The standard advice for eating healthy on a budget — clip coupons, chase down sales, slow-cook cheap meat until it’s tender — don’t work for everyone. When you’re busy, stressed, and/or clueless in the kitchen, you just want easy ways to get tasty, whole foods on the table without breaking the bank.
If that’s your goal, you need to think out-of-the-box and start using technology, your social circle, and the strange economics of rotisserie chicken to your advantage. The following six strategies save you time and money in unexpected ways.
1. Eat Restaurant-Worthy Entrees for Just $5
You may have heard of services like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh that deliver all the ingredients you need for making healthy meals at home. They cost around $60 for three, 2-person meals per week. You can’t afford it, right? Well, consider two things: First, the hours you save by not having to find recipes, plan meals, grocery shop, or even measure ingredients. Second, by adding a salad or some steamed vegetables (making already healthy meals even better for you), you can stretch two giant servings into 4 reasonable ones, which brings down the per dinner cost to a more affordable $5. Surprise bonus: For kitchen klutzes, the foolproof recipes act like a basic cooking course. After a month, you’ll know how to make a dozen great meals.
2. Start a Sunday Dinner Club
It’s the latest trend amongst health-conscious, cash-strapped families in cities like Portland, OR, and Brooklyn, NY: Get a group of four families together and, each week, take turns cooking a low-cost, one-pot meal (soup, stew, chili, jambalaya). When it’s your turn, you dole out the grub into big containers and deliver one to each family. For the other weeks of the month, the food comes to you. It’s a fun, friendly way to make sure you always have something good to eat in your fridge, which means you won’t be tempted to order last-minute takeout. Surprise bonus: Your club members become a steady source of local tips on cheap and healthy living.
3. Use Delivery to Save Dollars
One of the first recommendations we give in the Omada program is to make a grocery list of healthy foods and buy only what’s on it. That’s pretty hard to do at the supermarket, where tempting products with flashy packaging catch your eye at every turn. Ordering groceries online eliminates that problem, and saves you the bother of making a trip to the store. Most cities and towns have at least one grocery delivery service like PeaPod, Safeway, AmazonFresh, or FreshDirect. Yes, there will be a delivery charge and a tip to pay. But if you typically spend more than $10 on impulse foods that aren’t on your list (and most of us do), online ordering is a counter-intuitive strategy that can help your willpower and your wallet. Surprise bonus: Sites often include a library of healthy recipes, and — with one click — you can add all the necessary ingredients to your order.
4. Subscribe to Healthy Staples
Most of us have a short-list of healthy packaged foods that we buy again and again — things like single-serving nut butters, canned tuna, three-ingredient bars, snack-sized bags of seeds, herbal tea, canned beans. If you can think of five products that you always need more of, you might want to try Amazon’s Subscribe & Save service, which allows you to save up to 15% on stuff you buy anyway. Just set up the subscriptions, pick how often you want products delivered, and they’ll start showing up on your doorstep. Can’t think of five packaged foods you eat that often? You can subscribe to non-food household products, too, like tissues or toilet paper. Surprise bonus: It’s a great way to get hard-to-find health foods that big stores don’t carry.
5. Buy Produce with Staying Power
A common excuse for not buying fruits and vegetables is that they go bad before you get a chance to eat them, which wastes food and funds. Coordinating your grocery shopping and meal planning is the ideal solution, but on busy weeks, that kind of forethought falls by the wayside. The solution is to buy produce that can survive for a surprisingly long time. Carrots for example, can last 3 to 4 weeks in the fridge. Chilled oranges keep for 2 to 3 weeks. Check out the website StillTasty.com to find out the staying power of your favorite fruits and vegetables, and adjust your grocery list accordingly. Peeling and chopping produce as soon as you get home from the store is another smart strategy that raises the odds you’ll eat them before they wilt. Surprise bonus: The ‘Shelf Talk’ blog is packed with budget-minded tips.
6. Do the Chicken
Early last year, a local news story caused a nationwide stir by highlighted the incredible value of rotisserie chicken. It turns out that most stores sell a fully cooked and seasoned, ready-to-eat whole chicken for less than the cost of a whole raw chicken from the butcher. If you like poultry, buying a rotisserie bird once a week (toss it into salads and soups, or just eat off the bone with your fingers) is guaranteed to save you time and money. Surprise bonus: Some stores, like Whole Foods, offer a ‘Buy-10-Get-1-Free’ card for rotisserie chickens that boosts the value even more.