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On the cheap: Healthy Eating part 1

Posted Mar 22 2012 12:41pm

I’ve blogged a couple of times before about healthy eating on the cheap as part of my Big Budget Challenges . What I’ve come to realise is that my spending on food is probably the most flexible area of my finances in which I can make savings. I’ve decided to split this into two posts because I have so much I’d like to share, so part 2 will be coming up next week.

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This is actually the first month in a while that I’ve kept to a £200 monthly budget! I said at the start of the month that I needed to make some serious changes, and unfortunately to be able to keep to that budget I had to stop my organic veg box delivery. If I could afford to eat organic all the time of course I would, but I’ve had to do some prioritising recently and in order to get things back on track while being able to have and do the things I want (such as paying for my tattoo) I’ve had to sacrifice other things. I still buy organic at the supermarket when I can afford it.

A lot of people seem to think its very expensive to eat healthily and even more costly when you start to factor in organic, vegan and raw foods. I’ve come to the conclusion that you have to be willing to invest in your health. Unfortunately, until a government comes along that actually gives a damn and is willing to stand up to big corporations, processed foods are generally going to be cheaper than healthier foods, especially organic. However, it is still possible to eat amazingly delicious, healthy and soul nourishing foods on a reasonable budget which I hope is something I show through this blog!

Here’s some of the things I’ve learned when it comes to healthy eating grocery budgeting:

Know your staples

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I often re evaluate what my grocery staples are, the things that I buy week in and week out. When I know what my staples are this makes it easier for me to know when to buy in bulk and when its worth shopping about for the best deal. My staples for me and James include:

  • spinach
  • other greens (romaine, kale, cabbage etc)
  • apples (I eat an obscene amount of apples!)
  • lemons
  • mushrooms
  • carrots
  • cucumbers
  • celery
  • courgettes
  • broccoli
  • skimmed milk
  • green tea
  • PJ tips (the only tea James will drink!)
  • passata
  • tuna
  • frozen quorn products
  • frozen berries
  • porridge oats
  • pasta
  • brown rice

As I know that these are the things we buy the most of I can make sure I buy in bulk when possible and take advantage of any deals on these products because I know they will get used up. Try making a list of your grocery staples and then (see next point) find out where the cheapest place to buy them from is.

Shop around

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One of the big things I discovered doing the Big Budget Challenge was the value in shopping around for the best deals. I shop in different places for different products. I know that I can get the cheapest and best range of produce from my green grocers but because its in the centre of town I can only get there once a week so I also go to Aldi for their ‘super 6’ deals (6 fruit and vegetables at very low prices that change each week). I know that Tesco seems to be the best place to buy bulk dried beans and nuts for the best price. I know that Sainsbury's sells a great range of frozen fruits on a 3 for £5 deal. For more unusual health foods I tend to do a price comparison looking at my health food store, Holland and Barrat, Goodness Direct and for some things iHerb to establish the best place to get things. I also sometimes go to my local farm shop for organic fruit, veg and eggs.

Prioritise

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I think its especially difficult, particularly when it comes to ‘health foods’ to know what its worth investing your money in. I’ve fallen in to the trap of spending ridiculous amounts of money on different powders and potions, but now that I’ve had my fun experimenting I know which of these specialist products work for me and therefore I’m able to prioritise what I choose to spend my money on. I love super foods like maca, spirulina and barley grass powder but I can’t afford to buy all of them. I feel that I get the most benefits from maca, so I choose to only buy that now. Even when it comes to more everyday purchases I think its worth prioritising according to what you are going to get the best use of, especially when your getting to the end of the month and funds are low. This week I had £10 left and even though I had a big list I prioritised spinach, apples, pears, lemons, mushrooms and milk, the other things I need have to wait until pay day!

Cook from scratch whenever possible

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Before I started blogging I very rarely cooked anything from scratch. Now I think its the best thing you can do for your health and your budget! It may seem a bit daunting at first, but if I can do it anyone can. When your cooking meals from scratch your saving money on processed foods and because you tend to be using whole ingredients your eating healthier almost by default. Soups, curries, stews and chilli's can all be made in bulk and frozen for mid week meals. Chemical and preservative free baked treats can also be made at home and enjoyed straight away or frozen. Another way I’ve saved is by cooking my grains and beans from scratch too. I put some time to one side at the weekend and cook up a big pot of my ‘grain of the week’ and some beans (which can also be cooked and then frozen). I thought that cooking beans would be a faff but its so simple, all it requires is a little forethought so that you remember to soak them the night before. They taste a lot better than tinned beans too!

Don’t be a snob ;-)

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I’ll admit I used to be a bit of a snob when it came to shopping in some places like Aldi and Lidl and would never have bought products from supermarkets ‘basics’ ranges. Now I shop in those places all of the time and regularly buy things from the cheaper supermarket ranges. My favourite ‘basics’ products I get from Sainsbury's (I’ll go on a bit about Sainsbury’s because its my most local supermarket) include bags of courgettes, cartons of chopped tomatoes and bags of frozen berries.

Compare the cost per weight prices

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One of the things I figured out more recently was making sure I look at the cost per weight prices for fruit and vegetables. As the biggest portion of my budget goes on produce its worth taking the time to get this out. Often you will see 1 kg bags of carrots for £1 then check the loose carrots and see that their cost per kg is actually less than £1 so your better off just filling up your own bag. Generally, the loose produce is cheaper than the pre bagged or packed up stuff.

So that’s only half of the tips I have for you, more to come next week! You can see the other posts in the ‘On the cheap’ series – exercise and beauty – here.  

What are your grocery staples? Do you shop around for the best offers? How do you prioritise?

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