Tips for Clean Eating on a Budget

Do you think clean eating on a budget is impossible? You want to eat healthier, but are you afraid that benefiting your body may also harm your bank account? 

There is an idea – more of a myth actually – that eating “clean” is horribly expensive while unhealthy, processed, packaged, and chemical-filled foods are more affordable.

Where the thought that a head of cauliflower costs more than a pint of ice cream originated is uncertain, but this misinformation seems to scare a lot of people away from a “clean” diet.

In reality, a cucumber costs less than a bag of chips, whole grain oats are less expensive than a frozen pizza, and you can buy an entire bag of apples for less than the price of your morning latte and muffin.

Healthy Diet Changes

 Changing your diet does take some extra planning and, depending on how you like to eat, it may mean adjusting your budget a little bit. But, once you learn how to become a smart “clean eating” shopper, you will be surprised at just how affordable healthy eating can be.

The bottom line (because that's really what it's all about, right) is that eating clean does not have to break your budget. Yes, organic food can cost more, especially at certain times of the year, but you can prioritize your purchases to make sure that you are getting the healthiest foods for the best prices.

Tips for Clean Eating On A Budget

Buy in Bulk. Many clean eating supporters say you should try to avoid anything that is boxed, canned, or bagged. However, there are actually healthy foods that come pre-packaged. Unfortunetly, you will pay extra for them.

Buying things such as grains, nuts, seeds, and flours from the bulk section can allow you to make healthier choices while also saving a lot of money.
By eliminating packaging, you can lower the cost of many items. Also, purchasing larger quantities at stores such as Costco can reduce the per unit price.

Choose What To Buy Organic. The ideal diet would include all organic foods, but this isn't always feasible or affordable. Sometimes it is impossible to find certain items in the organic section, and even if you do, some products can be very expensive. 

To get great health benefits, it isn't necessary to buy everything organic, but you should try to focus on the foods that contain the highest amounts of pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and other dangerous contaminants.  Dairy products and some types of meat top the list.  When it comes to produce, the “dirty dozen” include:

  • Apples
  • Strawberries 
  • Grapes 
  • Celery 
  • Peaches 
  • Spinach 
  • Bell Peppers 
  • Nectarines 
  • Cucumbers 
  • Cherry Tomatoes 
  • Snap Peas 
  • Potatoes 
  • Pears 
  • Sweet Cherries
  •  Lettuce
  • Eat at Home. Very few restaurants offer “clean” choices. Even the healthier options are usually made with non-organic items and  contain high amounts of salt and preservatives. Plus, eating out can be expensive. By dining out less and eating at home more, you will have extra money for groceries.

  • Buy In-Season Produce. In season produce, especially local, is almost always less expensive than off-season options. If you have a large freezer or you know how to can, you might even want to buy a bushel of tomatoes or peaches and preserve them for the winter when these items are more pricey.
  • Cook Your Own Food – From Scratch! It's really not as hard as it sounds. Clean eating is very simple. It's about eating foods in their natural, whole state, so you don't have to be a Five-Star chef to adopt this lifestyle. Meals don't need to be elaborate and many recipes are very easy. 

    It doesn't have to be difficult or time-consuming, and you will save a lot of money by cooking your own food rather than relying on prepared or packaged options. For example, packaged kale chips are healthy, but you will pay $7 for something you can make at home for less than $2.

  • Shop at a Farmer's Market.  You will be able to get fresh-picked, local produce – often organic – for lower prices than you will find in the supermarket. Buying directly from a farmer can save you a lot of money because you are cutting out the middleman (or sometimes several levels of middlemen by the time you factor in packing costs, transportation costs, stocking fees, and supermarket profits). 

    Depending on the time of day you visit the market, you may even be able to negotiate prices. And, many farmers will charge less later in the day because they don't want to take their products home again. However, if you wait too long, you may not get the best selection.
  • Grow Your Own Food. This is easier than you might think. If you have the time and the space, you can plant a huge garden plot. However, most of us don't fall into this category. But you would be surprised how much food you can yield from a few containers placed on your deck or patio. 

    Tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, green beans, peas, carrots, basil, thyme, dill, and mint all do well in large pots. You can enjoy fresh picked produce and herbs all season long, and if your plants are especially plentiful, you can freeze the extra for the off-season.

  • Join a Co-op Farm or Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). You will pay a fee (either weekly, monthly or upfront) to a particular farm(s) for a weekly “share” of produce. Some CSAs even include honey, eggs, milk, or meat. 

    This is a great way to eat healthy and try new things while also supporting your local economy. And, since it works on an in-season basis, you will get more food for less money. It is about as close to having your own garden as you can get.

  • Look For Sales. Check out the weekly store flyers to see if any items you use regularly are on sale. Stock up on things like grains, nuts, and seeds when they are a good price. 

    Even fresh produce can be chopped and frozen. If you see sales for organic meats or frozen fruits and veggies, be prepared to put out the extra money today to save a lot more in the long-run.

healthy lunch ideas

  • Eat Less Meat and Dairy. Organic (hormone and antibiotic free) meat and diary are the most expensive part of a “clean eating” diet. Factory grown meats are pumped full of growth hormones so the time it takes them to get to your table is much shorter than their traditionally grown counterparts.

    This means lower prices but a negative impact on your health.  Non-organic milk not only contains a lot of hormones and antibiotics, but it is also heated and processed. The milk in your cup is very different from raw cow, goat or sheep's milk. Most clean eating diets recommend eating organic meat and dairy, but this doesn't have to break your budget.

    Studies show that American's eat way more meat than they need anyway, so just cut back on the portions or try making some meatless meals a couple of times a week. Yes, you will be eating less meat, but you will also be getting better quality and more nutritious products. Besides, there are great recipes that include vegetable proteins such as beans, lentils, or tofu.

  • Drink Water Instead of Soda. Soda and bottled juices can add a significant amount to your grocery bill. Water, on the other hand, is very inexpensive, especially if you filter your own. Plus, pure water is much better for you than all the sugars, artificial sweeteners, and colorings in many of the beverages available today.

  • Have Leftovers For Lunch. Make a little extra at dinner to have for lunch the next day. Or pack some snacks so you aren't tempted to buy overpriced food at the coffee shop or variety store. You might find that if you cut these impulse items from your spending, you will have extra cash for healthier choices at the supermarket.

  • Make Your Own Dressings and Sauces. Eating a salad is great, but if you top it with a chemical filled dressing (read the label on a salad dressing bottle sometime) you negate many of the benefits.

    Yes, there are healthier alternatives at the health food stores, but they will cost you a fortune! By blending some extra virgin olive oil with herbs and spices, you can make your own for only pennies a serving. Plus, there is nothing better than fresh made dressing!
  • Avoid Marketing Schemes. The health food industry is on the rise. With more and more people wanting to eat healthy, many companies are jumping on the bandwagon. Unfortunately, with increased information comes increased confusion. Words like “superfoods”  and “powerhouse foods” are thrown around like they are the solution to every possible problem.

    Yes, things like chia seeds, goji berries, and acai are good for you, but they are also very overpriced. In reality, you can eat a very healthy “clean” diet without ever including any of these so called “super” or “wonder” foods. If you like them and you can afford them, then by all means enjoy them! But, don't feel pressured by crafty sales pitches that try to convince you that your health depends on them.

  • Buy a Good Fruit and Veggie Wash. Or make your own. While buying organic produce is the best (especially the dirty dozen) don't stress yourself out about it. Eating an apple – even a non-organic one- is still better than eating a candy bar. So do your best, and for everything else, just wash it well! There are great products on the market that will remove a lot of the chemicals, bacteria, waxes, and dirt from produce.

    There are even some inexpensive homemade ones using basic things like lemon, vinegar, and water. Besides, you should wash organic produce, too! You don't have any idea how many people have handled that apple before it landed in your shopping cart. Contrary to popular belief, clean eating does not have to be outrageously expensive. In fact, once you learn how to shop, clean eating on a budget will be a breeze!

Other pages that might interest you:

I will continue to share ideas about diet and exercise that have helped me along the way. If you have any questions I can help you with, or if you have any ideas you want to share, feel free to contact me or visit our Q&A forum.

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