Real Food on a Budget

While (at first sight) healthy food is often more expensive, it is not true that eating healthy is only affordable for high-income households. In fact, if we’d incorporate all the costs (and inconveniences) of developing and treating degenerative diseases caused by the long-term consumption of contaminated and/or processed food (including the “organic junk”), we would realize how expensive eating “bad” really is to us and our society. The problem is that many costs are externalized and as such not visible to the consumers (e.g. health care costs, social security, costs caused by pollution due to pesticides etc…), yet we still pay for them.

What price is good health at anyways? In fact, we really CANNOT afford to not afford good food. 

So the very first thing to do is to make food a priority in your life. Nowadays we spend only a very small percentage of our income on food (as compared to earlier times or poorer countries). Many people (incl. those who would have the means) complain about the costs of good food, but then spend a lot of money on electronical equipment, clothes, leisure activities.. . Does it always need to be the latest mobile phone? Do you really need another pair of shoes? Why not eat at home tonight instead of going to the restaurant? 

Of course, such considerations are “luxury” and dont apply to people who really need to manage a budget. So here are some extra tips how to eat healthy on a budget: 

  • Buy directly from the producer: Distribution costs money and this cost adds up to the price of the food. You might profit from lower prices if you buy directly from the farmer, at a farmers market, via a farmers cooperative or by joining a purchase group. Buying directly from the farmer has another advantage: you can visit the farm and know how he/she works, so that you might not even need an “organic” label as quality index (which is actually only necessary in anonymous supermarkets).
  • Buy in bulk: Buying in bigger quantities will help you save money. For example, many farmers sell meat packages of 10-15kg of meat at really competitive prices. Either put it in the freezer or share with several people. 
  • Reduce waste to a minimum: By reducing the food that ends up in your garbage bin, you can save quite some money! Buy only what you need. Optimize storage to prevent food spoiling, e.g. keep root vegetables like carrots or beets in a box with slightly humid sand. If you buy in bulk, freeze what you won’t eat within a few days. You can freeze almost everything: vegetables, meat, fish, bread (in slices), cooked grains or legumes, even milk or broth in small portions…
  • Skip all those processed foods: Processed foods and ready-to-eat foods are actually quite expensive! Spend your money on nutrient-dense real foods instead.
  • Cook more: Preparing your own meals will save you the money to buy expensive ready-to-eat food. You can cook in big quantities and freeze portions. Another advantage of this practice is that you know exactly what your meals contain. 
  • Buy what’s about to expire: Many foods are still perfectly edible even after their “best before” date. Best before simply means that the quality will be guaranteed by the producer up to this date. Sometimes it’s purely arbitrary (as in the case of salt for example) or even meant to stimulate consumption (if something is expired, you might throw it out and by a new package). When it comes to animal foods, those have a “consume by” date, which is different from a “best before” in the sense that you cannot legally sell food anymore after that date and ideally should not consume it for health reasons. Usually shops discount meat or chicken that is about to expire the next day or the same day by up to 50%. If you are flexible to cook the same day, that can be very interesting. I often use chickens that are for immediate consumption in my broth. The only products which I would avoid to buy after their best before date are nuts, seeds and flours, because those become rancid and then fuel inflammation in the body. Obviously also do not buy vegetables that are already moldy (yes I have seen shops trying to still sell those at 50% discount…). Of course, in an ideal world there would not be any surplus food that has to be discounted to save it from being wasted. But unfortunately our current distribution system still works in a “push” way rather than only supplying what people ordered (as I tried to do in my zero FOOD waste shop when I still had it, read more about that here).
  • Know the “dirty dozen”:  Ideally all your foods would be organic, but if you have to choose, it is good to know which foods are more contaminated with pesticides than others. You find the list online. 
  • Make home-made bone broth a staple ingredient in your kitchen: Bones and other “unpopular” meat cuts are cheap, but still full of nutrients! Especially home-made bone broth allows you to considerably improve the nutritional profile of ALL your meals, while keeping your budget low. You find a recipe here. Incorporate it in as many meals as possible, cooking grains or legumes in it, preparing soups with it or just drinking it with your meal.  


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