Food prices are going up, across the board — and at levels Americans haven’t seen in decades, according to a very recent U.S. Department of Agriculture update to its Food Price Outlook this year. Food prices are expected to increase on average about 5.5-6.5% this year, the USDA’s Economic Research Service explained.
Unfortunately, some of the biggest increases will include important diet staples such as beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, and some fats and oils. Meat prices are expected to rise 14-16%. Fresh fruits and veggies are expected to go up as well.
If you are trying to eat a healthy diet, what do you do?
Here are a few tips to help you maintain your healthy diet without breaking the bank:
1. Eliminate all processed foods and drinks—Junky foods have no place in your home or your budget, so eliminate all chips, cookies, crackers, and sweetened drinks. Period. This will help to free up your budget for nutrient dense foods. Junk food is a total waste of money and is full of empty calories, sugar, and chemicals.
Processed foods are foods that come in boxes, wrappers, and bags. Not only are processed foods unhealthy, but the packaging is also wasteful as well, and processed foods tend to make you hungrier—thanks to all the chemicals, preservatives, and taste enhancers they contain
Consider, for example, that buying a bag of potato chips costs anywhere between $2 and $5. Some of the fancier, organic or gourmet chip varieties can cost upwards of $6-$8. That’s big savings to cut those out. Snack on fresh cut up veggies instead and save your money.
I do realize that buying meat and vegetables may seem expensive, but when you compare the nutrient density of meat and vegetables to the nutrient density of chips, crackers, or cookies—there is absolutely no contest!
2. Stop with the grains—Breads, whether gluten free or not are completely unnecessary and generally garbage. Bread is not needed in your diet. And if you are planning on eating low carb, there is no room for bread.
What about breakfast cereal? Another grain product that is incredibly expensive, full of air, sugar, and refined grains. And again, no real nutritional value. Breakfast cereals mostly just jack up your blood sugar, create a quick crash and make you hungrier for more.
Have you ever started on ONE bowl of cereal, and soon find yourself gobbling up your second and third bowl? There isn’t anything good or healthy about processed breakfast cereal, despite the encouraging message on the box about how “healthy” or “natural” it is. Cross breakfast cereal off your list.
3. Avoid “Gluten free” as much as possible. Sure, even us gluten free folks wouldn’t mind having a piece of toast with breakfast on occasion, but these foods are just as bad, just as processed—if not more, than regular processed grains. And they are way more expensive! Most gluten free products are made of super refined tapioca starch, rice flour, or other expensive “no-grain” flours like almond flour.
You are far better off finding a ‘real food’ to substitute for those gluten free products. Wrap your sandwich or taco in lettuce. Rustle up some shredded sweet potatoes to go with your eggs instead of toast, or just avoid all those extra carbs. Perhaps now may be the best time start eating lower carb and start reaping the benefits.
4. Do meal prep instead of buying pre-prepared foods—It really doesn’t take that long to do a little meal prep with leftover foods from meals. Just remember to make extra when you are cooking up a batch of chicken thighs or slow cooking that roast. Throw in some extra broccoli or add the meat to some salad greens for a complete meal. A premade meal from home is far healthier, with no additives, no unhealthy oils, no high price, and it’s all there in fridge when you are ready.
5. Frozen fruits and veggies for the win—Yep, frozen veggies can be every bit as nutritious, or even more so than fresh produce vegetables. Frozen vegetables are picked at peak ripeness and frozen to keep their nutrition locked in. Fresh vegetables often have a long trip on a truck or train to get to the grocery store, and can be week or two old when you get them “fresh” in your grocery store.
Instead, grab some nutrient dense fruits and veggies that are frozen and often on sale. Best picks are broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, spinach, or frozen kale. I love keeping a bag of organic blueberries or mixed berries in my freezer to throw in smoothies, whip up a quick blueberry sauce, or just add to some homemade buckwheat pancakes.
6. Make your own—A lot of so-called convenience foods are made of just a few ingredients that are easy to make on your own. For example, I rarely buy spaghetti sauce. When you look at the ingredients, you will find that it’s super easy to mix up your own batch in the same amount of time it takes to pour out a bottle of pre-made spaghetti sauce.
Buy a can of crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce, add some chopped fresh garlic, a teaspoon or so of oregano and/or basil, and maybe a pinch of palm sugar. Heat and serve. If you want to get really fancy, you can brown the garlic and minced onion in a pan of olive oil, and then add the tomato sauce.
Salad dressing is the same, and it’s most often made of unhealthy, inflammatory omega 6 oils. Salad dressings often have added sugar and preservatives in them as well, turning your healthy bowl of greens into unhealthy glop. Instead, try mixing up some extra virgin olive oil, some apple cider vinegar, a touch of palm sugar, honey or maple syrup, a little bit of Dijon mustard, and some fresh chopped herbs. Mix it all up and keep it on hand for a delicious, healthy dressing.
7. Buy cheaper cuts of meat—Instead of buying steaks, roasts, or brisket, buy ground beef. Good quality ground beef is one of the most versatile foods and can go in many recipes. Buy the chicken thighs instead of the fancy (and lesser nutrition) boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Use ground turkey or chicken if available. Better yet, just pick up a whole chicken, roast it in the oven and use the leftovers for meals the next few days. Chicken salad, chicken soup, chicken on top of your salad greens, etc.
It’s true that grass fed or organic naturally raised meat does have a little bit of nutritional edge over conventionally raised meat, but if you cannot afford to buy grass fed or organic, you are still getting high quality protein with conventional cuts, as opposed to cutting out meat.
One of the best buys in meat is to find a farmer who raises grass-fed meat, and go in halves or quarters with someone. Many cattle farmers will sell their meat this way, and you get some of the highest quality meat without the grocery store overhead.
8. Drink water—Cutting out those sugary or fruity drinks is another great way to create major savings in your grocery budget. Sugary drinks do absolutely nothing for your waistline, or your bottom line. Even the ‘healthy’ drinks like kombucha or probiotic flavored waters are expensive, full of calories and sometimes hidden sugars, and don’t do near as much for your gut health as you think they do. Some of the trendier probiotic drinks can cost $3, $4 or $5 a bottle! That’s a lot of money when a glass of water may do quench your thirst just as well.
9. Prepackaged salad greens—You may be thinking I’m going to tell you to cut out buying the bags of salad greens, but in reality, it may be a better option than buying several different types of fresh lettuce, baby kale or spinach.
Most of these greens are very delicate and can go bad a few days, so unless you can use up all those different varieties of greens, you are probably better off grabbing a bag of mixed baby super greens and eating them while they are fresh.
10. Stick to a list—Changing the way you grocery shop may be a matter of changing your shopping habits. Having a list you’ve thoughtfully prepared ahead of time and sticking to it, will help you avoid grabbing those empty-nutrition foods and drinks that tend to gobble up your food budget. Save your money for the most nutrient dense foods like fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and butter.
Making some changes in your grocery shopping, while adding in more nutrient dense foods will not only make a difference in your shopping budget, but it can also have a major positive effect on your health.
Removing junk foods, processed foods and high carb snacks and drinks will help you stop the munchies, stop the mindless eating, and help you stick to your health and weight loss goals far better. Happy shopping!