healthy eating · saving money

Eating healthy on the cheap

I can’t tell you how often I hear “it’s expensive to eat healthy”. I get it. I understand the basis for the comment. A natural foods store does appear to be more expensive than a conventional supermarket. But I’ve done some price comparisons and the findings reveal that there’s not much difference between our local conventional supermarket and the food co-op where I primarily shop. We do, however, have a “fresh market” type neighborhood store that is significantly more expensive than either the conventional grocery or the co-op.

I even took it a step further and checked the prices at our local discount store. Turns out, a lot of the products at the discount store are exactly the same as the prices at our local food co-op. So there seems to be a perception vs. reality thing at play here.

Even knowing that the prices are competitive, the cost of food does add up when you’re trying to feed a family. The average American is buying processed, ready to prepare foods at the supermarket and those are definitely not the most economical options, even if they seem to be the cheaper choice.

We’ve found a few ways to help keep the costs of food down while continuing to consume organic, healthy whole foods. I’ve been organic and mostly vegetarian since before it was cool so we’re not jumping on bandwagons in this household.

  1. Primary vegetarians – I know this doesn’t agree with everyone but for us it works well. We’re primary vegetarians in our house. Fish makes its way onto our dinner plates about twice a week. My hubby is a full fledged omnivore but he’s relatively happy eating vegetarian for 70% of the week (and the occasional ham sandwich after dinner). My daughter is following in my footsteps by her own accord and choosing to only eat fish. And our son appears to be following Dad’s footsteps, which makes Dad REALLY happy. Eating vegetarian most days and meals of the week keeps costs down in our house. Meat is expensive! And with knowledge and planning it does not mean a deficit in protein or iron.
  2. Food Co-op membership – We’ve been members of the local food co-op for almost two decades wherever we live. Today, we still hold a membership at the food co-op in our native city even though we don’t live there. At home, I volunteer weekly at the co-op in exchange for a 25% discount on my weekly grocery bill. That’s right – in exchange for a handful of my time each week, my co-op gives me 25% off my entire grocery bill with the exception of just a couple of items. It’s an amazing deal that saves me close to $3,000 a year. It’s well worth it and the side benefit is that I meet some terrific people and feel more connected to my local community.
  3. Grow your own – we are entering into our third year of having our own fairly large garden since settling into our home. We’ve always gardened even if it meant a few large containers with tomatoes and herbs or fruit trees in the yard in California. But here we have a garden large enough to feed a few families. We’re learning each year about how much to plant and when to plant it. It definitely offsets our food costs as we do not need to buy produce from June through September and it greatly reduces the amount we need to buy in May and October. Plus, we’re starting to try our hand at canning to extend our harvest through the winter season. Aside from the financial benefits, it’s just relaxing and peaceful to spend a morning in the garden planting or harvesting. And we’re teaching our kids the art, science and joy of growing your own food.

So there you have it. Three viable options to eat healthy, organic food at a discount. I’d love to hear how you manage food costs for your family.