Eating Well on a Budget

A client asked me the other week for ways to save money while still eating well. This is something that often stops people from even getting started down the path to healthy eating. Bread, pasta, rice, and beans are cheap sources of calories, but making them staples of our diet can be hard on our bodies. When you reduce your consumption of those things, you may see your grocery bill tick upward as you fill your cart with fresh vegetables, fruits, and well-raised meats. Especially if you are feeding a large family (like I am!), this will make you wonder if you’re doing the right thing. However, there are many things we can do to eat well without breaking the bank, aside from shopping sales and clipping coupons. Below are my top tips, and how I’ve applied them in my life.

1. Make & Use Bone Broth

This is a recent favorite for me, even though I’ve been making bone broth on and off for several years. Lately I’ve been having a cup of broth with every meal, especially those that are high in muscle meat. The best broth is made from the joints of animals, like beef, chicken, or pork, and contains collagen and gelatin that are not present in the cuts of meat we typically eat. These proteins line and protect our digestive system, build muscle and connective tissue, as well as strong skin, hair, and nails. Want to avoid wrinkles? You’d better be drinking bone broth! 

I often drink mine by itself as a warm beverage, often with added collagen, gelatin, coconut oil, and/or butter. However, you can make delicious soups and sauces from your broth. Since the broth itself is satisfying and nutrient-rich, it allows you to stretch your dollar by adding just a little meat and veg for easy and quick soups. You can even bring it to work in a thermos and throw your additions in at the last minute.

Look at the color on this broth!

2. Utilize Cheaper Cuts of Meat

This is a favorite for our family because these cheaper cuts – especially beef and pork roasts – are delicious with very little effort. Our favorite “recipe” is just adding a little salt and searing the roast on all sides before throwing it in the crock pot or the oven at 325F for a few hours. The result is melt-in-your mouth meat with a crispy exterior that hits all the taste buds just right. Our favorites are beef chuck roast or pork rump roast, but just about any large cut of meat will be delicious cooked this way, including lamb and whole chickens. These cuts are generally priced lower than their more tender counterparts, and you can often find them on sale. Another bonus is they are large enough to feed a family…with leftovers!

3. Eat Eggs!

Even organic eggs tend to be cheaper than fresh meat, and they’re rich in vitamin A, folate, and many other B vitamins. I enjoy eggs any time of day – fried sunny side up in the morning, scrambled with leftover meat and vegetables for lunch, hard boiled as a mid-afternoon snack, and as an omelet with cheese and vegetables for dinner! You don’t have to do all of these in one day (though I probably could), but you can see how you can use eggs to stretch the meat and vegetables you already have. I often make omelets for dinner when I’ve run out of time to prep or cook anything else, and my kids think they are a huge treat!

4. Eat More Starchy Vegetables

Starchy vegetables, like carrots and potatoes, are another way to stretch your dollar. Potatoes especially are nutritious and satisfying and can be eaten any time of day (or put into an omelet!). 

5. Don’t Buy Organic

What?? Organic vegetables come with a premium price tag, and the truth is these often travel a long way and are not at their optimal freshness and nutritional value when they arrive at our local grocery store. In my opinion, it’s always better to buy local, even if our only local option is conventionally grown. The best thing to do is to go to a local farmer’s market and talk to the growers there. You’ll often find many of them use clean and organic growing practices despite not having the pricey “organic” label. 

Another important thing to consider when trying to save money is to eat in season. Fruits and vegetables that are not in season in our local area often come with a hefty cost for its plane ticket to your area. My preference with produce is to buy in this order, according to budget and availability:

  1. Local, in-season and organic
  2. Local and in-season (conventionally grown)
  3. Local (out of season and conventional)
  4. Organic and in-season (not local)
  5. Organic
  6. Conventional

But remember, any of these are better options than the pseudo-foods in the center aisles of the store, so if your budget can only support conventional fruits and veggies, enjoy them guilt-free!

6. Join a CSA

One of the coolest things we’ve done over the last several years is join a CSA. It has given us the opportunity to taste vegetables that, honestly, I never would have picked up in a store. Like many of us, I didn’t grow up eating a wide variety of vegetables, and some, like Brussels sprouts, I was sure I hated. That is, until I tried pan frying them in bacon grease (OMG). Not only does a local CSA provide you with a low-effort package of local, in-season, and usually organic vegetables, but it forces you to figure out myriad ways to use them. In addition, it usually comes with a lower price tag than buying the same quality vegetables in a store, or individually at the farmer’s market. Our CSA (jbgorganic.com) will even deliver to your door for an extra charge.

This week’s veggie box from Johnson’s Backyard Garden

7. Grow Your Own Produce!

This is another recent favorite, though I’ll admit, I have a brown thumb and rely 100% on Kevin for our homegrown vegetables. For minimal startup cost (some containers, soil, and seeds) you can have your own source of very local, organic, and in-season vegetables. The bonus is that you get exactly what you want, since you get to pick what you grow. We use ours as a supplement to our CSA and grocery store trips, but the goal is to someday be able to only eat our own homegrown produce. 

If you have a brown thumb like me and you’re worried you’ll never be able to grow anything besides a cactus (maybe), I hear from Kevin and his step-mom, who is an amazing gardener, that the secret is you have to water the plants. This was apparently news to us, because when we started watering more often our garden flourished.

Just don’t let your chickens sit in your garden. 🙁

8. Buy a Half Cow (or Pig)

Admittedly this requires the most up-front investment of any of the options. A half cow, in the Austin area, can run you north of $2,000. If you eat a fair amount of pork, a half pig is a much more reasonable investment. However, the thing to consider is the average cost per pound. If you’re feeding a large family like ours that goes through a lot of meat, I highly recommend looking into this option to save money over the long term. I recommend visiting your local farmer’s markets and developing a good relationship with a couple of farmers you trust. If you have the time, plan a visit to to the farm to see how your meat is raised. (I recommend this even if you aren’t planning to buy in bulk.) Make sure you request any organs you might eat (like liver and heart) and the extra fat for rendering. When we first started to buy in bulk (for us and the dogs), I was able to purchase a couple of used upright freezers on Craigslist that were fairly clean and lasted for a few years in our garage. 

The cows at Richardson Farms, where we buy all our meat.

9. Eat Organ Meats

I mentioned in the previous section that you should request the organs of any animals you purchase. Similar to the tougher cuts of meat, organs tend to sell at a lower price point. However, they are a powerhouse of nutrition and critical nutrients, especially liver, that are hard to get on an all-muscle-meat diet. I recommend everyone eat 3 oz per week of grass-fed ruminant (beef, bison, lamb, venison) liver. This is a great way to maximize your nutrition on a budget, since even if you are eating a low-meat diet, you’ll still be getting lots of B vitamins. If you’re squeamish about the taste, I highly recommend smothering the liver in onions (and maybe apples) slow-simmered in butter – yum!

10. Buy In Bulk

Many pantry staples, like olive or coconut oil, can be purchased in bulk from online retailers, or even Costco if you have a membership. Look for deals on nuts, almond flour, and other things your family enjoys. To be honest, we don’t use this option as much as we probably should since our storage space is limited and our diet is primarily meat and vegetables. If you have any tips for good sources, please leave them in the comments!

11. Learn to Fish/Hunt

This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time as a means of getting closer to the source of our food, and last year we took the leap to get started. And guess what…I loved it! There is no more primal experience than waiting for your dinner to walk by, and the early morning and afternoon hours spent in the blind watching nature go by are some of the most meditative moments of my year. (Thanks to my Dad for taking the 10-year-old into his blind. It was a little less meditative over there – haha!) 

If you’re interested in getting started, I highly recommend listening to the Modern Carnivore Podcast and checking out your local Parks & Wildlife for information and classes. I was pretty intimidated to get started, as a woman who didn’t have much experience with firearms, but I’ve found the hunting community to be very welcoming to newcomers. Everett and I started with basic Hunter’s Education and even took an extra firearm safety class, spent lots of time at the shooting range, and ended up with 3 deer in our freezer for the year! 

Enjoying a fun afternoon waiting for deer.

Do you have any other tips for eating well on a budget? I’d love to hear them. Let me know in the comments!

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Meagan Noble Health Coach

Hi, I'm Meagan.

I'm a full spectrum doula and wellness coach helping you thrive through birth, baby, and beyond. Learn more about me here.

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Meagan Noble Health Coach
Meagan Noble

CERTIFIED DOULA (DTI)

Meagan is a full spectrum doula and wellness coach helping families follow their intuition to discover balance in family life. With her focus on ancestral practices, relaxation, and self care, she guides her clients to a calm, confident, and connected birth and postpartum experience.