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How to eat healthy on a budget

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More To Love teaches plus size women how to learn body-acceptance and end dieting for good. 

How to eat healthy on a budget

Rachel Estapa

I hear it often "..but eating healthy is just TOO expensive!" I used to subscribe to this belief myself, but when I started to get more serious with my budget and how I wanted to eat, I soon realized I didn’t have to sacrifice my healthy eating at my wallets expense. 

I know money is a real issue for most of us, and it's true - food prices are higher overall, but I've learned some tricks and techniques to ensure that eating well doesn't mean going into the poorhouse. And I believe that on whatever budget you or your family has to work with, you can enjoy healthier meals for less.

I wanted to share with you how I shop for food with my budget of around $350/month which covers me & my husband. That equates to about $175 per person a month. According to the USDA’s estimates on the average cost of what people pay for food, we fall under the “thrifty food plan.”

But guess what?  We eat like royalty. Food is a big deal in our house and we take cooking very seriously. Because we live on a budget, we’re extremely conscious about our food, choosing to make sure we pick the most wholesome quality available at a price we can afford.

The three keys to keeping our tummies healthy & happy and wallet’s in the green is:

  1. Buy in-season, whole foods and cook them at home
  2. Stick to a routine + a list
  3. Cook once, eat many meals later 
  4. Be creative and daring

The scene:

We live in a hip neighborhood just outside of Boston called Davis Square. Davis is very locally-minded and there are tons of shops to buy artisan foods from. This can be pricey if you're not smart about it, but we've done our homework on the best value and quality for hand-crafted foods.

We don’t own a car, so we rely on public transportation and walking for everything in our lives. Now I know our lifestyle is more urban than most, but these strategies can be applied to even those who shop at one place (which is probably a lot easier than the multiple trips we need to make!)

Planning is key and we never leave the house without a list to stick to. We also delegate..my husband loves to do the quick-trips for items, where as I, enjoy making a weekend morning of it to visit the local shops.

Type of food we cook

80% of our food is whole, meaning, it’s not processed, pre-packaged - it's right from the source. My mother cooked everything from scratch and thankfully, passed that knowledge to me. We cook 90% of our meals each week and all of them are from scratch. This is how we save money.

I get Cooking Light Magazine in the mail and have a few cookbooks, plus find recipes online, but by and large, I make up my own meals based off what I know and love experimenting. Thankfully, they turn out great!

(And a note about time…...I can hear you now “I am so busy!! I don’t have time for all that!!” And I understand. So, here is my reality: I work full time at Harvard, run my own business through More To Love, hit the gym 3-4 times a weeks and still have a social life. I create time and resources to cook and prepare meals because I know it’s beneficial to my overall lifestyle. I acknowledge that I have a gift for multi-tasking and efficiency, but most of this skill I had to learn myself, otherwise I'd still be a stressed mess. Out of everything in my life, I focus mostly on balance and time-management...this skill allows me to do virtually everything I want to do as long as it aligns with what my values and priorities are. So it’s worth while to learn how to manage and budget your time.)

Produce

We’re members of a CSA called Boston Organics, which comes every two weeks to deliver organic, locally sourced produce. The cost is $24/box...or $48/month. Some might say it's nuts to pay that much for produce, but it's a value of mine, good for the ecosystem, and the taste is unparalleled - so it's worth it to me. 

Meats

Down the street is a locally owned butcher shop that has a facility in the back that can cut its own meat which saves so much on costs to the consumer. I buy chicken & ground beef in bulk here, return home to clean and organize as needed, then freeze for later use. I taught myself how to de-bone so I can buy whole cuts (which cost less) and break down myself. We spend on average $40 a month on meats.

Bread

I get my bread from a local bakery called When Pigs Fly and two loaves of their large organic homemade bread costs $10-12 but lasts me a month (I don’t eat bread at home too much).

Grocery Store

For major shopping, we use the delivery service of one of the local shops called PeaPod. This service alone has saved us THOUSANDS of dollars in shopping over the years because of these features:

  1. Saves the list from previous orders so I can go in and just shop off what I usually buy
  2. You completely avoid "impulse grab" in a store and just stick to what you need
  3. Offers amazing online only specials/deals
  4. Great selection of organic items via their own brand, Natures Promise 

Each month, we do on average 2 big deliveries which costs around $100 each, so about $200/month (including cost for delivery.) 

We live about a 20 minute walk from two major grocery stores, so anything we cannot buy from the local shops we go here, but these are quick-trips when we run out of something. We usually spend around $50/month on quick trips.

Other than a few items within the isles (pasta sauce, rice, ect) I shop almost exclusively around the perimeter of the store where all the fresh foods are. I’ve also learned how best to store fresh produce so it lasts longer, thus saving you $. Here is a quick cheat for yourself.

So...add all of these up at you get around $350/month.

It took us a few months to really get the routine and budget down, but I’m very pleased with how we feed ourselves and manage our budget for it.

And YES we still go out for meals! We love that, that’ll never go away, and because we stick to our budgets, eat healthy, we have some extra money for special meals out.

Did I miss anything? Want to learn more? Add your comments and experience below.