Can You Save on Grocery Shopping While Still Eating Healthy?
In early 2015, I found out that I have an endocrine disorder, known as Polycycstic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). This diagnosis, along with the threats of diabetes that came along with it, sparked a very quick change in my grocery shopping and eating habits.
Before PCOS, I was used to eating badly on a budget (“$1 for pasta meal mixes, and all I have to do is add milk? SOLD!”). After all, my family was trying to save money on food. Cheap, ready-made meals seemed like the best option for us to pursue as we worked to balance our finances.
As it turns out, many of the products I was purchasing, such as canned goods, contain hormone-altering additives that could have been aggravating my PCOS and making it harder for me to process sugars. Many of our usual staples were cut out of the grocery budget in these early days, and it we went through a trial period where we had to figure out how to still eat meals we enjoyed without breaking the bank.
Health and Budget Conscious Grocery Shopping.
There are a lot of ways to save money on grocery shopping, including using coupons, shopping for generic brands, or only buying things when they come up on sale. Here are four tips I have found useful while shopping for PCOS and diabetic dietary needs, but these can be helpful for all!
1. Be choosey about organic products.
Eating all organic food can be very, very expensive. It doesn’t always have to be, but where I live in the US I find that buying organic food can more than double my total at the checkout counter. Doing your research about where your favorite foods fall on the pesticide list can be helpful (check out the Environmental Working Group’s list of the most pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables).
My husband and I also have different diets: I am a vegetarian, and he is not. Luckily, this lowers the cost of our meat purchases — I am comfortable buying him organic, free-range, happy meat because, even though it is very expensive, it is worth the extra money and we only eat half as much as a normal dual-omnivore family.
2. Ask yourself what items are necessities and which are splurges.
There were a lot of items I thought I needed even as early as the beginning of this year, before my diagnosis. We have completely eliminated soda from our shopping list — in fact, it is banned from the house. Coffee creamer is also banished, because it is much more cost efficient to use my almond milk for multiple purposes. These items only made up about $5 of our weekly shopping list, but now I have another $5 to spend on organic spinach.
Splurges can also take the form of pre-made meals. We have saved a lot of money by purchasing refrigerated pizza dough for under $2 for a large ball, and assembling our own pizzas instead of buying them pre-made and frozen, or from a restaurant. While I can’t quite get that brick-oven deliciousness from my home oven, homemade pizza is so easy to make it’s silly not to replace at least one take-out night with homemade food.
Some people recommend shopping only on the perimeter of the store while grocery shopping in order to avoid spending temptations. However, by doing that you are missing out on a few key items: dried beans and legumes, whole wheat pasta, pasta sauce, and baking items. While the bargain aisle can usually be passed up, there are frugal, healthy ingredients peppered throughout the store that you won’t want to miss.
3. Use the same ingredients throughout the week for multiple dishes.
In the not-so-distant past, my husband and I were doing some pretty mismatched grocery shopping trips. Instead of planning ahead and shopping for the whole week, we would buy a few mismatched items, and then enough ingredients for a few meals. Without fail, we would have to go grocery shopping again in a few days just to complete the rest of the week.
Now, I decide what we are eating for the week and try to use some of the same ingredients across the board. For example, we will be having spinach in our tacos and with our pasta dish later this week. I can also make spinach as a fantastic side, or use it as a salad base. The avocados I purchased will make an appearance in the tacos as well, in addition to our sushi tonight and some lunch sandwiches. The cucumbers and carrots I will be using as snacks throughout the week are also guest staring in my vegetarian sushi rolls.
4. Stock up on staples that will go a long way.
As I said earlier, I do not want to consume any hormone-altering products. Many pre-made packets (my $1 pasta meals, for example) and canned goods contain ingredients that are unhealthy for you, or are packed in BPA-laden containers.
Instead of stocking up on canned goods, I have begun purchasing dried, bagged goods such as beans and lentils, and plain boxed pasta — whole wheat, of course! These are hearty foods that can be a great side, or even make up a whole dish. The best part is that you can get a pound of dried beans for under $2, which will easily feed a family of 4 for the whole week.
The dried beans are slightly inconvenient in comparison to their canned counterparts, but this is something that just takes practice and planning. One day of batch cooking can stock your freezer with hearty proteins to use throughout the week!
What tips do you have for eating healthy foods and living within a reasonable budget?