The greatest excuse I have heard for buying healthy food is that it is so expensive. My response usually is asking if you want to pay for it now or later in medical bills, but in all seriousness...food gets expensive. I always like to think about how I can save here and there on fresh food. I know I do spend a tad more on food some weeks, but it doesn't come without a sacrifice in other areas of life. But regardless on what your budget looks like, some people ask me how I do it. I will share with you some tips to how to shop, buy and eat gluten-free on a budget. These days everyone is looking for a good deal, and I am not proposing a "good deal" but integrating some ideas about food so that you can eat fresh and healthy on a budget.
1. Eat what is available in-season
If you are a consistent reader of this blog you know how much I go on and on about eating seasonally. Well, part of the reason is because when you eat what is ripe and available it tends to be cheaper. Not even taking into account the health benefits, when you eat what is ripe it usually is lighter on the wallet. Some examples of this: Buy from your farmer's market the four for a dollar zucchini when they are available in August, buy many and freeze and store. Or, buy fruit while it is in season and freeze or can and I bet you will save more money in the long run. So consider what food is available to you in season and see if there is a bargain to be won. Also, bying local, or at the farmer's market near you may in fact save you time and money compared to going to the large grocery store and being offered too many options. Eating in-season, locally is a great way to eat.
2. Buy in bulk This tip is usually thought as going to huge Costco store and bulking up. Well, I don't go to Costco even though I know there are some benefits, but this tip suggests you know what you buy on a regular basis and stock up when it is on sale at your local grocer. I can buy bulk beans, rice, gluten-free whole grain flours and almost any grain or seed from my local health food store. Also when you can find organic canned goods that last in the pantry like beans, tomatoes and other items then buy as much as you can and stock up. It will save your weekly budget so much if you don't have to regularly buy items that you will use weekly. Of course you have to fork out a bit of cash up front, but it saves more in the end. I am not against Costco either but choices are limited if you are looking for whole grains and whole foods.
3. Eat more vegetables, and less meat. Let's face it, meat can be very expensive...especially if you are buying for many people a few times per week. So experiment with eating less meat and more vegan and vegetarian dishes. Rice and veggie stir-fry's do not have to be the same every night and you can eat for cheaper without getting stinging on the nutrients. Maybe decide to buy meat once a week and then it will be a celebration feast, perhaps on the weekend or something. Then the rest of the week you can make more simpler meals that consist of grains and veggies. Think of even potatoes... you can buy a few for a few dollars and it can make a whole meal for cheap. Besides the fact that it is filling, versatile and nutritious.
4. Plan out your meals When you plan out your meals with what you have available in your pantry and what you would need to buy to prepare those meals, you put more thought into what to spend money on each week.Also, it will help you decide what you can make that will carry over into other meals...like left over veggies in soups and stews. Or a bean salad being later whipped into a dip. You can get more creative when you have it planned out and know what you need to make it happen. Meal planning may take more time when you first get started, but it will take less time the more you do because you get really good at it. The key to saving money here is to stick to your meals and lists and not buy other stuff that you will just have laying around.
5. Eat breakfast for supper
I can't tell you how many times I have eating a scrambled egg and veggie dish for dinner and saved my pennies for other things. Farm fresh eggs are 2-3 dollars a dozen and that means you can make a meal out of eggs and veggies for two for under 5 dollars. To be honest, I probably do a meal like this once a week to save on money here and there. If you eat that with some whole grain gluten-free pancakes, or gluten-free bread then you have a whole and balanced meal. It doesn't have to be rocket science to create a cheaper meal that is healthy. And I love breakfast!
6. Make it at home, forget about the packaged goods
When you get rid of the habit of buying packaged snacks and you are able to make snacks from home, you end up saving more money and they are probably healthier as well. Think about how you can make your own trail mixes, granola, and nut bars. If you make your own hummus, salsa and salads from home you will get way more for your money. Check out some of my homemade recipes on hummus, salsa, and dressings. Sometimes you are just paying too much to enjoy simplicity. But if you can find tricks to make it more simpler to make batched of hummus, pesto and salsa, then can it or freeze it and it will last longer for the same price. And you made it for goodness sakes!
7. Soups, Stews, and Stir-fry's
Throwing together spare veggies, grains and broth can save you money and time. Especially if you are a crock-pot user. A little broth, veggies and rice can go a long way in a crock pot. Making a big pot of chili, soup or a simple vegetable broth can last you all week if you so desire. You end up not spending as much as you would on store-bought lunches if you bring homemade soup everyday. Get creative and decide to make a big pot every week of a new kind. I don't think that will get old during the winter months, but in the summer....maybe. That is when I like to enjoy as much sauteed veggies as possible. You can get peppers, summer squash, and other seasonal veggies for cheap (or from your own garden), and to stir-fry with some herbs and rice, now that is an inexpensive and delicious dinner for sure.
8. Leftovers are good... I guess I am blessed because I actually love leftovers. I think eating leftover dinner's for lunch the next day is absolutely the best way to live :) Well, not always if you have the same meal for a week straight, but seriously... if you make a meal, then just plan on making more so that you can eat it a day longer. You will save time and money on this one, and you can decide to avoid more packaged and "convenient" food. When you are making a big meal, think about how you can re-invent another emal witht he leftovers. It will save and you won't be compromising your health.
9. Gluten-Free Pasta is my best friend
When gluten-free pasta is on sale I buys tons. Why? Well, because pasta is so easy to find ways to eat it at least once or twice a week. Pesto, squash pasta, marinara... and it is so versatile and delish. I think I can love eating gluten-free because of the great invention of brown rice pasta. Yes. It is a beautiful thing. Gluten-free pasta is much more expensive than regular, yes, but if you can buy it on sale and stock up... you will save. But also if you think of it as the main price of your meal with the sauce or veggies being the side, you can still make a meal for two under 5 or 10 dollars. Don't ever feel bad for eating gluten-free pasta as often as you do... it is your best friend.
10. Trash the Junk Food
If you stop buying soda pop, candy, chips, packaged snacks, and anything else that has junk in it, then you will automatically save lots of money! You may think that because that stuff is on "sale" ever week that you can save money, but seriously.... it's not that good. You can spend or save that extra money for gluten-free goodies. Once you eliminate those no-needed food items it seems to even out the food budget if you are spending a little more on organic or healthier foods. Bottom line...it takes time to transition out of the Standard American Diet (SAD) but in the end if you can cut out the junk and add in the good you will see it doesn't have to break the bank.
Those are my 10 tips. I try to keep life as simple as possible and also find the simple joys of making life healthier. If you have any other tips or ideas, I would love to hear from you...