresh in season greens washed down with some kombucha you made up? It won't be as good, but it will be a tenth of the price.
I know you want to prioritise your health by eating quality food, but at some point you have to be practical and understand your limits.
Maybe you can treat yourself to one 'fancy' meal a week.
Or maybe you can pick up an extra shift so you can eat caviar and imported produce every day of the week. Like I said earlier, beggars can't be choosers. However if you implement the tips I have listed above, you will still be able to eat extremely healthy foods at a very low cost.
This is the obvious solution - simply grow your own food.
Start a vegetable garden, raise some chickens, fatten up a lamb on your back yard...
The opportunities are endless. This was the norm 2 generations ago, even though today we have been conditioned to think that only farmers should produce food.
Look around on google, on youtube, in the library... there will be heaps of resources on starting a vegetable garden or living a self-sufficient life.
Even if you just grow herbs to supplement your meals and save a few dollars - it will all add up.
Or if you find that a crop that grows well in your area plant that.
In sydney, my wife and I used to buy Organic zucchinis - lots of them. When we moved back home to NZ, we started a vegetable garden. A few months later we had organic zucchinis coming out of our ears! We couldn't keep up. They grew like a weed!!
And here we had been spending all this money on a food that was so easy to grow!
If you're inexperienced and nervous about growing your own food, start with the basics. What is the worst that happens? The plants die? You lose a few dollars on seeds? Put that down to experience and next time round learn from your mistakes.
But in all honesty, if you have a backyard, and you're after healthy fresh food, you really should start your own garden!
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I hope I have helped you save some money whilst still eating a nutrient rich, healthy diet.
Don't feel bad if you're not buying all the fancy health drinks and health products - to be frank most of them are junk anyway.
Instead, go back to the basics. Source quality foods and get the most out of it. Think about how you can get the best bang (nutrients and calories) for your buck.
And be frugal. We are blessed to live in a time of abundance - where food of all kinds can readily be sourced, and any hour of the day - but this has not always been the case. So learn from how people lived in previous times and you will soon realise you can still eat well on much less.
Feel free to share this with others and I welcome any feedback below.
And please if you have your own tips that I haven't above, please post them below.
This blog post was written by Alex Fergus. Alex is a ISSN Sports Nutrition Specialist, Fitness Professional and certified Superhuman Coach who continues to expand his knowledge base and help people across the world with their health and wellness. Alex is recognized as the National Record Holder in Powerlifting and Indoor Rowing and has earned the title of the Australian National Natural Bodybuilding Champion. Having worked as a health coach and personal trainer for over a decade, Alex now researches all things health and wellness and shares his findings on this blog. Learn more about Alex's Credentials HERE.
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