Reader Question: Healthy, Affordable Eating Tips?

A reader asked me to pass on a question to the rest of the Early Mama community.

Tiffanie, who has a 6-month-old baby, is struggling to eat as healthy as she'd like without going over her budget. She tries to buy organic, and she's part of a CSA (community shared agriculture), where she receives local, organic fruits and veggies once a week. Yet she still has trouble maintaining a $250 - $300/month food budget.

This is something I think about a lot (and my husband would say I talk about a lot), and I do have some opinions on the matter.

Recognize the importance.

I happen to think that nutrition might be the most important thing in our lives. In all honesty, what are we if we don't have our health? Our bodies? Our lives? And the only thing that fuels our health, our bodies, and our lives is...food. I'm not a nutritionist, but it seems that we're all incredibly uneducated about the real power of proper nutrition. As a society, we've become so concerned with quick fixes and shortcuts — calories and convenience — that we'll pump ourselves full of ingredients that we can't pronounce and — even worse — ingredients that we don't even know about. Unnatural ingredients that are there to keep food on the shelves longer. Toxic ingredients that are designed to make food's color look more appealing, so that we'll buy it.

Of course that's not something we can easily eliminate. We don't have the time or knowledge to butcher our own meats and grow our own food, but it's something I'm conscious of. It's a reason to limit the amount of processed foods and to choose local whenever possible. And Tiffanie, I think choosing a local co-op for produce is probably the best thing you can do, short of growing your own food.

Shop smarter.

As far as getting around the higher price tag that comes with healthier food, I'm not sure that's possible. But I think we can make smarter decisions about which foods to spend money on. (Organic asparagus, onions, cookies? No thanks. Organic milk, berries, meat? Yes.) Here are some links that might help:

And as far as smart shopping, I think Tiffanie has the right idea about a local food co-op, which you might be able to find locally. You pay a large fee up front at the beginning of the year, but it does save money in the long run, as well as limit you to locally grown, in-season foods that you know aren't doused with chemicals or grown questionably. Unfortunately there's a serious lack of trust and accountability in our food industry (hi, arsenic in apple juice), so buying local is a way to (hopefully) side-step some issues.

  Save money.

I know it's discouraging that healthier foods are (much) more expensive. But instead of focusing on ways to save on healthy foods, you could just save more money on the rest of your grocery bill. I can't tell you how much money I've saved by clipping coupons every week and making strategic meal plans that roll ingredients over from one meal to the next. You can also get memberships at bulk food stores (BJs, Sam's Club, etc.) for your non-produce needs. Here are some helpful links:

Make food a priority.

Of course we're all doing the best we can do, often managing a tight budget on a limited income. But  I heard something striking in the documentary Food Matters (highly recommend) that stuck with me: Somewhere along the way, we got our priorities mixed up. We'll spend more money on rent, cars and clothes, while filling our bodies with cheaper junk — whether it's to save a buck or save some calories. There are incredible superfoods out there with skyrocketing nutritional value that we've never heard of, yet we all know about the Kardashians' marital issues.

And again, what's more important than what we're putting into our bodies?

I think if we consciously make food (and our health) a top priority — if we change the way we approach nutrition — then we might find other things in our life to cut down. But I also don't think there's an easy fix. I'm by no means the model of health perfection, but I do my best to buy the most nutritious foods I can. And then forgive myself when he eats preservative-filled boxed cookies.

Tiffanie's $250 - $300/month food bill might be do-able with more aggressive money-saving approaches (especially if this doesn't include her yearly CSA fee), but her 6-month-old baby will soon be eating full-size meals, three times a day. Food budgets only expand with time, and maybe all we can do is consciously make food (and health in general) a top priority:

Start cooking.

Although I know that Tiffanie makes her own baby food (therefore probably isn't afraid of the kitchen), but homemade food is an important component of healthy eating. Not only will you know exactly what's going into your food, but it's a more economical route. Here are some of the best food blogs for healthy eating and cooking on a budget.

What do you guys think? Do you have any tips on saving money? Eating healthy? The best food blogs? Favorite healthy recipes? Share them below!

Bottom line: What healthy food doesn't cost in money, it costs in time. Clipping coupons, cooking food, streamlining spending — it's not quick or easy. But is it worth it to you?

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