Homesteaders like to cultivate large gardens, so usually there’s ample “free” food during the warm months of the year. And most of us preserve at least some of our harvest by canning or dehydrating our vegetables, fruits, and sometimes even meats, too. Those of us lucky enough to have root cellars or walk-in coolers use them to store the more hardy types of produce, like potatoes and other root vegetables, winter squash, and cabbage. All these efforts help reduce our grocery bills during the cold weather months.
But it’s practically impossible to squirrel away enough food to feed our families all winter long. So, invariably, we end up needing to buy food to supplement the bounty we’ve managed to store. Even in summer, most of us don’t grow enough to sustain ourselves completely, so we have to buy what we can’t produce. And, yes, buying organic, whole foods at the grocery store can get very expensive. But the good news is, you can still practice healthy eating all year long without mortgaging the homestead to pay your grocery bill.
Here are 10 tips to make healthy eating more affordable.
#1 Learn How to Cook
Okay, this one seems pretty obvious, at least at first.
If you’re a homesteader, you’re probably an excellent cook. But you’d be surprised how many people don’t know how to cook. Or don’t have time to cook. This is especially true for urban homesteaders who spent long days at the office. But when you live in the country, you can’t just pick up the phone and order a pizza. So, by necessity, homesteader’s must learn how to cook. The sooner, the better.
What If You Live in the City?
Maybe you’re young and just starting out. Or maybe you dream of having your own homestead someday, but right now you have a career that’s keeping you in the city until you save up enough to buy your own slice of heaven. And maybe that big city apartment of yours is so tiny, you barely have enough room for a small plant on your windowsill. None of those things should be barriers to learning how to cook. It doesn’t matter if you have to buy ALL your food at the grocery store right now because your place is too small to grow a thing. (Although that’s unlikely. You just have to get more creative. We’ll talk about that next, in Tip #2.)
What If You Can’t Even Boil Water?
Learning to cook will save you a tremendous amount of money. You can literally make delicious meals for pennies. Not only that, but the food you make at home from scratch is inordinately healthier than convenience foods or take-out. You can find a wide variety of cookbooks geared toward beginners, so don’t worry if you can barely boil water. Just pick one you like that emphasizes real, whole food ingredients and start learning! YouTube is another great resource for cooks at all skill levels.
What If You Know How to Cook but Can’t Find the Time?
Some folks know how to cook, but complain that they don’t have the time. If time’s your obstacle, maybe you just need a little help figuring out how to get yourself better organized. Having a system is important. Try setting aside some time every week to prep veggies and fruits so you can throw a meal together quickly.
Set aside an afternoon once a week to make several big batches of food, like soups, stews, and casseroles. Refrigerate the number of portions you’ll need to get through the week, and freeze the rest for another time. Bake a big tray of potatoes or yams, and make a big pot of rice or some other type of grain your family enjoys. Again, portion out the amount you’ll use that week, and then freeze the rest for later. Using this kind of system frees up a lot of time during the week because most of your family’s meals are already made. All you have to do is heat and serve.
Oh, and here’s another tip. If lack of time is a problem, be sure to invest in some kitchen gadgets and appliances that make food less work to prepare. The number one time saving device is probably a pressure cooker, but a crock pot is a close second. Every kitchen should have at least one or the other, if not both. Every kitchen should also have a high-quality chef’s knife to make prepping your food faster and easier. Trying to slice veggies with a dull knife can be a torturous experience because it takes forever and it’s easier to cut yourself with a dull knife than a sharp one. Gadgets like a mandolin and a Salad Shooter help make quick work of slicing and shredding vegetables, fruits, cheese, and nuts.
Cooking from scratch doesn’t need to be a chore. And it won’t be if your kitchen is well equipped and you are well organized and have an effective system in place.
#2 Grow Your Own Food
The more food you can grow yourself, the less you’ll have to buy. Obviously.
Again, if you’re a homesteader, you already do this. Most gardeners are constantly learning by doing. Next year, you might want to consider growing more crops, or a wider variety. Think about growing edible flowers, if you don’t already. Or, maybe experiment with new planting or growing techniques. Perhaps a fellow gardener suggested a way to increase yield. Why not try it? Or, explore other gardening methods that are new to you, like square foot gardening, straw bale gardening, or hydroponics.
But What If You Live in the City?
When you live in the city, growing your own food is more difficult, but not impossible. If you have a patio, container gardening is probably a good option. Almost every apartment has at least one windowsill where you can grow herbs in pots. If you don’t even have that, then at least grow some salad sprouts in a jar. The point is, you can always do something.
A recent trend in urban areas is to allow tenants to have roof gardens on top of large apartment buildings. Some areas have urban gardens where city dwellers can lease a small plot of land in a nearby field. More options are becoming available as urban gardening becomes more popular. Ask around and find out what’s available where you live.
#3 Buy Food from a CSA or a Farmer
Buying food from a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) organization isn’t a good option if you grow a lot of your own fruits and veggies. You’ll already have more than you can use in the summer. And during the cold weather months, their gardens won’t be producing anything, either.
However, if your own garden is very small, or you live in a more urban area, buying a share or two in your local CSA can be excellent idea. The produce is local, picked fresh (typically the same day), and it’s often organic. Usually, you have to go pick it up yourself at pre-arranged drop-off location, so that part can be inconvenient. However, overall, you can’t beat the quality for the price.
For more information about CSA’s in your area, check out Local Harvest.
Sometimes Buying from a Farmer Makes Sense
If you live near a large farmers market that carries a wide variety of foods, consider yourself lucky. As with CSA’s, the food is locally grown, often organic, and typically picked the same day. You can frequently get great deals at these places because the vendors are generally open to bargaining. They’re eager to sell what they brought to market, especially when it’s perishable. You’ll get the best deals at the end of the day, when the market is about to close. Of course, if you wait until then, the selection will probably be poor. But that doesn’t matter as much if you can be flexible. The spinach is sold out, but they do have Swiss chard. Okay, then! Close enough!
Farmer’s markets tend to be more attractive to folks who don’t grow their own food. But, homesteader’s like them too because a well-stocked farmer’s market is a good place to get things you don’t grow or raise yourself, like honey or fresh nuts.
You can save a lot of money by shopping at a farmer’s market. Just be careful to avoid the ones in upscale areas because they tend to be overpriced.
#4 Learn How to Shop at the Supermarket
The most important thing to know about shopping for real, whole foods at the supermarket is to avoid the inner aisles. With few exceptions, you will find the healthiest foods around the perimeter of the store. Virtually supermarket is designed the same way: the produce, meat, and dairy departments are all around the perimeter.
The inner aisles are where they display overly processed foods, like sugary cereals, and junk food, like chips and soda. In the inner aisles, limit your shopping to foods like coffee and tea, dried beans and legumes, rice and grains, and healthy cereals like steel-cut oats.
Should You Buy Organic?
One of the biggest decisions folks struggle with at the supermarket is whether to buy organic. As we know, organic foods are almost always more expensive. And, in today’s economy, most folks are on a tight budget.
Fortunately, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has made making this decision easier. Their Dirty Dozen is a list of the 12 types of fruits and veggies most likely to be contaminated with pesticides. And their Clean 15 is a list of the 15 foods that are least likely to be contaminated. The general rule is, if something is on their Dirty Dozen list, buy organic. If it’s on their Clean 15 list, the conventionally grown kind is fine. You can get EWG’s full report and their Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists here.
#5 Learn Which Foods Are Highest in Nutrients
When we eat a diet that’s high in nutrients, our bodies need less food. The less food you have to buy, the more money you can save. That’s why it’s smart to learn which foods have the most nutrients per calorie. You definitely want to emphasize those to get the most bang for your buck — both literally and figuratively speaking!
Conversely, you’ll want to make a point of avoiding those foods that have the least nutrients per calorie. For the most part, these are the over-processed and junk foods in the inner aisles of the grocery store. (See Tip #4, above.)
#6 Find Alternative Places to Shop
Although your local supermarket might be the most convenient place to shop, it’s usually not the cheapest. But if supermarkets are your only option, try to buy what’s on sale. If you live near several supermarkets, study their weekly flyers (they usually come in the mail) and make out a separate grocery list for each store.
Some stores, like Walmart, will give you a lower price on an item if you can show that another nearby store currently has it on sale. So it’s not a bad idea to take your sales flyers along when shopping at stores that offer this service.
Membership-only stores, like Costco, sometimes have great deals, especially if you buy in bulk. But it won’t save you money to buy something in bulk unless you can use it up before it goes bad. In general, though, most folks say they end up spending more money at those types of places because they always end up buying things they want, but don’t really need. So if you have difficulty sticking to a shopping list, just avoid temptation altogether and shop elsewhere.
You can sometimes find amazing deals on food in surprising places. For example, the 99 Cents store near me gets a shipment of produce in every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Most people wouldn’t even think to look for produce in a dollar store, but that’s one such company that carries it. You never know what they’re going to get in on any given day. The selection is always a little different each time. Most of the produce is just as nice as you can find in any grocery store, and some is even organic. And the best part is, nothing costs more than a dollar! You do have to be careful to watch expiration dates, however. And read labels, because some of the items, like garlic and ginger, come from China and are best avoided.
Ethnic and Asian markets are also good places to find inexpensive produce and meats. Foods like onions, garlic, mushrooms, and certain spices are especially easy to find in those types of markets.
#7 Buy Cheaper Cuts of Meat
Meat is usually the most expensive item on your grocery list, which means it’s also where you can save the most money. This can be a bit of a challenge because, ideally, your meat should be organic. Some experts insist it should be organic, grass-fed, and free-range (or pastured). But unless you raise your own livestock, this type of meat can be hard to find and, if you do find it, it’s very expensive.
Of course, many folks choose to eschew meat altogether and instead substitute foods like beans. This is obviously the most economical solution, and many experts say it’s the healthiest, too. But not everyone agrees, and most of us aren’t ready to give up meat altogether.
If you need to buy meat, stick to the cheaper cuts. Usually, these are the leaner cuts that need to be braised as opposed to grilled or roasted. Inexpensive cuts of meats will go a long way when used as an ingredient in soups and stews.
Another option is to eat offal, which is sometimes referred to as “variety meats.” These are highly nutritious animal organ meats like liver, kidney, heart, bone marrow, and even blood. If you’re unfamiliar with these foods, you can learn more about them in Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions cookbook, which has become a classic among folks who follow the way of eating recommended by the Weston A. Price Foundation.
Perhaps the cheapest form of “meat” is bones, especially meaty bones. You can roast these and then slow-cook them for up to 48 hours to make delicious bone broth, which is extremely nutritious and loaded with collagen.
#8 Sprout Your Nuts and Seeds
Be sure to buy your nuts and seeds raw. If they’re roasted, they won’t sprout!
Soaking and sprouting nuts and seeds is so easy to do, Sprouting helps improve their nutritional profile, and also makes them easier to digest. Most nuts and seeds will sprout within a day. As soon as you see their little white tail appear, they’re ready.
Sprouted nuts and seeds are actually alive! They contain certain active enzymes found in raw living foods. You can preserve sprouted nuts and seeds by dehydrating them, but be sure to keep the temperature below 105 degrees Fahrenheit. If the dehydrator gets any warmer than that, they will die. You’ll still be able to eat them, and they will still taste delicious. But they won’t be as nutritious.
#9 Try Algae and Seaweed
Algae and seaweed are among the most nutrient dense foods in the world. They are high in protein and contain micronutrients, like iodine, that are hard to find in other foods.
Seaweed is actually a vegetable. You can use seaweed in different ways, depending on what kind it is. If you’ve ever eaten sushi, you know it’s wrapped in sheets of nori. Nori also makes a great snack by itself, especially when toasted. Wakame, when soaked, can be used as a major ingredient in salads. Kombu (kelp) is delicious in soups.
Algae is considered a superfood because it’s loaded with protein and micronutrients. There are many types of algae available. Spirulina and chlorella are probably the most common. Health enthusiasts enjoy adding these foods to protein shakes to boost their nutrition.
#10 Learn to Forage
This last tip is for the die-hards! Outdoors enthusiasts, survivalists, and preppers will enjoy learning to forage for food. In summer, you can often find berries, grapes, and other fruits growing by the side of the road or in the woods. Wild nuts can be found in the fall, when they fall off the trees. Mushrooms are plentiful in fields and forests, especially after it rains.
Of course, with all of these things, you have to be careful as there are many poisonous plants that could be easily mistaken for safe foods. If you’re going to forage, it’s best to learn from an experienced guide. Or, at the very least, invest in a good book on the subject so you can learn to identify which plants are safe to eat. If you’re not sure, don’t eat it!
What are your favorite money-saving tips for healthy eating? Share your thoughts in the comments section at the very bottom of this page.
This article is for educational use only and is NOT intended as medical advice. The information presented herein is based on the opinions of the author, unless otherwise noted. Any statements or claims about the possible health benefits conferred by any foods or supplements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA ) and are NOT intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition. We encourage you to do your own research and consult a qualified health professional before making any health-related changes.
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