Three important ways to eat healthy on a tight budget that many people overlook in their quest to pinch pennies.
A number of readers have emailed and asked me to blog about eating healthy on a tight budget. These inflationary times are certainly a stress for more households than ever.
This article on how a single parent manages healthy eating on food stamps is illustrative of the challenge. The good news is that it can be done!
Despite the seemingly never-ending increases in the cost of food, it is absolutely critical to prioritize the best quality possible.
During times of stress, your body needs more nutrition than ever (particularly vitamin A – virgin cod liver oil anyone?).
Have you noticed how you can cheat a little bit with treats on vacation and still not get sick? It always amazed me how my kids could eat ice cream nearly every single day on vacation and still be bouncing around with high energy and rosy cheeks.
Doing the same thing during the school year would result in a quick cold or bout with the flu.
The reason is stress, in this case even the positive stress of learning at school.
There isn’t much stress on vacation and this results in a lower body nutritional requirement. Lowering the standards you use to prepare food for your family is a recipe for disaster, pun definitely intended.
You will spend infinitely more money at the doctor’s office for illnesses that will inevitably strike than the cost of persisting with a high-quality food budget.
Assuming this argument has validity, the next question is how to maintain food quality on a tight budget.
Of course, there are innumerable ways to scrimp a few nickels here and save a few dollars there.
Any number of penny-pinching publications and websites will quickly provide this information.
The cumulative effect of the quick tip approach definitely adds up.
However, there are three bigger ways to reduce the food bill considerably with no sacrifices in quality. These simple strategies are often overlooked!
Grind Your Own Flour
At first, the concept of grinding fresh flour at home seems very “Little House on the Prairie”.
The fact is that quality carbs at the store are very, very expensive compared to what you actually get. This is particularly true for organic brands with decent ingredients.
This suggestion may seem incredibly time-consuming, but it is really not!
Getting even just a little bit organized in the kitchen will reap big bucks in reducing the food budget.
Mill Once a Month and Freeze
Start out by grinding 20 cups of flour and immediately freeze it in heavy-duty ziplock bags.
Grind more the next time if you run out of flour before the end of the month.
By freezing right after grinding, you preserve the nutritional value.
Sadly, flour from the store is virtually nutritionless. This is the case even for organic or sprouted flour.
Frozen flour, however, retains these nutrients.
Big bonus: frozen flour can be used immediately out of the freezer… no thawing is necessary! Most people do not realize this!
Best Sourcing and Prep
Buy your grains of choice in big buckets from a local co-op and store them in your garage for the most cost-effective sourcing.
Azure Standard is the food co-op I recommend. Bread Beckers is another excellent one.
When you have a spare hour, make a few dozen waffles, pancakes, cookies, or whatever you like and freeze those for very fast breakfasts and snacks.
Check the hundreds of traditional recipes on this blog for healthy ideas including gluten-free and low-carb!
The convenient allure of processed carbs from the store will quickly fade when you realize that you can make infinitely more nutritious, totally convenient, and much cheaper, high-quality versions yourself.
Processed carbs are hugely expensive too and don’t fill you up anyway because they are so lacking in nutrition.
Finding a Grinder
Don’t have a grinder? Check out eBay or Craigslist. Estate and garage sales are a great place too.
Chances are you will easily find an excellent one for $100 or so.
I paid only $50 for my grain grinder (brand new in the box) and I’ve been using it for years. It’s still going strong!
For grain-free flours such as from seeds and nuts, you can mill in an herb or coffee grinder which costs even less. This is the coffee grinder I use.
Legumes, Legumes Everywhere
Legumes or pulses are an often overlooked source of cheap, quality protein.
In Nourishing Traditions Cookbook, author Sally Fallon Morell writes that legumes have served as the “poor man’s meat” in traditional societies throughout the world.
It is important to note that legumes such as beans, lentils, and peas are not a complete protein and can never fully substitute for meat.
However, when you combine them with properly prepared grains, broth, and a smaller portion of meat, you have every amino acid covered in spades.
This allows good health can be maintained on a very tight budget.
Since quality meat is arguably the most expensive food item in the budget, eating less by substituting some legumes will save a bundle.
Another frugal tip is to boil meat instead of roasting, frying, or grilling. This stretches it even further!
If you have had problems digesting beans in the past, chances are you were consuming them improperly prepared.
Traditional societies that relied on pulses as a mainstay in the diet took great care in their preparation.
Soaking beans prior to cooking works very effectively to eliminate the antinutrients such as phytic acid that can cause gas and bloating.
Proper preparation also ensures ease of digestion, which is critical for nutrient assimilation and fullness after the meal so that hunger doesn’t return quickly.
Soy is NOT a complete protein either, contrary to the advertising claims of soy companies. Like all legumes, soybeans are deficient in the amino acids methionine and cystine.
Also, the highly denaturing processing that soybeans undergo in modern food processing plants destroys the fragile amino acid lysine.
Soy is a most toxic legume and months of careful fermentation is necessary to render it safe for consumption. Even consumption of unprocessed soybeans like edamame can trigger these health issues.
What About Canned Beans?
It is best to avoid canned beans despite the convenience factor. The nutrients fall victim to the high temperatures and pressures inherent in the canning process.
Best to buy dried beans in bulk. They store well in buckets sealed with gamma lids in the kitchen or garage.
Then, prepare them in bulk (soaking and cooking) and freeze 2-4 cups each in heavy-duty ziplock bags or containers for quick meal preparation.
Bone broth is my favorite traditional food. Its versatility, nutrient density, and indispensability are legendary in creating budget-friendly dishes.
I have a quart or two of broth in the refrigerator at all times for quick creation of amazing sauces and soups that enhance any meal.
Another few quarts are in the freezer for a quick pot of soup when time is short due to a busy day.
Which Type of Broth is Best?
I make all kinds of broth depending on what I can get at the butcher shop and fishmongers around town.
Right now, I have a half gallon of yellow snapper broth in the refrigerator which I will use to cook rice, make soups, or simply sip in a mug on a cold evening. I also have quarts of duck and turkey broth in the freezer.
This week, I will be dropping by the butcher to pick up some leftover bones to make a big pot of beef broth.
My suggestion is to make all kinds of broth and stock and make it often…at least once a week!
Fish stock is a great stock to start with as it only takes a couple of hours to make in comparison to other broths, like beef, which can take up to 72 hours.
Meat stock is another short-cook option that is quick to prepare and a better option for those sensitive to the natural glutamate in long-cooked bone broths.
Broth and stock are what take any meal from “good” to “fantastic”. Its importance to health and the budget cannot be overstated.
The gelatin in homemade broth contains an abundance of the amino acids arginine and glycine. A diet rich in homemade broth, and therefore gelatin, guarantees excellent health even with very little meat.
Therefore, gelatin can be called a “protein sparer”.
In the 1870s, a French doctor maintained the good health of his patients during the Franco-Prussian War with gelatin-rich soups and some added fat even while others were starving from the scarcity of vegetables and meat.
Without the use of liberal amounts of broth in your recipes, it is much harder to maintain health without some form of quality, grass-based meat on a frequent…even daily basis.
Therefore, learn to make broth if you haven’t already!
Doing this one step properly will save several hundred dollars a month in the food budget. No joke! I’ve been doing this for years.
In conclusion, I would suggest grinding your own fresh flour, switching a portion of your meat budget to legumes, and making broth at least once a week to get the food budget under control.
Having fresh flour to make your own baked goods will result in more filling and nutritious carb-based dishes that are so overpriced at the store.
Legumes, known historically as the “poor man’s meat”, are a very low-cost alternative to a portion of the expensive meats in the budget.
Bone broth or stocks are the ultimate “protein sparer”, allowing meat to be consumed only once or twice a week with good health maintained.