5 Simple Ways to Eat Healthy AND Save Money on Groceries

5 Simple Ways to Eat Healthy AND Save Money on Groceries

Since I first moved out on my own, I have been trying to figure out this whole grocery shopping thing – how to eat well without overspending money or time.

I have tried everything – from couponing to rebate apps to stockpiling boxes of granola bars [not healthy, by the way]. I shopped exclusively at Aldi for a time. I followed popular shopping bloggers and ran to the store every time they said there was a good deal.

None of these things worked for me. They were all time-consuming and exhausting and didn’t actually seem to save me much money and on top of all that, we weren’t eating healthy foods.

So I’ve been trying to figure out how to spend less on groceries without sacrificing quality or healthfulness.

After ten years, I have FINALLY reached a place where grocery shopping is no longer expensive, time-consuming, or unhealthy. I spend less time meal planning, less time at the grocery store, and less time stressing over the grocery budget than I ever have.

To give you an idea of how much you can save, here are USDA’s recommended grocery budgets.

They vary based on the number and ages of you family members and based on whether you are living lean [“Thrifty plan”] or high on the hog [“Liberal plan”].

So according to this chart, for my family of five, a thrifty plan would be $561.50 per month, if I don’t count my youngest who is only 18 months old, or $655.60 if I do count her.

Doesn’t really matter because our budget is $400/month. This doesn’t include our eating out budget which is $60/month and allows us to eat out about twice per month. Also, every other month we cut our budget in half [a lengthy explanation of which I may write and post someday]. So, technically, we feed our family for $300/month, if we average it out.

That may sound like a lot or a little to you depending on your situation, but for us, it is less than half of what Brett and I were spending back when it was just the two of us – and we weren’t eating nearly as healthy as we do now.

[I’m harping on the healthy thing because anyone can eat ramen noodles every day and save tons of money, but I have found that I can eat super healthy – I’m talking fresh produce and high quality foods – and still save money. So if you are one of the many people today who believe that eating healthy is more expensive, please read on.]

So how do we feed our family healthy foods with so little money? Well, for starters we buy very few processed foods [for our health] and we do our best to avoid packaged foods [for the health of our planet]. Those two things contribute a little bit to our savings – but I know that they are not the reality for the average American [though I wish they were].

The bulk of the money and time is saved by following these five simple rules:

1. Buy what is on sale.

Rather than creating a meal plan and then buying the ingredients regardless of the price, I let the weekly ads determine what we eat each week. In my area, each Wednesday, grocery stores roll out new ads with new deals. I compare the ads from four different local grocers and then choose the one [or maybe two] with the best sales and that’s where I’ll be shopping that week.

Besides simplifying meal planning, another benefit of this rule is that it saves a lot of time at the grocery store. I know exactly what I’m going in to get. I don’t need to price compare a bunch of different options, or stroll down aisles looking at different food choices, or fall prey to the clever marketing tricks like flashy signs and end-caps. I go in, get what’s on sale, get out.

Bottom line, if it’s not on sale, I don’t buy it.

[As with all rules, there are exceptions. In the case of rule #1, I don’t buy my bulk dry goods on sale because most stores don’t offer regular sales on bulk goods. In this case, I am prioritizing my obligation to the health of the planet over money – ALWAYS a good choice, by the way. But I still save plenty of money.]

2. Set price limits.

Over the past two years I’ve learned what a good sale price is for most items and I have set rules for how cheap they need to be. Simply being “on sale” is not necessarily good enough. Not all sale prices are created equal. For example, it is extremely rare that I will buy produce at Aldi because their sale prices are never as good as my other local grocers. If you [as most people do] assume that Aldi is cheaper for everything simply because it’s Aldi, then you are overpaying.

This week, 1lb of strawberries is $1.69 at Aldi and $.88 at Fresh Thyme. In fact, everything on this Aldi ad can be found cheaper elsewhere.

In order to figure out what a good sale price is, you have to pay attention to sales in your area over a period of months. My price limits are still changing as time goes on. For example, I used to only buy boneless chicken if it was under $2/lb, but after a while I learned that I could find it at least once a month for $1.49/lb. So that became my new price limit.

Here are some examples of my price limits [understand that prices will vary greatly depending on your location]:

I won’t buy produce for more than $1/lb. Sometimes I do buy blackberries at $.88/6oz package and I will buy avocados if they are $.79/each or less, but I don’t make a habit of buying these items because they are so expensive compared to normal produce.

I won’t buy cheese for more than $1.50/8oz package. If cheese is not on sale for this price or less, we just do without cheese. It’s not even really a hardship. In fact, I think it has improved my children’s appreciation for the taste of real foods not covered in cheese.

I won’t buy eggs for more than $1/dozen. Though, I admit, I am going to buy eggs from our farm CSA this summer at $5/carton, but in this case, I am prioritizing supporting local agriculture and health over saving money. I will also be limiting our eggs to one carton per week.

Your rules will depend on what eat, but everything should have a price limit required for purchase. There will always be off cases when you simply must have something – like butter to make buttercream for your son’s birthday cake – and it’s not on sale. Okay. Sometimes we have to bend the rules.

3. Eat less meat…and live longer and healthier lives.

I’m a fitness professional, not a registered dietician or nutritionist, so you don’t have to agree with me on the healthful side of this rule. Eat meat if you want, but know this, meat is WAY MORE expensive than plant-based foods. We used to make two or three chicken breasts for our family of five for dinner. Now, we all share one chicken breast [oftentimes less] and fill the majority of our plates with vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes.

Check out choosemyplate.gov.

This is the USDA’s newest recommendation for healthy eating which has replaced the typical food pyramid we all learned in grade school.

Notice that three quarters of the plate are filled with plant-based foods. Now think about how your dinner plate typically looks. Most Americans eat a meat heavy diet, with the protein being the main course and the vegetables and fruits being “sides.”

If you need further evidence, watch the documentary, In Defense of Food, or read the book with the same title by Michael Pollan.

Time to rethink the way we eat…and hopefully soon because the health epidemic in our country is quite literally frightening. But the good news is, eating more plant-based foods is CHEAPER!

Also, according to the chart below by health.gov, over 85% of the population is not eating the recommended amount of vegetables…

C’mon, people. Let’s eat some more veggies!

[Someday I’ll go into greater detail about how to eat healthy on a budget. It is not hard, folks. I promise you!]

4. Buy less food.

This might sound obvious, but apparently it needs to be stated anyway because we have a bit of an overeating problem in America.

According to the CDC, 39.8% of adults in the US are obese [read about it here.] And, shockingly, according to this article by NPR, 75% of Americans believe themselves to be eating healthy…so why are obesity rates so high?

There are lots of factors that contribute to the obesity issue, but no matter where you look, portion size and overeating are partially to blame.

Nutrition scholar Marion Nestle at New York University says portion size — just eating too much — is an issue. “I’d vote for that as a major cause of obesity,” Nestle told us by email.

“Some of the problem is that individuals pay more attention to getting good things in their diet than they do to limiting overall intake,” adds David Just, a behavioral economist who studies food psychology at Cornell University. – npr.org

The accessibility of food in our society has made overeating too easy. Yes, restaurants serve us too much food, but we also serve ourselves too much food at home. We also stock too much food in our kitchen, making it too easy to eat whatever we want whenever we feel like it.

Let’s all do ourselves a favor and buy less food. There is no reason to stockpile canned goods as if we are fearing an imminent apocalypse…unless you are fearing an imminent apocalypse…in which case, there is no need to save your money because it will be useless when the zombies take over.

Some basic ways to buy less food is:

Go grocery shopping once a week and only buy what you need for that week.

Buy fresh produce so you CAN’T stockpile it. Fresh food is healthier, more likely to be local, and tastes WAY BETTER!

Don’t buy [or buy very little] unhealthy snacks and treats. Don’t spend your hard-earned money on food that is going to make you sick and unhappy in the long run.

Avoid processed and packaged foods – for the sake of your wallet, your health, and the planet.

5. Eat all the food you buy.

Again, this seems obvious…but apparently it’s not because 40% of food in America is thrown away.

In 2012, NRDC published a groundbreaking report that revealed that up to 40 percent of food in the United States goes uneaten. That is on average 400 pounds of food per person every year. Not only is that irresponsible—it’s expensive [emphasis mine]. Growing, processing, transporting, and disposing that uneaten food has an annual estimated cost of $218 billion, costing a household of four an average of $1,800 annually. – NRDC report by Dana Gunders, source

And before you go blaming it all on grocery stores, this infographic created by the NRDC says that households and restaurants are the biggest generators of food waste [at least in Denver, Nashville and New York].

Of course, on the other hand, we have lots of families in our country who struggle to put food on the table.

So besides the cost of wasted food, I feel just plain terrible knowing that I am throwing food away when some people are not eating today. And I feel like a terrible hypocrite if I talk about our grocery budget being “tight” while I’m throwing food in the trash – or even in the compost bin.

In my home, we do everything we possibly can to avoid wasting food. Some of the ways to reduce our food waste are:

Eat all the leftovers. I set designated days at least once but often twice per week to eat whatever we have that is close to expiring.

Only buy what you need for a week. You may not know what you need for a week, but if you find yourself throwing food out, then you know for next time that you need less. Obviously some things with longer shelf lives, like dairy products and dry goods, don’t need to be purchased weekly. That leads me to the next tip:

Don’t buy more if you still have food to eat. I don’t know why we do this but it seems that it’s totally normal to go buy a full cart of groceries when we still have enough food in our home to feed our family for the next six months. I’m not joking. When we got ready to sell our last home, I started using up all the food that we had in our cabinets and pantry and – oh my gosh – our second freezer. Lo and behold, we had enough food to feed us for months. I decided then and there that stocking so much food in our house was wasteful and expensive and I stopped doing it.

A word on frozen and non-perishable foods: Some people prefer to buy non-perishables because they feel like they throw out more food when they buy fresh – which they really might. The problem is not the fresh food – it’s that there is a disparity between the amount they are buying and the amount they are eating. As I said previously, fresh food is healthier, more likely to be local, and tastes WAY BETTER! Buy fresh food – just not so much – and then EAT IT!

So, this has been a book. If you’ve stuck with me, I hope you’ve found some useful information and, hopefully, some motivation to improve your spending and eating habits.

These are all things I wish someone had told me a lot earlier, but everything I found about saving money on groceries revolved around making a list, not shopping hungry, and clipping coupons. I wanted something that saved me time AND money AND made me a healthier consumer.

For me, this is it.

If you’ve found a method that works for you, share it in the comments! We all have room for improvement!

Happy grocery shopping!

🛒 🛒 🛒

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste at Fresh Thyme vol.2

[Nearly] Zero Waste at Fresh Thyme vol.2

Fresh Thyme Farmers Market finally opened a new location close to my home!

Yes, I was there on opening morning waiting in line with some one hundred other people.

No, I am not ashamed.

Though…I did accept the bag of free groceries that was FULL of packaging.

I am slightly ashamed of that…

Still, I was glad to show my support for a grocery store that encourages customers to reduce their waste by putting bulk bins front and center and by making it easy to bring your own containers.

I’ve been a few times since they opened, but most recently I made my first bulk liquid purchase.

I brought my own jars [and a dry erase marker] and weighed them with the cashier before filling them with maple syrup, local honey, and freshly ground peanut butter [it literally ground the peanuts right into my jar – doesn’t get any fresher than that].

Fresh Thyme also sells bulk oils, vinegars, nut butters, and even kombucha – which I fully intend to purchase in the future.

I frickin LOVE this store.

And on top of that, the prices are reasonable. I paid less for the maple syrup than I do for a jar of pure maple syrup from Aldi.

They also don’t give me side eye for checking out with cloth bags and my own jars. My cashier even said it was “so cute.”

🤷‍♀️

Just doin’ what I do. Being cute AND saving the planet.

The only waste from the purchase was [once again] produce stickers and the receipt.

All in all, a huge success!

Karis

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Well, it’s the start of a new year which means that the gyms are going to fill up with all the newly resolved exercisers, which used to annoy me back when I was just a fitness junkie, but now that I am a personal trainer, I love seeing all the people fill the gym. [And, of course, it’s good for business.]

So what if most people will be gone by March? Two months of healthy habits are better than none, right? While I wish people would stick it out, change is really hard and making the effort is the important first step. I’m sure every year there are a few who make it past March and become regulars.

According to a magazine I was reading the other day, 20% of people who make resolutions will keep them!

That’s actually pretty good!

Those 20% are giving the rest of us hope!

Last year, I set resolutions as I usually do – stop using disposable paper products, reduce my family’s waste, run the Chicago marathon, take up baking, have family fun day once a week, visit the dentist [it had been 10+ years 😱], be more intentional about my marriage, double our charitable contributions, and send birthday gifts to all of our family members – all of which I accomplished.

Some of these goals were rather vague, which is fine with me because not everything can be definitively measured. I did some intentional things to invest in my marriage [baking competitions weekly and packing his lunches for a few months], but the “what” isn’t the point. The most important thing is that I can look back on the year and say that my relationship with Brett got stronger.

Some of these goals [like reducing waste] took on lives of their own and produced lots of mini goals throughout the year [like stop junk mail, declutter the home, ethical purchasing, sustainable living, simplify, simplify, simplify].

In 2019, I plan to continue with my goals from last year, but with some new added goals.

Health-wise, I want to practice yoga. Truthfully, I hate yoga. I’ve done a fair share – even taken clients through yoga workouts – but it’s not my favorite. It’s great for pregnancy though, so I am going to try to improve by adding a yoga workout once a week. Oh, and floss daily. Since I’ve managed to get myself to the dentist, I would like to maintain my oral health. Plus, I got a water flosser for Christmas. 😁

New skill this year is knitting. I already bought myself a small starter kit of knitting needles. Hoping I can make a baby blanket for the new kiddo before he/she arrives in June.

At home, I want to start making my own cleaning products. I am still using up a lot of products that we’ve had lying around and as soon as they are gone I am going to start making my own. There are other things around the house that I am still phasing out as well. I hope to reduce our trash [and recycling] output even more this year, as well.

Personally, I would like to read two books a month: one fiction and one non-fiction. I prefer non-fiction, but I find myself most able to relax and unwind when I get lost in a good story.

For my family, I want go spend more time outside. I loved our month of focused time on getting outside. I hope to be able to emphasize that throughout this entire year.

And for this pregnancy, I want eat well [something I struggled with during my other pregnancies] and enjoy it as much as I can [I do not like being pregnant], because it will most likely be my last.

So, I guess that’s it.

Happy New Year!

🥳 🥳 🥳

Karis

October Clothing Donation

October Clothing Donation

October marks the halfway point in my clothing ban. In the past six months, I haven’t purchased a single item of clothing [though I did acquire two new shirts for the marathon which were included with my entry – one from the race and one from the charity I ran with] and I have donated 156 items from my wardrobe to local charities.

We’ve also been through round one of decluttering our home. I’ve been through the entire house now and gotten rid of the surface level clutter – the easy stuff. But I know there are many rounds ahead. I’ve already been through three rounds on my book collection and two rounds on the toys and six rounds on my tank top collection – and I know there is still a lot more to free myself from in the future.

This month, since it is now fall and definitely, without a doubt, past tank top weather, I am donating every tank top that I did not wear all summer long. I probably mentioned before that tank tops are apparently my favorite piece of clothing because I used to own 57 pieces [!!!] – the biggest line item in my clothing inventory last May. I’ve weaned it down now to twenty, but really, I don’t need more than seven [for crying out loud].

So, it may be a few more rounds for the tank tops.

I also began setting aside everything I thought about wearing, but chose not to for whatever reason. Throughout the month there were several times when I put something on and stood in front of the mirror and had to ask myself if I actually wanted to wear it – or worse, asked my husband whether it was ok to wear. Each time, I immediately put it in the donate pile. If I’m wasting time wondering if I like it or if it fits or if it’s flattering … then, no. Buh-bye.

I am also getting rid of some socks and tights and underwear that I know I will never wear.

This process of weaning down my wardrobe has been very effective. Each month I have to make slightly tougher choices…but only slightly. I’m still working through a lot of excess.

So, don’t worry if you feel like you could never cut down your wardrobe. Just start with one thing. Just put one thing in the donate pile. Do it in waves. First get rid of all the easy stuff. Then come back and re-examine. Then get rid of the emotional stuff. Then come back again … and again until you’ve got only stuff you love and feel good about and actually need.

I’ve read in several books that a clean sweep is the best way to declutter. Collect everything of like type in your entire home and then after examining each individual thing, narrow it down to your favorite, say, 10% and get rid of the rest. But, for me, I have found that doing it in waves is more practical and much easier.

It’s hard to slash your belongings by 90% overnight. I don’t doubt that it’s possible, but I don’t think I could do it that way. I prefer to gradually free myself from belongings and then examine myself and realize that the more I let go, the less I need the stuff that remains, and then I cycle through again. In this way, I’m changing myself and not just the amount of stuff I own.

I am continually learning how little I need in this life to be happy and fulfilled – especially when it comes to clothing.

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste at the Chicago Marathon

[Nearly] Zero Waste at the Chicago Marathon

If you’ve ever participated in a race, you probably already know that these events are [typically] very wasteful. Aid stations hand out water and Gatorade in paper or [egad!] plastic cups which get used for all of five seconds before being thrown onto the ground to be trampled by the rest of the runners. Then there are all the energy packets [gels, chews, beans, honey sticks, etc] all in individual wrappers which are also thrown on the ground mid-run. And don’t get me started on all the post-race foods like bananas, apples, protein bars, and water bottles that all create some sort of waste. All of this stuff ends up piled high in tons of trash cans throughout the race course and at the finish line.

I have been participating in running and multi-sport events of all different sizes – from small town 5Ks to the Chicago Marathon this past weekend – for the past seven years and, honestly, I never even considered the waste until this summer. So, I was very excited to find that the Chicago Marathon had so many awesome green initiatives.

“The 2018 Bank of America Chicago Marathon has been named an Evergreen Inspire event by the Council for Responsible Sport…”

-Participant Guide

Some of my favorite sustainability initiatives were:

1. The race shirt was made of 100% recycled polyester which has fewer environmental impacts.

2. Most aid stations collected organic waste [paper cups and banana peels] to be composted and the soil donated to the Chicago Park District.

3. Recycled Heatsheets will be made into benches which will be donated to the Chicago Park District.

4. Designated Green team volunteers helped to direct waste into separate containers for compost, recycle or landfill at several Zero Waste Stations.

5. The race participant guide encouraged runners to bring their own reusable water bottles and provided refilling stations.

And everyone already knows how much I love the #SheddtheStraw initiative by Shedd Aquarium. I love seeing Chicago work together to become a more sustainable city.

Of course, a lot of these initiatives are only effective if the runners and spectators actually utilize them and changing [or re-training] an entire race culture will not happen overnight.

BUT, I can make a difference. I made sure to sort my waste appropriately at the designated Zero Waste Stations. I recycled my Heatsheet. I stayed on the designated paths to preserve the foliage in Grant Park. I recycled my gear check bag appropriately when I got home [store drop-off].

I realized that I can do more, though – starting with requesting green initiatives at all my races and encouraging fellow runners to support a more sustainable racing environment.

One of the things I love most about running is how simple it is. It doesn’t require any fancy equipment or gym or dress code or anything other than a pair of legs and a stretch of earth. Running also connects us to nature by getting us outside to enjoy fresh air and appreciate the beauty around us. We don’t want to ruin that, right?

So if and when you happen to participate in a racing event – it never hurts to encourage race directors to provide sustainable options…and at the very least, look for the recycle bin. 👍🏻

Happy [Zero Waste] Running!

Karis

Simple Living Goals for October

Simple Living Goals for October

I’ve been reading a new book…

…which I LOVE.

Slow: Simple Living for a Frantic World by Brooke McAlary

Even though I’ve already come across, wrestled with, and thought through most of the information in the book already, I find the author’s journey to be similar to mine in the sense that we both knew what we were looking for but didn’t really know how to get there and so went on a long journey to figure it out. She is much further along on her journey than I am, which gives me hope and inspires me to continue.

I haven’t come across a single thing in the book that doesn’t make me want to stand up and yell “Preach it, Sister!”

Brooke [can I call her Brooke? Because I feel like we are friends even though she had no idea who I am…] has inspired me to start living the simple life right now. I’ve been so busy trying to get there – trying to simplify my life, to declutter my home, to reduce my waste, to be a conscious consumer, to bake my own bread for crying out loud – that I think I may have missed out on actually enjoying the simple life, which was the whole point in the first place.

For me, this journey has been about creating a life of making memories and savoring moments and spending time with loved ones and pouring myself into my kids and caring for the world around me and enjoying all of it. That’s the whole reason I started on all this zero waste, minimalist and hyggelit stuff anyway.

So, to refocus and help myself prioritize the type of life I’m wanting to live, I’m making a few goals for the month:

1. Spend time with my kids outdoors for an hour every day. After last week, I am looking forward to spending more time outside with my kids. We are going to do some fun fall activities, explore some new parks, ride our bikes, hang out on our back deck, and take lots of walks in the forest preserve behind our home.

2. Read 30 minutes every day. I’ve been wanting to prioritize reading, but so many other things seem to be more important. So I’ve starting reading for the first thirty minutes of my kids’ “quiet time” rather than saving it for the end when I would inevitably run out of time.

3. Play with my kids when they ask. “Not now” and “In a little bit” and “After I finish this project” and “I’ve got a lot to do right now” are all common responses I give when my kids ask me to play with them – which they do about a thousand times a day. So I’m going to start playing more. I have less housework to do because of the decluttering, less meal planning and shopping due to the zero waste…so I’ve got more time to play!

4. Create something every day. I love involving my kids in art, but I know that it is just as much for me as it is for them. I have always needed a creative outlet. As an adult, I find my creative outlet in different ways than I did when I was in school art classes, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t flex my creativity and make something from scratch.

5. Leave my phone behind. Since leaving social media almost two years ago, I’m on my phone a lot less, but I still find myself tied to it, checking it, carrying it on my person at all times. There’s nothing wrong with that, obviously, but my son asked me to put my phone down the other day and I realized that I do have it in front of my face more than I should. While I may need to keep it handy to be reachable or for emergencies, it can stay on the counter or in the diaper bag or in the stroller. It doesn’t have to be on me all the time. I think that looking at my phone less will allow me to notice and experience a lot more.

Karis

TACO Week

TACO Week

Take A Child Outside week has arrived! [I know, it’s a super misleading acronym…]

Though I would love an entire week dedicated to tacos, I’m just as excited about spending time outside with my kids this week!

Not to imply that you need a special week to spend time outside [obviously], but our local park district has all sorts of fun and engaging activities this week to facilitate more quality time in the great outdoors. Plus, this week acts as a reminder to spend as much time outside as possible during the beautiful fall weather! Fall has to be my absolute favorite season because of all the apple picking, pumpkin farming, hay wagon riding, camp firing, trick-or-treating, cider sipping [I could go on all day, folks] fun to be had!

Another emphasis of this week is time together, which is a good reminder for me to get outside and actively spend time with my kids, as opposed to sending them outside to play while I stay indoors. I’m considering making a goal to spend 1,000 hours outdoors in a year [which I heard someone did and find very inspiring], so it’s been interesting to see how quickly I am ready to go back inside. And I consider myself to be someone who loves the outdoors – but apparently not quite as much as I thought.

1,000 hours is A LOT…

But, anyway, back to TACO week.

Today, we kicked things off with Farm Frolic at our local park district’s farm. We enjoyed face painting, sand digging, pumpkin painting, goat petting, corn shucking, barn raising, and pony riding. It was exhausting for me pulling the three kids around in the wagon by myself, but we had so much fun! I’m glad I didn’t skip it just because it was going to be hot and tiring. Time outside really does do wonders for the soul!

I’ve been reading a new book, There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather, by Linda Åkeson McGurk who was raised in Sweden where apparently people love the outdoors so much that there are literal outdoor schools and they go out in rain or shine or snow or sleet or whatever. It has really inspired me to take my kids outside more often anyway.

So, this week is the perfect opportunity to see if I can make my outdoor goal a reality and refocus on spending time outside enjoying this beautiful Midwest fall.

Here are some photo highlights from our day:

So, are you taking a child outside this week?

Karis