Budget-Friendly Groceries (Eat REAL Food on Pennies!)

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Written By

Rhea Dali

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Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

 

 

I love a good challenge don’t you?

 

Tell me, I can’t do something—and I’ll prove it, I can.

 

Or give me a deadline or benchmark—and I’ll surpass it.

 

So when it comes to grocery shopping, I love to make a mini-challenge out of it.

 

“Mission possible…”

 

-How fast can I get in and out?

-How can I find something new to try and whip up this week?

-And how much money can I save?!

 

That last point is #TheCryOfManyFolks—particularly those who “want to eat healthier”, but wrestle with the wallet:

 

“Eating healthy is just so expensive”, they say.

 

This, at least, compared to:

 

  • That $7 spent on bread and peanut butter for a week’s worth of sandwiches;
  • $5 bucks spent on a chicken sandwich and Diet Lemonade at Chick-Fil-A or turkey sub at Subway;
  • Or, $3 on a box of granola bars to stash in the office drawer for those ‘I’m so hangry’ moments.

 

 

It’s hard to “justify” healthy eating when your perceptions of it include:

 

  • “Whole Foods=Whole Paycheck”
  • $9.99/lb. for grass-fed organic ground bison vs. $4.99 for ground chuck ground meat
  • $2.97/lb. for organic Honey Crisp Apples (delicious!) vs. a 50-cent Gala

 

 

And so…the Dijorno frozen pizzas, pre-made Stouffer’s lasagnas, flour tortillas and pre-made chicken, conventional deli meat, Easy Mac & Cheese, boxed rice, instant oatmeal, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Kashi Krunch cereals, drive-thru takeout, frozen dinners, canned Chicken Noodle soup, Ben & Jerry’s, Goldfish snack crackers, conventional cottage cheese and dairy products, soy-based protein products, chips and salsa, trail mix, popcorn, and occasional fruit or veggies happen.

 

Not only are these options cheap, as well, but quick, convenient, and sometimes, actually quite tasty (hello sugar and additives).

 

“I want to eat healthier, but quite honestly, it’s just expensive and takes so much time,” Sarah said.

 

“It’s just so much easier to grab and go with a bar in the mornings, and pack my lunch with a PB&J then it is to go through the time it takes to meal prep, or even the energy it takes to cook things ahead a time. Not to mention that I feel like I spend more money at the store when I am trying to eat better,” she added.

 

At a loss, I hear ya! I get it.

 

However, with a bit of strategic problem solving—and a plan of attack, the ‘mission impossible’ of ‘eating healthy on a budget’ can actually become quite possible at your good ol’ neighborhood grocery story (no Whole Foods required).

 

 

The Scene: H-E-B grocery store on a Monday night.

 

The Mission: Buy a week’s worth of groceries for about $100.

 

(Disclaimer: We are spoiled here in the booming city Austin with so many great grocery options—hello, Whole Foods headquarters to Trader Joe’s, Central Market, Wheatsville Co-Op, Natural Grocers—so, rarely, do I stumble into the ‘big box’ giant in town—HEB. Nevertheless, I wanted to make a point to myself, and to you, that healthy eating can be won—and money saved—anywhere you happen to shop).

 

The store was packed! —Packed with college kids (apparently I didn’t get the memo that college kids shop at 10 p.m. on a Monday night).

 

The checkout line alone took me about 20-minutes to get through if that tells you anything, so I had the extra challenge of elbowing my way through the crowds to get to the goods.

 

Thankfully, I wasn’t going head to head with the college kids for the Ramen noodles, Capn Crunch cereal, or Hot Pockets, so I had some room to breathe.

 

First stop: Produce.

Fruits and veggies are the ‘powerhouses’ of nutrition-packed with vitamins and minerals! Aim for a rainbow of color, but ONLY BUY WHAT YOU NEED. I used to tend to stock up on my week’s worth of groceries in one fatal swoop…only to find that 3-4 days later, my produce was looking less than fresh. Be strategic in how you shop by aiming for produce options that stay fresher longer if you are only shopping once per week, or plan for a mid-week pit-stop to the store to re-stock on a few items, so your weekly grocery budget does not go to waste!

Veggies

 

  • Spinach & Power Greens. I love the big 24-32 ounce tubs or bags of greens—perfect for throwing in eggs in the morning, sautéing to pair with your meat at dinner, or concocting a salad at lunch. I’ll get about 2-3 of these guys—depending on the expiration date (they typically last pretty long). Greens go a lonnnnng way for providing you with a rich nutrient base (Popeye was on to something). Total: $12 for 2 large tubs.

 

  • Organic Broccoli. When it comes to buying organic vs. non-organic, the rule of thumb is to aim to purchase the ‘Dirty Dozen’ fruits and veggies in their organic whole sources; leaving room to wiggle with the handfuls of other fruits and veggies out there. Broccoli just so happens to be among one the ‘Dirty Dozen’ (known for having more pesticides and toxins in non-organic versions), so I bite the bullet on this one. Total: $3.43/3 large broccoli crowns.

 

  • Asparagus. Delicious roasted in my toaster oven. Total: $3.99/lb.

 

  • Zucchini. Zoodles anyone? I love zucchini noodles—a creative spin on the zucchini! All you need is a veggie peeler or Spiralizer. Sautee in coconut oil on the stovetop, add some homemade meatsauce and boom: Dinner! Total: $3.67/4 zucchinis
  • Baby Carrots. For those moments you want a crunch or a bit heartier of a veggie, carrots can do a body good. Plus they last a bit longer than some other veggies. Dip in guacamole for a snack. Total: $1.97/16 oz. bag.

 

  • Sweet Potatoes &/or Potatoes. If I was a food, I’d turn into a sweet potato and probably roll away—especially Japanese sweet potatoes (Or in other words: “nature’s candy”). Roast em in foil at 425-degrees for 1-2 hours until softened and add a dollop of butter or coconut butter, or slice and dice them, sprinkle on cinnamon and bake them into sweet potato fries on a baking sheet at 400-degrees for about 30-60 minutes (depending on how many you make at once). If your store does not have Japanese potatoes, no worries—reach for organic here if you can for cleanliness sake, but it’s not the end of the world if not. Total: $8/about 3 lbs. potatoes.

 

 Fruit:

 

  • Berries. Strawberries and blueberries are some of my faves! But since it’s not ideal berry season (spring and summer), berries are darn expensive now (about $4-5/lbs.). In order to save here, stock up on frozen varieties that last in the freezer for a year+. They are delicious to eat as is, thrown in smoothies, or de-frosted in the fridge over night. Total: $1.99/16 oz. bag.

 

  • Bananas. 2-3 of these guys. I eat half at a time, preferably dipped in nutbutter; or use any leftovers with spots on them in a homemade muffin or my famous almond butter pancakes. Total: $0.87 for 3.
  • Pears. Pears are currently the fruit of the season—meaning not only are they freshest, but they are cheaper. I stocked up on a couple of these guys—great with a handful of macadamia or walnuts for a snack, or sliced and baked with pork tenderloin or chicken thighs. Lesson? Choose seasonal produce for freshness and a budget-friendly option! Total: $2.57 for 2.
  • Avocado. Goes with everything to make it delicious and nutritious! A boost of healthy essential fats! Whip up some guacamole with some lemon juice and pinch of sea salt and pepper if you’re feeling crazy! Total: $5 for 4.

 

 

Next Stop: Meat.

 

 

Making my way around the perimeter of the store, it was onwards to protein! This is where I typically encourage consumers to opt for organic varieties as much as possible—at least for any fattier cuts of meat. Pinch your pennies on your skinless chicken breast or lean versions of ground meat if anything (less room for yucky toxins to get in there). In fact, when it comes to ‘budgeting’ and clean eating—meat is honestly where the majority of my money goes

 

 

  • Bacon: Like avocado, delicious on…everything! Nitrate free versions here folks! Turkey or pork bacon-whichever you prefer. Dice up in your greens, with your eggs, on top of your salad—the world is your oyster. Total: $4.99/8 slices.

 

  • Organic Chicken Thighs. Boneless, skinless, chicken thigh meat, in general, is typically cheaper than chicken breast (and tastier)—allowing me to justify buying organic for this fattier cut of meat. I love throwing these in the crock pot with some Dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar, sea salt and pepper. Boom, dinner. Total: $10/2 lbs. 

 

  • Rotessire Chicken OR Chicken Breast. Boring? Chicken goes with anything and everything! Chicken curry…chicken salad…chopped up and rolled up in a almond flour tortilla; dress it up with some avocado, salsa, or guacamole on top! I love to stock up on at least 2 chickens per week from Whole Foods or Central Market in town where they use a quality bird. I’ve found they are practically the same price as making your own, and I choose the varieties with simple spices (Tuscan Herb is my favorite)—no crazy ingredients, sulfates or dioxides here. This one I buy outside my ‘regular’ grocery store—but completely out of preference! You can also stock up on 1-2 lbs. of regular skinless chicken breasts or a whole chicken (typically anywhere from $2.99-$3.99/lb). Total: $17 ($8.99/chicken) /2 x 2 lb.-chickens.

 

  • Ground Turkey. Fround turkey tends to be my ground meat of choice. I make a mean turkey burger, and turkey sausage patties for breakfast. I opt for the 93/7 versions—and again, preferably as most natural-raised and organic as possible (ground turkey is tricky because it doesn’t always come this way). Total: $20/4 lbs.

 

  • Fish: Frozen over fresh for penny’s sake! $7.99/lbs. vs. $14.99/lb. for wild-caught salmon was a no brainer. Total: $8.07/1 1-lb. packet of Sockeye Salmon

 

Fats, Nuts, Oils

 

  • Nuts. To save moolah, reach for the bulk bins where you can determine how much you throw in your bag. Macadamia and walnuts tend to be more expensive, whereas cashews and almonds a bit cheaper. All are good for you. As for nutbutters, the creamy almond butters are also great to find back here (or search around online for what deals and steals you can get—(see below). $6.99/1 lb. Macadamia nuts.

 

  • Canned black Olives. A can of sliced and diced black olives is great to throw on top of a salad, or eat alone as a snack. Total: 2 small cans: $1.07

 

Total Damage? $111.50.

 

Not too shabby to allot for 21-meals, considering that’s about how much you’d spend after 5-7 meals alone of just eating out.

 

In fact, according to the most recent GALLUP poll, more Americans are eating out more than ever before—and spending more money consequently—anywhere from $150-$180 on average from another poll a few years earlier that included both money spent on eating in and dinning out.

 

Eating in, and preparing ‘healthy’ and hearty homecooked meals is a win-win…even if initially (as with any habit) it may seem like a win-loss (you know you want to change but it’s not easy).

 

Extra! Extra! Extra!

It’s always good to have staples—and even a few ‘convenient’ items in your pantry. While my pantry was stocked this week, here are some items I always make sure to have around for all my cooking and eating necessities.

 

  • Canned Tuna, Salmon or Sardines. Stash a can or two in your pantry for those in-a-pinch moments. Whip up with some Primal Mayo or Dijon mustard! Throw in some apples, pecans or celery for a bit of crunch.

 

  • Raw Almond Butter, Cashew Butter, Walnut Butter. You name a nutbutter, it’s delicious. Raw natural versions are ideal because they cause less irritation on the gut than the roasted varieties.

 

  • Coconut Butter. It had me at hello. Coconut butter is a delicious way to get your healthy fats in and spice up your veggies, potatoes, even meat. It also maks an easy, yummy snack to get in some energy by a spoonful.

 

  • Coconut Aminos & Coconut Vinegar. Use these daily! The aminos are my ‘secret ingredient’ for burgers and delicious chicken; and the coconut vinegar makes a simple dressing for your mixed greens at luch.

 

  • Kerrygold Grassfed Butter, Ghee, Coconut Oil/Extra Virgin Olive Oil & Cooking Sprays. Healthy fats are a must and make everything delicious! Cook with coconut oil for high-heat meats and raw veggies; sautee food or drizzle with olive oil (best for low-medium heat foods).

 

  • Primal Mayo. I am not a solid mayo fun, but I am a chicken and tuna salad fan and this avocado-based mayo does the trick for making my own chicken and tuna salad while leaving out the transfats and hydrogenated oils

 

  • Steve’s Paleo Goods Dressings/Tessemae’s Dressings. No fake sugars or weird ingredients here. Both companies have a full lineup of dressings for you to choose from, as well as sauces and marinades to keep in your fridge.

 

  • Coconut flour/Almond flour. For all your baking needs, it’s always good to have some substitute flour on hand.

 

  • RX Bars & Perfect Bars. Two great ‘bars on the go’ as alternative to less than optimal bars with laundry lists of ingredients. Each bar is balanced as well with protein, fats and carbohydrates.

 

  • Snacks from Barefoot Provisions (online):  Sea Salt Snacks (kelp chips), Krunchy Kale, sweet potato chips, seed-based crackers, homemade jerky, even chocolate…yum.

 

Question: Where to find everything else?!

 

Just like these snacks from Barefoot Provisions, you can find the majority of these products online!

 

If no Whole Foods or specialty health foods store is in the cards for you, never fear—the great world wide web is here!

 

Outside of the grocery store, see what deals you can find on some of the ‘specialty’ items that make your meals go around.

 

Check Amazon and THRIVE Market in particular.

 

These things will last for a long time, so in essence, no matter what you buy, you get your money’s worth—and won’t need to buy these frequently.!

 

 

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