Can you eat a healthy, whole foods, organic diet, even on a shoestring budget? As a frequent and thrifty shopper, I know it can be done — even if you’re not a vegetarian. First, a few rules:
Eat in. Restaurant meals are pricey and rarely use the highest quality ingredients. Learn to whip up a few cheap and easy meals — a great omelet, a highly spiced bean and vegetable stew — and you’ll save yourself a bundle.
Eat in season. It’s almost always cheaper, and probably better for your body.
Eat less meat. Meat’s expensive on any budget, and most people eat too much of it. Shift your intake to vegetarian (cheaper) sources of protein, and use meat in small portions, as an addition to meals, rather than the main feature.
Eat less in general. What would happen if you cut your daily caloric intake by 10 percent? In theory, you’d cut your food budget by 10 percent as well, and you’d probably fare better for it. (And some very compelling research suggests that restricting calorie intake can increase lifespan and reduce the incidence of age-related disease.)
On your next shopping trip, choose from this thrifty list of 16 screamin’ deals — and see how much you save:
1. Cabbage. It’s rich in cancer-preventive compounds. Broccoli has similar nutrition; it’s a little pricier but versatile and worth it. Buy it in season, keep your eyes open for sales, and be sure to use the stems.
2. Carrots. Loaded with fiber and beta carotene, they’re a screaming deal. Sweet potatoes contain the same array of nutrients but cost more; still, they’re a great buy.
3. Kale. It’s more expensive than other produce items, but it’s a dense source of many nutrients, and a little goes a long way. Likewise with other greens, like chard, collards, spinach and turnip greens.
4. Bananas. Buy a bunch — the organic varieties are usually a hard-to-beat price.
5. Apples. In the fall they’re one of the best deals in town.
6. Onions. They’re rich in a number of disease-preventive antioxidants and add volumes of flavor. Garlic and ginger are other great flavor-boosters that cost pennies per serving.
7. Beans. Another ridiculous bargain. They’re a cheap, nourishing source of protein, and they’re loaded with fiber and lignans. Buy a variety, including lentils for fast cooking.
8. Nuts. They’re pricier than other items, but nutritionally so dense, you can justify it. Buy them on sale, store them in the freezer, and use them in small quantities.
9. Seeds. Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are cheaper than nuts. And flax, with its high concentration of healthy fats and low price, is the best deal of all.
10. Brown rice. It’s the cheapest buy for gluten-free grains. Other great deals: oats, cornmeal and whole-wheat pasta.
11. Peanut butter. It’s not just for kids; peanut butter is as high in healthy monounsaturated fats as almonds. Make sure you’re buying it from a high-quality store that keeps bins clean to prevent molds from forming. Otherwise, buy your nut butters in jars.
12. Ground beef. Grass-fed and organic varieties are best. You’ll buy less, which means you’ll eat less, which is a good thing. Ground beef is less expensive than other cuts. If you can find it, ground bison is a better, leaner option, and usually only costs a little more.
13. Chicken fryers. Organic, of course. It’s a bigger expense on a small budget, but a whole fryer is an affordable option. Or buy thighs, or ground turkey, for other affordable options.
14. Olive oil. It’s high in healthy fats and antioxidants, and is the most versatile oil choice. You’ll be using it in small quantities, so it comes out to pennies a serving.
15. Yogurt. Unsweetened, of course. It’s high in calcium and probiotics and is much cheaper than cheese.
16. Eggs. As a protein source, they’re as good as it gets. Even the organic, Certified Humane varieties come out to less than 50 cents an egg. Cheap, cheap.