I once heard you can have food fast, cheap, or healthy but not all three. At the most, two out of three. Fast and cheap, or cheap and healthy. Never all three. And this idea flies in the face of my natural tendency — to have it all, to strive for all.
Add into the equation that we've just bought a house, and well, suffice it to say that affordability is key. But I'm not ready to buy into the two out of three rule without a fight. I'm still hoping that we can do mostly plant-based, whole food meals and not break the bank. Is it possible? That's what we've been trying to figure out, and here's what we've found works:
1. Make friends with your bulk bin. They're out there, and they're full of nutritious staples. Whole grains, dried fruits, spices, etc. When you eliminate packaging, you eliminate waste and cut costs. You could even plan your meals around your local bulk bin offerings, and I imagine you would be impressed at your savings.
2. Skip the recipes. I know. It sounds counter-intuitive. If I could script it, I'd choose and prepare a Minimalist Baker recipe each night. But when you plan recipes, you are picking up extra ingredients you may not typically use or keep on-hand. We find that picking a base (salad, grain, potato, etc.), adding what's going on top (mixed veggies, beans, etc.), and throwing on your sauce (hummus, simple marinara, soy/tamari sauce, etc.) yields cost-effective results. Additionally, we plan to make enough for the next day's lunch. P.S. A great way to top veggie and rice bowls is simply apple cider vinegar, oil, lemon juice, honey, and pepper flakes. Instantly delicious. (Inspiration from here.)
3. Opt for less convenience. Again, not what you might want to hear but you'd be astounded by the savings and chances are it will taste much better. Most times when your veggies are chopped, your cheese is sliced, and your beans are cooked, you're paying more. Opt for foods in their whole or original state, and do the leg work yourself for savings. We started making our hummus ourselves and can't imagine going back to store-bought.
4. Work with what you've got. A way I plan is to see what things I have in my pantry to work with before I meal plan. If I have dried lentils, I might plan lentil tacos or enchilada bowls. If I have bread crumbs, I might plan to add them to squash over quinoa pasta. Each additional ingredient I have is one less I have to purchase.
5. Shop in season. Here's a fantastic list of seasonal foods from my favorite cooperative natural foods store. When you shop seasonal produce, you will naturally pay less. Additionally, you get the benefit of enjoying the best the season has to offer.
6. Go low or no animal products. This is the usual in my house, but I know it can be a tough transition for some. The reality is these products add a lot of cost. I won't rattle on about the health benefits of foregoing your animal byproducts, but the information is out there if you find yourself curious.
We're still learning. Some weeks grocery bills are surprisingly expensive. Some weeks, meals don't work out. But we're finding our stride. And we're finding that even though you can't have it all, with a little experimentation you can can do nutritious and you can do budget.
What tips do you have for me? I can't wait to hear them! Additionally, do you have any money-saving foods you make from scratch that I should try? Cheers, wellness, and savings to you!