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Posted on Jun 22, 2011 in Food, Weight Loss 101 | 39 comments

Weight Loss 101: Eat Real Food, Not Your Savings

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So lately I’ve been thinking a lot about eating healthy and finances. As in, how do you eat REAL food without going REALLY broke? And then yesterday Ali tweeted at me that she had similar concerns: How do you eat healthy without going bankrupt at the grocery store? Which obviously got me thinking about it even more. I’ll be the first to admit (and I’m sure that my sister will be the second, haha!) that I am not exactly the most frugally minded person. Sure, I can appreciate a good deal as much as the next person, but for the most part I adhere to the mindset that I would rather pay more for better quality, faster service, or convenience, than have to deal with the opposites of those things. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate a rockin’ deal as much as the next person, but some things aren’t worth the hassle to me. Hence why it’s more likely you’d find me leisurely perusing the displays at Nordstrom than getting sweaty and harried pawing through the racks at Marshall’s, haha.

That being said, I’m not exactly rolling in it over here. And real food is expensive! Ramen is cheap, produce is not. So while I often ignore my own advice, I do feel like this is an area where saving money really matters. And I feel there are some surefire ways to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck when it comes to healthy eating.

Number 1: Eat at home.

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Uh, duh. This should probably go without saying, but I’m gonna say it anyway: If you want to save money, don’t go out to eat. Shop for your own groceries, and prepare your own food. I spent just over $20 at the store yesterday and will be covered for meals for three days. When you break that amount down, you’re talking about something like $2 – $3 a meal!

Number 2: Meal plan.

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I’ve admitted in the past that I’m not very good at creating and following meal plans. I try to pretend it’s because I’m all spontaneous and like to be creative with my meals, but really I’m just lazy and unorganized hahaha. This week I tried to make an exception, however, because I’m taking off for the Fitness & Health Bloggers Conference in Boulder, CO on Friday morning! So going grocery shopping mid-week, while a complete necessity given the state of food options in my house, wasn’t the most ideal situation. I didn’t want to buy things that were just going to spoil when I left! I feel that the biggest money-suck when it comes to eating real food is having it spoil because you weren’t able to utilize it in time. Meal planning is the absolute best way to avoid this.

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Number 3: Make (and stick to!) a grocery list.

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My list yesterday was super short because I was literally only shopping for a few days’ worth of food. But if I hadn’t done up a list, I would have walked out with so much unnecessary, unusable food.

Number 4: Buy generic.

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Stacy’s pita chips are priced at $2.99 a bag. Giant’s Nature’s Promise brand pita chips at priced at $2.49 a bag. Which product should you purchase? Seems like it should be a no-brainer, right? I mean, sure 50 cents might not seem like that much, but it adds up. Fast. And this rule applies across the spectrum: groceries, pharmacy items, etc. People will pay a lot more just for a particular brand slapped on the packaging, when the generic version is just as good (and oftentimes, the same manufacturer makes both products anyway. So you are LITERALLY just choosing between a branded and a generic version of the exact same thing.)

Number 5: Stretch your meat.

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There are lots of creative ways to make the expensive items you buy, like meat, last longer. Cara gave me the tip of adding ~2 cups of mashed chickpeas (which you can snag for about $0.89 a can!) to turkey burgers to bulk ‘em up and stretch ‘em out. I took that tip as inspiration for my own dinner last night, which involved bulking up my T-burgers with tons of veggies that I already had!

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I chopped up green onion, red onion, button mushrooms, and grated baby carrots and added it all to the mix. Not only did it make for big, thick patties, the mushrooms kept the meat SUPER moist (often a complaint when it comes to turkey burgers — thanks for that tip, Aunt Lynda!), but the meal was healthified with the addition of extra veggies, AND it helped alleviate that whole food-spoilage thing mentioned previously by letting me use up more items that were just waiting to spoil in the fridge! Win-win-win.

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With the addition of asparagus that I subbed the grocery-listed bibb lettuce for because it was a much better deal, and potatoes that I already had lying around, we have a complete meal, with enough leftovers to last me for lunch today AND tomorrow (and would have lasted another dinner, too, if I hadn’t been a piggy and had two patties last night. Whoops! Hahaha.)

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I really need to get on this meal-planning train much more regularly. That way I’ll have more money leftover for the massages I apparently desperately need! ;)

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What are your tips for saving money but still eating healthy? Another thing I should probably look into doing more is deal-shopping (going to different stores for specific items) and couponing, two things I’m terrible at! Any advice on those fronts?

39 Comments

    • HAHA! Well, I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t my plan for dinner toniiiiite! ;)

  1. Those turkey burgers look great, I need to make a batch!

    I use coupons, but not religiously. My mom and grandma give me their coupon fliers and I cut out the ones for things I’d use. I carry a wallet sized coupon folder and use it when I’m at the store. However, since I buy a lot of fresh stuff or items that don’t have coupons like beans, most of my coupon savings comes from toiletries or cleaning supplies.

    • Yeah, I guess that’s a really good distinction to make. Most coupons for food items are for pre-packaged goods and whatnot, I suppose. I guess you can still sometimes get good deals though, from manufacturer’s coupons and whatnot for some stuff (I found a sweet one for Almond milk once, which is usually super ‘spensive!)

  2. It’s also super important to look at the price/unit when comparing prices, because the lower unit price is the better deal, even if the overall price is higher. I guess it depends when you’re looking at bulk vs. non bulk items, because if it’s going to go to waste, then it’s a not better deal.

    Anyway, I love meal plan and I need to start doing it here in Asheville.

    • Ooh, good point! That’s something my sister always points out when we’re at the grocery store but I rarely pay attention to. Super important to see how the unit pricing is listed, too, because sometimes they’ll try to trick you with “per package” instead of “per unit” or “per pound” pricing, so it seems like it’s a better deal but it’s a lie! I never wanna get duped, haha.

      • You totally got duped on the pita chips… the price/unit on the Stacy’s is half of the price of the other ones. The bag must be almost twice as big!!!!!!

        • Haha! Yeah someone else pointed that out too. I just realized by inspecting the pictures closer that the price I snapped isn’t actually for pita chips! I was SO confused because they’re the exact same sized bag! So my example isn’t good, because that’s not the actual price for the pita chips. But my point remains valid!

  3. Thanks Gretchen! I think STICKING to the meal plan is the hardest. I make one, then it gets lost, then I guess, then I add a salad to every meal, then I’m at the grocery store every other meal getting more lettuce….And I wish they did coupons for produce until I have have a plot or a garden of my own…

    • Yeah, that is an issue for me, too. I try to maintain this creative spirit in the kitchen but it’s very much not conducive to saving money, hahaha, when I want to try creating ridiculous gourmet meals all the time. :P Maybe you could start trying to grow a small veggie garden…? Are you in a house in C-ville or are you apartment-dwelling?

  4. Great Post!! My biggest money saving tip is to buy in bulk when possible. I also rely on cheap sources of protein (like canned beans) when possible. That said, I spend a lot on groceries…but that is clearly going to have to change.

    • Yeah, I think that definitely when I’m in a pinch, meat is the first thing to take off the list. And I am notorious for dumping hundies at the grocery store too — I think another big thing for me is just to avoid Whole Foods completely if I’m especially poor that week, hahaha.

  5. I agree “Eat at Home” sounds so simple, but it really is shocking to see how much you can spend sometimes over a month’s time.

    My spouse and I once added up our meals and beverages one month from eating/drinking out and it almost reached $500. We both flipped and made DRASTIC changes. While our grocery bill is higher, our dining bill has gone down drastically. Totally worth it!

    Now dining out feels more like a special occasion, versus a 3x weekly occurrence.

    • I know exactly how you feel. Especially living where I live, eating out is so EASY. There are places everywhere! And even where you can get relatively healthy stuff. Except, you know, you’re paying 2 to 3x as much for something you could make at home, haha. I definitely think that reserving eating out for weekends, date nights, and special occasions makes the whole experience more special anyway.

  6. My best tip is to meal plan and buy only what you need – it sucks to throw out food you forget to use.

    I spend a ton on groceries since I mostly shop at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. I do get great deals at Teeter when I use coupons for their sale items. I buy mostly produce – lots of fresh veggies and fruit, plus eggs, dairy, and staples like nut butters, pasta sauce, etc.

    There are never any coupons for plantains! But TJ’s is a great “generic” resource for everything from salad dressings to pita chips. They’ve got the best prices on organic yogurt, creamer for my coffee, organic animal crackers, goat cheese, frozen pizza, nut butters, etc.

    Now that it’s summer – breakfast is easy and cheap. I buy almond milk, bananas, and frozen fruit at TJs for smoothies. Otherwise it’s oatmeal or eggs with toast.

    Lunch is a salad made at work – spring salad mix, pea shoots, goat cheese, dried cherries, walnuts, diced apple, and raspberry vinagrette. $20/5 days = $4 lunch! Easy to do and just as tasty as a $8 or $10 Cosi salad.

    Dinner is at home with the little one and varies – sometimes it’s a $4 TJ margarita pizza with fresh basil or fresh pasta and veggie enhanced sauce. My little one isn’t much of a meat eater so we use it more as a complement to a dish than the main item.

    I feel like we eat well for about $100-$125/week which may sound high but it’s important for me to feed my 4 year old the best I can get him like $4 organic raspberries and $5 non-dairy Daiya “cheese”.

    Love the turkey burgers – stealing the idea!

    • These are awesome, awesome tips! I am definitely going to have to try that salad mix — I like being able to keep ingredients to assemble for breakfasts and lunches at work. Makes the morning rush so much less… rushed! And I totally understand wanting to feed your baby the best stuff possible. Not that it’s the same thing at all as, you know, having a child, but it’s kind of similar reasoning to me buying ridonkulously expensive dog food for the puppers, hahaha. I think that $100 is perfectly reasonable, especially given the high-quality ingredients and shopping at Whole Foods (that’s where I die money-wise… damn you, hot bar!) ;)

  7. Awesome post and I can’t wait to use your suggestion for turkey burgers! I use the coupons from my health food store, but only if it’s something I already know I like. I don’t buy something JUST because I have a coupon. I think I might start doing more online shopping though. It seems like you can get some of the weirdo stuff I eat for cheap that way. Your post got me thinking…and me likes that! :p

    • Yeah, I’m definitely buying chia seeds online next time. So ‘spensive!

  8. When it comes to expensive items (like meats), I usually buy them in bulk and use one of two ways to ensure that the food doesn’t go bad:
    1) Split the food and cost with a friend
    2) Seperate the meat into single servings and freeze
    When I go for the freezing method in bulk, my grocery bills decreases substantially for at least two weeks. After all, who can say no to 12 boneless chicken breasts for 6$? Granted, this does not fall under your organic meats section… but if you’re on a budget like me and organic can’t always make the cut, it’s a good money saver.

    Another thing one can do for meal planning is cook a huge batch of something (equivalent to at least 8 meals) on one of your less busy days (Sunday for me). Now, not many people enjoy eating the exact same thing day in and day out for 4 days straight. We like variety. The solution: seperate your food into single portions and freeze. You can go back to it in a week (even two) later and simply reheat the food in the microwave. Rotating between 3-4 homemade frozen meals can last a long time… and it’s good when you don’t have time to cook for yourself, or are just don’t feel like cooking.

    • Making homemade frozen meals is something I’ve always had on the to-do list but never actually done! I guess for some reason I never think about it working, but why not? I mean, how different is it from frozen meals you buy at the store, only cheaper and not full of sodium and preservatives, right? Great tips, Rei!

  9. Those turkey burgers look good, I’m not a fan of ground turkey but I bought some to try grilling hoping I will like it. We eat at home most of the time to save money, as a family of six it costs about $60 and thats with my hubby and I splitting meals and ordering water.We have a garden in the summer and I’m slowly learning how to preserve some of these things to save money on veggies in the winter.

    • Oh man, having a garden is great for money-saving, provided you can keep them alive!

  10. Dan and I have definitely cut down on the amount we go out to eat. Between the two of us we spend probably about $300 a month on groceries and then probably another $150 on going out (which we do *normally* only about once a week or every other week). I coupon only for things that I actually would normally buy, but I definitely price compare price per unit/pound/etc. because as you said- a few cents here and there adds up! I’m glad that even if you don’t DO what I do, at least my habits don’t go unnoticed by you haha.

    • That’s been a big thing I’ve adopted too. Just cutting down on eating out has helped me save tremendously! I got so used to just handing over my card to restaurants for dinner all the time, and I definitely see the difference on my statements already! Hahaha

  11. first of all: the picture are fab! so beautiful!
    second: I can´t follow a meal plan. it is just something I can´t do at all! I only eat what I crave or want to eat, and with such a plan this is really tough. Altough I do make up a list in my head, so that I know what I need to buy, but it is still VERY loose.
    I can´t really give you any advice. Buy what´s in season (= cheaper AND tastier), go and use those offers when grocery-shopping. The rest, well, you said it all already!

    • Buying in season is a really good point. I didn’t even think about offering that up as advice, but it’s great to point out! Tomatoes are nasty in the winter, and sooooooooo expensive!

      • yes, tomatoes are especially bad when out of season!! Nothing is worse, in my opinion.

  12. You left out the money savings available by shopping at Asian markets! Particulary for produce and seafood! ;-)

    • Hahaha, good point! Although other people may not be as brave as us…! :P

  13. I 2nd the commenters that have said to only buy what you need. We cut down on impulse buys and snack food buys a lot–not only was the food going to waste, by not having snacks at home I wouldn’t eat it, saved me calories AND money!

    I’ve always liked to bake so I stick to “ingredients” vs. prepackaged mixes. For example, we don’t have cake or brownie mix, but I do have things like vanilla, cocoa powder, flour, etc. Regular wheat flour is more versatile than a cake mix or Bisquick, and it works out to be cheaper.

    • That’s a really good point. Plus, when you buy pre-packaged you have so little control over the quality of ingredients involved as well. Plus, it’s just more expensive than it would be to have all the ingredients on hand individually, as well as the point about versatility. Great tip!

  14. great post! finding money saving tips is hard! but if something is on sale that can last longer than just a week (months) I usually stock up!
    ALso love your green dress!

  15. If you look at the two chips you have the unit price for the Stacy’s is actually better. I make sure to do that when it is something I’ll use a lot.

    I also buy as much as I can in bulk. I only use olive oil so I will buy a big bottle instead of a lot of little bottles.

    • I do that too! Big bottles of olive oil which I decant into my countertop dispenser.

    • Yeah! Oh my gosh, you’re so right. When I inspected the picture closer, I realized that the price I snapped underneath one of the bags isn’t actually the label for pita chips – it’s for something else! So, my example is invalid, but I think the point of buying generic is generally valid at least?

  16. Omg I love your blogs :)

  17. “Eat real food not your savings,”, i liked it this way :), i am actually very determined about losing weight, belong to neither lands and searching for some of brilliant tips to lose weight. But as i am a food lover and willen Makkelijk Afvallen/ easy weight loss tips. Can you help me with some really easy one.

  18. Good money savings tips Gretchen! At my place there is only two of us (myself and my partner) so i always make sure to just cook enough for the both of us and try not to waist any food..

    We rarely have left overs and we make just enough for that day.

    If we do have left overs, my partner will take it to lunch the next day for work which is great.

    I also buy frozen veggies which are cheaper than fresh. I feel the quality is still the same too.

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