Healthy Eating on A Budget

In these days of extreme couponing and super cheap processed foods (none of which I partake in)  budget and eating healthy don’t seem to go hand in hand, but I now have the experience to know it is not only possible, it’s easy.

My adventures in budgeting started about 2 months ago, when we started Financial Peace University.  A year ago we read some of Dave Ramsey’s books, and started to do the program, but about 2 months in we stopped.  We didn’t have a written plan, which is what the program is all about.  Instead we budgeted on a spreadsheet, but didn’t account for every penny.  We didn’t pay attention to our money, and so who knows where it went.   I’ve been getting this nagging feeling to get on it already, and finally did, I’m so glad!  We now know exactly what our money is doing, because we tell it what to do.  We have everything written out, and are on the road to financial peace!

When looking at our food bill, including restaurants, I was astonished that we spent SO MUCH!  So we decided to challenge ourselves, quite honestly it was our only sane choice.  On average we would spend about$250-$400 a week, usually more like 400.  We love going out to eat, but that hasn’t been as enjoyable the last few months (even before we started this).  So we gladly gave that up.  Now we are on a $100 a week food budget, and not only are we doing it, I even come under budget some weeks, and have been able to buy some other things with it, like vitamins, toilet paper, etc.

I really had no idea how we would do it, but I was determined to try.  Week after week I’ve been successful, and something amazing is happening in the process, we are getting even healthier.  It’s made me realize just what a big impact on our health and weight those little snack had on us.  There is no more packaged food & bread in our house.  Yes it was all vegan, but eating snacks and gluten kept the weight one, not too much weight, but enough excess that could be trimmed.

Here is how I do it.

  • I take out $100 cash every week from the bank and put it in my food pouch.  This way I can keep track of what I’m spending and not go over budget.  Spending is a very different experience when paying cash.  More thought goes into the process.
  • I buy from a produce stand that happens to be super cheap and great quality.  The downside is we don’t eat everything organic like we used to, but I make sure to not buy the food I know aren’t so good to buy conventional and if I really want those things I buy them if I have money left over.  There are 2 other produce stands in my area that are also great prices that carry some organic.
  • Our grains are limited to brown rice, quinoa & oats. which I get at Costco, the per lb price is much cheaper then anywhere else I have found, even online.  Sometimes we will have millet or barley from whole foods.
  • Dried beans I buy at whole foods in bulk, along with water refills.  Again the best pricing I’ve been able to find for the quality, the produce stands have dried beans but they are so old and look it.
  • I also get Almond butter & agave nectar at Costco.
  • All of our food is made from scratch.  Having a pressure cooker and rice cooker has been the saving grace here.  In fact we don’t have one pan or pot in the house (long story).
  • Eating vegan surely helps. It’s def possible to be within this budget and not eat vegan, but that’s just what we choose because that’s what feels best for us.

Our typical daily menu:

Breakfast – fresh fruit salad, fresh squeezed orange juice, oatmeal with agave nectar, all fruit smoothies.

Lunch – typically left-overs from dinner.

Dinner – vegetable dish w a side of brown rice or quinoa and salad.  Which lately I’ve been skipping the rice & quinoa and just eating the vegetable dish over salad greens.  There an infinite number of ways to make delicious vegetable dishes, as u see from this blog.  Sometimes I make a side of grilled veggies, or baked fries, depending on the dish.  Soups and stews are a favorite in this house.

Snack – air popped popcorn, no bake oatmeal cookies, chocolate date balls, fruit.

My husband has been eating oatmeal plain or w a little salt every morning for months now (he was using raw sugar until a few weeks ago), and fruit or left-overs for lunch, it’s so easy for him since he’s working and has a very short lunch break, he doesn’t have to think about what to eat.  It’s not even boring to him, he’s thriving off it.

I have had so much more energy.  I’m feeling great, I don’t even feel pregnant.  Every day I get compliments on how good I look.  I am much more calm and clear-headed.  I did add a liquid vitamins to our diet, but that is something we have been needing anyway.  My son is making better food choices, he no longer asks for bread, n such, well only after we visit family and he eats the foods we don’t have in the house, then he is addicted and asks constantly for about 2 days, until it’s finally out of his system – he even started eating vegetables again!  Ever since we started giving him millet bread he stopped wanting vegetables, now the bread is gone and veggies are in!   I can see the difference in my husband too.  He is satisfied after he eats.  He eats fairly large meals, always has, and I see his portions and waist getting smaller.

Most of our meals are low fat, from time to time I will use a little olive oil in a dish, but sparingly.  This essentially is the McDougall Diet, which is something we do from time to time, but it’s never really stuck until now.

The only change I will make when I can increase the budget is to add more organic.  In September a local farm CSA is starting up again and they drop off at my husband’s job, it’s all organic & locally grown, picked the day before at the farm.  We are going to try it out and see how it goes.

I’ve tried growing my own veggies, but that hasn’t been too successful in this florida heat.  I admit I haven’t been as on top of watering the plants as I should be.  The landscapers and bugs are getting to the plants before I do.  There are a few tomato plants surviving, so I have a little success.

Given our positive experience, this is a way of eating will continue, even when we have more money in the budget.

Some money & time saving tips:

  • Buy only what you think you need.  This may take a few weeks to master, but the fun part is the first few weeks we had to get creative with what was left over at the end of the week, and have come up with some great dishes.
  • Reuse the shopping bags for garbage.  When we moved in 3 years ago I bought a small box of large garbage bags for the move, I still have a bunch of those bags.  In my opinion they are a waste of money.  Most produce stands and supermarket give paper or plastic and these days lots of that plastic is made from plant fibers.  I used to re-use cloth bags, but I have to replace them every few months because they rip. Most garbage pick-up companies require the use of bags, as long as the bags aren’t over stuffed and close completely small shopping bags should work just fine.
  • Pay with cash!  I can’t stress this enough, Dave Rasmey quotes a study that when we pay with cash we actually experience pain, but when we use a debit card the pain is significantly less, and with a credit card-no pain.  This means when we pay cash we feel it!  And have to make choices that are thought about and even feel good about, otherwise we just won’t buy.  Try it out for your small purchases.
  • Avoid shopping at a supermarket if possible.  Buy most of your produce from a produce market.  Look online, at costco, or for a local food buying co-op for bulk items.  CSAs are a great way to get high quality fresh food & support a local farm (some even have meat-dairy-eggs).
  • Pre-made, packaged, processed foods are way more expensive then making them yourself, and also usually addicting, especially the junk food.  While many people who want to save money will go buy this type of food, thinking they are saving money-but they aren’t, & they are loosing out on good health.
  • Invest in an electric pressure cooker and rice cooker.  They are actually inexpensive and worth every penny.  The food will cook faster, and the time spent in the kitchen will go way down.  I can make a fresh dinner for the family in 5-15 minutes, that is typically all just prep time.  All I do is throw in the ingredients, set the time, put the lid on and i’m done.  When the food is ready the machine will beep.  I can even put the machine on a delay, so I prepare the food when I have the time, it sits in the pot covered until the delay timer is done and then starts cooking, and will be done just in time for meal time.
  • Make large dishes and freeze left-overs that won’t be eaten the next day or two.  We love an indian soup called Dhal but usually make a whole big pot full, way too much to eat in a few days.  So it gets stored in the freezer until we are ready to eat it.  To heat it up I either put it in a glass cooking dish in the toaster or right in the pressure cooker – as it acts as a pot too, u can cook with the lid on or off.  My in-law do the same thing and store the left-overs in individual sized plastic containers. I freeze it in a large ice-cube tray, covered with a piece of parchment paper.  Once frozen I pop out the cubes and store in a freezer bag.  Then it’s easy to get only as much as I want.
  • Have fun with the food.  If you don’t like it, you wont eat it.  So make sure your not only making food that appeals to you, and trying new things from time to time, but also having some fun.  My son loves to make “birthday cakes” out of cut fruit.  He will have a little birthday party celebration, I’ll put in a candle and sing with him, and he will blow it out and then proceed to happily eat his ‘fruit cake’!  I also use fresh herbs when possible, which helps with the visual appeal of many dishes.  Sometimes I will infuse oil with sundried tomato or spinach and add a small drizzle to the dish.
  • Freeze freeze freeze!  I freeze over-ripe bananas, fruit that is still good, but isn’t so fresh, leafy greens, squashes, anything I can! lately I’ve been seeing great deals on huge boxes of organic spinach and strawberries.  I wash, dry and freeze it for use later.  Bananas are the base for most of our smoothies, sometimes I even put some spinach in.  My son loves strawberry smoothies. The spinach I use mostly for soups and stews, I add them to the pressure cooker after it’s done cooking the meal, spinach doesn’t require much heating when frozen.
  • Seasonings will also make a huge difference.  This is one area I don’t skimp in, and usually buy from whole foods because it’s much fresher then the supermarkets or other places.  Most of what I buy is organic too.  Heating up the seasoning in oil or water just prior to adding the other food will really bring out the flavor.  As I said, if it doesn’t taste good, you wont eat it, so be sure to have the essentials.  Try new seasonings, u never know what you may like until you try.
  • My most use kitchen appliance is my hand blender.  While I have a good blender, it doesn’t get used because my hand blender can do even more, especially since it is metal, I can blend hot soups without thinking about the plastic.  I use it at least once a day to make smoothies.  They key to making a smoothie with frozen fruit is to use water.  or let the fruit thaw out.  Blend fresh fruit first, or put it on top of the frozen, this way the liquid will get on the frozen to help with blending.
  • Make your own dressings.  Not only will they be healthier, but u will know exactly what are in them.  I even make my own raw-ketchup.  We don’t use dressing very much, usually we use a fresh squeezed lemon or orange or balsamic.  When we do want some I have some simple quick ones I make using tahini, cannelini beans, avocado or tomatoes. Take a look through this blog, I share many of these with you.  And I’ll be sharing a lot more in my soon to be released recipe books.

I am curious as to what the average family spends on food.  From what I’ve read on the Dave Ramsey forums people spend WAY more then $100 a week, unless they are on a budget.

I hope this inspires some of you to make positive changes, and become A Health U!

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