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is it possible to eat healthy on a budget?


“In 1900, 2 percent of meals were eaten outside the home. In 2010, 50 percent were eaten away from home and one in five breakfasts is from MacDonald’s.  Research shows that children who have regular meals with their parents do better in every way, from better grades, to healthier relationships, to staying out of trouble.”  Dr. Mark Hyman from his blog post called How Eating at Home Can Save Your Life

Although I never browbeat people in my clinic, I make a lot of suggestions.  Likewise, I get a lot of excuses.  Excuses; defined as, “defending offensive behavior or the failure to keep a promise,” are an increasingly large part of our culture as we take less personal responsibility for ourselves and our families.  It’s too easy to rationalize things away, or blame our situation on any number of mitigating circumstances.  Allow me to show you some of the most common excuses.

I could go on (my child will only eat “KID FRIENDLY” foods or CHICKEN NUGGETS, I’m not ADDICTED TO SUGAR, etc, etc), but you get the point.  Today we are going to tackle another excuse that I hear almost every day.  “Doc; I just don’t have enough money to eat healthy.”  Firstly, let me say that this a myth of the highest order, and fortunately there are tons of resources out there for defeating it.   Secondly, this post is not on the Gwyneth Paltrow method of trying to get by using only FOOD STAMPS.  Today, I am going to show you how virtually anyone can eat healthier than they’ve been eating — and probably cheaper as well.

  • KNOW WHERE YOU ARE HEADED AND HAVE A PLAN FOR GETTING THERE:  You need to have both goals and good educational materials in your quest to put good, inexpensive food on the table.  If you don’t know where you are headed or why you are headed there, you are doomed from the beginning.  Get a vision for what you are trying to accomplish, and create a written plan for purchasing, preparing, and storing nutrient-dense foods and meals.  I’m a fan of the PALEO DIET — particularly if you are chronically ill or needing to LOSE WEIGHT.  If you want to know why Paleo is so good for you, just read THIS short post.  Be aware that when it comes to “Paleo” there are many different flavors.  I am not averse to eating some beans on occasion.  My suggestion would be to do an ELIMINATION DIET so that you can figure out what foods you may have problems with (sensitivities to).

  • PLAN YOUR MEALS AS WELL AS YOUR SHOPPING EXPERIENCE:   It’s an old cliche, but “failing to plan is planning to fail“.  Besides having an overall vision and goals for the “BIG PICTURE,” you need to plan your day-to-day.  This includes planning both your meals and planning your shopping trips.  If you fly by the seat of your pants here, not only will need new (bigger) pants, they’ll cost you a whole lot more money. 

  • EAT WHOLE FOODS:  This is simpler than you may realize — especially once you realize how costly convenience is.  There are foods made by God, and foods made by man.  Although GMO’s and EXTREME HYBRIDIZATION have definitely muddied the waters, the two are generally pretty easy to tell apart.  WHOLE FOODS are not only better for you, they are frequently cheaper as well — especially over the long run (see Time Magazine’s article, Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food).

  • CUT OUT ALL EXCESSES:  It’s a rule as old as dieting itself.  If you don’t want to put it in your mouth, don’t bring it in your house!  You don’t need to be drinking SODAS anyway; so why are you bringing the stuff home with you — or stopping by Sonic every day?  After all, you are trying to save money.   Do you really need to get coffee two or three times a day?  Is it possible you could bring a snack or thermos from home?  Clear the crud (chips, fruit juices, processed junk, etc) out of your kitchen and simply stop buying the stuff in the first place. 

  • WATCH HOW MUCH YOU EAT OUT:  Who doesn’t like to eat out?  The problem is, eating out can be expensive — especially when kids are thrown into the equation.  And if you are really honest with yourself, you’ll have to admit that it is hard to eat healthy when you eat out — and way too easy to CHEAT.  And interestingly enough, the people making the loudest and largest excuses as to why they can’t afford to eat healthy, are the people eating out the most and cooking the least. 

  • LEARN TO COOK / BECOME A MAKE-IT-YOURSELF EXPERT:  Between the internet and Food Network, doing it yourself has never been easier.  This could be anything from making whole meals to making things like yogurt, kefier, salad dressing (my recipe is EVOO, red wine vinegar, garlic, and spices), or just about anything else.  Learn how to cook, and make sure to teach your kids so they can be healthy and save money too.  If you already know how to cook, become an expert.  Learn the forgotten art of canning.  If all you have is tomatoes in your garden, you can can tomato juice, whole tomatoes, salsa, spaghetti sauce, etc, etc.  The really cool thing about this bullet is that it is easier than you think, and one of the biggest ways to save bucks.

  • STOP PLAYING THE SUBSTITUTION GAME:  Although this is more of a “dieting” issue, it’s also costing you some serious money.  If you want to see what I mean, go HERE.

  • PLAY THE SUBSTITUTION GAME DIFFERENTLY:  Learn how to swap cheap unhealthy foods for cheap healthy foods.  Spaghetti Squash in place of spaghetti is one example.  Without going into detail here, suffice it to say that there are about a million examples online — and probably one for what you are looking for.

  • BREAKFAST IS EASY:  As long as you are not sensitive to eggs, breakfast is simple.  Need it on the run?  Make up a bunch of hard-boiled eggs ahead of time and take one or two with you.  It’s sure better (and infinitely cheaper) than a Krispy Kreme or anything you could snag at McDonald’s or Starbucks.  And for those who insist on a hot breakfast, it takes all of about 2-3 minutes to scramble a couple of eggs and heat up a small sweet potato that’s already been baked. 

  • DON’T BE AFRAID OF LEFTOVERS:  I love leftovers.  In fact, I have never quite understood those women who tell me that their husband simply won’t eat them.  Really?  My motto is ‘bring em on over to me’!  If you are really talented (and sneaky), the family will never know anyway.

  • HAVE A BUDDY-MEAL DAY:  As long as as you have a friend who is on the same page as you, pick a couple days a month and swap meals.  Don’t swap on the same day.  When you are making a certain meal, just make sure to double the recipe and make enough for the other family.  Next week, they’ll be doing the same for you.  Most of the time it is much cheaper (and easier) to double a recipe than it is to make two totally different meals. 

  • MAKE SURE TO HAVE SOME SORT OF GARDEN:  I realize that there are those reading this who simply don’t have enough room to have a real garden.  For the rest of you…..   Don’t talk to me about the fact that you can’t afford to eat healthy food if you are not willing to have at least a small garden.  When done properly (and organically) the benefits of gardening go way beyond the food you grow (HERE).

  • RAISE YOUR OWN MEAT / EGGS:  If you live rural and happen to have at least a few acres, you might think about raising your own meat and eggs (or MILK).  Again, I realize that not everyone can do this, but for those who can, the benefits can be tremendous.  And if you can’t raise it yourself, you probably know people who can do it for you.  For instance, we can get REAL BEEF, for about what we would pay for it in the grocery store.

  • GET SERIOUS ABOUT HUNTING:   Fortunately, my son is a serious deer slayer, who keeps us in meat for at least a large part of the year ( HERE and HERE).  You’ll be hard-pressed to find better quality protein than that from wild game.  And if you really want to save money, do most (or all) of the processing yourself.

  • MAKE VEGETATION THE CENTERPIECE OF MEALS:  Meat is great and I am a huge fan.  However, going “Paleo” or LOW CARB does not mean you are on the meat diet.  The simplest rule of thumb I have heard is to eat vegetation or animals that ate vegetation (HERE).  Frozen vegetables are fine — particularly in the Ozarks in the winter time.  I also suggest you become a stir fry or “SKILLET” king / queen.  There is almost no better way to incorporate small amounts of meat with copious amounts of kale, spinach, cabbage (I really like the purple) carrots, broccoli, sweet taters, etc.  Bone-in soups are another excellent way to create delicious, cheap, meals, as is using a Crock Pot.  Both allow you to use tougher (ergo ‘cheaper’) cuts of meat.  Vegetation is relatively inexpensive, and does not mess with your BLOOD SUGAR the way that grains do.

  • JOIN THE LOCAL FOOD CO-OP:  There are food Co-ops out there that can save you a bundle by buying in bulk.  Look around and ask questions.

  • GUT HEALTH ON PENNIES A DAY:  Most of the best things for increasing GUT HEALTH are homemade and cost very little to make (HERE).

  • DON’T LOCK YOURSELF IN TO A PARTICULAR GROCERY STORE:   Because I’m not convinced that everything you put in your mouth needs to be “organic” take a look at the Environmental Working Group’s “Clean Fifteen” and “Dirty Dozen”.   Also, make sure to carry a calculator to see if you are really getting the best deal when buying in bulk.  And remember that driving all over God’s creation looking for the best deals is going to burn what savings you may have had. 

  • SCRAP THE BOTTLED WATER:  For the past twenty years, we have used a Waterwise distiller to clear impurities and HALIDES from our water.  However, for many of you, a Brita pitcher or simple in-line filter will work just fine.

  • EAT LESS:  This is the last point, but one that most of us can take to heart as we Americans continue to get heavier each year.  Bryan Walsh of Time (Eat Less, Live Longer?) said, “Decades of calorie-restriction studies involving organisms ranging from microscopic yeast to rats have shown just that, extending the life spans of the semi-starved as much as 50%.”  The thing is, you don’t have to starve yourself to get this done.  Simply control your portions.  Eating big is OK once and awhile, but there’s no need to push away from the table after every meal on a full-blown bloat.

This list is in no ways exhaustive.  Research, add to it, and share your ideas.  You’ll get better with practice.  It really is possible to eat better for less money as long as you pay attention to what you’re doing.


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