Sunday, January 19, 2014

Affording to Eat Healthy - Money Saving Tips

I got an email from a reader saying that not everyone can afford to eat a paleo diet. That grains are so much cheaper than vegetables and meat. It is sad but true. Our grocery bill has gone up after we started this path years ago.

From Wikipedia

Why are the grains cheaper than bok choy or kale? The corn and wheat production get more agricultural subsidies from the government to keep the cost low so it can be offered to consumers at a lower price. Indirectly that directs the decisions what people decide to buy at the store.

We pay in taxes to support for example corn production. Corn is then used in a lot of unhealthy processed foods that have poor nutrition and contain even harmful substances like high fructose corn syrup. Again there is no free lunch - in case of cheap processed food, the bill comes in the form of health care to help relieve symptoms. Corn is also fed to animals that are grown for meat (cheaper feed, cheaper meat). The processed food makes people eventually sick. Animals also suffer as corn is not in their natural diet and corn fed animals are fed more antibiotics to counter the poor diet effects.

Conventional health care won't address the core problem - medical industry has no incentive to look for what causes the poor health. Which is probably the food. It really doesn't make any sense if you think about it. But I digress...  My point is that I feel very strongly that everyone should have access to healthy food. My dream is that paleo diet would not be a diet that only a part of the society can afford. The society pays in the end if people with lower income only can afford processed foods and fast food that makes them sick. Healthy food keeps us healthy.

Let's come up with some ideas how to eat food that makes you feel good and keeps you healthy on a budget and how to save money. Here are the ones that first come to mind:

  1. Don't attempt (at first at least) to change your whole diet. Switch first just one meal a week to a healthy meal (paleo, gluten free, grain free, unprocessed food, whatever your goal is, I will just call it paleo for short but fill in whatever name you want to use for the diet that makes you feel good).
  2. Even if organic meat and vegetables are probably the best for you, eating any vegetables (and meats) instead of processed foods is better. Some plants also absorb pesticides more than the others. Check out the Environmental Working Group's Clean Fifteen, Dirty Dozen list of the fruit and vegetables highest and lowest in pesticides. Keep it with you in the grocery store and the farmers market and buy the ones lowest in pesticides non-organic.
  3. Buy seasonal vegetables and fruit. Vegetables, fruit and berries that are in season will be cheaper then than at other times. Buy a lot then and ferment (sauerkraut!), can or freeze for later. You can make a big soup from a cheap head of white cabbage when it is in season. Change your veggies in your soups and stews according to the season.
  4. Look for sales and buy vegetables or meats that are about to expire and marked down. You might have to cook them the same day. If you don't want to eat them that same day, freeze them. Or at least cook the meat and it will store longer in the fridge too.
  5. Start a garden. Even a small one. Even if you don't have a yard you can start a small container garden on a balcony. Get a gardening book from the library or google for instructions. Seedlings can be pricey but seeds are cheaper and you can grow your own seedlings from seeds indoors. Save seeds from some of the plants you have grown and plant them the next season instead of buying new seeds. If you have extra crops, ferment, can or freeze for later use. Or trade to other produce with another gardener or an owner of a fruit tree. There is a website that maps fruit trees that people are willing to share from and you can check if you have one close to you.
  6. Go to the Farmers market just before they close to see if you could get good deals on vegetables. The vendors are often happy to give discounts towards the end to get rid of the remaining produce.
  7. The amount of food thrown away in the US (and the rest of the countries where people can afford to throw food away) is incredible. Save big bucks by not throwing food away, keep an eye on expiration dates, store food properly so you'll manage to eat it all before it goes bad. Sometimes you can still eat food that has passed the expiration date.
  8. Make soups from leftovers, that lonely old carrot in your fridge, the leaves and stalks of the carrots. Usually all parts in a plant are edible, don't toss any of it away! If you can't use leftovers and cut ends of vegetables that day, save them to make a smoothie or home made vegetable stock later. Or at least compost them so you can make free soil and fertilizer for your garden.

    LITTLE FUN FACT: Did you know that you can eat the whole apple if you start from its bottom end (just pick out the seeds, they have something in them that is not so good for you), check out this article about it from this link.
  9. Don't throw away the chicken carcass or bones from chicken drum sticks. Use them to make home made broth. You can add the delicious and nourishing broth full of minerals to stews or use as a base of a soup. You will not only save money and get great health benefits but you will earn a reputation as a great cook. All good restaurants make their own broth because it is so much better than store bought. It makes any food taste super.
  10. Make big amounts of food at once - soup, casseroles, stews - so you always have healthy food in the fridge for leftovers and don't feel like you need to resort to going out to eat. A bowl of soup with home made broth and most affordable seasonal vegetables will for sure be cheaper than even McDonald's. I have a rule that the food keeps for five days in the fridge. Always smell first of course and trust your senses.
  11. Don't throw any leftover food away, you can always transform it to something else. That little amount of soup left on the bottom of the crock pot? Add more ingredients to it over and over again and create a perpetual soup. Leftover vegetables can be used for new stir fries or transformed to whole new dishes. Let your imagination run wild.
  12. Instead of buying soda or juice, make your own ginger ale, kombucha or water kefir. You will save money and get beneficial probiotics in your body that will make you feel better.
  13. Honestly, food will be the last thing I will try to save from. I try to save from buying clothes and stuff by buying them used or checking out the local freecycle Yahoo groups before buying something new. Craigslist and thrift stores are my best stores. Sometimes you can trade with friends. Buying in bulk together with friends is also a nice way to save. Natural foods can be bought in bulk for instance from places like Frontier Naturals Coop (start a wholesale buying club!) or Azure Standard (check if they have a drop point close to you and if not, start one!)
  14. You don't need expensive ready made healthy foods like gluten free flour mixes, coconut butter or dehydrated kale covered in chocolate - just vegetables and fish and meat (and fruit for a snack or a treat) are enough. If you don't eat meat, beans are a rather cheap protein source although legumes are not allowed on autoimmune paleo diet but do what you can. As a side note: I have found out that we can digest some beans better if they are pressure cooked by the way.
  15. Ferment your foods. You'll only need glass jars, salt and water. By fermenting your foods, they digest better and have more nutrients so you can eat less. This applies to any food. Your body needs smaller quantities of foods if they are full of nutrients.
  16. By eating healthy you will save money by not having to go to the doctor that often. That is my last and important point to consider. I know it is hard to think about that if you have hardly enough money to buy wheat bread and peanut butter and jelly. But think about it. You don't have to switch to 100% paleo or healthy food immediately, start slow and increase the proportion of paleo meals slowly as you come up with your own ways to save money.
A money saving tip from a reader I discussed this subject with via email: 

"Another money saving idea is keeping 2 or 3 hens for eggs. Most cities allow this, and a small coop can easily be built with recycled materials. If given access to grass, bugs, etc. they don't need much store bought feed, only as a supplement if it's winter or they can't find enough bugs. I give feed free choice but they eat it only if they have no other options, they prefer other stuff. (There are grain and soy free feeds too.) They can also eat some veggie skins, tops, etc. that would normally go to compost. Caring for just a couple of hens is no more work than a dog or cat, and it's nice to know the eggs are healthier than store bought. Also nice that you know the chickens have a good life with sun and fresh air, not confined to tiny cages in a building somewhere."
Let's start a revolution! One meal at a time!

What is your money saving tip? Please post in comments or send me an email via the contact form in the right side panel.

Learn more about how many people in America don\t even have access to healthy food. Read more and take a quiz.


  1. Drying in season produce in a dehydrator or warm oven is a good idea too! Fruits can be dried for snacks, and dried veggies can be used in soups or other dishes. You can even dry greens and crush them to make your own green powder to add to smoothies. That's a lot cheaper than buying green powder at the store, and a good way to add extra nutrients to your diet when the greens aren't in season.

    1. Good idea! It might even be better, sometimes green powders have had a lot of ingredients, some of them I wasn't sure if we were allergic to, even additives that I don't want. Thanks!