Tips for Eating Healthy on Any Budget

Thursday Mar 7 | BY |
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After posting Frederic Patenaude’s article about how to eat healthy for $3.33 a day, I was a little surprised at some of the responses.

Many of them were very helpful and gave some additional tips to serve as a resource for someone who wants to save cash on fresh produce and food, but a few had a tinge of negativity.

Now, look, I know about negativity. I’ve been a blogger for enough years to know just how negativity comes and goes in blog post comments. I guess when I was reading them the other day, I just wasn’t prepared for them — or maybe didn’t even expect them — particularly since the post gave some pretty good ways to save some money on food (and Frederic’s book does as well.)

Anyway, I can’t focus on those comments, but I just wanted to say this very simply to those people who weren’t so positive…

You can do and accomplish whatever you set out to do.

If you want to eat healthy, organic, free range, fair trade food and only spend $1.00 a year you actually can do it. I bet if you gave me 2 months, I could find someone who does. (They probably don’t pay for internet or cell phone service either, LOL!)

The caveat, of course, is that food finding may take up 12 hours of your day — making it hard to do anything else. So any time you see something like eat for $3.33 a day know that this is an example based on a certain experience. You may or may not be able to do it, but you may find a sweet spot somewhere close that works for you.

So maybe you won’t make it under the $100 a month, but what if you saved $100 using some of the techniques Frederic points out? This is a number that might make a huge difference in your life.

So lighten up my skeptical friends! We’re here to help. Not everyone may be able to hit the holy grail of free food forever, but they certainly can save some hard earned money to use at their own discretion.

Alright then, enough of that, let’s get on with 6 things that influence how much money you pay for your food and some tips to help you get your grub on the cheap.

1. Assess where you live.

Where you live, definitely affects how much you’re going to pay for food.

If you live in the country, then you may have to drive far to get a grocery store. But on the same token, you may have a lot of land to grow your own food. You may also have access to other farmers who do the same to trade or buy from cheaply.

If you live in the city, you will likely have less land, but more access to farmer’s markets or grocery stores. So this means transportation costs go down and food bills go up. You may still be able to get creative and grow on your property, or trade with your neighbors.

In a city or town, you’re more likely to find a CSA where you can get a nice bag of produce weekly at a decent price.

2. Beware of the “hippie tax.”

We’ve been through hundreds of towns and cities in the U.S. One thing that we’ve noticed is that the hipper the place, the more likely you’ll pay what I call a “hippie tax” for good organic food. So for instance, because “organic” and “farm to table” are buzz words here in Berkeley, many establishments charge more at retail stores or restaurants. This is essentially what a “hippie tax” is. You pay more for natural stuff because it’s popular now.

The good news is that if you get out of town just a bit, you can find the same produce and food cheaper. We have friends who live an hour north in Petaluma who get their greens and produce in bulk at a fraction of the price we do in the city. When they come down, they bring some greens for us too and we save money — “hippie tax” free.

3. How much space you have to grow your own.

This depends on whether you live in a city or the country, but it also depends on how creative you are. There are indoor planters that you can hand on your wall, you can make some pretty creative things with used palettes, and you can grown quite a few things in a really small yard.

No, if you live on the fifth floor of a New York City walk up, you might not be able to grow rows of corn, but you might have a little balcony to get some greens, herbs and tomatoes going.

If you search “urban gardening” in any search engine, you’ll find some pretty amazing uses of the smallest spaces.

Here are a few that I think are funky…

Coffee Can Gardening from Better Home and Garden


Urban Palette Gardening from Sarah Storm


And videos from the one and only John Kohler here, here and here.

4. How much you’re willing to look for deals.

Usually, most of the “I can’t do it” comes from a lack of resourcefulness — whether it’s intentional or unintentional, I don’t know — I’m not judging.

But when we traveled around the country, we found a whole bunch of cool ways to save money on food.

Some of these include:

  1. Pooling with others — buying in a group to get better pricing.
  2. Foraging — going out in the woods and gathering greens and whatever else is available in your locale.
  3. Smart kitchen use — learning to use everything in the kitchen effectively and efficiently.
  4. Eating mono meals — eating one food for a meal, so that you can buy in bulk and get better pricing for the week.

Nomi Shannon outlined some of these and more in an article for Renegade Health a while back here.

These are all great ideas that can help you be more resourceful and save some cash on food.

5. How much you’re willing to pay for luxury.

This, again, goes back to the city or country argument. If you’re not willing to drive to the grocery store, you may have to live in a more populated area, which may or may not mean more expensive food.

For us, we choose to live in a city because of all the benefits — not only the food — but the access to airports, cultural events, markets, restaurants, parks, exercise, etc. We also have the benefit of walking just about everywhere. We use public transportation about 2-3 times a month and our car just about the same. We’ve moved to a place where we can live our ideal lifestyle.

For us, it happens to be in the Bay Area which is super-expensive, but we know this and pay less for transit, more for living. We’ve OK with that — it’s a luxury we’re willing to trade for money.

You may not feel the same way, so there may be a different solution for you — ultimately, though, I think it’s important to compare quality of life and money about once every 5 years to see if you’ve found a balance between the two — based on your own personal and family needs.

6. Pay for food, save on supplements.

I don’t know if you’re the type who spends $0.00 or $1000.00 a month on supplements, but I do know this…

If you do regular blood testing, you can save a whole bunch of money on supplements that you don’t need to take. Basically, knowing what’s going on in your body allows you to take the right targeted supplements for you. This eliminates the feeling that you need to take all the capsules and pills some expert recommended to you.

If you have health insurance (in the U.S.) you generally can get a good M.D. to give you the right blood tests that will help you feel better and tell you the right supplements for your body at any given time — the insurance will allow you to get them cheaply too (sometimes only with a co-pay.) If you don’t have insurance, first, get catastrophic coverage (as I mentioned here) and, second, you can pay cash — usually at a discounted rate if you know your Doc — for the tests.

This will save you money, I promise. If you want to know the best tests to take, Dr. Williams and I have outlined them in this program here.

It’s not just black and white…

All six of these factors need to be considered to determine how much money you’re going to spend on food, but ultimately, if you’re resourceful I almost quarantee you’ll save over $100 a month — if not more — when you focus on ways to save money on food. What’s even better, is that this food can still be organic and non-GMO.

If you want some more ideas, please be sure to pick up Fred’s guide called “How to Eat Well for Under $100 a Month on a Plant-Based Diet” here (you also don’t have to eat a plant-based diet to benefit from what he shares.) With the coupon code jonny5, you’ll be able to even save $20 on the guide itself — and get a collection of recipe books that I think are pretty valuable as well! (This deal expires on Monday, March 11th, 2013.)

Here’s where to go get that book now!

Live Awesome!

Kevin Gianni

Kevin Gianni is a health author, activist and blogger. He started seriously researching personal and preventative natural health therapies in 2002 when he was struck with the reality that cancer ran deep in his family and if he didn’t change the way he was living — he might go down that same path. Since then, he’s written and edited 6 books on the subject of natural health, diet and fitness. During this time, he’s constantly been humbled by what experts claim they know and what actually is true. This has led him to experiment with many diets and protocols — including vegan, raw food, fasting, medical treatments and more — to find out what is myth and what really works in the real world.

Kevin has also traveled around the world searching for the best protocols, foods, medicines and clinics around and bringing them to the readers of his blog — which is one of the most widely read natural health blogs in the world with hundreds of thousands of visitors a month from over 150 countries around the world.


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  1. s says:

    Thanks, love this article, and I really loved the book, I was already eating beans and rice each day to save money, and because they are healthy too, and this gives me some good ideas too.

  2. Zyxomma says:

    HA! I’m one of those living in a 5th floor tenement walk-up. The landlord does not permit us tenants to step out onto our fire escapes (is that what you mean by “balcony,” Kevin?), let alone put anything on them, and the roof door is kept locked. For me, “grow your own” is limited to sprouting.

    I get my garden on at the Creative Little Garden in the middle of my block, but it’s a tiny shade garden, unsuitable for growing food (although I have been known to take so-called weeds home and eat them), apart from a few herbs.

    Where I save money on my high raw diet is doing so much of my own gourmet food preparation. That saves me lots of money (compared to going to the organic live food restaurants, that is), but it takes a serious amount of time.

    Health and peace.

    • steph says:

      I would try to rally other neighbors to get clearance for a small space on the fire escape. Even it is something that clings along the bar parts but does not inerfere with safety.Or how bout a roof top garden? So many building have that now. good luck

  3. Carol says:

    Yes Kevin
    If there is a will there is a way. I am fortunate in the summer to have a community garden and farmer’s markets. It does get more expensive in the winter in Canada so I spend more for organics shipped from California….not exactly the 100 mile diet!
    One saving for me is to take the time to prepare my own food and not eat out so much. Getting organized…my evolving edge!
    On the bit about blood tests. I live in Canada with some govt coverage . That is good for some things but to get the tests you mention is tricky with a family doctor who won’t justify it at tax payer expense unless I have an existing set of symptoms. So wondering if I could get these tests done and read thru a USA lab . Any recommendations?
    Thanks Kevin

  4. Karen says:

    I’m growing a dozen collard trees, so I always have greens for my smoothies. I wish I had done it years ago. It’s cut back on my trips to Whole Paycheck. Kevin, thanks a bunch for your helpful hints!

  5. steph says:

    Thx Kevin. I am blessed to live in Fl and can forage daily in my own yard. Today on my face book page One Minute Healings I posted my first video (poor quality sorry) . My neighbors for many years reported my bit of a wild front yard. Now they come and pick fruit off the trees, ask for an aloe plant or 2 and stop to ask what I am collecting in my basket:) Times have changed. So today I picked some wonderful wild dandelions that most people use weed killer on, peppergrass (which many find as another very annoying weed ) for my soup,prickly pear cactus pads (noples) super nutritious and delish grilled and beautiful japanese loquats a great super fruit very easy to grow.
    Knowledge of the wealth of nutrition in our own yard that we work so hard to kill is free and takes no effort at all. TY for all you do!

  6. Jen L says:

    God ideas.
    I read some of the previous negative comments and some of them are stemming from this idea that we should nickel and dime the very food that we eat. I work with someone who is terrified of spending money on food even though she makes good money she is just too cheap to buy high quality food but puts premium gas in her car!
    On a recent trip to the UK I was amazed at the cost of food there compared to here in the US. They spend so much $$ on organic produce. I understand people on extremely tight budgets, but for middle to high income people, the expectation that you spend a sizable portion of your income on high quality, nutrient dense food should be a real one.

  7. Hi Kev,
    thank you for the great tips. it is nice to spread the word. That is what I am doing. Cheers!

  8. Alice says:

    I live in an urban area that has a very diverse populations so I’m able to go to many small shops that sell all sorts of fruits and vegetables. The only downside is most of them are not organic. So I get my weekly organic box from door to door organics (saves money in the long run since I don’t go to Whole Paycheck) and I shop at the local stores for most everthing else. To save money I’m trying to use what’s in my pantry and freezer and just buy perishable items.

  9. dixie says:

    this is ridiculous unless you have some serious extra time on your hands and eat vegan. I eat Paleo style because thats what works best for me Ive tried it all for 20 years….I grow kale celery and avocados buy grass fed meat and buy all free range and organic veggies and trade where I can but only have two hours every few days for food prep this equates to 100 a week not a month….then again i am extremely active and spend alot on organic grass fed meat and dairy(oops) even enjoy organic coffee…..

  10. Cindi J says:

    Do you know about Sergei Boutenko?

    He has a great video on “Wild Edibles” on his site under videos. Wish I had his knowledge for finding food in the wilderness. I’m working on it. thanks for your article. Very good. cj

  11. Selina says:

    Love this!

    Me and my hubby have a tight budget and we eat super cheap. We never eat out and eat mainly vegan food. My husband is not vegan so he eats occasionally some Baltic herring (which is sustainably fished), herring is by far the cheapest meat option.

    I also buy nuts, legumes and seeds from oriental shops, they often have the lowest prices. Sometimes I prefer organic, soy beans I only buy organic non-gmo. From the nuts and seeds I often make my own milks and creams. We also make our own tempeh, which is soooo much healthier, yummier and cheaper than tofu.

    Most of my greens during the winter is frozen vegetables, root vegetables, cabbage, kale and sprouts that I sprout myself. During the summer I forage a lot (nettle, dandelion, chickweed, etc.), and during autumn I also forage for mushrooms and berries.

    This lifestyle is really neat, because it forces one to live more with the seasons and appreciate the food we can afford, and nothing goes wasted.

    • lynn says:

      wonderful to hear how you forage, Selina. even city dwellers can do this..remember Euell Gibbons? find his books in a library..he wrote about it..”Stalking the Wild Asparagus”.

  12. Scott says:

    Just a recommendation to help with grow your own food. Check out Peak Moment youtube videos- Permaculture is also a great source of farm and garden education! Check both areas out and enjoy the education –there is a side affect —good food….lol

  13. Deloris says:

    THAT was a BRILLIANT rebuttal Kevin. Very well said. It is different for all of us. Those of you (like you) who live in the south vrs those of us (like me) who live in the north (north of Québec City) have much different experiences and ways to save, and even places that we can save on food. It’s all about balance and finding our own “sweet spot” as you said in our own budgets and lives. A busy single mom of 3 under 5 who works full-time and juggles the daycare and school and work and kids and house dosn’t have 12 hours a day to dedicate to food searching, but, she can plant a little bit in and around the house/apt and teach her children how to garden. Every little bit helps.

  14. Lynn says:

    Hi Kevin,
    I read the article by Fred, and did find a gem or two, even though I do eat meat. it certainly was the type of piece that provokes thought and discussions, which is what it should do. to the negative types, I would bet that they were expecting a formula they could plug into and go with without any thinking on their part.

    I have spent more than 35 years feeding my family healthy food, and on a usually tight budget. it is easier with a big garden, which I do not have anymore, but, still feasible on a small scale. I was happy to see the photos of the space saving ideas today.

    there is always something that can be improved in this area of life, so keep sharing the ideas that you find valuable…more than a few of your readers will gain wisdom from that exchange.

    Thanks, Kevin!!!

  15. Annie says:

    I thought you and your readers might be interested in this Ted Talk: Gangster Gardener

  16. Carol says:

    I ordered the book over 2 weeks ago and I have not received it yet. I can hardly wait to get it!

  17. Joe Thomas says:

    I would add natural water. No colorants, no sugar, no sweeteners. Just pure water and a few extra money on your pocket.

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