Eating Clean on a Budget

Nutrition Strategies

Clean Eating on the Cheap

As an integrative dietitian and empowerment coach with 20+ years of experience, my main goal is to help women age well, feel confident in their bodies, and create the healthy lifestyle they desire and deserve.
danielle omar

Eating healthy doesn’t have to break the bank. One of the many community share discussions we have during my Nourish: 21 Days of Clean Eating program are tips for eating clean on a budget.  I consider myself an expert in this area, as I tend to be a bit of budget grocery shopper. I visit SEVERAL different grocery stores to get the best price, especially when I know the exact same item costs less somewhere else. There are definitely a few items I will gladly spend more on to get the quality I want, but I always find a way to get a deal somewhere else to balance it out. And that is trick number one in my little bag of “eating clean on the cheap” tricks…

Rob Peter to Pay Paul

Can’t live without those organic strawberries? Me neither. But I CAN live without organic avocado, bananas or anything else with inedible skin. I use the Clean 15 list from the Environmental Working Group so I know when I don’t need to go organic. I also don’t bother with organic produce that I can get locally, or, better yet garden grown. My home-grown herbs don’t use pesky pesticides. Nor does my sister, who has an AMAZING garden, chock full of squash, eggplant, and tomatoes. Check out her cabbage and potatoes. I made this easy dish with her fresh tomatoes. Which brings me to my next tip…

Shop with Seasonality

It’s easy to give in to eating tomatoes in the dead of winter, but I just don’t do it. I don’t eat zucchini in the winter either and I don’t eat Acorn squash in the summer. I try to eat what is available to me locally during that particular season. It makes sense to do this for a variety of reasons (taste being the best one), but cost is a huge factor.  When you can, shop your Farmer’s markets, CSAs and grocery stores that support local farms in your area. If you live nowhere near a farm (you’d be surprised, you probably live closer than you think) then the next best thing is to stay on the same coast. If you live in VA, then NY produce is still a better (and oftentimes cheaper) choice than Mexican or California produce. Click here to learn what’s in season in your neck of the woods.

Think Outside the Produce Aisle

I know what you’re thinking, she wants us to eat processed food? The answer is yes, sometimes. I’ve written about how to eat processed food before and there’s definitely a hierarchy you want to be aware of, but other than that, packaged food can be a real bargain! Just because a food is canned or boxed doesn’t automatically make it unhealthy, if you take a little extra time to read labels. I choose processed food that is responsibly processed (sustainably caught canned fish, for example) and packaging that is safe (BPA and plastic free). Clean choices that are relatively inexpensive include: whole beans, canned tomatoes, frozen fruit and veggies, oatmeal, rice and other grains, yogurt, salsa, etc. Canned fish like tuna and salmon can seem a little on the pricey side, but compared to fresh, they cost less and they’re super versatile. Remember this tasty canned salmon salad?

DIY, Whenever Possible

I actually LOVE to recreate restaurant dishes myself, so this tip is near and dear to my heart. I have a girlfriend who doesn’t like eating out with me because I’m that gal who comments about the cost of restaurant food. It’s difficult for me to spend close to $20 (sometimes more!) for a salmon salad that I know I could make myself for much less. So here’s the deal, anytime you can make something yourself, do it…especially at the grocery store! I know convenience is a “thing” and I understand that, but you pay for that convenience, big time. Having the grocery store clerk slice your onions, chop and bag your broccoli, clean and chop your Romaine lettuce or spinach…well that’s going to cost you. And if you do prefer those options for convenience (I love chopped onions!), cut back in another area that can balance it out (like choosing store brands or two for 1 deals).

Buy your veggies and greens whole, by the pound, and you’ll be able to “splurge” on the organic strawberries, worry free. This rule applies even more with meat and poultry. Buying a whole chicken can save you a ton of money. Even if you’re buying an organic, locally raised, pastured farmed chicken, it’s cheaper than buying that skinless, boneless chicken breast at the store. Think I’m crazy? Read this post. Not only do you get several meals from one bit of cooking effort, you can use the leftover bones to make healthy, gut-healing bone broth. Perfect for Nourish!

Compare the Unit Price 

This is something I’ve been doing since taking consumer math back in high school! I check the unit price when comparing brands. It’s such an easy way to save money. It actually irritates me when stores don’t include unit prices on the shelf, but it’s regulated by state, so not every store has them.

Unit pricing takes the price of an item and divides it by a unit of measurement (ounces, for example). This number tells you know how much the item costs per unit. For example, let’s look at organic yogurt.

If the 38 oz tub of organic vanilla yogurt is $4.99 and the 6 oz organic containers are $.99 each, which is the better deal? Let’s calculate the unit price to find out. The price per ounce for the large tub of yogurt is $0.13 /oz. The price per equivalent ounces in little containers is $0.17 / oz.  So, the 38 oz tub is a better deal. The larger container was cheaper in my example, but that’s not always the case and, unfortunately, you can’t always trust the unit price provided. Your best bet is to just calculate it yourself. Here’s why.

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