My Foray into Cheaper, Healthy(er) Eating

I used to eat Hot Pockets, potato chips, frozen corndogs, pop tarts, and tv dinners. Then I decided processed food was too expensive. So I went to eating a pasta, rice, and beans-based diet which was super cheap, but got old after a while. So then I went back to the Totinos. And then I met my husband, who likes to talk about eating healthy. I started cooking more and eating less junk in an effort to be healthier, and to my surprise, my grocery bill went down! How can this be?

Healthy Eating

I don’t do expensive healthy eating, only cheap healthy eating.

So…why do people think eating healthier costs more? Well, for one thing, all the vegetarian processed food items (morningstar burger patties, tofurkey, etc) are expensive. In general, so is anything labeled “organic”. And then there’s all the processed food that’s “low fat”, “non-GMO”, “gluten-free” — all those words on the box cost money. I don’t buy it. And then there’s fruits and vegetables that are imported or offered out of season. Asparagus out of season is like $5/lb. Heck no. And the bags and bags of pre-washed, ready-to-eat salad greens. There’s also the local “farmer’s markets” that’ve really caught on, and the Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, EarthFare. Expensive, expensive, expensive.

I buy my groceries from Walmart, Save-A-Lot, and the flea market. Sometimes I buy from local grocery stores if I see a particularly good price in their weekly flyer. Most of what I buy is from the fresh produce section. I don’t buy the “fancy” healthy options, I’m not a health nut.

I went to Walmart today to get some groceries. I did a few price comparisons while I was there between unhealthy and healthy options, and it’s pretty obvious to me now why my grocery bills went down.

Impulse Aisle

Photo Apr 23, 8 14 46 AMPhoto Apr 23, 8 44 28 AMA 74-cent, impulse aisle Hershey’s bar is 1.55 ounces — which comes out to $7.64/lb. A pound of carrots costs 88 cents. Money-wise, 8.68 lbs of carrots = 1 lb Hershey’s. That’s a heck of a lot more snacking per dollar! The impulse aisle seems cheap, but it’s actually super expensive, empty calories. Even steak and seafood is less than $7.64/lb!! I do not buy from the impulse aisle anymore. The pricing makes me ill.

Beverages

Water (either cases of bottled or tap) is much, much cheaper and has fewer calories than soda, juice, milk, Kool-Aid, Gatorade, or any other flavored drinks. I drink mostly water, I save a few bucks. Lots and lots of bucks, compared to when I drank soda and juice.

Frozen Meals

Photo Apr 23, 8 26 42 AMFrozen meals ranged from $1.76/lb (cheapie Banquet tv dinners) all the way up to $12.80/lb (Atkins brand pizza). This includes the frozen “skillet” dinners like pasta meals that you dump into a pot and heat up, and frozen pizzas. I’m looking at price per lb instead of price per meal because it’s a cost per fixed quantity of food. It’s the most apples-to-apples way I can think of at the moment.

What vegetables and meats are less than $1.76/lb? Off the top of my head: tomatoes, onions, potatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, green bell peppers, carrots, celery, sweet potatoes, cabbage, broccoli, collards, cucumbers. About half of those are less than $1/lb, and most if not all of them are cheap year round! There’s a lot of other veggies in addition to those that pass in and out of that price range according to season. Pork and chicken go on sale at grocery stores every week for about $1-$1.50/lb.

When I’m in a hurry to get dinner done, I go with frozen or canned veggies. I get the bags with no seasonings or sauces because they’re cheaper.

Once a filler like bread, pasta, or rice is added to a meal, the meal cost per lb goes down even more. Spices, oils, & vinegars were a bit expensive when I first started cooking on a regular basis, but now that my collection is more or less complete I only have to buy maybe one every 3-4 months.

There’s really no “it’s cheaper” excuse for frozen meals and frozen pizzas.

Junk Food

Photo Apr 23, 8 32 58 AMPhoto Apr 23, 8 34 15 AMRaisins are cheaper than Chips Ahoy cookies per lb (barely). Throw raisins into a blender or other food processing device (I use a Ninja) with a little peanut butter, vanilla extract, and some dry oatmeal, and it makes terrific, “healthy” no-bake peanut butter cookies.

My personal concoction was inspired by the Chocolate Covered Katie’s Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Cookie recipe. I use less peanut butter, no peanuts, and add dry oatmeal for texture (and to decrease cost per cookie).

The crunchy snack aisle is very deceptive — all the chip bags look all puffed out and full, but there’s not actually very much product per bag. That’s why I’m looking at the price/lb of products. The cost of crunchy snacks (potato chips, cheese puffs, pretzels, pork rinds, etc) ranged from about $1.60/lb to $7.20/lb for everything from store generic cheese puffs to premium, kettle cooked chips. Fruits & veggies = cheaper than $1.60/lb a great deal of the time. If a crunchy, salty snack is a must, bulk popcorn kernels are a great pantry staple to keep — it’s fast and easy to pop popcorn in a stockpot on the stove. The microwave packets aren’t too shabby price-wise, either.

In terms of fruit, the cheap ones I can think of are: apples, oranges, bananas, pears, and grapes. Those are pretty much year round cheap, ranging from $.50-$2/lb. Most of the other fruits are only cheap in-season.

Eating better can be cheaper than eating junk!

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