4 Ways to Eat Healthy for Less

by Julie on September 26, 2011 · 34 comments

Costco organics

Last week I posted this on The Family CEO Facebook page:

From the grocery ads: Fresh whole chickens 99 cents/lb; Fresh free range chickens, certified all natural, locally raised 2.79/lb.

Seems I’m always debating the merits of cheap vs. healthy. Do you have the same struggle? How do you decide?

There were some great responses:

  • Suzanne said: “I try to go with healthy most of the time but sometimes have to get the cheap to fit it into the budget. I figure medical bills are more expensive than healthy food.”
  • Shannon said: “Healthy – especially for meat! We eat less meat/animal protein, but it’s better for us and tastes better.”
  • Kelly said: “I also struggle with this, but for meat, eggs, veggies that absorb more chemicals, I go organic…It seems like everything is getting so much more expensive lately and groceries are a huge part of our budget!”

I can relate to all of that and I bet you can too.

For my part, I tend to go back and forth.

For a while I make healthy/sustainable choices and then I go back to buying on price. And the question that’s always on my mind as my son eats a frozen pizza or we hit a fast food drive-thru is:

If we can’t be perfect, is it worth worrying about at all?

More and more I’m deciding it is.

We’re nowhere near perfect, but we’re trying to make better choices whenever we can. And as the person who does all the food shopping, I’m trying to find new ways to eat healthy for less.

Here are four ways that are helping me:

1. Pick your battles.

Shannon mentioned above that she chooses healthy “especially for meat.” I agree.

I’m starting to willingly plunk down the extra cash to keep hormones and antibiotics out of our meat and milk.

And Kelly mentioned choosing to go organic on the vegetables that absorb more pesticides. She even provided this great link with info on the 12 foods that have the highest pesticide residues. (Thanks Kelly!)

Maybe you can’t afford to go all organic or to cut out cheap food entirely, but making a commitment in one or two areas can move you toward a healthier diet.

2. Eat less meat.

Meat is often the most expensive item on the table, so if you can eat less of it you’ll save money and probably improve your health too.

For some that may be an easy choice. For others, not so much.

I’m from Kansas City where beef is practically a way of life. I also live with a husband and teenage son who don’t think it’s a meal if there’s not meat involved.

If you’re in the same situation, try making a small change by choosing one night a week to go meatless. (Check out the Meatless Monday website for great info and recipes.)

You can also make easy changes like using less ground beef and more beans in your chili.

3. Shop at Costco.

I know, I know, not everyone has a Costco near them. But if you do, it’s an organic goldmine.

I routinely buy organic milk, ground beef, green beans, broccoli, and canned tomatoes at Costco, all at reasonable prices.

And we buy their Kirkland brand salsa for its taste alone. The fact that’s organic is just a bonus.

(We also just got a Trader Joe’s in Kansas City and I’m discovering that they also have healthy food at affordable prices.)

4. Watch for Sales and Coupons.

It used to be that organic items were relegated to one tiny section of the grocery store. And sales or coupons for those items were nearly nonexistent.

That’s no longer the case as the focus on eating organic and unprocessed food becomes more mainstream. And I would expect that trend to continue.

So keep your eye out for coupons for and sales on healthy food and stock up when you find them.

So back to my Facebook chicken dilemma.

I chose the all natural, free range chicken at almost three times the price per pound. I bought one to roast that day and one to freeze since they were on sale.

The chicken I roasted was delicious, and it was also tiny. (Actually, it was probably a normal size for a chicken raised without hormones.)

It provided us with about four servings. But that probably fits in well with #2 above. In other words, it’s probably how things are supposed to be.

So I’d love to hear: how do you resolve the eating healthy vs. eating cheap dilemma? Do you have any good tips?






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MyPeaceOfFood September 26, 2011 at 7:10 am

We eat very little meat, not only because of the cost but also actually because sometimes I just canNOT stomach the taste of grass-fed beef, from local purveyors especially. It’s supposed to be better, but the flavor is SO strong, it actually turned me off. (Whole Foods’ grass-fed beef, I find, has more mild flavor.)

Right now I am kind of obsessed with only buying what’s on sale — so if it’s organic apples, I buy 5 or 10. If it’s conventional pineapple, which is safe, so be it. But I’ve been considering keeping a price chart somehow, to know if “what’s on sale” is really what’s cheapest…what’s on sale at my local market, for example, might still be more expensive than what’s Trader Joe’s regular price.

I’ll post about it if I find a system that works!

Julie September 26, 2011 at 11:08 am

I’ve heard that before. I think the only grass fed beef I’ve had is the organic ground beef from Costco and the flavor of that is fine. And, you’re right, keeping a price book is a big help to knowing if a sale is really a good deal or not.

Jason@LiveRealNow September 29, 2011 at 8:28 am

I love the flavor of grass-fed beef, but I could be pretty happy ignoring rabbit food in favor of the all meat diet.

Kristia {Family Balance Sheet} September 26, 2011 at 10:12 am

I struggle with this too. We buy most of our produce from May – Nov from a local CSA and that helps with the price and I garden too.

As far as meat, we are considering a local free range farm to buy meat from. I normally buy non-organic chicken and turkey, but I’m seeing more turkey recalls and that scares me, because we eat so much of it.

If you splurged for the whole organic chicken, you must make stock with the bones. That will stretch your dollar even more and it is really easy and very easy to freeze. I make stock every time I roast a chicken. I haven’t bought store stock in years.

Julie September 26, 2011 at 11:07 am

Kristia, I have got to learn to make stock from the bones. I know it’s easy, I just need to take the time to do it. I was thinking of that as I threw this chicken’s bones away. Maybe I’ll try it with the chicken that’s still in my freezer.

Carla September 26, 2011 at 11:00 am

I don’t really “go cheap” with food. I buy mostly free run, free range, organic, local, etc… And it’s worth every penny. I buy very little processed foods for my family, (although hubby’s diet could use a major upheaval, but that’s neither here nor there), but me & my kids eat local, & mostly organic produce. I do shop sale items at the grocery store, but don’t hesitate to pay more for quality foods by buying from local farmers instead of a grocery store. Unlike a pair of designer shoes, healthy food is good for your health, your figure, & the environment.

Julie September 26, 2011 at 11:05 am

Carla, I love your last sentence. Do true! And I love when one action (buying healthy) has so many benefits.

20's Finances September 26, 2011 at 1:07 pm

We have switched to eating only organic chicken now. With the health risks of regular chicken too high, I figure I am saving money on health bills later. We also eat less meat as well as shop at Costco. I don’t use coupons as much as I probably should, but can’t seem to find the discipline or time. :)

Julie September 27, 2011 at 10:44 am

What health risks are you specifically concerned about 20’s? Hormones and antibiotics or something else?

Amanda L Grossman September 26, 2011 at 4:59 pm

I struggle with this as well. We have never eaten many processed foods, as I have a sensitive belly, but as far as buying organic. One thing I am big on is cage-free eggs–but that is more for the sake of the poor chickens!

Julie September 27, 2011 at 10:43 am

Agreed, Amanda. Even though it’s not always pleasant, I think it’s important to know where our food comes from and how it was raised.

shanendoah@Baking the Budget September 26, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Considering there are only two of us, our monthly grocery budget is pretty high, and we do that to allow us to buy the higher quality items.
We eat almost no beef- though the hubby occasionally buys himself a steak, but mostly its bone in chicken thighs and ground turkey for us.
And stock is really easy to make. My freezer has a gallon bag filled with chicken bones right now so that the hubby can make his own stock next time he’s making jambalaya or chicken corn chowder.

Julie September 27, 2011 at 10:42 am

Any tips on making stock? This is something I really want to try.

krantcents September 26, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Stay as close to raw, unprocessed food as you can. When you do that it is less expensive. I use leftovers to take for lunch.

Julie September 27, 2011 at 10:42 am

You’re right, Krantcents. Processed foods are maybe the most expensive of all.

Niki September 27, 2011 at 7:19 am

We have been doing a vegetarian diet for almost two weeks and I can’t believe how little we pay for groceries lately. I thought it would be more.

Julie September 27, 2011 at 10:41 am

That’s awesome, Niki. I guess not buying meat is a huge savings, huh?

Hunter September 27, 2011 at 11:10 am

We’ve been consuming less meat, and noticing the positive differences. I just have more energy when I eat less meat.

Julie September 28, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Interesting about the energy level, Hunter.

First Gen American September 27, 2011 at 1:13 pm

For me it depends on how often we use the items. I don’t mind paying double for locally made vanilla or honey because those things last a very long time. On a per day basis, it’s pennies or less. It’s a lot harder with things we buy a lot of like Chicken or Milk. I do buy the locally produced milk at 2x price. Double is about my limit though. Triple is just too hard to swallow.

Julie September 28, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Lol…I do just the opposite. If it’s something we eat a lot of I’m more likely to go organic. I get what you’re saying from a cost perspective, though.

Audrey @ Mom Drop Box September 27, 2011 at 1:39 pm

I am with you Julie about the antibiotic & hormone-free meat and milk- I pay more for that. The animal welfare issue plays into that decision as well as the health effects for my family.

As far as produce, I buy organic when it’s on sale or is not too much more expensive than non-organic, but when the prices are drastically different, I typically go with the non-organic produce.

The biggest cost-savers I’ve found are buying produce in season and buying meat when it’s on sale.

Julie September 28, 2011 at 5:29 pm

I agree with you on the animal welfare issue, Audrey.

Shaun @ Smart Family Finance September 27, 2011 at 9:00 pm

I usually halve the amount of meat that a recipe calls for if it is a casserole, soup or stew. That let’s me either go for a healthier meat or a cheaper meal.

While chemical free lifestyle may not fit with the frugal budget, I do think there is benefit to trying.

Julie September 28, 2011 at 5:27 pm

I do the same, Shaun.

Christa September 28, 2011 at 3:37 pm

My meat comes from a local grocery chain, and most of their beef is naturally organic, free range and local. I know my chicken purchases are more than likely not free range, though. I should seek out a farmer in the area and buy in bulk and switch to some meatless dinners.

Julie September 28, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Christa, do you notice a difference in flavor with your grass fed beef?

Kay Lynn @ Bucksome Boomer September 30, 2011 at 7:01 am

I buy organic when it’s the same or near-same price as non-organic. I love that Trader Joe’s offers so many organic products at great prices.

Jackie September 30, 2011 at 9:03 am

I choose organic fruits where possible, but otherwise don’t really worry about it. I do grow some vegetables organically myself — those have the added advantage of tasting good too! (It’s hard to find good tasting fresh foods here — since they’re mostly picked early and shipped in from far away.

Julie Jacobs October 3, 2011 at 12:10 pm

I’m constantly discussing how it costs so much more to eat healthily. It’s really unfortunate and it’s just one more roadblock to healthy eating, which is already so hard in itself. I definitely look for coupons to help ease the pain.

Justin @ MoneyIsTheRoot October 3, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Excellent tips! No need to eat unhealthy in order to remain frugal.

Evan October 4, 2011 at 3:00 pm

I really don’t think healthy food is all that expensive! I don’t have 3 kids to feed (My boy is only 10 months) but still when I look at The Wife’s shopping bill it isn’t the natural/organic stuff that is expensive it is the processed crap she sometimes buys.

Julie October 5, 2011 at 1:17 pm

So true about the processed stuff, Evan.

Heather @ Work At Home Market October 7, 2011 at 7:57 am

I’ve almost completely cut out red meat, other than a few rare purchases for holidays (hamburgers on 4th, Labor Day, etc.). Instead I focus on chicken or turkey meat. Even then, we eat meat every other day. We use eggs or black beans to supplement protein. I do my best to stock up on veggies, avoid processed foods and make “snacks” from scratch (cookies, granola bars & muffins).

Funny thing is, now that I use this method in our weekly groceries, I rarely use coupons and simply focus on buying the best foods that I can and still stay within our budget.

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