It is possible to eat clean on a budget with a few clever tricks.
Even though, as a nutritionist, I'd much rather spend money on good food than fancy clothes and mani-pedis, I still need to watch my grocery bills especially since I split my time between New York City and LA, two of the most expensive cities in the country. But while health food has a reputation for being super pricey (Whole Foods isn't nicknamed "Whole Paycheck" for nothing), studies have shown that nutritious diets can be absolutely affordable, and I couldn't agree more. Below are my seven go-to tricks for filling my kitchens with the healthiest possibleÂ fare, without blowing my budget.
I often find my favorite staples for a lower cost on amazon.com than in my local market, especially when I purchase large quantities. For example, a 32-ounce bag of my go-to rolled oats, Bob's Red Mill, costs about $7 at my supermarket. But when I buy four bags from amazon for $13, eachÂ bag is less thanÂ half price. If you donât go through food quickly enough to buy in bulk, consider splitting an order with a friend.
Check the retailer's prices
At my local grocery stores, Amrita's Chocolate Maca, my favorite energy bar, costs anywhere from $3.50 to $3.99. But when I order an entire case directly from the company (amritahealthfoods.com), the price drops to $2.25 per bar. Plenty of healthy brands sell directly to consumers. AndÂ many companies will send you special offers and discount codes to help you save even more if you register online.
Speaking of discounts, many natural and organic manufacturers offer printable coupons on their brand websites or retailer sites like Whole Foods. You can generally save anywhere from 50 cents to more than $1 per product, which adds up to big savings over time. Iâve also used organicdeals.com, which links directly to coupons for Whole Foods, Target, Trader Joe's, and more. The last time I clicked through the site, I snagged $1.50 off two organic spice products, $1 off organic veggie broth, and $1 off organic dark chocolate. Score!
Choose organic store brands
Contrary to popular belief, buying organic doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. Most supermarket chains now offer store brand organic items, which can be a lot less expensive than brand name goods. For example, Kroger grocery stores sell organic store brand pulses (beans, lentils, and peas) for $1 per can, which can be 80 cents less than the non-organic brand name pulses on the next shelf.
Frequent your local farmer's market
You probably already knew that local produce is super fresh, but did you know it can also great for your wallet? Since in-season fruits and veggies are plentiful, sellers at farmer's markets often charge less than grocery stores. As a bonus, you'll be supporting area farms, and getting to know the people who grow your food. If you're not sure when and where nearby farmer's markets are held, check out localharvest.org.
Cut back on takeout
As much as I love to cook, I don't always have time. And while Iâve found a number of healthy takeout dishes at local restaurants, they can be ridiculously expensive with the delivery fee and tip. As an economical alternative, I'll whip up a dish with basic items I always keep on hand.
For example, I love making a simple kale and white bean soup. I put bagged chopped kale, low-sodium organic veggie broth, and a splash of olive oil in a pot, and boost the flavor by tossing in some minced garlic (from a jar), dried Italian herb seasoning, smoked paprika, black pepper, lemon juice, and a little balsamic vinegar. Then I add water, bring the soup to a boil, reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes, and throw in a half cup of canned white beans for protein.
Pick up non-food items elsewhere
I've been committed to buying eco-friendly brands of cleaning products and laundry soap for years. But I recently realized that many are available at price clubs and discount stores for much cheaper prices than what I see at the grocery store. While shopping in more than one place takes a little extra time, to me itâs worth it, because it means more funds for healthy foods, and I can splurge on something special, like organic wine.
Cynthia SassÂ is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with masterâs degrees in both nutrition science and public health.