Can I afford to eat healthy?

Michelle contacted me online, with some concerns about staying within her budget while trying to eat healthier.

A recent trip to the grocery store had left her a little breathless…and led to the ensuing conversation…

Hi Perry, I’ve been reading these articles on how to start eating healthy. Pretty much all of them say to shop the perimeter of the store. I decided to take it for a spin and see how it went by just walking around and comparing prices.

My results: Holy Cow! I will be broke in one week!

Does anyone have any suggestions on how I can achieve eating healthier, feed my family, and still have any money left? –M

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Hi Michelle! Forgive me for answering your question with a questions, but what store are you going to? That makes a huge difference. My local Winco is easily 1/2 the price of our Albertsons, and about 1/3 of Haggen. It also has a lot to do with how you cook, and how you organize your weekly menu to use bulk items, seasonal sales, and family-packs.

There’s an article I posted a while back, with many of these tips, in more detail – “Confessions of a Grocery Ninja.”

If you don’t mind sharing your ballpark grocery budget, I can give you some more detailed healthy shopping tips. I have some general tips, here, on some seasonal sales items to watch for this month, as well. – P

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Thank you very much for the links! I will be using those as a starter point.

I’ve been going mostly to Walmart until they get our local Publix Supermarket back up.

I have to admit, I’m horrible at planning and usually wing it when it comes to meals. I am in the process of learning (not very well I might add) how to plan for the week. I try to set aside $100-$150 a week for groceries though if my husband goes with me, he usually stocks the buggy full of snack food and not actually anything I can cook, so I have to go back to the store again.

Any tips would be appreciated and I will definitely check out those links more thoroughly.

Thanks again! – M

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Excellent! Okay, so if your local Walmart’s prices there are anything like they are here in Oregon, you should have no trouble eating healthy, or at least, healthier, on $150/week.

Also, it’s very hard to comparison shop between stores, if you don’t have a grocery plan. You’ll have a much better idea of what’s a good deal, intuitively, and what isn’t, in a couple of months.

So…

1. You gotta have a plan. Going shopping without a plan (and a list) will add anywhere from 25% – 100% to your grocery receipt. To get an idea of what I’m talking about, download one of the sample menu from our site, it’s free, and includes complete week of dinner menus and an itemized grocery list.

To save even more, go up one level (if there are two of you, shop for 4 serving, if 4, shop for 6 serving), as it will give you great leftovers for lunch the next day, WAY cheaper that buying additional lunch groceries. We offer menus in all three, but I think the samples are all 4-serving.

2. Eat a healthy meal, right before you go to the store (never, never shop hungry), and budget one “freebie” that’s not on the list, but looks good to you.

Two reasons: 1-Deprivation sucks, and even a semi-healthy goodie to reward your sticking to the plan, it better than the eventual binge. 2-You might trade that 1 freebie a half dozen times as you go through the store, but whatever you end up with…you’re REALLY going to enjoy.

It’s pretty amazing, actually, what happens when you have to trade a whole bunch of “good” for a little bit of “the best.”

3. Unless it would drive you absolutely barking mad, don’t plan something completely different every night. If you look at the sample menu, you’ll see that we pick a “main protein” say, boneless chicken breasts, or boneless picnic pork ribs, ground turkey, etc, and we use that ingredient in 3-4 (very different) recipes over the course of the week. This allows you to save a LOT of $$$ by buying your most expensive ingredient (the meat) in bulk or “family packs”.

Then, fill in the other three days with meats that are on sale, or in the markdown bin. Recipes are much more versatile than people think. Ground beef can almost always be swapped out for ground pork, or turkey. Most chicken recipes work just as well with a white-fleshed fish (and vice versa).

Don’t be afraid to ask your butcher when the best time to hit the markdown bin is, and what to watch for, either. He WANTS to sell off all that stuff, and often, in our ‘TV dinner world” appreciates someone acknowledging his expertise.

Also, don’t be afraid that meat. Typically, being in the markdown bin has nothing to do with food age, and everything to do with a big new meat order coming in, and no where for him to put it.

Just take a look at it and make sure it still looks good. Remember what Tommy Smothers said, “Red meat isn’t bad for you. Now, “blue-green” meat? THAT’S bad for you!”

4.  Go shopping when hubby can’t, period (but bring him home 1 favorite snack, too). You’re trying to steer this ship in a new direction, and the last thing you need, no matter how much ya love the guy, is a saboteur aboard when you’re stocking the galley!

5. (RE: budgeting) Photocopy your receipts, and use a highlighter to mark the items that pretty typically end up in your cart. Next week, if you try a different store, you can take that receipt with you, and quickly compare prices.

Okay, that’s a quick overview of what we try to teach our subscribers. If you have any more questions, keep ’em coming! – P

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Thanks a million for the rundown, and I will definitely not be taking my hubby from now on!

I jumped over to your site after I read your links. You do great work. Very informative and easy to understand for cooking challenged people as myself.

I will definitely be coming back again and again to your site. (Not meaning to sound stalker-ish, lol)

-Michelle

Newly informed and ready to take a whack at planning meals the right way!

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Michelle, you can do it! Let us know how your next trip goes!

-Perry

One thought on “Can I afford to eat healthy?

  1. The tips you offer are good ones Perry.

    It is very challenging to eat healthy in this economy. I lived it for 5 years and it took a lot of prayer to get me through it without going stark raving mad about the junk we were forced to buy because of our meager income. (Yes I am thankful that we did have food but it was still very hard)

    We had a veggie garden (which I highly recommend folks do if possible) but due to my disability and me being the gardener it was not as productive as it could have been.

    We participated in a food assistance program for a year but had to stop when we could no longer eat all the fried and salt laden foods that were handed to us by the government and others who donated them. We rarely got fresh/fresh frozen meats and if it was chicken was brine soaked.

    The donated fresh vegetables there were very sad most of the time and I remember bringing home what looked like good veggies, cutting into them and having them be rotten and only fit for pigs to eat. There was a good supply of breads, candy, chips and pop…things that do not sustain health. Honestly it was very discouraging for me as the salt, fat and sugar and no REAL FOOD. It’s no wonder poorer folks get fat.

    During the last three years of my husband’s unemployment we had $20 per person for a week to spend on EVERYTHING we bought at the grocery store (paper products, cleaning supplies, sundries too). This was about the average with sometimes less than that to spend and no food stamps (long story).

    I shopped the “Lost leader sales” (those items stores put on sale to draw you in). I clipped coupons, never bought anything that wasn’t on sale unless it was critical that we have it. I never bought prepackaged freezer meals or boxed meals. I bought things from the bulk section instead of prepackaged…even did a cost comparison of all the herbs I grow and how much I was saving. It was surprising how much I saved by not buying spices in jars. (By the way…basil is easy to grow and was a staple in our kitchen those years).

    I also learned to sniff out deals at the local “Grower’s Outlet” store and liquidation stores buying seasonal produce, outdated canned goods and unfortunately had to resort to purchasing less than fresh produce at the liquidation stores to make ends meet. I Did a real smart thing one year though and bartered the excess fruit from my quince tree at the growers outlet near my home for credit which kept us in fresh produce for a three months at least.

    I never spent more than $2 per pound for meat, we never had steak, ate hamburger, tuna and chicken most of the time. My splurge meat was bacon…but it was eaten in small enough quantities it could be justified. I also discovered that grinding up chuck steak into burger instead of buying hamburger prepackaged sometimes cost us less and it tasted better. To make it leaner I would grind the chuck and London broil cuts and mix them together. It’s still hard for me to purchase regular ground beef after doing this because it is so much better tasting.

    By the way…beware of those prices in the discount bins! I’ve seen them often higher than sale prices so be careful!!!

    I made what little we could afford stretch with a ton of pasta, potatoes, beans and rice and actually got sick of pasta for a while because we ate it so often. So that was our reality and I hope the tips I offered will help someone enjoy their leaner budget a little more.

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