Eating Healthy ….and Organic…on a Budget
by Jonni McCoy

When I first embarked on my frugal lifestyle, I heard critics say that they would never want to live frugally since it meant having to eat “frugal food.” Many people believe they cannot serve healthy food to their family while on a tight budget. I am here to prove that “frugal” and “healthy” can be one and the same.

At the beginning of our frugal adventure we were living on half of our usual income so we had to cut the grocery bill down very low to pay other bills. Despite this tight budget, we ate plenty of produce, adequate protein, and were even able to cook around my son’s restrictive food allergies.

The first key to cooking healthy frugal meals is to look at how you shop and cook. Cooking healthy has the same guidelines as any other type of shopping that I describe in detail in my book, Miserly Moms: plan menus around sales, don’t shop at just one store, buy in bulk, and avoid convenience foods. If you expect to be able to buy ready-made health food, then you will overspend. Furthermore, if you don’t shop sales and pay premium prices for your supplies, then meals won’t be frugal. So the key isn’t only what you are cooking but how you are shopping for it, and who prepared it.

And let’s define what “healthy” means. To me it is more whole grains, produce and a smaller portion of meat (the size of the palm of the eater’s hand). Some people define healthy differently and are more (or less) extreme. But we can’t let everyone else tell us what is healthy; after all the corn growers want us to think of high fructose corn syrup as “all natural.” So we must arm ourselves with some knowledge of what is our healthy goal: is it lower fat, better types of fat, more grains, more produce? Then read the labels – you will be surprised. For example, the most natural, healthy cereal (shredded wheat) is billed as 100 natural, but the inside of their bags are sprayed with a pesticide (this is disclosed right on the box).

To keep the cost of fresh produce and whole grains down, buy the produce that is featured in the sale flyer that week. It will save you 35%. This usually means you are buying what is in season, which also keeps costs lower. If there is no fresh produce on sale that week, frozen is your next healthiest (most nutrients) choice. Canned would be the least nutritious option. To get the whole grains, buy brown rice which is pennies per serving. You don’t have to buy the $5 loaf of whole grain bread to get the whole grains.

When it comes to organic foods, be a savvy shopper. The word “organic” means that no chemicals were added to it. However, there is no national standard for the use of that word. So make sure that what you are buying is truly what you think it is. And when it comes to the produce, be picky. What I mean is some commercially grown (non-organic) produce has more pesticides than others. I have a list of produce I will only buy organic, and a list that I will buy commercial. The items that are okay to buy non-organic are either because I can peel them and get 80% of the pesticide off (i.e. banana, apples, orange), or the levels of pesticides used it fairly low and not worth the extra price. Here are my two favorite lists for shopping for produce:

The Clean 15 (Okay to buy non-organic): onions, avocados, corn, pineapple, mango, sweet peas, asparagus, kiwi fruit, cabbage, eggplant, cantaloupe, watermelon, grapefruit, sweet potatoes, and anything you can peel.

The Dirty Dozen (I won’t eat them unless they are organic): celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, blueberries, nectarines, bell peppers, the greens (spinach, kale, collard), cherries, grapes (especially avoid the imported ones), potatoes, lettuce.

The other way to save grocery money is to modify the menu. After all, how can we save money if we have steak several times per week? We need new recipes that call for simple ingredients, but still provide an appealing and healthy meal to the family. That’s why I wrote my cookbook, Healthy Meals for Less. Each recipe in my book costs less than 99 cents per serving, has a nutritional breakdown to show that it is healthy, and is easy to prepare.

When eat at fast food restaurants on those busy days, try to eat healthier by ordering the grilled meat instead of the fried, ask for no sauce (on the burger or dipping), skip the cheese on the burger, order fruit instead of fries, eat a salad instead of a burger (and order it with oil & vinegar dressing instead of ranch or thousand island). Remember that one value meal has an average person’s entire days worth of calories, and double the amount of fat we should have in one day.

I hope that this helps, and that your frugal and healthy cooking will be an enhancement to your family’s budget.