I live on a very tight budget. After all the bills are paid I have enough money to put gas in my car and to buy food and maybe a night out with friends. The most important thing for me is to make food a priority. Of course over the years I've fallen into the trap of buying cheap food when times are really tough. Mac & cheese is less than $2 per box! Ramen Noodles? Pennies! Of course I haven't purchased ramen noodles or mac & cheese (at least not the Kraft version) in years, but you know what I mean. Lately I've heard a lot of people making statements about how hard it is to eat healthy because it's so much more expensive. I was watching a show about people that are learning to be healthier and one lady said that she never visits the meat counter because that's where the rich people shop. What????? My goodness. I guarantee if they compared the cost of a typical month of food versus a carefully planned out month of healthy foods it would be close. Try it yourself, you might be surprised! I'm putting more effort now than ever before when it comes to stocking my fridge since I'm cutting out all the processed stuff. I thought I'd share my strategies to show you that you can eat healthy on a super tight budget!
1. Failure to Plan = Planning to Fail
Before I even step out of the house to hit the grocery store I plan out my meals for the week. The first step is to go through the kitchen to see what is left over from the previous week. How much meat is in the freezer and what produce needs to be used up? I can't tell you how many times I've thrown away rotten produce. No more!! That's money in the trash. So with what's left over in mind, I then hit the sale folders. I'm lucky to live in a city with a bunch of grocery stores so I have a lot to choose from. I focus on the proteins as that is the more expensive portion of the list as well as the foundation of all my meals. Once I've chosen my proteins, I look for recipes. If I don't have planned recipes, I tend to lose interest in what's in the fridge and wind up at the Chipotle checkout... What I spend at Chipotle for one meal could easily buy me two or three meals at home.
2. Don't throw away food, you might as well just throw your money
directly in the trash
directly in the trash
Once you've made your shopping list and you head off to the store, stick to the list! Especially when it comes to produce. Don't buy more than you need! Just because the bananas come in a bunch of six doesn't mean you have to buy all of them. I know I won't eat more than two so I buy two. The same applies to the deli or seafood counters, don't be afraid to order 5 scallops if you want to make one meal of scallops. The deli guy might look at you funny for ordering an 1/8th of a pound of turkey, but so what? Everytime you let a head of lettuce turn to brown mush in your crisper, you throw away the money you spent on that lettuce. Those dollars add up quick!
3. Take advantage of your freezer
Buy meat in bulk packs and take the extra five minutes to freeze the individual portions. You'll save a lot this way! I bought steak, pork chops and stew beef this week and spent a little over $20, that will get me 18 meals. That's a little over a dollar a meal for the meat, add the veggies that I'll eat with them and you're looking at roughly $2 to $3 per meal at the most.
If you do find yourself constantly throwing away fresh produce, then stock up on the frozen stuff! I don't ever buy canned veggies because they often have added salt and preservatives, but frozen veggies and fruit tend to be fresh picked and flash frozen with nothing added. And they are cheap! Buy the store brand and you can often find deals like 10 packages for $10.
Tonight's meal consisted of veggies that needed to be used up, plus veggies from the freezer and chicken from the freezer. I bought the chicken last month when it was on sale, buy one pound get one pound free.
Chicken Stir Fry
2 chicken breasts, cut in small pieces
1 green bell pepper
1 medium onion
1/2 head of cauliflower finely chopped (faux rice!)
1/2 bag of frozen carrots
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup of GF Soy Sauce (San-J Tamari)
1/2 Tbs sesame oil
1 good squeeze of honey
Saute the chicken breast in your choice of oil until just cooked
Remove the chicken to a plate and add all the veggies
Cook the veggies for a few minutes and in the meantime, combine the ingredients for the stir fry sauce (minced garlic clove, soy sauce, sesame oil, honey)
Add the chicken and the sauce and cook until it's all combined
This was a really easy meal to prepare and it was delicious! Simple and tasty and gave me enough for two servings, the other will probably be lunch tomorrow. And the total cost? Under $10 total, or between $4 and $5 per serving. Cheaper than a value meal at McDonald's, that's for sure, even if you ate off the dollar menu, a double cheeseburger, small fries and small drink would cost you $3.15 so why not splurge the extra $.85 on REAL FOOD! The truth is, you have to want it. It takes effort, it's a commitment to treat yourself right by eating well. What's more important, convenience and feeling like crap all the time? Or effort and feeling great mentally and physically? For me it's an easy choice these days!!