Friday, March 12, 2010

Saving money and eating healthy

I really appreciate all of the feedback on my post about saving time cooking.  I'll continue my mini-series with a post about saving money.  I don't know that I'm the right person to write this because I make food a priority in my life and spend a lot more money than I need to because I often choose high quality foods and enjoy trying new and exotic ingredients.  That being said, I do have many ways that I save money within that framework, so I'll share those.  Unfortunately there's often a give and take between money and time, but my advice is to find a happy medium and be flexible (I spend more money when I'm busiest, and then spend more time cooking when I have it).  I also try to stock my freezer with leftovers so that I always have food ready to go when I have a hectic schedule, and am not tempted to buy expensive prepared meals.  Again, I would love to hear what you do to save money!

1) I make a lot of things from scratch.  When I started making my own bread about 18 months ago, I calculated the amount I was spending on homemade vs. store bought bread.  I can't remember the exact figures, but it cost about 8 times more to buy the equivalent kind of bread (at the time I was eating 100% whole wheat without HFCS or preservatives).  Gluten-free flours are expensive, but over time it sure beats the $6 tiny loaf that tastes like cardboard.  Making pasta, cheese (ricotta is simple), pickles, and other ingredients will save you tons of money.

2) I take advantage of cheap sources of protein.  Dried beans and peas are dirt cheap, and it's easy to cook up a big batch and freeze them (here's a great post about ways to cook and eat dried beans at Cookthink).  Eggs are also cheap (and fast!). Grains can be a great source of protein, too, especially if you choose grains like amaranth and quinoa.  I'm very picky about my meat (I try to buy only local meat from farmers that I know), so it's usually fairly expensive and I eat less of it.

3) I buy lots of things from bulk bins (grains, beans, nuts, dried fruit, spices, etc.).  Bulk items are usually cheaper, and it's also the perfect option if you only want a small amount of something.  Most natural foods stores and some chain grocery stores have bulk bins, so check them out!

4) I make sure to eat everything that I buy before it spoils.  I can't stand to let things go bad, so sometimes I have odd meals that combine whatever needs to be used.  Sometimes these are the most satisfying meals that I make, and they often find their way onto the blog.  Planning meals at the beginning of the week helps, and I plan meals with ingredients that spoil quickly for the nights right after my shopping trip.

5) I've become an advocate for buying local food, and I've found that it often saves me a lot of money.  There are HUGE exceptions to this statement (like meat and milk), but in the summer the produce is generally cheaper at my farmers' market than it is across the street at the grocery store.  And if you assign taste a value, we're talking extreme savings on almost all local foods.  If you buy produce in season and freeze it, you can really save big throughout the year.

6) I savor my splurge purchases.  If I buy parmigiano reggiano or another high quality (and expensive) ingredient, I only use a little bit at once.  Often that's all I need to be very satisfied, and I get more out of my purchase.  I don't use expensive ingredients if the taste will be covered up by other strong flavors in a recipe.

7) I mix my own spices/flours/etc.  Spice and herb blends are often marked up a ridiculous amount, but it takes about 30 seconds to mix my own.  The same goes with gluten-free flour mixes (but I realize that sometimes it's not worth buying a lot of a rarely-used ingredient).

8) I save a ton of money on breakfast.  Back in the day, I bought a lot of cereal, and that gets expensive.  Now, I eat a huge bowl of porridge (a mix of whatever grains I feel like throwing in my crock pot that week) almost every day, and it costs about 20 cents per meal.  Plus, it tastes much better than anything I can buy, and cooks while I'm asleep.

9) It took me a while, but I've embraced eating naturally gluten-free foods.  When I first realized that I had a problem with gluten, I spent a ton of money buying special things that came with a "gluten-free" label.  I finally realized that I wasn't buying packaged food before, why did I need it now?  I do keep a stock of gluten-free flours, starches, and gums, but otherwise I've gone back to almost exclusively eating non-processed foods that are naturally gluten free, like gluten-free grains, beans, meat, eggs, vegetables, and fruit.  Now I spend about the same amount of money that I did before my gluten issues surfaced, and I couldn't be happier.

The bottom line is that even when I'm buying expensive ingredients, it's still much cheaper (and almost always tastier) than eating out.  Hopefully this will give a few ideas for those of you trying to eat healthy on a tight budget.  This is a hot topic right now, so I'll also share a post that I noticed over at Dianasaur Dishes on the same topic.  Diana's tips are similar to mine, but she also goes into more on saving money by planning meals and shopping trips.

How do you save money while still eating healthy?


Michelle said...

Great article.. I was just telling a friend of mine that if she would just learn to cook a few of the meals she enjoys ordering so much, that she could eat great, eat healthy, and eat cheap!

Tasty Eats At Home said...

Great article! I'm all about saving money. I too eat mostly naturally gluten-free stuff - it might seem as though that's not represented on my blog sometimes, but I have to sing praises when I find a GF substitute for something that I haven't eaten since going GF! And you're right, farmers markets usually are cheaper than the grocery!

Leah said...

Great summary! I do most, if not all, of those things myself.

When I do eat meat (and you're's much more expensive to eat healthful meat), I try to make each piece of meat go as far as possible.

For example, I try to buy whole chickens instead of pre-cut chicken parts (i.e. no skinless, boneless breast). When I bring the chicken home, I spend ten minutes cutting it up myself. This allows me to use the back and neck for stock, the bits of meat off the back go into chicken salad, and I can do anything I want with the other pieces. Skinless? Sure. Boneless? Ok.

Granted, this can be intimidating the first few times, but after you practice on four or five chickens, you get the hang of it. I broke down my last chicken in eight minutes (I timed myself, yes I am a nerd).

Although I don't have a chest freezer (YET!!!), I'm looking forward to the day when I can buy a quarter of a beef and freeze it. It's so much cheaper that way.

Chalit said...

Great article! Eating healthy is so important. With this economy it appears so many of us have forgotten it. Great tips/advice

Katie said...

Michelle, Alta, and Chalit - Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Leah - Great point about making meat go farther! I'm bad about getting lazy and buying boneless, skinless chicken, but when I have time, I do prefer to roast a whole one or cut it up myself. I can't wait to have a chest freezer, too!! I have a feeling that it will be filled to the top within a few weeks :)