When was the last time you tried to eat cheaply? You probably focused on a lot of ramen, maybe some potatoes and rice, and occasional trips to the dollar menu. Although these foods are cheap, they are lacking in nutrition — and loaded with sodium.
Healthy food has a reputation for being expensive. And you may need to spend a little more than on a five-pound bag of potatoes and 25-cent packs of salty noodles.
But with a little careful planning, you can eat well without breaking the bank.
Focus on fiber
Fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains are super-healthy — and cheap. Make these the centerpiece of your meal to save money. You don’t have to go meatless if you don’t want to, just cook smaller portions of meat and larger sides.
Want to get the best deals on whole grains and beans? Buy dry beans — these cost a fraction of the price of canned beans. And use the bulk bins to stock up on grains.
Skip pricey organics
If you prefer organic foods, make sure your organic dollars go to the most important items. The Environmental Working Group puts together an annual list of the Clean 15, fruits and vegetables that have the least pesticide residue and are safe to buy in the cheaper conventional version.
Buy in season
Why buy a pale bland tomato in the middle of winter — especially when it costs about four times as much as it would in the summer. Seasonal produce will be the best bargain.
Not sure what’s in season? Eat the Seasons posts a list of fruits and vegetables that are in season by month. You can also tell by seeing what’s got the lowest price in the product section at the store.
Want bonus points? Try shopping at your local farmer’s market or through a community-supported agriculture cooperative. Not only will your food be in season, it will be super-fresh.
Learn to preserve
If you’ve got a freezer, you can turn some of that in-season bounty into off-season delights. You can blanch (lightly boil) and freeze many fruits and vegetables. You can even make your own freezer tomato sauce and salsa so you can enjoy fresh tomato flavor in mid-winter. And your homemade frozen items will be much cheaper than the bags you find in the freezer section of the grocery store.
And consider buying meat in bulk and freezing it in meal-size portions. You can typically save more than a dollar per pound, depending on the type and cut of meat, when you buy the family packs. Ensure it will stay fresh longer by investing in a vacuum sealer. This affordable appliance will pay for itself easily — and you can use it to seal your frozen vegetables and fruits, too.
Stay home more
If you’ve been spending on eating take-out and sit-down restaurant meals, you’ll be amazed at how much money you can save by cooking at home. (As a bonus, many meals take less time than calling ahead and driving to pick up your dinner.) Can’t bear to part with your favorite take-out? Try a web search for “RESTAURANT NAME DISH copycat recipe.” You’ll be amazed at how many great recipes you can find that way.
Now, what will you do with all the money you saved on food?