How to Eat Like It Matters | Seventh Generation
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How to Eat Like It Matters

Author: the Inkslinger

Last week, my wife and I went to the supermarket to pick up a few things. It was hardly what we call "a big shopping." But the $200+ bill sure made it seem like it was, even though all we'd really picked up were a few staples missing from our pantry. It literally brought home some ugly food for thought: eating smart is getting expensive.

Our anecdotal experiences at the grocery are backed up by a study published in the journal Health Affairs, which found that following USDA dietary guidelines for healthy eating will give your wallet wicked indigestion.

Because while our food system is great at delivering sheer calories to the masses, it falls well short when it comes to supplying the specific nutrients everyone needs. In fact, the researchers say that it doesn't even produce enough fruits and vegetables to supply every American with the recommended minimum daily number of servings of these essentials. Put another way, there aren't enough whole foods to go around. No wonder the ingredients for a salad cost us a small fortune last week.

According to the study, meeting the government's recommendation for potassium alone costs an extra $380 per year. Getting enough fiber and vitamin D adds another $255. But for every 1% increase in calories obtained from saturated fat, food costs drop 28 cents, and for each 1% increase in calories gotten from sugar, you'll save seven cents. All of which helps at least partially explain why way too many people are eating junk, getting fat, and falling ill. It's a lot cheaper -- at least in the budgetary short term.

The good news is that there are ways to eat healthier without resorting to a life of crime. Here's how:

  • Get a freezer. I think this is the single best thing you can do because it will let you shop sales and stock up on fruits and vegetables in season when they're a lot cheaper. Do that and it'll probably pay for itself in savings the first year you own it. Mine did.
  • Shopping in season is key. Don't eat apples in the summer or strawberries in the winter. But when blueberries are $1.00 a pint come August, stuff your face and freeze the rest so you can eat them at that price all year long.
  • Focus on so-called "super foods" that kill multiple dietary birds with a single stone. These are foods that have high levels of many nutrients. Broccoli, for example, delivers vitamins C and A plus fiber, folate, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and a wealth of antioxidant phytochemicals. Here's a list of some of my favorites though it's by no means complete.
  • Grow your own. Whether it's in the ground, in a pot, a raised bed, or a community garden, home-grown food is as low-cost as it gets and as healthy as it comes. Even a small plot can produce a big bounty. Build meals around whatever's ripe at the moment, freeze the excess, and you'll save a bundle.
  • Shop to order. Don't buy a week's worth of veggies unless you're sure you'll eat them before they go bad. Instead, just buy what you need for a few days to avoid waste, and stock back up when supplies run out.
  • Plan menus, make a grocery list, and stick to it. Skipping impulse buys will leave more money for better food that's guaranteed to be eaten.
  • Watch out for marketing trickery. If you see two of something for $1.00, but only need one, just buy one. Unless the signage says otherwise, you'll likely get it for 50 cents. And don't fall for buy-one-get-one-free or buy-two-get-the-third-free deals unless the item is on your list. You'll only save cash if you actually eat what you pay for.
  • Practice the art of soup with your leftovers. You can make it from almost anything, and it can be a complete lunch or dinner unto itself, a virtually free bonus meal that prevents waste and stretches your food dollars even further.

These are my strategies. The only question is what I've overlooked and should be doing as well. Anybody have any other ideas?

photo: alykat


Beware  picture
We all know not to shop when you are hungry but I've found it is important to also not shop when you are not too tired, rushed, or distracted...for a sad reason. I've found a level of over charges at all my local stores to be very excessive, so much so that I'm looking into how to report to state or local authorities. In my past four shopping trips, I've been charged full price for sale items, charged for expensive deli items when I had NO prepared foods in my cart, charged more than the posted shelf price on non - sale items. In addition to these blatant overcharges, beware the many misleading tactics such as advertising a sale on specific sizes or varieties of which they have none so the shelf is filled with other sizes or varieties that are much higher priced BUT the sale tags remain in place. Also beware a product that is missing a shelf tag (price tag); for example, a large display of cheese among similar sizes and types of cheeses, where all prices were $3.99 - $5.99, was $11.99. Sadly, I'm convinced these are not accidents but deliberate store strategy. In the cheese example, the only cheeses in the car without a shelf tag were the cheeses that were priced 100%-300% higher than the majority of the surrounding cheeses. These are not small differences; by watching carefully I'm often going to customer service and receiving 10% - 30% of my total bill.
LuMarion picture
Would like to see something about GMO"s (the big unseen corporations do not talk about) as ingredient and the public injesting daily,in relation to shopping and our health.
Jadecrystal27 picture
I have noticed that when purchasing spices, if you buy the Goya brand instead of say an "American type" brand, you save tons of money. For most spices, I go Goya.
Riotaco picture
I grew up with parents that were members of an 80-something member co-op. The way it worked was members signed a contract to either pay into the farm a certain $ amount per year, OR to put in a certain amount of labor hours per year. It was great organically grown produce and dairy. This was great, because we lived in apartments and had no land of our own to till. Don’t have a co-op or CSA nearby? A friend of mine gave me this great idea: She wanted an herb/produce garden, but lived in an apartment with no yard. She had a friend who also wanted an herb/produce garden, and a big back yard, but didn’t want to do it alone. They made a deal to build the garden in the friend’s back yard and split everything 50/50. So, they basically made their own small scale co-op.
Riotaco picture
Lbrookes is absolutely right! A friend told me about 12 years ago that she did this with any grains that came into her home; even her kids breakfast cereals. Freeze them for 48 hours (fridge top freezer is fine) and then store in the pantry. It kills the eggs of pests that seem to be in virtually all grains I buy. Any rice, flour, beans, cereal, pancake mix, cake mix,instant potatoes, etc.. I put them in original packaging in the freezer. After two days, I remove and either keep stored in original package (if plastic or glass) or put in a better container (if in paper). Nothing’s ever sweat when coming back to room temp on me, or gotten messed up from freezing. I’ve been pest free for 12 years.
lbrookes picture
To prevent mealworms, freeze the flour or grains for at least 48 hours before you store it; freezing is supposed to kill the mealworms. I have just started to try this method so I can't yet vouch for it. I buy lots of different types of flour (white bread flour, w.w. bread flour, w.w. pastry flour, and the like) and don't want to risk any of this great stuff!
teammead picture
Coupons: We tend to use the same products over and over again so instead of hunting for coupons I email my favs (go to the website to get a customer service or "contact us" email). Send an email telling them how much you love and use their products (including your fav flavors/scents) and include your mailing address. They are grateful for the feedback and love that you have already included your mailing address. One email saves time and money. I've even had several companies give me free product. Avoid Waste with Pets: When I have broccoli stems, celery base & leaves, herb stems, or any veggie that is past its prime but not rotting I cut it up and either feed it raw or cook it and throw it in with my dogs kibble. They love it and it kills two birds with one stone. They get to eat fresh food (or at least fresher than dry kibble) and nothing is wasted. Be sure to talk to your vet first, of course, but most any fruit, veggie, or grain is good for them. Avoid blueberries, grapes, raisins and onions.
Lori Klamner-Wood picture
Lori Klamner-Wood
When your fruit gets slightly unappealing, slice it, add yogurt, ice, and BLEND. You can freeze the fruit, too (best to cut up and peel before freezing). If you add peanut butter or almond butter, it's a good high protein meal. Healthy desserts!
kaybradley picture
Tina_lands: Pantry pests may not be your fault entirely. Often when buying in bulk the material at the supplier/store already has the pests in it. Try a different source for your bulk purposes, and use glass whenever possible to store the products. If you still get pantry pests and you think your pantry is the source, capture some of the pests and take them in (or mail them) to your local Master Gardeners (R) or State Extension office. They will ID the "pest" for you and tell you the best way (chemical, trap, etc.) to get rid of the pests in a food storage environment - for FREE. Next, bleach for sure, maybe hydrogen peroxide instead, but scour the pantry before putting things back in. Look for cracks/holes, back sides of shelving for places pests can hide. Hope this helps! P.S. Flour & rice mites and related pests are actually more common in bulk foods than make me comfortable - but I understand it's hard for the store to keep them in check. Don't think less of the store is what all this means. It happens to all of them at some point.
jamfhall1 picture
Healthy eating IS inexpensive. A pound of beans or a pound of rice is $1.00, maybe $1.50. How do you consider that expensive? Cabbage is maybe 49cents a pound. Of course, if I want fancy endive or out-of-season tasteless melon, then I'll have to pay the price, literally. Sunflower seeds are $1.99lb vs walnuts at $7.99. You can buy a HUGE bag of Hoodie's unshelled peanuts for $3.00. It's usually hidden UNDER the produce shelf or case. And yes, fancy farmer's markets will be more expensive than WalMart or FoodMaxx or whatever. Save your gas money and shop at the closest store also. They sell organic too.
sarahgreen picture
Join a local CSA (Community Supported Aggriculture) farm, and participate as a work-share member. Depending on your farmer, you may be able to take home local, organic vegetables for FREE, in exchange for a couple of hours of work per week, or a few whole days per month. If your time is limited, consider other bartering options.
tina_lands picture
I think @djrunjoy has a great idea to buy in bulk when it's on sale and all, but I have had issues with panty moths!!! They get in to all sorts of stuff despite the container and I end up throwing large quantities of dry goods away!!! Does anyone have any ideas how to keep these guys at bay? I've tried bay leaves, sprinkling the shelves with ground pepper, pheromone traps, glass containers, etc. HELP!
1potato2 picture
We used to do the coupon thing, but found that it was actually causing us to buy highly processed/convenience foods that we would never have normally bought, on top of spending the time involved in finding/using the coupons. Now we just watch the flyers of supermarkets we usually frequent for any sales or coupons for basic things like milk, flour, sugar, eggs, etc. that we can always use. But we gave up on even looking at manufacturer coupons anymore. Who wants manufactured food, anyway? Our food bill stays low and we stay healthy because we buy only the basic building blocks and make the effort to cook our own meals.
djrunjoy picture
You can save a lot of money by buying bulk sizes of shelf-staple products, like 5-10 lbs of flour/cocoa/sugar/oil/nuts instead of small packages. I also buy 5lb bags of Organic frozen fruit and veggies (for smoothies, etc!).
Riotaco picture
It it true that if you use your deep freeze to stock up on sales and in-season foods, it will pay for itself fairly quickly. And they don't have to be expensive. All you need is a little leg/phone work. Some refrigeration repair shops get them for repairs, but the customers never come back to pay and pick them up. Call your local repair shops to see if they have any unclaimed for sale. Make sure to ask the make/model info so you can look online to see if it's energy star, has any recalls/defects, and reviews. Want one NEW? Check with local retailers to buy their floor model, or for a dented/damaged one for a serious discount. If an appliance is discontinued or out of stock, some stores will sell the floor model. Mine was a discontinued floor model from bestbuy that had a small scratch on one side. Retail was $399, but I got it for $180. And that scratch was easily covered with touch-up paint and clear nail Polish (to prevent rusting).
NYCChica picture
We save on grocery bills several ways: We shop the sales and build our menu around them. Whole, antibiotic-free chickens were on sale last week so we bought two, one for dinner that night and one to freeze. we would have bought more but we only have space for a small freezer. The second one will last until it's on sale again. We try to "thin-out" the more expensive ingredients with cheaper ones. We add a small amount of lean meat or fish to dried beans or quinoa. We still get the meat/fish flavor but with more portions to last through several meals. We don't waste the "gnarly-bits." When we're chopping veggies we save the trimmings in a freezer bag to make stock. Those bits get strained out yet they make the stock so tasty and add vitamins/minerals. Plus it's cheaper than buying ready-made stock and we can control the salt. We buy family packs of things we can portion out and freeze. They are usually cheaper per pound. Finally this tip is good for your wallet and your waistline: We serve ourselves smaller portions than we think we need. We can always take more if we are truly hungry. Most of the time it's enough to satisfy without starving and the leftovers can become tomorrow's lunch.
kkozakis picture
I think it was Omnivore's Dilemma that mentioned that 50ish years ago American's spent a much larger percentage of their take-home pay on food than people do today. I don't have a smart phone or cable tv, but my family eats organic eggs and dairy, organic produce, and sustainably raised/grass-fed meat products. It's all about priorities.
awakenedwellness picture
You do have to be a bit of a savvy shopper to get deals at your local farmers market, but they are there to be had! Plus, local farmers will often take orders for large quantities of fresh produce in season at an even bigger discount, which you can then freeze as has been pointed out. I've also been able to strike a deal or two with my favorite produce guy at the market. For example, I buy all of the stems that they would otherwise discard when they make broccoli crowns and then I use them during the week in stir-fries, creamy broccoli soup and slaws. I also buy any extra bananas they have at the end of the market time for a deeply discounted price - that way they don't have waste and I have bananas that are actually ripe for my smoothies.
settlev picture
I only eat a protein twice a week (always a whole chicken so the bones can be used for stock) good meat and cheeses are really expensive, so start out with a couple days a week of cooking vegetarian, and watch the pennies pile! Hummus sandwiches, bean burritos, Fruit and oats, it helps pack in what you need and hold off on what you don't! Beans and starches have been the sustaining life force of the impoverished for hundreds of years for a reason!
Seventh Generation VT picture
Seventh Generation VT
Try these articles which mention freezing tactics:
eruwenolorien picture
It would be very helpful to provide a link for further information on how to freeze fresh things.
nikkiflores picture
Don't forget coupons! I'm not just talking your Sunday paper either (although there's a ton of coupons in there). But most web sits (including have links to coupons. Each coupon's savings may seem small, but they do add up!