Tag Archives: groceries

Healthy eating on a budget

This is a guest post by Jennifer, who blogs about frugal and simple living at her blogs Getting Ahead and Our Suburban Homestead.

When Karen asked for guest posts to run while she was in Europe, I knew I had to help. I love her blog and find that we have many similar frugal thoughts. She covers frugality so well, that I thought I would write about something else – healthy eating on a budget. Not everyone can afford to eat all organic foods. While that is the healthiest, it can seem a little drastic. Here are some of things we do to eat a healthier diet while still staying within my $400 a month grocery budget for 6 people.

Read labels.

Reading labels is not hard exactly, but it can seem tedious. Grocery shopping will take longer at first, but once you figure out the items that fit into your new ideals you can just check the label every now and then to make sure nothing has changed. I started reading labels when my daughter was diagnosed with a dairy and egg allergy, so I have been doing it for 9 years now. The things I look for have changed over time. At this point we avoid artificial colors, high fructose corn syrup, dairy and eggs. Yes, even with all those restrictions we still have plenty of options out there. Most people don’t think they have options, but they really do. Cutting out the fake stuff like HFCS and artificial colors is one of the best things you can do for your health. And it only requires buying a different brand many times.

Get back to the basics.

I was somewhat forced into this because of the food allergies, but cooking basic foods with common, basic ingredients is a great way to save money. All those fancy boxes that make a meal are off limits for us. But I can create great meals myself. For instance a dinner might consist of grilled chicken, cous cous and a salad. Another night we might have spaghetti (whole wheat noodles and homemade sauce) and green beans. The fancier a meal is the more it costs.

The fewer ingredients the better.

This goes back to reading labels. If the ingredient list takes up half the box the chances are higher that it has fake stuff. For example Club Crackers have a dozen or so ingredients. Triscuits have 3 or 4. Triscuits stick to the basics in their products. The price is virtually the same.

Grow your own food.

We have a garden at our house and this year I also have a community plot as well. I can or freeze the excess produce to eat all year. That spaghetti and green bean meal from above was made from tomatoes and green beans from my garden. Even if you don’t have a ton of space, you can usually grow something. Container gardening and square foot gardening both provide lots of fresh veggies in a small amount of space. The cost is less and the produce is more nutritious.

Pick your battles.

This is why we avoid HFCS and artificial colors. I could have picked other things, or more things, but I feel pretty good about being able to avoid these while still getting foods that my daughter can eat. If we didn’t have to work around her food allergies I could avoid other things too, but it becomes really difficult at the moment. For me this means that many things I have to buy organic if I am going to buy it all. Many things I just don’t buy. Who needs all that processed junk food anyway? Your battles will probably look different from mine and that is fine.

Look for alternative sources.

I found a great local farm that sells farm fresh eggs for $2 a dozen. You can’t beat that and they are delicious. I have also found a great CSA we are joining this year that will provide organic veggies, fruits, meats, milk, bread and cheese. Check out Eat Local for local sources in your area. If you buy in bulk you can frequently get the good foods for the same price as the grocery store foods.

Stock up when things go on sale.

Organic food items go on sale too. They won’t be free, but they are much cheaper than full price this way. So when the organic ketchup went on sale for half price in February, I bought four bottles. This saves me money in the long run.

By combining these methods I am able to feed my family better foods for less money. We are eating healthier than ever before and thriving because of it. Take the time to figure out a plan for your family and you can too.

Indulgences that are killing your diet & your budget

If you’re trying to lose weight and cut expenses, it’s no secret that the first place to look is your shopping cart. The idea that healthy eating is expensive is a myth. In fact, those pricey convenience foods driving up your grocery costs are probably sabotaging your diet, too. Next time you’re at the grocery store, check your cart and swap these no-nos for healthier, more frugal alternatives.


Sodas are not only expensive — they’re also full of sugar, artificial flavors, and empty calories. Studies show that even diet sodas can lead to weight gain. Considering its negative effects on your health, the cost of soda is outrageous. Just one 12-pack per week is likely to add $12-$20 a month to your grocery expenses. Instead of drinking soda, invest in a water filtration system like Brita or Pur. If you miss flavor, drink unsweetened tea with lemon instead.


If wine, beer or liquor are weekly staples on your grocery list, it’s time to take a serious look at how much it’s costing you — not just in dollars but also in calories. Alcohol is one of the least nutritious, most caloric things you can consume. Removing it from your grocery list and your diet is a must.

Fruit Juice

Fruit juice is full of nutrients, and it’s not an inherently unhealthy drink to consume. However, when you’re trying to lose weight, it’s not a good idea to drink your calories. A glass of fruit juice is likely to have as many calories as a small snack, but it will leave you feeling unsatisfied and craving more food. Considering most fruit juices cost around $3 for a half gallon, you’re better off sticking to tea and water. Fresh fruit offers the same health benefits as juice, but an apple is a more satisfying snack than a glass of apple juice.

“Low calorie” or “fat free” snacks foods

These convenience foods not only cost a fortune, but they may not be helping you lose weight. Not only are they full of artificial ingredients and sweeteners, studies show that you’re likely to eat larger portions of “fat free” and “low cal” foods, which may cancel out their benefits. Instead of buying snack foods, opt for fresh produce. Choose fruits and vegetables that are currently in season for the lowest prices. If produce prices are too high, canned fruits and vegetables are the next best thing.

Photo by B Tal

Menu plan: 12/5 – 12/11

Chicken EnchiladasIt’s finally getting chilly here in the mornings and evenings, which means we’re starting to work more comfort foods into our menus. Call me crazy, but I absolutely love when the weather turns colder. There’s nothing cozier than bundling up in the evening.

We paid full price for organic chicken for the first time this week. Bummer. It is so expensive! In the future, I won’t plan to use this much chicken unless we’ve already got it in the freezer.

Here’s our $50 menu for this week:

Saturday: Chicken wraps
Sunday: Chicken and broccoli stir fry with rice
Monday: Risotto style pasta with chicken and mushrooms
Tuesday: Chicken enchiladas
Wednesday: Leftovers
Thursday: Ground chicken meatloaf
Friday: Homemade pizza

For more menu plans, visit OrgJunkie.

Photo by The Food Network

For inexpensive organic meat, the freezer is your friend

meatEver since Tony and I vowed to stick with organic meat, we’ve had to be creative to keep expensive organics from driving up our grocery costs. Not only did we swear off cheap chicken, we recently nixed ground beef from our diets thanks to this terrifying New York Times story about flaws in the inspection process.

We get around using ground beef by substituting it for organic ground chicken when we can. Occasionally we still use beef in recipes, but we buy cuts of sirloin or chuck and ground them ourselves in the food processor. Using single cuts of beef reduces the risk of contamination by e. coli and other dangerous bacteria. But I digress.

Shopping for organic meats can get pretty expensive, but one of the ways we keep costs down is by watching out for expiration date specials. Even on sale, the organic chicken we prefer never goes below $3 a pound. We check the grocery store every week for packages with sell-by dates coming soon. Usually these packages are marked off by a dollar or two. When we get them home, we either cook them right away or put them in the freezer. Freezing the meat increases its shelf life by months, and buying on the sell-by date reduces the cost considerably.

For example, on Sunday we found four packages of organic ground chicken with a sell-by date that day. They were marked off $2 each. They were also on sale for buy one, get one free. All together, we bought four packages for $1 a pound. That’s much less than we typically paid for regular ground chicken.

By stock piling, we ensure that we can stay ahead of the curve and only buy when the price goes down low enough. This has allowed us to buy exclusively organic meat without increasing our grocery budget.

Photo by judybaxter

Menu Plan: 11/28 – 12/4

After a weekend filled with not enough family and way too much food, the last thing I wanted to do was menu plan and grocery shop today. But our house full of guests this weekend seriously depleted our pantry reserves, so we had no choice.

Luckily, we have enough food leftover to get us through today and tomorrow comfortably, so we only had to plan for Tuesday through Friday. We also spent a lot of money on food last week because we were entertaining, so we chose the cheapest meals in our arsenal for the remainder of the week.

Here’s our $40 menu plan:

Sunday: Thanksgiving leftovers
Monday: Leftovers
Tuesday: Mexican skillet
Wednesday: Chicken wraps
Thursday: Black bean quesadillas
Friday: Homemade pizza

For more menu plans, visit OrgJunkie.

Menu Plan: 11/14-11/20

This is our last menu plan before the week of Thanksgiving. We’ll be entertaining Tony’s family next week for the holiday, so our goal for this week was to keep our menu simple and cheap. I’ve been under the weather and busy for the past two weeks, so my housekeeping has been lacking. I need to focus this week on cleaning, preparing our home for guests, and removing the piles of paperwork and junk from our guest room. Yikes.

Anyway, here’s our simple $50 menu for this week:

Saturday: Shredded Chicken Nachos
Sunday: Spaghetti with meat sauce
Monday: Leftovers
Tuesday: Mexican skillet
Wednesday: BLT salad
Thursday: Burritos
Friday: Pizza

For more menu plans, visit OrgJunkie.

Have a fabulous Monday!

Menu Plan: 11/7-11/13

Would you believe I’m still recovering from this awful virus? Yeah. I am not a happy camper. I’ve been sick for over a week. Ugh.

But I’m getting better every day. I’m back at work and feeling mostly okay. I’m just still coughing, and I still feel like I need a little extra sleep. :( I also haven’t felt up to working out for over a week. Hopefully I’ll be back to my old self again (and back in the gym) by the end of the week.

In the meantime, all I have for you today is a meal plan. Enjoy!

I hope you’re all having a great day! Happy Monday!

For more menu plans, visit OrgJunkie.

Menu Plan: 10/10 – 10/16

We’re finally getting the hang of our modified meat shopping plan. Our total for the week was $62, and we even stocked up on three pounds of organic chicken on special.

The only meat we’re eating this week is a pound of organic ground chicken and half a pound of roast beef deli meat.

For lunches we eat leftovers, salads, or peanut butter sandwiches. We always eat whatever fruit is in season and on sale for snacks, so right now it’s locally grown apples. My favorite snack is apple wedges with peanut butter, so I’m in heaven. Breakfast is always cereal, oatmeal, or scrambled eggs.

And for dinner:

Sunday: Chicken burgers with oven fries
Monday: Leftovers/sandwiches
Tuesday: Chicken tacos and refried beans
Wednesday: Pasta with roasted garlic and crushed tomatoes
Thursday: French dip sandwiches
Friday: Homemade pizza

For more menu plans, visit OrgJunkie. Hope your week is off to a great start!

Oh, organic food. Why are you so expensive?

foodincWeekend before last, Tony and I saw the documentary “Food Inc.” for free on his campus. It was an incredibly well produced, enjoyable film, even for people who aren’t into documentaries. But it scared the crap out of us.

I won’t go into gory details here. I do recommend watching it, but if you’re squeamish you might want to read about the issues on the website instead. The scenes inside the hatcheries and “farms” are pretty brutal. I’m not particularly squeamish, but it was hard for me to take.

I’ve never really liked the idea of something dying so I can eat, but I’ve never been a vegetarian either. This movie almost pushed me there, not just because I feel guilty, but because I have serious concerns about the sustainability of current farming practices, the effects on our environment and our health.

So. Where am I going with this? I have a point, I promise.

My husband and I decided to try a halfway approach to organic and sustainable food. We’ve always bought organic produce when we can. We shop in season and try to buy locally, which is good for the environment and for our budget. Organic meat is just so expensive. Our solution is to buy the expensive organic meat — only less of it.

This week at the grocery store, we bought a whole organic chicken (marked down 25% because the sell-by date is tomorrow) that we’ll cook tomorrow and use in three meals. We also bought a pound of organic ground chicken that we’ll use next week because it was on sale for half price.

I left the movie feeling pretty powerless. We spend all this time trying to make the right choices for our health and the environment, and yet so many decisions about our food are made before we even have the option to buy it.

Unfortunately, this won’t change unless we’re willing to change our lifestyles — and our budgets. It means shifting the grocery budget to allow healthier food without spending a fortune. The only uplifting part of the movie is that it reminds us how much power we have as consumers. If we demand healthier food from producers, then they will deliver. And as the movie says, “We vote three times a day.” Every time you make a choice about what to eat, you’re telling food producers the type of food you want to buy. If you choose healthier foods, they’ll get the message.

After finishing our grocery shopping this week, we felt empowered. Our grocery bill was only about $5 more than normal, but we bought all organic meat and more organic, local produce than normal. By making smart choices (like buying higher quality meat only less of it or stock piling organic foods when they’re on sale), we can minimize the impact on our budget and still eat a healthier, more eco-friendly diet.

If you want to get involved, you can sign a petition here asking that school lunch programs serve healthier, more nutritious food to children. Or you can also learn more about how to change the food system.

I usually try to keep politics out of my blog, but I really believe this is a bipartisan issue. It affects our environment and, most importantly, our health and the health of our children.