They forgot one word: EXPENSIVE.
True confession: we spend a monstrous amount of money on groceries. Really. It is bonkers.
We have been so privileged that we could afford to do this for a limited period of time. So often I read vegan blogs and books where no acknowledgement is made to how expensive and out-of-reach many of the foods and ingredients mentioned are for so many people. I am so, so thankful for what we have (and to have a partner who has supported this transition 100%).
I have justified my exorbitant grocery bills for the past year-and-a-half because improving our family’s health has been our biggest concern. But now, since we’re pretty well settled into our whole foods vegan diet, it’s time to cut back and get more realistic with the amount of money we spend on food.
I know it can be done, I just need to do it. This is going to be my top priority over the next few months, so of course I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the topic of healthy eating on a budget.
Here are a few ideasI have been having, in no particular order…
Reframe your budget
I have read this one before a few times: basically, consider your grocery budget as a healthcare expense, rather than food. I agree with this in theory–think about the cost of a cancer diagnosis, heart problems, autoimmune diseases or limited mobility. Personally I would rather make the investment now.
I think this is hard for people to do for two reasons: First, the impact of healthy choices now on future possible medical expenses is rather abstract, like trying to prove a negative. But more importantly, I think it’s hard for people to think of their food budget this way because they have tried extreme detox-type diets before and quit them–with lots of new (expensive) foods in their pantries that will now go unused. It seems like a gamble that is unlikely to pay off.
Which brings me back (again) to the importance of starting slow and committing to doing the work.
I’m in the process of doing this now, and finding that so many of the assumptions I have made about cost are just flat out wrong.
The local co-op is cheaper than Whole Foods. It’s a co-op, that means it’s cheaper, right? Not necessarily. The big-box Whole Foods often has the better price on things like raisins, dates, and some packaged foods. Same goes for farmers’ markets. They’re not automatically cheaper, do some price-comparisons (I hate, hate hate doing this level of detail work, but I’m sucking it up and doing it now).
Growing my own food is cheaper than buying it. Part of my gardening experiment this year included planting a few cucumbers, which actually grew! But then we were at the farmers market and noticed cucumbers for $2 per pound. With what we spent on watering our garden and on our starts, our cucumbers were waaay more expensive than that. (Hint: what’s growing in your garden is also what’s in season for your area, and in-season produce tends to be cheaper anyway. Growing your own food has many potential payoffs, but cost is unlikely to be one of them if you’re working on a small scale.)
Making my own food from scratch is cheaper than buying pre-packaged. Some of the prepared foods you might find at a natural foods store are actually less expensive than making your own, especially if you’re working with smaller quantities. For example, our co-op has a pretty decent hummus made with all natural ingredients for under $3. It would definitely cost me more than that to buy the ingredients to make hummus myself. Same with salsa. (Making my own would start to pay off if I were to work in larger quantities and can or freeze batches…which I might do eventually but haven’t yet.)
Buy in Bulk
“Buying in bulk” can mean two things: First, buying only what you need from the bulk bins, which is pretty much always cost-effective because you can buy in smaller quantities to avoid waste.
Second, it means actually buying pantry items in large quantities in order to get a discounted rate. This can be from bulk bins, yes, but also through programs like ‘Subscribe and Save’ on Amazon or other online retailers. I’m able to do this now, because I’ve spent a lot of time doing the work. But it doesn’t make any sense to buy large quantities at first, because you don’t know what you want or need. (Yet another reason to go slow when making dietary changes.)
Here’s another thing I am working on now. Going through my pantry and seeing what I have available before planning my meals, instead of the other way around. This seems pretty obvious, but for example if I can dig up a can of garbanzos and build a meal around them, instead of picking a recipe from a cookbook that calls for a different type of beans, then I’m saving money (and keeping my pantry less cluttered!)
Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
Who says that if we are going to be eating at home six nights of the week, that we need six different meals? I have been doing this without really thinking about it, but if I repeat one or two meals during the week then I save on ingredients (not to mention time, which is a whole other post I’m working on…) When it comes down to it, our family just isn’t so into variety that I can’t repeat a meal within 2-3 days.
Have you been able to eat a whole foods organic diet on a budget? Do you have any tips to share?
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