How many times have you been on a health food kick, walked into the grocery store with your list feeling motivated, and walked out feeling deflated because you spent your “whole paycheck” on just a few days’ worth of healthy groceries? With all of the imperative messaging from the media and marketers around which healthy foods we need to be buying now, the importance of buying organic, etc., it’s hard not to get caught up in and confused by this health food frenzy.

Several years ago, I was fed up by another whole-paycheck outing and realized I had to stop the excessive spending and take a back-to-basics approach to healthy eating. After all, I had grown up in a small town in Western Pennsylvania during the iceberg lettuce generation of the 80s and always managed to stay fit and healthy on a limited grocery budget. I knew I could do better!

I’m not suggesting we eat iceberg lettuce (although I do love a good blue cheese wedge every now and again!). Rather, I think we could all benefit from ignoring some of the advertising/social media chatter around must-eat foods in order to curtail some of our spending. After my epiphany, I created a set of grocery shopping guidelines that help protect my pocketbook but allow me and my family to continue to thrive.

Take these tips with you to the grocery store the next time that you shop, and I promise, you won’t feel like you’ve fallen victim to the Whole Paycheck Phenomenon again.

  1. Shop the bulk aisle. There are so many healthy goodies in this aisle, and you can buy just what you need, as opposed to the often oversized packages of some foods that end up going to waste. Check out our list of bulk food favorites.
  2. Know when you need to buy organic produce, and when you can skimp. This list from Eating Well of the “Dirty Dozen” fruits and veggies you should be buying organic is a great go-to.
  3. Buy organic protein, but challenge yourself to buy only half of what you might ordinarily eat. Sure, organic meat is a must for meat-eaters, but it is so expensive and can eat away at your budget. Here’s how to cut back:
    • Cut down on your meat consumption by cutting your normal portion size in half and crowd the rest of your plate with greens, veggies and fiber-rich starches like sweet potatoes or whole grain rice. Have you seen the size of a chicken breast lately? One breast is enough for three people sometimes, so chances are, you won’t miss what you cut out!
    • Find less-expensive sources of protein like eggs, beans, and tofu, and substitute these for meat several days a week.
  4. Shop the frozen section. How many times have you bought fruit and let it go bad? Buying fruits like berries and peaches in the frozen section allows you to use what you want and avoid waste. Frozen veggies like edamame are also particularly great go-to’s, as you can toss a handful onto salads and into stir-fries and still have some to spare. Green Giant just introduced a line of frozen Riced Veggies that I’m crazy about like their Cauliflower Medley.
  5. Buy generic whenever possible. There is no shame in buying generic foods, only savings to be had. Be careful to read labels, though, as some less-expensive brands can sneak additives into our foods. Whole Foods has done a great job with their 365 product line, and we’re loving the 365 Market they’ve opened here in Seattle.
  6. Establish a short list of healthy, affordable, go-to staples, and make it a normal part of your weekly shopping list. Having a list helps to streamline your waistline and pocketbook because it helps you to avoid making impulse purchasing decisions.

And finally a quick reminder: you don’t have to shop at fancy markets to be healthy. Don’t get me wrong, these places can be inspiring and generally feel-good environments to be in, but your local grocery store carries most everything the more upscale market does. You just have to know what you’re looking for, which is why these guidelines can be so helpful to you.

Cheers to your health!
Michelle


Michelle Cartmel

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