There are a lot of tactics that you can use to save money on food – coupons, comparison sales, and so on. The biggest problem with many of those tactics is that they work best – or they only work – on items that aren’t particularly good for you.
My doctor has two simple rules of thumb for eating healthier. He says that it’s pretty difficult sometimes to figure out what’s healthy and so he suggests two things. First, more than half of the food you eat in a day should be plants. Second, if it comes from a factory or a mine, eat it as rarely as you can, meaning if it’s not obviously a plant, a vegetable, a direct animal product, or a piece of meat, try to avoid eating or drinking it. That’s it.
So, how do I get these two different worldviews to work together? How can I follow such simple standards for healthy eating while also keeping money in my pocket? These five tactics really work well.
I’m excluding the obvious tactic of having a garden from this list, simply because quite a few readers don’t have adequate space or adequate time to start and maintain one.
Buy plenty of whatever fresh items are on sale at the grocery store.
If you examine your preferred grocery store’s flyer, you’ll usually find at least one fresh fruit and at least one fresh vegetable that’s on sale. Often, you’ll find two or three of each.
When you go to the store, those are the vegetables and fruits you’re going to really focus on. These will be the cornerstones of your diet for the week. Buy plenty of them. Eat them as much as you can stand that week.
Here’s the thing: it’s just a week. At the end of the week, there will be a new flyer and new fruits and vegetables on sale.
Make healthy foods convenient to eat.
When you get home from the store, make those healthy fruits and vegetables as ready to eat as you possibly can. Clean them. Cut them up into snack-sized bits. Put them in several baggies so you can grab them when you’re on the go. Keep them at the front of your refrigerator so they’re ready to go.
Obviously, follow the lead on what your fruit or vegetable is. If you bought a lot of spinach, for example, make some “salad on the go” bags in Ziplocs with a fork already in there (and maybe a little container of salad dressing you made yourself). If you bought bananas, just keep them out where they’re visually obvious for you. If you bought carrots, chop and peel them into smaller pieces for snacking.
If a food is really convenient when you open that refrigerator door, you’re more likely to grab it when you’re in a pinch. I often grab vegetable pieces if I see that they’re ready to go, for example. It’s all about the path of least resistance.
If it’s fresh and about to go bad, store it.
The most effective way to do it is to freeze it, of course, but there are lots of things you can do, particularly if you have a blender.
If you have a blender, turn all of your remaining fruits (along with a bit of your remaining vegetables) into smoothies and freeze them in single-serving batches. You can literally freeze them in plastic cups if you’d like so all you have to do is pull one out of the freezer and put it in the fridge for 24 hours or so to have a very cold and delicious smoothie.
If you have vegetables left over, turn them into something you can easily use later on. Chop root vegetables into small pieces and freeze them. Turn tomatos into tomato sauce – or, if you have onions and other herbs and spices, make some pasta sauce, and freeze that, too.
Almost any fresh item that’s just on the verge of going bad can easily be converted into something delicious that can be stored for later use, which keeps you from buying a processed equivalent of that item at a later date.
Drink water. If you like fizz, carbonate it. If you like flavor, add a bit of fruit juice, ideally from fruit you juiced yourself.
Seriously, drink water. If water is your primary beverage, you’re going to save a lot of money on beverages and you’re taking in a zero calorie substance.
If you feel thirsty, drink some water. If you don’t feel thirsty, don’t drink anything. You get most of the water you need from your food anyway.
If you absolutely must have bubbles in your water, see if you can get a carbonating unit like a Sodastream on the cheap. If you absolutely must have flavor in your water, add a bit of fruit juice to it before you drink. I sometimes like a hint of lemon in my water myself.
Listen to your body, not the clock.
If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re not hungry, don’t eat. It’s that simple.
Yes, sometimes we have busy schedules with narrow windows of opportunity for a meal. If that’s the case, plan around it. Keep food that you can snack on throughout the day. Unsalted nuts are great, as they fill you up with just a few of them.
Noon doesn’t mean “time to eat lunch.” The decree of “time to eat lunch” needs to come from your sense of hunger and how your body actually feels. If that means not eating until two or three, so be it. If it means not even eating a lunch at all, so be it.
At the same time, put about half as much on your plate as you might normally do. If you normally eat two scoops of something, put on only one scoop. Clean your plate, then reassess whether or not you’re still hungry. As above, if you’re hungry, eat. If you’re not hungry, don’t eat.
Almost always, this causes you to eat less without the hunger. The less food you eat, the more food stays in the fridge or cupboard for tomorrow and the less you have to buy at the store the next time you go. That saves you money.