I wish healthy, clean eating were possible for everyone. What I think most people don’t realize, though, is that it actually might be possible for them.
Eating organic does not have to mean purchasing hundreds of dollars of groceries every week. Simple, all-organic homemade meals can cost as little as $50 a week per person (or less with more people!), so if you have that much to spend, it’s time to start!
Tip #1: Choose Community-Supported Agriculture and shop at the farmer’s market ($20-25).
Have you heard this tip before? Well, it’s truly effective. Our small CSA box comes packed weekly with fresh, delicious, all-organic produce, at only $22.80. Read more about how CSAs work here!
If CSA is not an option, then go for fresh produce with high nutritional payoff: kale, collards, chard, broccoli, brussels sprouts, red cabbage, and red beets, just to name a few. For the same dollar amount you’ll get TONS more vitamins and phytonutrients in these foods. To read more about the most nutrient-dense produce available, check out this book I love.
Tip #2: Find the base carbs that work for you ($2-5).
I’ll be honest: if you’re cutting all carbs (including beans and legumes) in favor of a meat-and-vegetable diet, then $50 a week might be hard.
But if you’re open to expanding your carb repertoire beyond pasta and bread, then you’re in luck! Grains and legumes are excellent sources of nutrients and can be the base for a delicious, easy meal. Organic grains, beans and whole-wheat pastas are just $1-3 per pound, and are great foods to stock your pantry.
Grains such as quinoa and legumes such as black beans and lentils are super affordable and high in protein. They also can take lots of different flavors and spices, so you never get bored!
Tip #3: Choose your protein carefully and consciously ($10-20).
Farming practice is another discussion for another time, but I strongly recommend sustainably and ethically raised meat, eggs and dairy. Less of a good thing is better than an abundance of a not-so-good thing.
The grass-fed organic ground beef we purchase is about $10/lb. It’s excellent for making pasta sauce or adding to stir fries, and it lasts us– 2 people– a week.
We also purchase pastured eggs, which happen to be affordable in our area. Organic free-range eggs tend to be even more affordable, at just $5 a dozen.
If you buy dairy, look for organic and purchase the quantities you need. Milk and yogurt are better choices than cheese, since they can form the basis of a meal rather than just a garnish.
Tip #4: Be wary of frozen meals and snack foods, avoid take-out, and try to cook for yourself.
If you want to get the very best quality food that you can afford, then stay away from the frozen aisle and pre-packaged snacks. Frozen meals and snack foods are pretty expensive for what they are, and they can rack up a grocery bill like nothing else. Avoiding them is a challenge– especially for those who don’t have time to cook– but it’s worth it in the end.
Cooking for yourself can be intimidating at first, so I suggest mastering one skill at a time. Once you’re comfortable with sautéing and boiling, everything else will seem easier too.
The key is to create foods that are microwaveable to keep in tupperware in the fridge (pesto, sauces, beans and soups are great examples). That way when you come home, you can easily heat and serve– just as you would a frozen meal, but much better!
Tip #5: Be open to fixed costs that will make cooking and eating easier.
It’s no secret that eating well on $50 a week will require you to cook– which means that you’ll need oil, pots and pans, cooking utensils, and seasonings. Once you’ve purchased these items, their weekly cost is almost negligible. It’s the upfront investment that often scares people.
We’ve been using many of our cooking tools and spices for almost a year now. If you divide the costs of these items by 365 days, then they start to seem to make more sense– especially as they help you avoid takeout, which is where the REAL budget drain is!
Tip #6: Use a formula for meal planning rather than recipes.
I love recipes– if you check out my food board on Pinterest, you’ll see it! But, I use these recipes mostly for inspiration rather than instruction. Some recipes call for ten items that I don’t have, and it doesn’t make budget sense to purchase them all, just to try one dish.
Instead, I use a formula for meal planning each day: protein + oil + vegetable + fruit. This covers our bases nutritionally and also helps us use up our groceries throughout the week.
Tip #7: Give yourself space to experiment.
Meal planning and shopping for good food are passions of mine, but I still make mistakes! For example, right now we have approximately 40 oranges on our hands from the CSA (hello, marmalade!). It’s not hard to fall behind and end up with unused groceries, or to find yourself spending all of your budget buying condiments, jams, and snacks.
Giving yourself space will make this feel more like a puzzle than a struggle. Especially if you’re trying to trim down your budget or switch from pre-made meals to real food, this will require some adjustment. Allow yourself to take it one step at a time.