How to Eat Well on a Budget
Those who already know the health, ethical, and environmental benefits of a whole foods plant-based diet also know the economical advantages as well.
For years, it has been my pleasure to give people the tools and resources they need to eat healthfully and compassionately – affordably. And by “affordably,” I’m not talking about eating cheap food.
Cost goes well beyond dollars and sense, and eating healthfully affordably means considering all the costs of our consumption – costs to our health, to the Earth, to the people who produce it, to the animals, and to our spirits.
Eat at home.
People often complain that they don’t have time to eat and cook healthfully, but if we were really honest, we’d realize that it’s not that we don’t have the time; it’s that we don’t make the effort.
If we have the time to pack the family into the car, drive to a restaurant, wait for a table, decide what to order, wait for the food, pay the bill, and drive back home, then we have time to chop some vegetables and make a delicious, inexpensive meal at home.
Be a savvy shopper.
Instead of looking only at the retail price for items in the grocery store, look at the unit price. The “unit price” tells you the cost per pound, quart, or other unit of weight or volume of a food package and is usually posted on the shelf below the food.
Instead of paying for brand names and packaging, buy your dried foods from the bulk bins, including pasta, grains, flour, oatmeal, lentils, beans, even herbs and spices. Fill them up in containers and bags you bring from home.
Cook from scratch.
Not only is it less expensive to cook using food from the bulk bins, such as beans and lentils, but when it comes to baking, nothing beats starting from scratch – both in terms of taste and cost.
For instance, one batch of a dozen Drop Biscuits from my cookbook The Joy of Vegan Baking costs about $1.15; that’s $.10 per biscuit. This goes for any baked good – especially those made without dairy or eggs. When you buy cake mixes in a box, you pay a lot of money for what is essentially just flour, sugar, and baking powder.
Choose nutrient-dense foods.
Get the most bang for your monetary buck and your nutritional buck. When we eat “empty calories” (foods and beverages that have the same energy content of any other calorie but devoid of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, amino acids, and fiber), we spend precious calories (and dollars) and receive no benefit in return. So in terms of cost-savings, consider nutrient-density the goal.
We should never decide what to have for dinner at dinnertime. Knowing the night before – or at least that morning – and preparing in advance prevents us from making unhealthful and expensive choices when we’re already hungry. Planning ahead when we shop is also helpful so that we buy just what we need for the meals we’ve planned instead of falling victim to impulse or empty-calorie purchases.
Also, bringing healthful snacks when we hit the road ensures that we’ll be covered when hunger hits. Vending machines rely on our not having planned ahead, so make some snacks ahead of time and bring them along.
These are just some ways to increase our savings as well as our health. After all, if we don’t have time to be sick, we need to make time to be healthy.