The benefits of eating clean are numerous, from a slim and trim waistline to renewed energy and a clear head. But for many looking to embark on a cleaner diet, the cost can be a downside. A diet rich in whole, organic food can be expensive. But with a few insider tips, you can have your vegan, organic, gluten-free cake and eat it too. Here are some tips for eating clean on a budget.
Think Seasonal and Local
Eating with the seasons and buying local is a trick that seasoned chefs have used for years to save money on the monthly food budget for their restaurants.
For example, in the fall, it’s much less expensive to enjoy pumpkins, cranberries, and apples when they are at their peak and farms have an overabundance of them than it is to choose avocados, tomatoes, or peaches that are expensive and out of season.
Hit the farmers market weekly and load up on the best of the local bounty, or subscribe to a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) plan and support your local farmers by purchasing a share of the harvest at the beginning of each season.
Each week you’ll get a box full of what farmers are growing, and you can plan your menu accordingly. This will also allow you to get to know the farmer who grows the food you are considering buying and learn about how it’s grown. For example, you can ask the farmer what kind of chemicals they use on their crops for pest control. Or you can ask the rancher if the animal you are about to buy was given hormones or antibiotics and how it was raised.
Local and seasonal foods usually pack a bigger flavor punch too! A tomato caprese salad made with a hard tomato harvested in December is tasteless, especially when compared with the sweet summer tomatoes that are harvested in their prime.
Don’t Fear Frozen Foods
If you’re a huge fan of a morning smoothie, frozen mango, strawberries, and blueberries are frequently just as tasty as fresh, especially out of season. Fruits and vegetables are often frozen at the peak of freshness so you won’t be sacrificing flavor.
And they can be much more affordable too. Sometimes I’ll get a craving for a pea pasta with greens in the dead of winter, so I’ll use frozen organic peas (that really taste delicious), toss them with some greens, whole wheat pasta, and a little olive oil, salt, and pepper and that’s dinner! Oh and skipping the meat will quickly save you money too.
Always Shop With a List
Don’t ever hit the grocery store without a list because you’ll end up blowing a bunch of cash without knowing what you’re having for dinner that week. Even worse is going to the grocery store when you’re hungry too.
When I’m creating my shopping list, I choose at least three dinner meals that I’ll make that week with enough for leftovers (so I don’t have to cook from scratch every night of the week, and we usually go out to dinner once per week). After picking out recipes, I write out all the ingredients that are necessary for each recipe.
When I shop, if I see a similar ingredient to what’s on my list that’s less expensive or on sale, I’ll substitute it into my recipe.
Get the Most Bang for Your Buck
The foundation of my clean diet includes a number of less expensive staples. Cabbage, for example, may not be a glamorous vegetable, but it’s relatively inexpensive, versatile, and it lasts a long time in the refrigerator.
In fact, I love to make salads with heartier leaves like cabbage, kale, collard greens, or Swiss chard because they hold up as leftovers in the fridge for a couple of days, unlike lettuces that are delicate (they’re perfect for Mason jar salads too!) Bananas, kale, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, legumes, and grains are all less expensive items that can be used in a laundry list of delicious healthy recipes.
Reduce Your Intake of Animal Products
Animal products are often the most expensive items on any grocery list. That’s why it can be advantageous to build a diet that either excludes these foods completely or severely limits them. Make dairy a condiment instead of the main course, and if you’re going to eat meat, limit it to special occasions.
Plant-based protein sources such as beans, legumes, tofu, tempeh, and seitan are always less expensive than beef, fish, and many types of cheese. Furthermore, if you’re eating clean, you’ll need to buy more costly organic animal products in order to avoid hormones, antibiotics, and any other additives that are given to livestock to get them to market quicker.
Learn to Cook
It’s wonderful that more and more restaurants are beginning to cater to healthy eaters, from vegan and gluten-free to organic and non-GMO offerings. But even still, eating out is way more expensive than cooking at home (and you really don’t know what’s going into your food when you eat out).
Learning to cook is one of the best things you can do for your health because you can control the quality and price of the foods you eat. So buy yourself a clean eating cookbook or choose a few clean eating websites (like that of yours truly) and begin planning your healthy menus weekly. You’ll save cash and at the same take pride in the fact that you’ve cooked your family a healthy and delicious meal.
You don’t have to be rich to eat a clean diet. By planning ahead and making a few simple adjustments, your dollar can go a long way at the grocery store or local farmer’s market.