Are you wanting to incorporate more organic or natural foods into your diet but you’re not sure where to start? Have you decided to try to cut back on the amount of processed foods you eat but you don’t want to sacrifice your budget? Then it sounds like you are ready to make the slow switch to better eating. Here’s the strategy that Mr. P and I are using to develop and sustain this healthy-eating lifestyle* while staying within our $200 grocery budget.
Not only do Mr. P and I value our budget, we also value our health. As a result, we realized that our original plan of living to the ripe old age of 300 based on the sheer number of preservatives and additives coursing through our bloodstream at any given moment wasn’t really going to work. It was time to clean up our diet. Knowing that processed foods typically cost less than fresh, whole foods, we agreed to spend a bit more, if and when it was needed. Before I pick up any new habit, I try to be as honest with myself as possible: Does the change align with my values? Why am I making this choice?
Once you decide to make the switch, it’s time to do some homework. During my normal shopping trips, I started pursuing the organic, all-natural offerings to see how different stores stacked up. I also scanned the organic sections of the weekly store circulars that came in the weekly bundle of junk mail. At this stage in the game, I wasn’t actually buying anything different. I was just observing my options, noting price points, and determining how I could make the switch to healthier choices without totally overhauling my shopping schedule.
Immediately, Aldi and Jewel Osco made the cut: I was confident the Aldi brand would be relatively inexpensive (because, hello, it’s Aldi); I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the store brands at Jewel were also fairly cheap. We also have a local supermarket that carries a wide variety of produce. While the produce is not top grade, it’s perfectly fine for us. We (read: I) pick up our fresh items weekly, so we don’t need apples or bananas to last more than five or six days. Happily, this store’s organic produce is actually much higher quality without a significantly steeper price tag. In fact, there are days that I wonder if they don’t realize they actually could charge more for their organic foodstuff. The moral of this story? Do your legwork and research ahead of time; it will pay dividends in time and money.
Instead of swapping out every single item on my grocery list, I started small. When we ran out of honey, I opted for the organic kind. No more Splenda? I bought a bottle of organic agave nectar. I’ve switched from skim milk to unsweetened almond milk.** Rather than buying regular diced tomatoes or black beans, I picked up the organic brand from Aldi (which still cost less than the regular kind at most grocery stores). I switched from my beloved Smuckers grapey-high-fructose-corn-syrupy goodness to a natural fruit spread. And I didn’t ditch the dirty dozen all at once. Organic bananas were easiest, probably because bananas are so cheap to begin with. I also try to buy seasonal organic fruits and veggies; they’re still more costly than their traditional counterparts, but because they’re in-season, I can get them at a considerable savings. Because I started small and started slowly, the increase (usually fifty cents to one dollar per item) wasn’t nearly as painful. In fact, because I don’t buy a lot of these items more than once a month, my budget barely budged.
Keep going. As with any new habit, it’s crucial to remember why you started and to stick with it. You don’t have to be a poster child for Whole Foods unless that was your priority to begin with. Just know that you’ve made some efforts to improve your eating habits without sacrificing your budget. As you cook a meal or pack a lunch, read the labels and smile. You can probably pronounce a lot more of the ingredients you’re eating. Celebrate your successes along the way. Like us you may not be the perfect eater, but it’s definitely a step down the right grocery aisle.
* Note: I’m not a dietitian nor am I a scientist. Instead, I try to be an informed consumer who approaches everything with a healthy dose of skepticism. I’m not here to debate GMOs or the use (read: misuse) of statistics by the general population. Instead, I simply want to outline the ways in which Mr. P and I have started to revise our eating habits.
**Mr. P dug his heels in here. I still buy skim milk for him and his colossal bowls of Rice Krispies. I do put almond milk in our smoothies, though, and he’s never noticed. Shhh….
So Tell Me…How you do balance healthy eating with a healthy budget? Do you have natural and organic options in all of your local stores? Care to share any tips that I missed?