Whole Foods Eating Without Spending Your Whole Paycheck

Whole Foods Without Your Whole Paycheck

We originally wrote this article for DailyFinance, but it’s a topic we’ve wanted to discuss on OFB for a while now. We’d love to hear any thoughts/tips you’d add to our list.

It seems the organic, all-natural, no blah-blah-blah craze isn’t just a passing phase. Green smoothies, cleansing diets, and “caveman” recipes will continue to flood your Facebook for the next millennium, so get used to it. The question is, have you, too, succumbed? It’s hard not to feel pressure to buy into the Whole Foods frenzy.

“I mean, can you really put a price on your health?” asks your friend as you both grimace down a wheatgrass shot. Well, no: You can’t put a price on your health (unless you’re planning to sell one of your kidneys sometime soon). But you can decide how much you’ll spend to eat healthy. Despite popular belief, you don’t have to sabotage your budget to do it. And while my husband, Johnny, and I don’t profess to be the healthiest humans on the planet (I’m scarfing chocolate as I type this), here are five ways we’ve found to eat healthier without selling our souls to Whole Foods:

Grow Your Own Food

Sometimes we’re so wrapped up in the daily grind that we don’t even register where our food comes from. So for those of you, like us, who need a refresher, here’s how it works: it’s grown… in the ground. You know what’s crazier? Anyone can do it! For about $10, you can buy a few packets of seeds that will yield all the leafy, juicy, all-natural fruits and veggies your body craves. And for you eye-rolling apartment-dwellers, don’t count yourselves out from this money-saving awesomeness for a second. Here’s a list of 66 things you can grow on your terrace or windowsill. Here’s another great resource for indoor vegetable gardening during the winter months.

Say Yes to Farmers Markets/Co-Ops/CSAs

If you’re looking to save some major green on leafy greens, then farmers markets, co-ops, and CSAs are the way to go. And better yet, everything you get is local and in-season. Phrases like “genetically-modified” and “how am I eating strawberries in February?” can be banished from your vocabulary when you know you’re eating produce grown just down the street. And did I mention you’re helping your local community’s economy at the same time? All in a day’s purchase.

Choose Your Organic Produce Wisely

We’ve probably all felt the guilt of choosing cheaper produce instead of the organic selection that looks down its nose at it from just a display away.

While we’d love to buy organic all the time, sometimes our bank account reins in our healthy instincts. But don’t fret: There’s actually a lot of produce that’s mostly pesticide-free being sold without the organic label and expensive price tag. Fruits and vegetables with thick skins — think pineapple, avocado, mango, eggplant and watermelon, for example — can be grown with little to no pesticides. Other plants are more resistant to pests in general — and so require fewer pesticides — including broccoli, sweet potato, onion, asparagus and cabbage.

Eat the Staples (Not the Metal Kind)

For those of you really serious about going natural, get away from of the world of prepackaged goods and get back to the basics: whole grains, beans and legumes. They’re cheap and healthy, and you can stock up when they’re on sale since these babies won’t be expiring anytime soon. For whole-grain bread, channel your inner Martha Stewart, spend a few hours with your oven, and come away with a month’s supply for a fraction of the price you’d pay for store-bought. Just freeze the loaves you don’t need right away.

Have a Cow

Vegetarians may want to look away from this section. If you’re an unabashed meat lover like Johnny or me, and you’re looking for a cheaper alternative for grass-fed beef, there is hope! Grass-fed beef is incredibly reasonable when you buy in bulk. Depending on your needs, you can purchase a quarter, half, or whole cow (pre-cut and packaged, of course) and freeze it for up to a year. We do suggest investing in a deep freezer before bringing it home. And if you don’t see yourself eating that much beef in a year’s time, grab a few beef-loving comrades and split your cuts up. Save the T-bone and ribs for us, please.

Eating healthy doesn’t have to exist in a world where you’re the only person who forgets to bring a reusable bag. So if you resent your whole paycheck going toward a healthier, now-penniless version of yourself, we hope we’ve helped ease that burden. And the weight of eating healthy can now refer to something other than your finances.

What are your tricks for eating healthy for less? We’ve got years’ worth of ramen in our veins, so we’re all ears to any and all tips to help us detox with healthy, affordable goodness.

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  • Reply Laura April 24, 2015 at 9:55 am

    I don’t buy organic because it’s not regulated very well (or at all?) and some actually use more pesticides than non-organic which I do not understand at all. I do not think it’s worth the extra cost. Also, organic food comes at a much higher price to the environment. Also, GMOs are not dangerous at all, so I don’t spend money for non-GMOs. But no judgment – you’ve got to do what you feel is best and healthiest for you family 🙂

    • Reply Christina April 24, 2015 at 10:09 am

      Wow, I’m shocked you could actually believe that. Organic products are strictly regulated ,otherwise they cannot be labeled as such. The facts about GMOs is so scarey that I try to avoid anything high on the GMO list. I’d really check your facts and hopefully discover that eating foods that are organic( most of the time, non GMO, and meats or eggs not factory farmed) is better for you and the environment.

    • Reply Tara @ Streets Ahead Living April 25, 2015 at 11:11 pm

      Lol, do you work for Monsanto? Organics are regulated and GMOs are known for causing serious issues with cross pollination with non GMOs for starters so your Monsanto cover is blown.

  • Reply Alicia April 24, 2015 at 12:40 pm

    Getting a CSA box has been hands down the best thing I’ve done in terms of healthy eating. You have to pay up front for the quarter, but it breaks down to $25/week; there’s only 2 of us, so we do every other week. We get a lot of local, organic fruits & vegetables for much cheaper than the grocery store or farmers’ market and also support a local farm. It also forces us to try new recipes as we use up some of the veggies we otherwise wouldn’t have bought.

    And to the girl who doesn’t think organic is regulated, it definitely is! I used to work for an organic nutrition bar company and the USDA Organic regulations are definitely strict.

    • Reply Joanna May 4, 2015 at 11:30 pm

      Totally! We aren’t able to do a CSA box while we’re in NYC, but we’ve done it elsewhere and it’s amazing!! Glad to hear you’re taking advantage of it!

  • Reply Danny @ Danny MoreBucks April 24, 2015 at 7:04 pm

    Great article. Trying to eat better but still within a budget.

    It took me tracking my food intake for a few weeks while trying to lose some extra weight to realize what I should be eating more of and less of. REAL FOOD was the answer. Making my own food for lunch from the grocery store instead of fast food, veggies and cottage cheese for snacks instead of fun size snickers, and water instead of soda (most of the time :)). I still crave the junk and I still eat the junk, but less than I used to and my body has been thanking me.

  • Reply Our Next Life April 24, 2015 at 7:33 pm

    You’ve hit on one of our favorite topics! It’s such a misconception that healthy food has to be expensive. Is most of what’s at Whole Foods expensive? Yep! But most of it is also heavily processed and packaged, just like at any store, though hopefully with better starter ingredients. These are mostly time-tested tips, but you asked, so we’re sharing ’em anyway. 🙂 First, shop the perimeter of the store — produce, deli, dairy, bakery — rather than the interior (more highly processed and marked up foods). Consult the EWG Dirty Dozen list for produce to always buy organic, and the Clean 15 for produce that’s fine conventionally grown. Make liberal use of the bulk bins, where you can save a lot of money by not purchasing the packaging, and avoid food waste by only buying what you need. The bulk section is our favorite, and we get so many unexpected things there — oils, peanut butter, maple syrup, cereal, chips, candy, as well as the expected rice and dried beans. We bring our own containers, which they give us a discount for, but that’s not necessary. (We like that it saves more plastic bags from going in the landfill, and keeps our pantry tidier than trying to stack a bunch of baggies.) You can also save money buying Whole Foods store brand items (365 and 365 organic). Outside of Whole Foods, we find that the non-organic growers at farmers market often don’t actually use pesticides (ask!) and often charge less than organic certified growers. And we love our CSA. Okay, that’s enough of a novel for one comment! Have a great weekend.

  • Reply Courtney April 24, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    Hooray! This was my favorite post.

  • Reply Kristin S April 24, 2015 at 9:12 pm

    My favorite topic! Amen to all of your recommendations. I still have no idea how you stick to the grocery budget you have published, though. We eat small amounts of grains and legumes, but cabbage, cauliflower, root vegetables and zucchini stand in for them and are inexpensive. Our monthly grocery budget excluding meat is about $125/person; meat is purchased separately. The biggest factor in keeping to my grocery budget is meal planning. Second is buying healthy animals directly from the farmer – one small cow in the Spring, one large pig in the fall and a bunch of quartered chickens throughout the year. We do occasionally buy chicken breasts or thighs at the store. Conventional ground beef costs about $6/lb in the grocery store, but our whole grass-fed cow ends up costing under $4.50/lb after butchering and the pastured pork is even less. It took us a while to set up a meat sinking fund and figure out the right amount (currently $225/month); a tax refund actually bought us our freezer and first side of beef. If you don’t have the budget for hundreds of pounds of meat, a freezer, and a generator (in case you live in an area that loses power often) all at once, many butchers will let you rent freezer space and you can just make a monthly trip to pick up a portion of your meat.

    • Reply Katie Ball April 30, 2015 at 11:35 am

      I just recently started learning how to cut up my own chicken! You can buy a whole chicken for $7 – that’s five pounds of meat! I seriously had no idea… haha!

    • Reply Joanna May 4, 2015 at 11:37 pm

      As soon as we have a house of our own, we really want to get a freezer and start buying ground beef that way. Good to hear from someone who is doing it and has had a good experience! Also, we’ll be talking more about our grocery budget this month, so stay tuned! 🙂

  • Reply Tara @ Streets Ahead Living April 25, 2015 at 11:15 pm

    I’m with you on the meat eating! My husband and I do want to buy a portion of a cow soon. I heard recently that not all peel and eat fruits are good to get non organic. Tangerines absorb the chemicals into the fruit so even when peeled, the fruit has high concentratio nd of chemicals. That’s one fruit to try and get organic if you eat them. I wanted to add that CSAs are amazing and I love the veggies I get as a result!

  • Reply Katie Ball April 30, 2015 at 11:34 am

    Sadly, the farmer’s market we have in our town is not a less expensive option. I don’t mind buying a few things there to support our local farmers, but the extra 50 cents here and there adds up. So I have to know the average price of produce at my grocery store before buying too much at our farmer’s market.

    I also like to do meatless options when I can, which definitely helps with the budget – especially if you buy the dried versions instead of canned! I have finally convinced my husband that, yes, beans can make up the protein portion of our meals! Haha! I love to do an easy black beans & rice, crock pot black eyed peas (with a ham hock, of course), pinto beans, and bean soups.

    • Reply Joanna May 4, 2015 at 11:40 pm

      So true! We have a few meatless meals we stick to as well. And we also do a lot of meals with chicken since it’s a less expensive meat!

  • Reply afmare May 1, 2015 at 11:28 am

    Hey, one thing I’mconcerned about, as far as organic labelling goes, are the global trade deals. Fairly recently our USDA worked a deal so that other countries’ organic standards can be sold as organic in the USA. So, I did try to contact the USDA to get info on what this means for US organic standards, but did not recieve any replies.

    So, what is your take on this? I’m beginning to think that the USDA is quite compromised by corporate lobbying to change regulations & standards. I’m starting to give more credibility to foods with additional certification from groups like QAI & Oregon Tilth.


    • Reply Joanna May 4, 2015 at 11:45 pm

      I’ve only heard about this briefly… I wish I knew more on the subject. You’re probably right about the standards being compromised to a certain degree. All I can suggest is buying more produce grown in the US and sticking to certain organic brands you’ve researched for other foods. Good for you for trying to contact the USDA to find out more answers. It’s something they need to be more transparent with, and hopefully they will be in the future.

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