How to Budget*
Real Food is Affordable!
“Eating Real Food is expensive.” I hear this a lot – from people of all different financial situations. And I'm throwing down the "challenge flag" on this tall tale. Because while certain Real Foods may be pricey. On balance, however -- particularly considering the savings on current and future medical costs -- Real Food is affordable.
BUDGET: First off, you need a food budget. Figuring this out can be hard, especially for those with limited financial resources or if income varies from month to month. But a budget is an important tool that will help in making better decisions about food. So do the best you can.
Here's a suggestion if you’re having trouble: Calculate the expenses spent on ALL food and beverages that you (and your family) consume during 1 week. Save receipts or just write down (or type in an e-note) the amounts spent. These expenses include:
1. Food bought at the grocery either as ingredients for making meals at home, or any prepared or prepackaged foods (e.g., take-home salads, sandwiches, deli meals, frozen meals, etc.).
2. Snacks, beverages, food, or meals from vending machines, coffee shops, fast food joints, drive-thrus, convenient stores, or sit-down restaurants.
3. If someone else bought food or beverages for you - Lucky YOU! But record these too 😉
This is your Real Food budget for the week. But continue review and adjust as needed. Your budget doesn’t have to be the same amount every time. And as you progress on your Real Food journey, you’ll learn to use this budget more efficiently.
SHOP AT HOME FIRST: Start your own “personal grocery store” stocked with pantry items and other building block ingredients. This can be difficult for people with limited financial resources. So stock up slowly.
Allocate some of your budget to buy one or two pantry items each trip (e.g., coconut oil, olive oil, vinegars, spices, 100% whole grain flours or alternative non-grain flours, nuts, frozen fruits & veggies, etc.)
These can be pricey at first. But with a world of flavors in your personal grocery store, well worth the investment. And recipes don't use a whole lot of these. So they will last a while.
If you are trying a pantry item for the first time, buy the least expensive size. And if you like it, buy the larger size when ready to restock. Larger sizes will be pricier, but typically more cost effective.
Your personal grocery store is everything in your pantry, cupboards, refrigerator and freezer. So shop at home first, before going out to store. You may find that you have enough building blocks for a meal (or meals). And skip the store altogether.
Another way to shop at home first is to SHOP ONLINE. Amazon offers a “Subscribe and Save” Program. You get a discount & free shipping on products if you order a regular delivery. You select time periods ranging from 1 month to 6 months for each item. And can change the frequency of delivery anytime. This Program is perfect for nonperishable items like coconut oil, canned fish, coffee, and other pantry staples.
There may be other online suppliers (or directly from the producer) that offer your fave Real Food items for less than your local grocer. And if so - shop there first. Saving time & money. That's what I call a 2fer!
KEEP A PRICE BOOK: For your favorite foods and staple items, keep a notebook (or e-note) of how much you paid, the date, and where (brick or e-store). After a while you’ll have a good working knowledge of how much something usually costs. Then you’ll be able to spot sales are truly awesome deals (then stock up!) vs. sales to skip.
STICK TO THE PERIMETER: In the 1st article of this Series, I offered a strategy for shopping along the perimeter of the store. This is very important. And if you decide to adjust the strategy to better fit your needs, that's fine too.
The point is to shop along the perimeter first. Enter the interior aisles to buy only what you need. And for goodness sake -- Stay out of the snack and dessert aisles altogether. There's nothing but ultra-processed junk (UPJ) that has no business in your cart. This perimeter shopping strategy will help keep you within budget, and buying only Real Food.
Here are some additional shopping tips:
1. Seasonal fruits & veggies are more affordable. So if you crave these when not in season, then compare the prices for fresh vs. frozen.
2. Stock up on frozen fruits & veggies when on sale. These will be part of your personal grocery store.
3. Skip the canned veggies. They’re less tasty, less nutritious, and less cost-effective.
4. Don't forget about the Dirty Dozen fruits and veggies. These are the only ones you need to buy organic. And if organic never fits in your budget, no worries. Eating conventional brands is better than none at all.
5. Cut back on fruit. Fruit typically costs more than veggies. And veggies offer more nutrition. Fruit also contains sugar – and even natural sugar should be consumed in moderation.
DON'T WASTE FOOD: You spend good money on your food (and valuable time shopping). So avoid wasting food. It's not only socially responsible, but also a great way to stretch your budget. Here are some ideas:
1. Use the stems of broccoli, kale and other stalky veggies.
2. Repurpose leftovers throughout the week in different recipes to give them new life.
3. Rescue nearly wilted veggies by making soup, a sauce, or smoothies.
4. Designate 1 day a week to plan a meal by "cleaning out the fridge". You may get a few meals by doing this.
After a few months of practicing these strategies, I realize that I didn't need to buy as much food. So I adjusted my food budget downward. Now how 'bout them apples??
If you're a Real Food newbie, be patient because this is not as easy as it sounds. It took me a while to develop these anti-waste practices. So I highly recommend reading Waste Free Kitchen Handbook – A Guide to Eating well and Saving Money by Wasting Less Food, By Dana Gunders.
This book helped hone my anti-waste skills. Before reading, I approached the concept very casually. Now, I am a HUGE anti-waste advocate. So I'll definitely post more articles about this.
KEEP THE MEAL PLAN SIMPLE: Here's the only meal plan you need to know:
1. Build your meals around a pile of veggies
2. Add a small portion of protein
3. And a bit of Real Food fat
Tasty Real Food meals that are easy to prepare and affordable.
In another article, I introduced the concept of Batch Prepping Veggies. And if you follow this strategy, you'll have piles of veggies to build a variety of meals around throughout the week.
But if you prefer using recipes, I highly recommend this cookbook: Good and Cheap – Eat Well on $4/Day, By Leanne Brown. The recipes are simple & affordable meal ideas. With clearly written instructions and ingredients readily available in any local grocery. And for every book sold, a second book is donated to someone who needs it. Now that's a social stimulus effort to support!
INVEST IN A SLOW COOKER: This a great way to cook budget-friendly Real Food meals and save time doing it.
You can use a slow cooker for tougher, more affordable cuts like shoulders, shanks, chuck roasts, etc. These cuts require slow cooking in liquid, which creates unbelievable taste for a very small price tag.
As a bonus, you can use the crockpot to make rich, savory bone broths. So always save cooked bones – freeze them until ready to use. Use the broth to boost flavors in soups, sauces, braises, etc. Homemade broth will save you dollars, not just pennies!
Fancy slow cookers can get pricey, but you can get one that works just fine for $20-30, or even less if you get it secondhand.
INVEST IN AN INSTANT POT: I recently bought an Instant Pot and was instantly impressed! And Instant Pot is an electric multi-cooker that does the job of a slow cooker, pressure cooker, rice cooker, steamer, yogurt maker, sauté/browning pan, and warming pot. So 1 single appliance that does the job of 7 different ones. Which is so amazingly cool, right?
And I don't know about you, but I definitely don't have the space to store all seven of those in my kitchen 😉
The Instant Pot does everything my slow cooker does, but 2~6 times faster and using up to 70% less energy. And most importantly, it produces nutritious healthy food in a convenient and consistent fashion. Needless to say my Instant Pot is now the official workhorse of my kitchen. I cannot extoll enough of its virtues 🙌🏽👊🏽💥
But the Instant Pot is pricier than even a top-of-the-line slow cooker. Though this past holiday season, there were a few Flash Sales on Amazon that made it more affordable. So if you can work an Instant Pot into your budget, I highly recommend one 👍🏽😀
EAT REAL NOW -- SAVE MONEY LATER : How much do you spend on processed snacks, frozen and prepared meals from the grocery, convenient stores, fast food, and other restaurants? Most, if not all, of this food is “ultra-processed junk” (UPJ). And because UPJ is linked to many serious health problems, eating more Real Food (and less UPJ) will also translate into savings on medicines and other medical costs. So thinking about the cost of Real Food over the long-term can help overcome the misconception that Real Food is expensive. Because in terms of improved health outcomes - Real Food is priceless!!
So I hope by now we're all on board the "Real Food is affordable" train! And I’ve only scratched the surface on this topic. So definitely stay-tuned for more. But by all means – don’t let the expense of Real Food be a barrier to Getting Real.
MINI CHALLENGE: To encourage accountability as you use these new tools to eat more Real Food within your budget:
Plan a weekly budget based on the amount spent on all food consumed during 1 week. Remember this includes food prepared by you or by someone else or mass produced. Then practice using all of the tools discussed throughout this Series to shop and prepare Real Food meals throughout the week.
If you haven't read about Perimeter Shopping and Batch Veggie Prepping, please do. These articles set the table with some essential utensils to get you started on your Real Food journey. But please don’t get discouraged if things go smoothly. These are all skills that need to be practiced. And in time, will all come together nicely.
So, are you ready to find your best self through Real Food? Let's do This! Post Comments and share your experiences. And by all means, Stay Engaged and Keep Eating Real!
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