Trim & Healthy... if you buy the right stuff.
Several months ago, I finished reading "Trim Healthy Mama". This is the latest and greatest diet book written for Christian/homeschooling moms and their daughters. The diet is based on "superfoods"- er, super-expensive foods- that are full of nutrition and that help speed up metabolism. The book also focuses on stabilizing blood sugar and separating fats from carbs.
What I liked about THM is that it eliminated junk food and most carbs, which in many cases are junk anyway. What I didn't like about THM is the regular use of artificial "foods" like fat-free cheese and whey protien powder... all stuff that you have to buy. THM also relies on the use of expensive superfoods like chia seeds and coconut oil, along with expensive substitute "flours" and "milks". Kudos to the authors for including a section in the book on how to cut costs and still stay on the plan, but is this even possible with so many expensive ingredients?
With any diet plan, there are methods and principles. My theory is to follow the principles, but fit the methods to your own situation. This takes some creative thinking at times. It also takes some cooking skills and knowledge. Before designing your own methods, you must realize that every diet book and plan out there is trying to make money. Most of them have specialized products that you can only buy from their website, and guess what? You will stay fat & sick unless you buy these products that are an integral part of the plan! So be wary of marketing. More than likely there are alternative ways to be paleo/gluten-free/low-fat/high-fat without buying a load of expensive health foods. I'm inspired by the diet of Native Americans, who lived entirely on what I have growing in my own figurative back yard. Deer, rabbit, maple syrup, cattails, sumac, and so much more. Certainly they managed to live and thrive without coconut oil or almond flour. Acorn flour, anyone?? Eh, there must not be any profit in acorns.
I try to follow a diet with mostly homegrown/made un-processed foods. Ideally this diet has as little sugar and as many nutrients as possible. Believe it or not, a relatively Nourishing Traditions/THM/Paleo/Gluten-free/over all healthy diet can be followed on as little as $15 per person, per week, using the following guidelines. I'm not a purist and love McDonalds as much as anyone, but this is what I generally try to do for normal meal-planning and groceries.
#1: Stop Baking
I mean it. Just stop making meals that include bread. That way if you're gluten-free (BTW, how did we manage to live thousands of years on bread and now discover that 75% of the population has a "gluten sensitivity"?? Could it be the almond milk/flour companies pushing their agenda?), you don't have to buy specialty flours. This will cut out many, many carbs for most people (donuts, cake, cookies, pastries, sweet breads, white breads), if you are on the low carb diet. It will also cut out jam, peanut butter, and other fattening/expensive condiments. Baking sweet dessert-type items also uses a lot of butter, which is crazy expensive. I do buy or make tortillas for our sandwich-style meals, which can also be used for pizza. During the winter I do make pizza crust once a week, but that is about the extent of my baking.
#2: Stop Making Dessert
How are we going to survive without dessert? My husband complains about me never making dessert, but only when I mention the fact. 99% of the time he doesn't realize what he's missing because I cook good meals. Does this means that we never have dessert? By no means! Between church, potlucks, weekends away and now baking for the farmers market, we have plenty of dessert. It's just that I don't make cookies a part of my weekly meal plan. At $3-$5 per batch, that's up to $260 per year on only ONE baked good. If you're trying to follow a special diet plan, I'll guarantee that dessert is where you'll spend all the money. Honey, not to mention cane sugar, maple syrup, stevia, exylitol and other "healthy" sweeteners are very expensive, especially when you are using several cups' worth in one sitting. If you must have dessert, make it fruit-based. Actually, fruit all by itself makes a wonderful dessert, if you stop using it as a snack (see #8).
#3: Stop Using So Much Butter
Hubs and I use no more than a stick of butter per week on non-farmers market food. This is because I don't do any baking and use free animal fat (chicken, bacon grease) to fry things in.
#4: Stop Using Nuts
And this includes peanut butter. Some groups claim that unsoaked nuts cause cavities anyway. Hubs likes almonds on his granola, but other than that I don't cook with nuts. Also not baking (see above) nearly eliminates my need for nuts. I know that trail mixes are popular snack foods, but apart from being unhealthy (M&Ms and pretzels?!) nuts and dried fruit are crazy expensive compared to more nutritious snacks like yogurt, carrot sticks, or even fruit smoothies (see below).
#5: Utilize Wild Edibles
Instead of buying kale for smoothies, walk outside and grab a handful of lambsquarter leaves or other wild green. Not only are these greens available April-October, but they are absolutely 100% free and are chock full of nutrients just like kale is. Greens, fruit, and herbs (for tea and medicinal use) can be found in abundance in the great outdoors. If you live in town, ask a friend or relative if you can "shop" on their country property. But even small yards in town will provide you with dandelions, plantain, chickweed, lambsquarter, and other nutritious "weeds". If your lawn isn't big enough for a garden, there is always room for a weed patch somewhere.
#6: Utilize Organ Meats and Chicken Feet
I know this is NOT popular, but that's why you can get organs and feet for so cheap. Nutritionally, they are a big bang for the buck. Organs can be ground up and added to sausage or other flavored meats, and feet can be prepared and made into gelatinous broth quite easy, for $0.15 per quart. Many people use the carcass for broth, but this pot-made cannot be canned like chicken-feet broth is. Find organs and feet at a butcher shop or find a chicken-butchering friend. Organs can sometimes be found at the grocery store.
#7: Drink Only Free Beverages
Most of the time this is water. It can also include milk if you have a goat or cow, herbal tea if you forage or garden, and possibly kombucha or other fermented drinks on special occasions. Kombucha costs something like $0.25 per quart to make. Only drinking free beverages completely eliminates soda, alcohol, milk, fake milk, juice and other expensive drinks. Most drinks that you pay for are horrible for teeth and waistline. Store-bought milk has had most of the beneficial enzymes cooked out of it anyway. At $3.75 per gallon, a glass of milk costs $0.47. Drinking two glasses per day, that's $171 per year... for one person. Imagine how much it would cost for a whole family! If you are going to buy milk, it is better used for making yogurt.
#8: Only Eat Free Fruit
If you are getting free fruit, it means that you grew or foraged it yourself, or got it from a friend. This means the fruit was local, and possibly organically grown. Bonus points! Fruit is one of the more expensive parts of a diet. Most people consider fruit a "healthy" snack, but vegetables are better because they don't spike blood sugar or encourage cavities. Vegetables also contain plenty of vitamin C and other fruit-ish vitamins. Honestly, one can survive without much fruit. I use fruit for smoothies and dessert, but that is it. For our purposes, one strawberry patch can fill a year's fruit requirement, let alone all of the raspberries, mulberries, cherries, pears and apples that also grow on our property. I would rather sell the fruit (fresh or made into jam) and use that income to buy meat. If you can't find free fruit, only buy when prices drop below a certain price per pound- perhaps $0.50 per pound.
And don't be a sucker for the dried fruit in health stores. Dried fruit especially spikes blood sugar, and most of it has added sugar or sulpher in it for taste and shelf life. If you really want dried fruit, dry some from your garden.
Less Spending = Better Health
The hardest thing here is letting go of the "poverty" mentality and the belief that you can never be healthy unless you have extra-virgin coconut oil every day, or use chia seeds on your organic oatmeal. Diet books and TV shows have duped us into thinking that we have to buy stuff in order to be healthy. When I go buy something from my favorite bulk food store, I literally feel healthy. I feel like I'm making a great investment in myself and my future progeny. Then the stuff gets hidden in the back of my cupboard and I never use it. But I still feel like I'm being healthy just for having it in my house. Isn't that crazy? Even if I never use the de-fatted peanut butter, xylitol, glucommanan powder, or almond flour, I've tricked myself into thinking it's an "investment", whereas a daily walk or bike ride can wait. Maybe I'll exercise after I'm done reading one more article about essential oils. Click, click, add to cart. $200 later.... time for a bike ride. Oh bummer, now it's raining. Time to read another article! It's too late to make a healthy dinner, so I might as well just have cookies.
Most people eat certain foods because they grew up eating that way, or because some health guru told them they would look like [insert celebrity here] if only they followed "the plan"- NOT because it is the least expensive, most healthy way to eat. It's important that you have some kind of meal plan, lest you end up eating $2 protein bars every afternoon because you don't want to cook anything for dinner. It doesn't have to be fancy. Take the protein bars off your grocery list and buy a dozen eggs instead. Boil them up at the start of the week. By default, you will end up eating the eggs instead of the protein bars. It will be better for you (no sugar, preservatives, or soybeans), and cheaper. Re-evaluate your eating habits and see if there are any other small changes to make. You could save hundreds of dollars (and maybe some teeth) per year by replacing a PB & J meal with a rice and beans meal.
What are your tips & tricks to eating healthy without buying more stuff?