Right now many people are thinking of ways to save money while trying to stay as healthy as possible. To some, it may seem like these two things don’t go together easily. However, there are lots of things you can do to keep yourself and your family well-fed and even incorporate organic foods when on a budget.
Eating organic and healthy doesn’t have to be extremely expensive as long as you take the time to figure out your food budget, plan, and make mindful choices about your meals.
Eating whole, organic foods not only feeds the good bacteria in your gut but also makes your digestive system less inhabitable to bad pathogens that can take over and reak havoc on your body.
The pesticides and herbicides used on conventional produce along with antibiotics and hormones in conventional animal products will destroy your gut microbiome. This process creates an unhealthy balance and allows the bad pathogens to overpopulate your gut.
It’s especially important in times of high stress to eat healthy foods. Stress on its own negatively impacts the good bacteria in your gut. With 70-90% of your immune system living in your gut, it’s important to support your gut health.
Financial stress is a huge source of stress for many people, so eating within your means is also super important. I hope you’ll use these tips for eating organic on a budget to continue to eat healthy even when money is tight.
Tips for Eating Organic, Healthy Food on a Budget
1. Meal plan
- For eating organic and well less expensively, this is one of my top tips! I can’t emphasize enough, how much money (and stress!) this one simple tool can save you. It’s as valuable as the “Don’t go to the grocery store hungry” rule. If you set your boundaries, by having a plan and knowing your budget, then you can stay within them. If there are no boundaries, then its impossible to stay within them! It took me forever to come around to this, but now I am so glad I did. This tool is really important, especially right now while many people are being careful about spending.
- To get started, grab a piece of paper and a pencil (not a pen) or download this meal planner. Write out the days of the week Monday through Sunday in the left column of the page. Across the top of the paper, write in each column Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and if you want Snacks or Food Prep. I only plan out our dinners and leave lunch and breakfast for leftovers and some standard meals that we make for those. But the more you create a plan, the easier it is to stick to it. All meals and snacks that you plan for and those that you don’t will go into your food budget.
2. Decrease your portion size and frequency of eating meat
- Meat can be expensive and is better for our health when eaten in small portions. Many cuisines around the globe, add smaller pieces of meat in with veggies, grains, legumes, and sauces. This is a wonderful way to include meat and all its flavor while still minding portion size and decreasing expenses.
- It’s important to buy good quality meat, so looking at eating humane certified, organic meat several days a week is a great way to lessen your food expenses. Think “quality over quantity.”
- If you or your family are used to eating meat every day, maybe just play with the portion size. A healthy portion of meat is never bigger than the palm of the hand that will eat it. Over time, you may be able to cut back even more without minding.
3. Incorporate more legumes and whole grains
- These items are cheap! You can use them on their own or mix them in with meat dishes to create tasty meals. Many Asian, Hispanic, and other ethnic dishes use a mix of grains and beans in with either meat, veggies, or both. There are many soups and main dishes that include veggies, beans, lentils, and sauces, and maybe a little meat too. Legumes and whole grains are a great way to bulk up your meals, cut down on costs, and have leftovers for the next day’s lunch.
Here are some ideas to include more legumes and whole grains into your weekly meal plan.
- Buddha bowls with whole grains, protein, and veggies. In these bowls, brown rice, quinoa or millet are all good options. But you could put any grains you like under veggies and beans, chickpeas, lentils, egg, fish, chicken, or tofu. You can add sprouts, olives, avocado, or fermented veggies to these as well.
- Make fried rice with veggies and possibly meat or tofu.
- Add beans, lentils, chickpeas, wild rice, or quinoa to a salad for a tasty lunch.
- Replace meat with beans, lentils, or chickpeas in a soup, curry, or another saucy dish.
- Look up recipes to have legumes and grains as the main dish, such as beans and rice with a side salad or veggie or bean tacos.
4. Make soups and recipes that will serve more than 1 meal (this tip saves time too!)
- Bean, lentil, and split pea soups are great to eat for dinner one night and multiple lunches in the days to follow. This is a great way to cut down on costs and time.
- Kale salad is another dish we like to make that will fill us for more than one meal. We can use this dish in multiple ways to add variety, so we usually make a basic salad with kale, carrot, and dressing, and then customize it for each meal.
- Thai coconut curry is delicious over rice and often lasts for more than one meal.
- Indian food dishes such as curries or tikka masala often have chickpeas or lentils in them and can be eaten more than once.
- My husband will roast an organic chicken and then use it as a supplement for our veggie dishes. At the end of the week, he makes a bone broth in the instant pot and will turn it into chicken soup for another meal.
5. Eat nutrient-dense foods
- Eating nutrient-dense foods will hold you over longer and can help you create less expensive meals. When your body is satiated and has the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals it needs, you won’t need to eat again as soon. Nutrient void foods often are less filling and will leave you craving more. Processed, sugary, or junk foods will drain your wallet, without leaving you truly satisfied or full.
- Eat nutrient-dense foods that are more filling when possible. Kale is protein-rich and a great example. It’s high in protein and many important nutrients. So when you compare kale to lettuce, you can often make a filling meal out of kale by simply making it into a salad, adding some other veggies, or a small amount of protein. Where lettuce is about the same price, but won’t hold you over near as long.
- For example, kale salad is delicious and with a little grated carrot and simple dressing can be a complete lunch. For dinner, you can add some whole grains on the side or in the salad or a small piece of protein, like chicken or an egg. See the budget-friendly recipes below for a couple of meal ideas that include kale. And if kale isn’t your jam, brainstorm other filling nutrient-rich foods that can save you money.
5. Prioritize what you buy organic
- Prioritize organic animal products including meat, eggs, and dairy as they are otherwise loaded with hormones and antibiotics.
- Check the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15: These lists put out by the Environmental Working Group are necessary resources when you’re not able to buy all organic. Check these lists and avoid the produce with the highest chemical residue levels, a.k.a. those on the Dirty Dozen.For the foods on the clean 15 that have the lowest chemical residues, you may choose to buy conventional. One word of caution is to be aware of foods that are genetically modified (GMO) on the Clean 15 as they often have herbicides and pesticides that are engineered into the crop. For example, corn and papayas are GMO crops and I recommend buying those organic if possible.
6. Buy only what you need and buy from the bulk section when possible
- This is a great tool to stay on budget. If you are able to shop in the bulk section, you can get exactly what you need for each recipe and it’s usually at a cheaper price than what you’d pay per pound in a package.
- Only buy a whole package when you know you’re going to use it, as unused or spoiled foods cost money too and you don’t get the benefit.
- Get creative! You can often substitute a different herb, spice, or ingredient for something you have, and can eliminate items from your list this way.
7. Shop around, shop sales, shop seasonally, and stock up
- Plan ahead and stock up on non-perishables or freezer fruits and vegetables when they are on sale. Freezer produce often is frozen immediately and because of this, it maintains a lot of its nutrients. It’s often cheaper than fresh produce, especially when out of season.
- Don’t stock up on things that you’re not certain you will use.
- Look at your weekly meal plans to make sure the ingredients you’re buying are things you use regularly. This is a great way to determine what you’ll need in the future.
- Look for what’s in season, often produce foods will be plentiful and less expensive due to laws of supply and demand. Right now spring crops like asparagus, kale, and lettuces are starting to roll in. Produce tastes better when it’s in season too! Plan a dish with seasonal foods instead of something that will be fresh later in the season.Just because something is in season or local doesn’t mean it’s cheaper, but it’s worth checking. A few times a year organic apples go down to .99 cents/ pound and I buy enough for the next 3-4 weeks and keep them in a cool spot in my garage. We eat a ton of apples and that’s more than half their usual price!
- I love, love our local Coop, and try to buy as much from there as possible, but there are just some ingredients that financially it doesn’t make sense to buy there. For example, we like to use raw cacao powder and at the Coop, it’s $6.99 for a small bag (maybe 8 oz). We found the same quality, raw organic, and fair trade at Costco for less than $11 for 2 pounds. It just doesn’t make sense to buy a product for $28 dollars when we can get the same quality for $11.Costco has good practices from what I understand, and if you can keep yourself in check (since most items can add at least $20 to your bill) this is a great place to shop for healthy foods on a budget. For eating organic, they have quite a few options. We get our eggs from there at times and our Costco carries 5 dozen organic and humane certified eggs for less than $3/ dozen. The same quality of eggs are at least $5/ dozen elsewhere. We find the same for some of our frozen berries, nuts, seeds, and nut butters. So, I would say it’s worth checking if there are things you use regularly that tend to be more expensive. Just remember not to throw anything extra in your cart! They must make a killing off of impulse buys.
8. Cook at home
- It’s almost always more expensive and less beneficial for your health to eat out, get take out, or get delivery than it is to cook your own food.
- Cooking at home is a great way to monitor the ingredients you and your family are eating and to make eating organic possible and less expensive.
- Making salad dressings and sauces at home eliminates many added sugars, salts, and other unnecessary chemicals and can save you a lot of money as these condiments all add up.
9. Stop buying processed foods, desserts you aren’t going to thoroughly enjoy, or sugary drinks
- Drink water or herbal tea in place of sugary drinks. If you want to fancy up your water add a few slices of cucumber, citrus, or other fruit to give it flavor.
- Eat whole fruits, veggies, nuts, and homemade dips for snacks.
- When possible, eliminate desserts and nutrient-void snacks as they won’t fill you up. Rather these foods often leave you hungry for more or with ongoing cravings. When you crowd these foods out with more health-promoting foods your body will be more satisfied and often cravings will subside.
- Prepackaged foods are another money drain. They’re often highly processed with additives and chemicals and are usually portioned small, so you won’t have leftovers for lunches or easy dinners.
11. Use food as medicine.
In the words of Hippocrates “Let food by thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food.”
When possible, get your nutrients, vitamins, and minerals through your food.
Supplements can be essential for many of us and often we need some supplemental support in addition to a nutrient-dense diet. But, supplements are often expensive. Unless you are careful to buy high-quality supplements, many of them don’t do their jobs as they are not properly absorbed.
Food is often a more bio-available way to get your nutrients, meaning your body will absorb the nutrients more easily. Talk with your doctor and make sure the supplements you’re taking are necessary or if there are other ways to get those same nutrients, vitamins, or minerals. Always check with your doctor before you stop taking any supplement, especially if they’ve recommended them to you… as they had a reason for doing so.
- For example, if you need help with bowel motility, chia seeds soaked in liquid for at least 10 minutes and then added to a smoothie or made into chia pudding are a great way to get things moving. As are veggies with all their fiber.
- Eat foods rich in vitamin C including red peppers, citrus, broccoli, and cauliflower.
- Make your own ferments at home using veggies, salt, and water to get some of your probiotics. Look this up for proper practices and to avoid bacteria in your ferments.
- Add things like spirulina and chlorella to your smoothies.
- Eat as many of your nutrients as you can and then supplement the rest; this will likely cut back on your overall expenses.
12. Buy from your local farmers or start your own vegetable or herb garden
- Summer isn’t quite here, but soon enough the local farms and farmers markets will be overflowing with fresh produce. This is a great time to connect with your local farmers and get fresh produce for lower prices. Often you can get deals at the end of the day just before the market closes. Also, talking with farmers about buying in bulk can often save you money if you plan to can or freeze food for the winter.
- Ordering a CSA (community-supported agriculture) box weekly is one way that some people have found to save money. You will get fresh seasonal foods to be creative with and support your local farmers at the same time.
- In the summer, picking organic berries is a good way to put up fruit for the winter. We often pick at an uncertified organic farm, where they use organic practices and put absolutely nothing on the berries. We pay $1 per pound as compared to $3 per pound in the store.
- Starting a vegetable or herb garden is a great way to get outside, connect with nature, and build your good gut bacteria. By putting your hands in the dirt and eating vegetables straight from the garden, you’ll get an amazing amount of good bacteria. And, you’ll get vegetables for a fraction of the cost!
So, now its time to put all these words into action. Which of these tips calls to you? What do you think you can easily incorporate into your weekly life in order to make eating organic and healthy more accessible for your budget? I invite you to write down what you’re going to do to get started saving money and eating and staying well.
Here are some meal ideas that might help spark your creativity:
Fried or scrambled eggs with sauteed kale on the side
Oatmeal with nuts, seeds, and fruit on top
A piece of organic whole-grain toast with nut butter
Organic yogurt, topped with seeds and fruit
Hard-boiled eggs with salad and veggies
Leftovers or soups
Quinoa salad with veggies and black beans
Fried rice with veggies and chicken or tofu
Veggie or ground turkey chili
White bean chili
Lentil or split pea soup
Lentils or chickpeas in a variety of Indian dishes over rice
Organic tofu or chicken stir fry
Bean, beef, or chicken tacos
Check out these recipes for inspiration for eating organic and healthy, at home, and on a budget:
Coconut Peanut Butter Cookie Balls
Crustless Broccoli and Red Pepper Quiche
I hope this information serves you well and saves you money and stress. And I hope you get to enjoy lots of good food and quality time with your family.
Making these practical and healthful changes in your life will promote your well being on all levels. And allow you to create new habits and routines that can serve you forever.
Happy And Healthy Eating!