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Yes, You Can Eat Well on a Budget

Today I went to the supermarket and spent $118.42 on groceries. And I didn’t get much, believe me. It got me wondering how much I have spent on food in the last 30 days. $448.63 to be exact.

You are probably experiencing the same thing. And if you have a family, your grocery bill is probably higher than mine. It is painful to go food shopping, am I right?

Confirming my hunch, I found a statistic the other day on consumer spending. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index (CPI) that the cost of food at home has gone up 13.1 % over a 12-month period from July 2021 through July 2022. This is the largest increase 12-month increase since March 1979. Yikes!

Like me, you are probably being more mindful in the choices you are making, right? You are maybe thinking, can I continue to buy organic products? Short answer – yes. You may be choosing private label (supermarket brand) over the mainstream products in an effort to save a few pennies (or dollars). That is OK. You may think I should buy in bulk to save. Yes and no.

How do you continue to eat well, and stay within a budget?

Follow this game plan before you go shopping.

A) Make a list of everything you need before you go (and stick to it)

B) Eat before you go shopping. If you are hungry, you are in trouble

C) Shop the store brands as they are comparable to the name brand products and cost less

D) Buy in bulk items you use over and over, such as canned beans, canned tuna and salmon, and diced tomatoes, for example

All of these strategies will help you get over this difficult time and turn into a more savvy shopper too.

The good news in the CPI stat was that whole foods did not increase as much as processed food, so keep eating your “real food”. For example, cereals and bread products increased 15%, while fruits and vegetables increased at a rate of 9.3%. Meat, poultry, fish and eggs increased 10.9% year over year, and dairy spiked up 14.9%, while other food and nonalcoholic beverages increased 15.8% and 13.8% respectively.

Now, we all know that organic is better because they are safer and are more nutrient-dense, because they are allowed to ripen naturally and fully. But with the increased costs, can we cut any corners? Well, yes.

Have you heard of the EWG (Environmental Working Group)? This organization provides databases on food, water, skincare and common household products for consumers to make informed decisions for themselves on what to purchase.

I was first introduced to the EWG through the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen annual lists they put out on fruits and vegetables, based on how many pesticides are used in growing them. The Clean 15 are top 15 fruits and vegetables with the lowest level of pesticides in them. The Dirty Dozen is 12 fruits and vegetables with the most pesticides used in their production. The data comes from the U.S. government’s Pesticide Data Program (PDP) on what farmers use in raising their crops.

What is the value of this? It helps you make an informed decision and careful choices when buying food. It is recommended that you choose organic when confronted with items on the Dirty Dozen list, because they will have the most concentration of pesticide residue. Conversely, it is relatively safe to purchase Clean 15 items that are conventionally grown, because they have the lowest. Below are the lists for this year:

Clean 15 (2022)

These are ok to buy conventional (not organic) - Updated 2021; 2022 list coming later this year:

· Avocados

· Sweet Corn*

· Pineapple

· Onions

· Papaya*

· Sweet Peas (Frozen)

· Asparagus

· Honeydew Melon

· Kiwi

· Cabbage

· Mushrooms

· Cantaloupe

· Mangoes

· Watermelon

· Sweet Potatoes

The Dirty Dozen (2022)

Buy these organic whenever possible - Updated 2021; 2022 list coming later this year:

· Strawberries

· Spinach

· Kale, Collard & Mustard Greens

· Nectarines

· Apples

· Grapes

· Bell & Hot Peppers

· Cherries

· Peaches

· Pears

· Celery

· Tomatoes

* Per the EWG, a small amount of sweet corn, papaya, and summer squash sold in the United States is produced from genetically modified seeds. Buy organic varieties of these crops if you want to avoid genetically modified produce.

Meal-planning is another way you can save money. For example, I bought a whole chicken today and roasted it for dinner, along with a pan of roasted root vegetables. Sunday dinner was chicken with roasted vegetables such as potatoes, onions, parsnips, turnips, and beets. I even saved the beet greens this time for a salad I am going to make and will share a picture when I make it. I will use the remainder of the chicken in a variety of dishes this week. In fact, it will probably be my only meat this week and I am glad I bought organic.

Organic means the chicken contains more omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) because they eat vegetation and insects, instead of grain. The grain is higher in omega-6 EFAs which can cause systemic inflammation for you if you get too much. You need both, just in better ratios.

Getting back to the leftover chicken, I will use it to make a curry, enchiladas and maybe even a hearty soup this week. The vegetables will be used in Buddha bowls for dinner and lunch. All I need to do is cook some grains in the rice cooker, chop up some salad greens and I am done with the prep.

Speaking of prep, that is the key. Make your grains ahead of time, use dry beans and lentils and cook them in an InstantPot quickly or use canned beans, if you have to. Just make sure you rinse them to get excess salt off of them. Make a large salad that will last a few days. And frozen fruits and vegetables are great time savers, and taste good too.

You get the idea, right? Trust me, prepping your food, planning your meals and sticking to it, will pay dividends in keeping you within your budget during challenging times.

Meal planning helps keep you from overindulging in snacks, as you stand there looking in the cabinet and fridge, trying to figure out what to make each night.

You will also have a healthy lunch the following day and be less inclined to snack throughout the day. And you will not be tempted to run through a drive through. Which also have risen in price, at a clip of 8.9% for a full meal, and 7.2% for limited-service meals and snacks.

Having this knowledge, what are you going to do with it? Or maybe you are way ahead of me and are even more savvy. I would love to hear your tips on eating well on a budget, connect with me here.

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