So, we’ve arrived at the controversial question of healthy eating: can you eat healthy without making your wallet and bank account sick? My opinion and my experience in tackling this often disputed question? Absolutely. Clearly, as a 23 year old student working in academic research, I’m no Daddy Warbucks, but I eat better than anyone I know. What’s my secret? For one, food is a top priority for me. I have to eat, I have to spend money on food, so I might as well be smart about it, develop techniques, and eat as healthy as possible without making my bank account sick. I will preface this by saying that some grocery hauls that I show you in this and upcoming posts are admittedly often ridiculous. Sometimes I don’t follow my own rules and spend an absurd amount of money on food. But here’s the catch- I may spend a large portion of my disposable income on good food, but I’m not spending it elsewhere. Other than bills, gas, and…um…shhh-opping (I’m such a shopaholic. I’ve calmed it down… or maybe I’ve just replaced it with food. Food, clothes, shoes, and skincare. My fatal four), I don’t spend my money elsewhere- I always make my own breakfasts and lunches, rarely eat out, always cook dinner, I don’t spend money on drinks or alcohol, I always make my own coffee and treat myself to Starbucks when I have gift cards. To me, these are not compromises. It’s all about perspective, and you should not only spend your money wisely, but also spend it on the things that bring you both happiness and health. Plus, I love food. I love looking at all the new products, browsing the selection, picking things out, planning meals, and not to mention the actual eating part. In fact the only part I don’t love is paying for it… and maybe cleaning up after cooking it. So in this post I’ll lay out some tips to shopping healthy- healthy for your waistline and your wallet. For reference for my Lexingtonian readers, I do most of my shopping at Kroger Marketplace natural foods section, Good Foods Co-Op, and Whole Foods.
1. Prioritize your Organics.
In an ideal world, we’d buy everything organic and local, but that’s not possible for the majority of us. I love organic produce, and I can really taste a difference, especially with certain foods. Concordantly, there are some foods that you should buy organic because they are more susceptible to the pesticides used with conventional foods. On the other hand, there are some foods that are more resilient and can be bought in their conventional form. Buy organic: apples, berries, salad greens, celery (clearly, this isn’t an issue for me, as you know if you read my Ode to Celery post. Gross). Can buy conventional: mangoes, avocados, pineapple, melons, bananas (noticing a trend? Produce with thicker skin can pass as conventional).
2. Shop the Sales.
I do most of my shopping at Kroger, and I have their plus card. There have been trips when almost everything I purchased was on sale or marked down. Every bit helps! Kroger also delivers targeted coupons to their plus card members (so you’re not getting coupons for unhealthy stuff that you never buy). You can also go online and load general coupons onto your plus card so you don’t have to carry paper coupons around. If something that you eat regularly is on sale (and it’s relatively non perishable), stock up! But don’t turn into a crazy Extreme Couponer/Hoarder. Please.
3. Buy in Bulk…
Obviously, buying in bulk can save money, and you’ve heard the traditional argument. However, as an added benefit, the fewer trips to the grocery store you have to make in a month, the less money you’re likely to spend. For example, regardless of what I go in for, even if just for a few ingredients for a recipe, I usually walk out with at least a $50 bill. It’s too much temptation for me, so if I shop less, I spend less.
4. …But Don’t Buy Too Much
I’m guilty of this (especially with fresh poultry products)- don’t buy more than you can eat before the expiration date! Meat and dairy are difficult to buy and keep (another reason to limit or exclude them from your diet!) because of rapid approaching expiration dates. Produce also spoils quickly, so I like to keep all my vegetables and most of my fruits (except bananas, oranges, etc) in the refrigerator.
5. Buy Frozen.
Frozen vegetables are just as good as fresh. Produce chosen for freezing are picked at peak ripeness- so some might be nutritionally superior than fresh, especially when the produce item of choice isn’t in season. However, the initial blanching or steaming process to kill bacteria can also degrade water soluble vitamins (Vitamins C and B). Fortunately, the subsequent flash freezing preserves the nutrient state of the vegetable or fruit. Frozen vegetable medleys are great and easy for dinner, but be careful that they aren’t made with a butter sauce- look for olive oil! One of my favorite veggie medleys is Green Giant’s Antioxidant Blend with olive oil. Additionally, frozen fruit is da bomb for smoothies.
6. Buy Local.
It’s not always cheaper, but it’s better for your health, your community, and your environment. Plus, farmer’s markets are so much fun!
7. Make Grocery Lists.
Making lists prevents forgetting items (like that one ingredient you really needed for that recipe) and also getting too out of hand. Is it on the list? No. Do I need it? No… On my lists, I like to include my staples, the foods I always get and can’t live without, and any random items I’ve thought of for recipes and whatnot. Lists also help you develop a balance between snacks and meals. Some people end up with very lopsided carts (typically all snacks and nothing they can eat for dinner), but list-making well help ameliorate this discrepancy.
8. Don’t Grocery Shop Hungry.
Noob mistake, and a costly mistake. Plus, you generally end up with a ton of snack food and then, uh… nothing to eat for dinner. Come on now, you’re better than that.
9. Shop the Perimeter and Avoid Processed Foods.
Stick to the edges of the grocery store, that’s where you’ll find the fresh produce and proteins. Interestingly enough, the natural foods sections of Kroger are located near the perimeter as well. Coincidence? I think not. Shop in the natural/healthy foods bubble in the grocery store. I buy 90% of my groceries in the healthy bubble and only venture out to the rest of the store for a few items. The interior of the store is rife with processed foods that you should avoid. Avoid buying processed foods, unhealthy snacks, empty calories, and drinks you don’t need, like bottled water, soda, and sugary fruit juices (because you’re drinking water, right? Right?! Read this post how I used to be 60% Diet Coke if you need more persuasion).
10. Prepare Your Own Food.
Prepare your own snacks and meals. Eat breakfast at home before leaving, bring a lunch with you to work or school, and cook dinner at home. Saves you tons of money and tons of calories. I moved off campus my sophomore year and started dropping weight because I was preparing all of my own food. Also, make your own coffee in the morning! Buying brewed coffee is such a waste of money, especially when you can make your own coffee with better quality beans for less! I only buy coffee “out” on special occasions- typically when I have gift cards or I’m facing an apocalyptic challenge on low fuel. When I do buy coffee out, I always go to Starbucks, and I always get something other than plain brewed coffee. If I’m going to pay for coffee, it might as well be something I don’t already have in my travel mug!