Here are ten ways you can stretch your whole foods and whole30 food budget. You can eat healthy, whole foods on a budget!
Written by Christy from Whole Foods on a Budget
1. Determine which foods are of the most vital importance to you. If you’re not sure, read up and do a little research on nutrition. Maybe it’s raw milk that is most important to you or simply grass-fed milk, or grass-fed beef, pastured eggs and chickens, wild caught seafood, plenty of local produce, quality fats or organic grains. Whatever they are, make a list of the foods you want to buy, prioritizing from the most important down to the least important. Spend your money on the items at the top of your list and cut corners on the ones at the bottom.
Similarly, focus your money on the foods you eat most often. Make sure those are quality items. For the foods or condiments you eat but here or there, don’t spend the extra money to make sure they are top quality. Skimp here and place that money towards the food items that count the most.
2. If you are unable to afford the quality you desire, buy it half the time. For example, let’s say you want to buy pastured chickens–could you buy the pastured chickens half the time? And the other half of the time buy a lesser quality chicken? Or perhaps consider buying chicken less often, so that when you do you are able to afford the pastured chicken. Some is always better than none.
3. Make some extra pantry space in your house (basement, garage, armoire/cupboard in kitchen…), and buy yourself a chest freezer. Extra pantry space for storing bulk grains, dried beans and baking supplies is so helpful! It allows you to buy in bulk, saving money and time. A chest freezer will quickly pay itself back as you will be able to stock up and take advantage of good sales, purchase items in bulk, and freeze extra produce.
4. And in that same vein, skip the grocery store and instead buy the brunt of your food from farmers and co-ops. I could never afford to buy all the quality foods we buy if I were trying to do so shopping solely at the grocery store. It would cost me a fortune!
Co-ops are a fabulous way to save money. I purchase all of my grains and dried beans plus some meats and dairy, straight-from-the-farm pastured eggs, and other items through two local co-ops. If you do not have any extra pantry or freezer space, split orders with a friend or two. That way you can take advantage of the savings without the bulk.
Find local farmers and buy directly from them. About 10-12 friends and I place a joint order from a local farmer every summer for a few whole cows, which are butchered, packaged and divided into quarters. We get our grass-fed and finished beef for about $3.70 a pound (which includes steaks and roasts, as well as ground beef). I would never find that price in the grocery store. I have also participated in group orders of peaches and blueberries from local farmers, getting excellent prices.
Frequent pick-your-own farms during the summer. I take my kids fruit picking at a local, ecologically-minded farm all throughout the summer, and we freeze extra fruit to use during the rest of the year. By the end of the summer, our freezer is packed with blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and peaches–all bought at low prices. While you’re there, don’t forget to ask about seconds.
If you are unaware of any farms near you, Local Harvest is an excellent resource for locating farms within your region, helping to connect you directly to local farmers.
5. Eat more whole grains and dried beans. Most whole grains are inexpensive and full of excellent nutrition. They are also very filling. Experiment and try new ones. If you’re concerned about gluten, there are quite a few grains that contain no gluten, such as quinoa (red + white), millet, teff, amaranth, and all kinds of rice–and boy are there lots of varieties of rice!
Dried beans are also quite inexpensive and are full of fiber, protein, minerals and vitamins. They are an excellent source of nutrition and a tasty, frugal addition to your diet.
6. Make soup. Many soups make quite frugal and filling meals and are perfect for cold winter nights. You can use leftover meats and grains in soup, and it’s easy to add in those vegetable odds and ends sitting in your fridge–that quarter onion, the last two carrots from the bag, that half a zucchini that’s still there, the leftover green beans from last night’s dinner. Don’t pitch any of those bits and pieces! Throw them in a pot of vegetable-based soup. Dice random vegetables small, and you will hardly know they are in there. Add previously cooked vegetables at the very end so they don’t get overcooked and mushy. Soup is an excellent way to use up those odds and ends that might ordinarily get forgotten about and thrown away.
7. Know your food and use every last bit. Eat the radish tops, the male zucchini flowers, beet greens, edible flowers and herbs. I made a delicious, zesty pesto this spring using the radish tops from our garden radishes. Zucchini flowers are delicious in pancakes and also stuffed and fried. Beet greens can be sauteed and eaten like spinach. I grow nasturtiums in our garden to attract pollinators but also because they are edible. The flowers and leaves can be picked and added to salads. Dandelions grow wild in our area, and the greens can be sauteed like spinach or dried and used as a tea. My great-grandmother loved to saute the fresh greens with lots of garlic and olive oil.
Those tough stems from swiss chard or beet greens? Dice them and throw them into a pot of soup. They will quickly soften as they simmer. Do the same with broccoli stalks. Peel the outer edges off, then dice the inner stalk and add it to your soup pot. Stale bread? Grind into breadcrumbs, or try this tasty salad. Carrot, onion and potato peels? Save those to use when you make chicken or beef stock. Mushroom stems? Clean them and add them to your next pot of beef stock. Mushrooms impart a rich, woodsy flavor to beef stock.
8. And speaking of stock…make your own beef and chicken stock. What can be more frugal than using what is typically thrown away? Simply add bones to your crockpot (fill about 1/3-1/2 way with bones), carrot peels (or a carrot), cleaned onion peels (or a quartered onion), one bay leaf and a few whole peppercorns. Cover with water and let cook on low for 24 hours. Strain and use for soups or any time a recipe calls for chicken/beef broth. You can also freeze it for later use. Not only is homemade stock super frugal, it’s very nutritious.
9. Experiment and try new things. Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb and try something new. Last year I bought 10 lbs of organic fresh olives for $15 and tried my hand at curing them myself. It was a learning experience to say the least. I tried two methods, one of which worked really well. The olives didn’t come out perfectly, but if I do it again (hopefully next year) I now know just what to do to fix the minor errors I made the first time. Fifteen dollars was not a huge investment, so if it was a failure, it was going to be okay. But as it turned out, it was a fun experience, I learned a new skill, and I now have a way of providing my olive-loving family with organic olives ridiculously cheap.
10. Garden! Did you know that you can grow nearly $500 worth of produce in one 4×8 foot garden bed plus 10 patio pots? I do because I did just that this year! Two years ago, before I began reading about gardening, I thought I was severely hampered by my lack of gardening space (and my not-so-green thumb) and never would have guessed I could grow half as much as I did this year. Little did I know just how much food I could grow once I gained some new knowledge and put a few good plans in place! That was $500 worth of produce that we consumed (and shared) that we paid roughly $80 for.
Even if you don’t have room for an in-ground or raised-bed garden, you can garden just about anywhere–even on a sunny kitchen windowsill. Herbs and lettuces are easy to grow and can be grown indoors year-round by a sunny window. Most vegetables can be grown in large pots on a porch, balcony, deck or patio. Plants like zucchini and tomatoes will need at least 8 hours of sun, but if you don’t get that much sun, try lettuces, greens, herbs and cold weather crops. Many can grow in part shade. When you start your plants from seed, you save even more money. Most seeds will last 3-5 years when stored properly, some even longer. If you grow heirloom varieties, you can save seeds from your garden’s harvest for the next year, giving yourself “free” seeds and cutting down on your gardening costs.
Christy, who blogs at Whole Foods on a Budget, is a blessed wife and mommy to three (plus one on the way). She loves adoption, cooking, painting with watercolors and natural living. Christy is currently co-authoring her first book with her sister Jessica. It will be a simple introduction to whole foods and will include a section of inspiring recipes.
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