52 ways to save money on a healthy diet: Make wise compromises

This year long series is designed to give one simple tip each week on how to save money when eating a healthy diet (you see the series so far here). A couple weeks ago I shared about how a cash system can be helpful. I got this message on Facebook from Rachel.

“You inspired me to start using cash for groceries. I’ve done it 2 weeks now, we’re surviving, I’ve had cash left over (maybe for dinner out soon!) AND I finally don’t feel so stressed about our budget and living within our means. Thanks for finally pushing me over the edge. I have no idea why I thought it would be so hard!”

Rachel’s comment made my day! I am so glad that this series is helping people make meaningful changes.

Today I wanted to draw on a concept that I have shared in some of the classes I’ve taught before: Make wise compromises. Of course, I hate making any compromises. The purist in me complains every single time I do. But the fact is, life, being what it is, often requires us to make compromises out of necessity.

In other words, you may not always be able to perfect food choices while on a budget, or just because of circumstances (besides which, our food system can be a little hard to get “perfect food” from anyways). But when you make compromises, really think through which compromises you want to make.

Here are a few ideas that I use in trying to figure out what compromises I am willing to make.

1. How often do we eat that food?

Sometimes it can be a reflex to make compromises with the foods that we eat really often, just because they make a big difference in our budget. For example, we spend significantly more buying grass-fed butter, and we go through a lot of butter in this household! When trying to cut back on our budget, it can be tempting to try to use conventional butter as it would be a significant cost difference.

But hold on. If you eat a lot of butter, when replacing this healthy, nutrient dense food (full of vitamin A and K2), with conventional butter,  you will be eating a high pesticide food product (conventional butter has concentrated pesticides in it) often. Plus, in this case, buying conventional means you won’t get the vitamin A and D and K2. Do you really want a staple food to be a compromise food?

Instead, why not make your compromise choices foods that you rarely eat? These will have the least impact on your health. For example, since nuts aren’t a huge part of our diet, and the organic counterparts can be even more expensive, if the budget doesn’t allow, I simply buy conventional. (Though I scored a great deal on organic pecans today! Look for those sales!).

Going back to the butter, during times when I am doing a lot of baking, I might use a less expensive local butter for my pie crusts and cookies, and save the more expensive Kerrygold for spreading on toast and biscuits. (By the way, Kerrygold is cheapest in my area at Trader Jo’s and Costco.)

2. Consider the nutrition

Does buying local or organic, or freshly picked make a big difference nutritionally? In the above example with butter, buying pastured butter gives me nutrients that a conventional butter wouldn’t, so I prioritize pastured butter. Some produce can lose a significant amount of nutrients when it has been sitting in the supermarket a long time, for that reason many prioritize buying in season, local produce. This PDF from Harvard shares some of the advantages of that.

These are just two examples of many. All to say, ask yourself when trying to make wise compromises, how much nutrition you will be losing or gaining by your choice.

3. Consider the toxin load of the food

The other thing I consider is the toxin load of that food. Is this produce often highly sprayed with pesticides? I avoid it or buy organic. Is it likely to be genetically modified if conventional? I avoid it or buy organic. You can buy conventional produce on the Clean 15 list and avoid the Dirty Dozen. Going back to the butter example, butter can have concentrated amounts of pesticides since they are higher in the cream of milk when compared to the milk part.

Cabbages, however, are on the 12 least contaminated with pesticides, so I can feel better about buying this item conventionally.( I have just one qualm about the Clean Dozen list – corn is often  genetically modified, which I won’t buy. So I still only buy fresh corn organically.) I buy any corn products organically, and certain gluten-free grains (like millet), I may sometimes buy conventionally.

When working with a tight budget, making good use of conventional products that aren’t highly sprayed or chemically treated is a good way to make wise compromises. When you need to cut back even more, consider which items you rarely have or use, and put less priority on those items. And then finally, considering the nutritional weight of the conventional counterpart helps me sort through which items to buy local or organic, and which to compromise on.

I’d love to hear from you! When needed, which foods do you compromise on?

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I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!

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  1. says

    Thank you for linking to the Harvard pdf – I have heard these before but never seen the points made in one place before! I try to grow much of our food in the garden and then freeze it. Otherwise, though, I have almost no access to locally grown produce – there are very few farmer’s markets here in west Texas.

  2. Liz says

    Fruits with a “hard shell” or thicker skin, I sometimes compromise, i.e bananas. I also don’t eat that many bananas but I would not buy conventional apples since I eat a lot and they don’t have much of a protection from pesticides.
    It is a constant back and forth issue here too since I would prefer to only eat organic items down to the last morsel.

  3. Joan Young says

    to stretch my budget I make my own whipped butter.I use 1 pound of butter (organic when possible) and 1 cup cold olive oil.
    I whip the butter until it looks like whipped cream then VERY slowly add the olive oil beating on high the whole time.When all the oil is added whip a bit longer then pour into 2 or 3- 2 cup glass containers. This makes the butter last much longer and spreads straight from the frig. Also it can be used just like butter(except for baking) A doctor told me that this was the best combination to lower fat build up in out veins.

  4. says

    Learn how to cook inexpensive cuts of meat. Just to give one example: at my local organic butcher pork rib chops costs at least twice should chops; the later aren’t as “pretty” in a conventional sense, but since they are heavily marbled they are very tasty. There is a whole world of cheap cuts out there…

  5. says

    I have a lot of ways so I will list what I can.

    Go to the store as few times as possible. Milk and some other items may need to be purchased more regularly, but plan on that and where you will buy it. Freezers can save you a lot money unless you live where there are a lot of power outages. Stock up on meats and poultry on sale as well as butter for the freezer. Package those items as soon as you get home and put in freezer. The higher the fat content the more likely you can freeze an item. I freeze prepared bags of guacamole also.

    The fewer the number of items in a recipe the cheaper it will be, normally. Make your own seasoning blends and salad dressings. If you have favorite meals at restaurants you can usually find copy-cat recipes online, saving you cost of the restaurant meals, tips and you control the sizes.

    I normally cook everything from scratch. I decide that if I am going to save money there may be some foods I don’t make except for special occasions. Look for substitutes and try them. Shredded cabbage and Brussels sprouts can be used in salads instead of lettuce that has basically little nutrition. I freeze my own local fruits and produce. That allows me to know where my food comes from and I can freeze in my own batch size.

    If I make too much food and have leftovers, I immediately freeze them for quick meals later. I make own bread and pasta sometimes. Consider making your own canned items if the costs seem to work. There are refrigerator techniques for smaller batches. Bulk items in bulk, but freeze items if they are like nuts etc so they don’t go rancid. Substitute things, you can use elbow pasta instead of lasagna pasta. Choose higher nutrition items over lower items, I use quinoa pasta instead of regular whenever possible.

    If you are going to use ground beef, choose good quality and smaller quantities, those large rolls are more likely to get recalls. These are a few of my tips.

  6. Andrea says

    My husband eats an Asian style beef broth soup for lunch every day. I buy quality local shank bones to make the broth and re-boil them several times. I buy a lean cut of conventional meat to slice up into the soup.

    That typifies my method. I prioritize clean, high quality fats, organs and bones and do the best I can on everything else.

  7. says

    since managing health issues is at the heart of the way i eat, i often don’t have the wiggle room to make certain of the above compromises. i find them in other areas!

    even though i already buy used clothes, i developed a system of putting last season’s clothes away after the season ended so that i didn’t look at them in my closet for the entire season long. this meant that when it was time to “shop” again for a new stuff, i saw the old stuff with fresh eyes and didn’t feel as lusty for the “new.”

  8. Tania says

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for the butter recommendation! I have been following you only since 2011, so I didn’t know about your 2008 post on Kerrygold. I went to Costco last night and they had it! It was cheaper than the organic butter I had been buying. It is absolutely amazing and I am so glad to be giving my family the best that is available. I am so thankful for all of your wisdom and help! May God bless you abundantly for your service to others.

  9. says

    Wanted to mention that Kerrygold is also at Sam’s if you have a membership there instead of Costco. Thanks Kimi for this great series! I’m really enjoying it. The ability to compromise thoughtfully is a vital skill for eating a real food diet on a real life budget.

  10. Fleur says

    Thank you for this great post, I especially appreciated the link to the dirty dozen/clean 15 as this is something I had been wondering about for a while. Although I follow you from Australia, I am sure the farming techniques are no different here!

  11. says

    I bought normal potatoes last week… like ten pounds of them. I look at them and want to cry because I read about how bad they are loaded with grossness. My usual organic potatoes are now $6 for like two pounds and I simply can not afford to pay that! I found organic beans 25% off and free shipping with big orders so now we are eating beans instead of potatoes. Even conventional beans are better than organic potatoes! I wish I could grow a pot of potatoes in my living room.

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