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Healthy Eating on a Budget

Posted Dec 13 2010 12:00am
I wrote this post for the Vegan Era Blog but I thought you guys might like it as well…

When chatting with people about eating a healthy diet, often the first issue to come up is money. Eating healthy and organic is often associated with being very expensive. I’m the first to admit that I can blow all my money on food in a flash but, as my funds are fairly limited, I’ve had to find ways to cut costs.

Before I share some of my tips with you, let me share with you how the average Australian spends their money…

The average Australian household spends more on fast food than fruit and vegetables and five times more on recreation than healthy foods. As a result of our poor eating habits, we then spend nearly twice as much on medical expenses as we do on fruit and vegetables. It’s not as though we can’t afford to eat or feed our children- Australia is the only country in the world where childhood obesity is increasing faster than that of adults.

However, none of this changes the fact that it’s generally cheaper to feed the family at Maccas than to cook an organic, nutritious meal. So here are some tips on how to save money and still eat a healthy, plant-based diet.

First of all, sit down and decide how much money you have to spend and go through how you spend it now. What are you splurging on? What do you really need?

Decide on what you will and won’t compromise on. There’s no point deciding to stop buying all of your favourite things because you won’t stick to it!
For example I will only buy organic greens and fruit
I will not compromise on choosing organic and GMO free soy products

Organic produce is notoriously more expensive. Depending on what you are comfortable with, you can choose organic for some things and not others. To help you decide, consider the following
Most supermarkets now offer an affordable range of organic canned goods that are handy to keep in the pantry, such as tomatoes, chick peas, etc.

The Dirty Dozen
The following fruits and vegetables are known as 'the dirty dozen' because they are contaminated with the most amount of pesticides. Therefore, it's best to choose organic wherever possible.
1. Peaches
2. Apples
3. Sweet bell peppers
4. Celery
5. Nectarines
6. Strawberries
7. Cherries
8. Kale
9. Lettuce
10. Grapes
11. Carrots
12. Pears 

The following items are considered the 'cleanest' fruit and vegetables, so you could consider buying these non-organic.
1. Onions
2. Avocados
3. Sweet corn
4. Pineapples
5. Mangoes
6. Asparagus
7. Sweet peas
8. Kiwi
9. Cabbage
10. Eggplant
11. Papayas
12. Watermelon
13. Broccoli
14. Tomatoes
15. Sweet potatoes

Whether you purchase organic or not, it is important to wash all of your fruit and vegetables. You do not need to purchase a specialty wash, which will often add to the chemical load of your produce and cost you money. Simple household ingredients such as vinegar or salt will remove many of the pesticides and bacteria.
Rinse your produce first in cold water and then prepare a mix of approximately 1 teaspoon of sea salt to 1 cup of water. Soak the produce for a couple of minutes and then rinse thoroughly with water. Dry off the fruit and vegetables before putting them away to ensure freshness or wash them as you go, just before using.

Just because you love strawberries all year round doesn’t mean you should eat them all year round! When you buy fruits and veggies when they are in season you will find them in abundance, at a reasonable price, and it is much healthier for you. Eating in tune with nature will provide the most nourishment for your body. 

There are many benefits to shopping at your local markets. As you are often buying directly from the farmer or producer then it is often cheaper than the store. It is also often better for the environment as the produce usually hasn’t traveled as far as the produce in the supermarket. As you can chat to the stall holders and compare prices you can usually get great deals and great advice.
We’ve got into the habit of going to the West End markets most Saturday mornings to buy all of our fruit and veg for the week as well as vegan pumpkin and barley ‘sausage’ rolls for breakfast. Mmm yummo! We usually get a combination of organic produce and the cheaper stuff so that it doesn’t get too expensive.

Check out local wholesalers near you that sell direct to the public. They sell bulk products at a reduced price and you can find all sorts of things. Products such as nuts, canned goods, olives, legumes, olive oil, flour and spices are all things that you can save money on. For example, you can usually pick up a 1 litre can of cold-pressed olive oil for around $20 and then keep it in your pantry and refill your olive oil bottle as necessary. Wholesalers often specialize in certain cuisine, such as Indian, Greek, etc which have lovely surprises that you can’t find in your supermarket, and often at a fraction of the cost.

It is very easy to spend a fortune in health food stores. Make sure you know what you want before you go in there. For example, you may choose to splurge on raw sprouted rye bread each week, which can cost close to $10 but it is much healthier than a regular loaf of bread and is so dense that you will only need a small amount. It also lasts a long time in the fridge, rather than going stale in a day or two.

Dave did an experiment last week and kept all of the change he would normally add to charity bowls, etc that are often next to the registers in stores. He saved $50 in a week.

We have certainly become a society that demands quick, easy and convenient. If you do have the time though, there are many things that you can make yourself at home. Simple things that take only 5 minutes or so include your own hummus. All you need is a can of chickpeas, some tahini, garlic and lemon juice and a food processor. Other dips you can make easily and cheaply include guacamole, pesto, olive tapenade, salad dressings, tomato salsa, almond butter etc. It is much cheaper than constantly buying dips and spreads and much healthier for you too as they are fresh and contain no preservatives. If you have more time then making your own breads, crackers, almond milk, etc are also more economical and much healthier.

Even if it is simply having a pot or 2 of herbs on your balcony, this will save you money. Herbs are hearty so they often only need watering a couple of times a week and some sunshine and there is nothing better than the taste and aroma of fresh herbs in your food. The addition of fresh herbs can often mean that you don’t need additional flavour from unhealthy alternatives such as excess salt.

Do some research in your local area for co-ops and local food delivery options. It saves you time and often saves you money.  I've never tried this but have plenty of friends who rave about the big box of organic veggies they get delivered to the door each week!

If you sit down at the start of the week and make a rough plan of the meals you'd like to have for the week, you can ensure that you only buy what you need.

We’ve found that specialty dog food and other pet food can get expensive. However, if you purchase a bag of vegan doggie biscuits and some treats, you can then make up some rice and canned vegetables to serve with it. This way your dog biscuits will go much further, and your animal friend gets a nutritious, yummy meal!

It is a great exercise to try to make your pantry go the distance before going out shopping again. Whether you make a decision not to purchase anything else for the next week or simply make a conscious decision to stretch everything a little further at each meal, you will be amazed at how far you can go and how much you can save. Get creative and use up some of those items hidden at the back of the cupboard.
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