As a card carrying crazy coupon lady, I get a whole lot of side eyes and skepticism when it comes to the prospect of buying healthy food on the cheap. I think that people associate high quality low preservative foods with fancy high end health food stores (I’m talking to you Whole Paycheck), or the jacked up prices that the grocery store charges for organics. And then of course the coupons found in the newspapers definitely tend toward the Pop Tarts and Little Debbie end of the spectrum. So yeah, to the layman, eating healthy on a tight budget probably seems damn near impossible. But, it’s all lies! It may be a little less obvious, and in certain cases take a little more finagling, but living on a lean budget in no way means living a lifetime of ramen noodles and frozen sausage biscuits.
Change with the seasons.
Produce is a budget buster for many, but the simplest rule of thumb is to go with whatever is in season. Sure, asparagus and pomegranates seem tempting year round, but when they’re out of season, they could be two or three times more expensive. The quality of in-season produce tends to be much higher, and because it’s plentiful, infinitely cheaper. The more you pay attention while you’re shopping, the more price sensitive you’ll become. Check your local grocery store fliers before you head out, and build your meals and shopping list around whatever is in season and on sale.
The only thing better than seasonal produce is local seasonal produce. Farmers markets and farm stands abound in Maine and in most other states, and are a great source or super fresh, often organic, and reasonably priced fruits, veggies, herbs, eggs, and other such goodness. Another great and inexpensive way to get in on the local harvest is to buy a CSA share. Generally a huge amount of fresh food for between $15-$40 a week, you can split the cost and the bounty between family and friends to make things even cheaper.
Most of us are so preconditioned to buying the name brand and prepackaged foods of the central grocery aisles, that we completely forget that most stores still have that old school section of bulk food bins. From grains to granolas, when stripped of their brand names and shiny packaging, these bulk choices can be two to three times less expensive than their more fancily dressed counterparts. Another bonus is that you are not constrained by commercial pre-portioning. You wanna buy 3 walnuts, buy three walnuts. When you’re only buying as much as you need, you are much less likely to be wasteful.
Despite what you think you know about coupons, there are actually a good deal of coupons out there for whole and natural foods. Websites like Mambo Sprouts offer nothing but printable natural foods coupons, and even Whole foods puts out its own coupon book called “The Whole Deal”. Or, if there are products that you love that don’t offer regular coupons, if you send a little love note via email, they will often send you a bunch of coupons in return. Keep your coupon stash organized and handy whenever you hit the stores, because when combined with weekly specials, you can often end up scoring your healthy favorites for Little Debbie level prices.