The other day, Mr. Savvy took a rare trip to a fast food restaurant. It cost him $2.17 to eat lunch. I had to admit, that’s a hard price to beat. You can eat for less by cooking at home, but when you add in the convenience and speed, I understand why people make fast food a regular part of their diet.
Of course what you gain in price, you lose in nutrition, quality, and taste. And when you consider that poor-quality food affects health long term, it is penny smart and pound foolish to eat a lot of fast or junk food. What you make a habit of eating today will have ramifications in your body tomorrow.
On the other hand, healthy food is expensive. Eating healthier food can add almost 10 percent to the average American’s food bill, and since the price of food is going up, that is not good news.
Still, I believe it’s possible to eat well for cheap. And you don’t have to resort to extreme couponing either.
Healthy food might cost more, but it’s worth it to pay for quality. With some strategic planning, you will find you don’t have to sacrifice good nutrition for the sake of cheaper food.
Here are 10 ways to cut your food bill while still eating healthy:
1. Grow a garden. I have mentioned this before, I know, but growing a garden is the best way to save money on food. A garden will give you ten times–if not a hundred times–the effort you put into it. It is a way to have an abundant supply of fresh, healthy, better-tasting food for little money. With canning, freezing, and all-season gardening, it will give you food all year long.
2. Cook from scratch. It’s usually cheaper to cook from scratch. Almost anything you see in the store you can be made at home, which includes bread, spice mixes, pastas, broth, soups, pancake batter, jell-0, cheese, beer, salad dressing, sauces … you name it. When you cook from scratch, you find that instead purchasing of a cart full of food, you buy just a few staples instead. One bag of flour can replace pancake mixes, cake mixes, bags of bread, bags of cookies, pastas, etc. That means big savings. (Although, admittedly, more work in the kitchen.)
3. Buy in bulk. I find it’s worth it to buy staples like the above bag of flour in bulk. Not only is this a more efficient way to shop, since you don’t have to shop as often, it usually costs less. In my case, it pays to buy butter, cheese, coffee, and flour in bulk. I would say I save between 30%-40% on these items that way, and I go to the store less often too.
4. Do the math. Which brings me to my fourth point–do the math on the prices. Divide the price of the item into how many units of it you are getting and compare that to other options available. No really, don’t skip this step, even if you have to stand in the store with a calculator. I have even gone so far as to make a price book that breaks food down to the smallest price so I can compare. How do you know if it is cheaper to buy the bulk beans or the bagged beans? Math. How do you know if it’s worth it to make bread instead of buying it? Math. How do you know if you’re saving money by buying in bulk? Yep, math. It’s the shopper’s best friend.
5. Buy in season. It’s usually cheaper to buy things in season, especially when you are talking about produce and meat. As a bonus, buying in season means you can get local food, which is better for everyone involved in the food distribution chain. Sometimes this means waiting until an item is available, but that’s a good trade-off for locally produced, reasonably priced food. Really, who wants to eat fish from China? I’ll wait until it comes up from my own ocean instead.
6. Eat more vegetarian dishes. As I have mentioned before, eating vegetarian is cheaper. Beans alone are a low-cost, high-protein staple that gives you plenty of nutrients on the cheap. I’m not advocating giving up all meat for most people, but dedicating a night or two a week to vegetarian eating will reduce the food bill and probably help people lose weight, too.
7. Make big batches. This means cooking a large quantity of food–soups, stews, chilis, enchiladas, etc.–and then divvying it up into individual sizes, which you then freeze for later eating. Not only is this cooking from scratch, which I already mentioned as cheaper, but it curbs eating out or buying ready-made meals. When you are too tired to cook, you can pull the individual serving sized dish of the freezer and eat that instead.
8. Cut down on waste. There are lots of ways to reduce waste in the kitchen. Eat leftovers or freeze extra food. Turn vegetable ends into vegetable broth. Find new ways to turn existing food into a different dish. Try a Use It Up Challenge where you list all the extra food in your kitchen and concentrate on, well, using it up. You get the idea.
9. Find free sources of food. I am astounded how much free food is out there. I have begun bartering with my neighbor and yesterday she brought me a huge bowl of fruit from her trees. A friend of mine gave me some meat from a boar he hunted and I turned it into sausage. I have foraged free food, particularly mustard, fennel, and blackberries. I want to learn to pick mushrooms next. Use your imagination and get to know the people in your neighborhood, and you will be surprised what comes to you.
10. Make good food a priority. This is an attitude adjustment that I find helpful: since there’s such a strong connection between eating good food and having good health, it’s important to make healthy nutrition a priority, especially if you have children. If this means cutting extras–sodas, sweets, alcohol, etc.–in favor of a better cuts of meat or more fresh fruit, so be it. Of course that’s obvious, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind when shopping.
How are you saving money on your food bill?