Eating Healthy on a Budget

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by Donna Mazzitelli

Most people assume that eating organic whole foods requires extra money. Many also believe it will be more difficult and less convenient to eat healthier food. But not only is it easy to eat an organic, whole foods-based diet, you can also do so on a budget.

For starters, it’s essential to identify how you’ve previously spent your food dollars. Plan to save your receipts from groceries and dining out for a few weeks so that you can recognize your patterns. For instance, are you one of the less than 30 percent of Americans who buy fresh food, cook and eat at home (with an occasional meal out)? Or do you fall into the majority and spend nearly half your food dollars on fast-food and restaurants?

Once you know what your habits are, you can begin to form new behaviors. By focusing on the principles below and spending your food dollars wisely, you can develop a “food-efficient diet,” one that provides your body with more nutrition and costs less.

  1. Consider a more plant-based diet. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes typically costs 20 percent less than a diet that revolves around meat. A veggie-first guideline includes vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and spinach, along with dried beans and peas. The dried varieties (rather than canned) are inexpensive, protein-rich and easy to store. Soaking and cooking up a large pot of beans can be the basis of many meals throughout your week, including chili, stews and soups. With the large variety of beans to choose from — varying in size, shape, texture, flavor and color — you can cook with different beans each week and recreate the same dishes in new ways.

  2. Choose pastured meat, dairy and eggs, which are more eco-friendly than industrial products. Serve meat as a side dish and make veggies and grains the “star attractions.” Choose meats, dairy and eggs that come from animals fed an organic diet and allowed a free-range life. Foods from healthy, humanely raised animals exposed to lots of sunshine, fresh air and exercise provide excellent nutrition and food safety. Whole Foods Market, for example, offers meat labeled with the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating — the signature program of the Global Animal Partnership, a nonprofit charitable organization with the goal to improve the welfare of animals in agriculture. The higher the number (1–5), the more stimulating the animals’ living environment, the more time the animals spend outside, and the more natural their life. A rating of “1” indicates they were raised with no crates, no cages and given space to move around and stretch their legs. The highest rating “5” indicates that the animals enjoyed all the benefits of ratings 1 through 4 and lived their entire lives on one farm.

  3. Improve your snacking habits. Eating small meals throughout the day is a more natural way to eat than three square meals, especially when we make wise snack choices. Opting for an apple and a handful of almonds rather than a bag of chips gives you a more nutritious, less expensive and lower-calorie option. You can also create your own snacks by baking foods such as homemade cookies or pita chips (flour, water and salt) or air popping a bowl of popcorn. You can dry seasonal fruits and add them to store-bought nuts. Any homemade option will be as much as 70 percent less expensive than the store-bought version.

  4. Use locally abundant foods. This includes wild-gathered foods such as mushrooms, nuts and berries. No matter where you live, every area has food riches to offer.

  5. Eat whole, eat plain. Whole grains such as brown rice, amaranth and quinoa are super nutritious, tasty and cheap. They can also be cooked ahead and incorporated into dishes such as stir-fries or casseroles. Whole grains make wonderful hot breakfast cereals that can be sweetened with apples, raisins, cinnamon, brown sugar or pure maple syrup. By cooking two batches of grains per week, you’ll have an inexpensive, ready-to-eat source of nutrition available at all times.

Eating healthy doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. As you consider your intentions for the New Year, be sure to think about eating better while spending less.

Donna Mazzitelli is a contributing author to Speaking Your Truth, Vols. I & II. She founded Bellisima Living, a place to find your voice and connect to a more beautiful life and world. As “The Wordsmith,” she helps others bring their writing to life. Learn more at