Why Eating Sustainably Doesn’t Have to Cost You More Money

Organic, free-range, local, pesticide-free — trying to eat green can feel overwhelming. Then, when you factor in the sticker shock many people feel when purchasing healthy food, it’s no wonder we retreat into the comfort of the junk food aisle. But there are several easy, inexpensive ways to start eating sustainably.

How to Eat Sustainably on a Budget

It’s a myth eating healthy food will break the bank. Here’s how to do it for less. 

1. Buy Food in Season

Craving apples in January? You might be surprised to learn your average supermarket apple is up to one year old, thanks to advances in cold storage and chemical treatments. 

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Agricultural technology has allowed unprecedented strides in human nutrition, ensuring we can eat fresh fruit even in the dead of winter. But it does take a lot of energy to keep produce harvested in November fresh throughout the year. 

In addition to the refrigeration, it also takes electricity to create the chemical treatments and apply them to food. Eating in-season produce is more sustainable and usually cheaper. 

2. Eat Less Meat and Dairy

Cutting down on your meat and dairy intake will help the planet — and your wallet. It’s often one of the most expensive parts of your grocery list. It can be hard to find sustainably raised meat and milk products, and when you do, they’re often double the usual price.

Eating less processed meat is also good for your health. The World Health Organization lists processed meat as a carcinogen because of its cancer-causing properties. 

3. Eat Less Mock Meat

As you reduce your meat consumption, you might be tempted to buy more plant-based substitutes, like soy burgers or cauliflower nuggets. Mock meat products continue to get better. However, while they may be tasty, these types of foods can eat into your budget! In fact, they’re usually more expensive than actual animal products.

The good news is the ingredients used for making meat substitutes — beans, soy and lots of other vegetables — are relatively cheap. Why not buy them and whip up a few similar savory dishes to satisfy your appetite?

4. Buy Local 

The farther food has to travel, the more it costs. Producers have to factor in the price of diesel, refrigeration and paying their truck drivers to transport a shipment from field to factory. From there, they still have to ship it to the grocery store.

Instead of buying food from across the country, why not support your neighbors by shopping at the farmers market? You’ll help support your local farmers and find tasty, healthy food — often at a lower price. 

5. Limit Food Waste

American consumers waste up to 40% of their food every year. That’s 40% of their grocery budget right down the garbage disposal! One of the easiest ways to save money on food is to clean your plate and make sure to freeze or refrigerate any leftovers as soon as possible. 

6. Buy From Cheaper Brands

While many sustainable food producers charge a premium for their products, some are cheaper than others. Do your research and see if you can strike a balance between quality and affordability. 

It’s also helpful to shop sales, use coupons and look for additional discounts when you can. For example, if an item has slightly damaged packaging or is about to expire, you might be able to get it at a lower price.

7. Plant a Garden

Do you have a green thumb? Dig into that black gold and start growing your own fruits and vegetables. It’s a fun, rewarding way to eat sustainably. It’s usually much cheaper than buying produce from the store, too. 

8. Plan Ahead

Write a grocery list detailing exactly which items you need to buy, the quantity you need and how much you’re willing to spend overall. Then, stick to it. You’d be amazed how much you save by not buying impulse items in the checkout aisle. 

9. Buy in Bulk

Many stores will offer discounts if you buy food in bulk. To save the most money, make fewer trips to the store and purchase more groceries per trip. You’ll likely cut down on both food and gas costs. Be sure to plan smart, though, or else you might end up wasting food.

10. Choose Whole Foods

No, not the store Whole Foods, but the eponymous unprocessed ingredients like fruit, vegetables, nuts and grains. Raw, minimally processed foods are cheaper than prepared meals. Although you’ll have to spend a little extra time in the kitchen, it’s worth it to hand-select the ingredients going into each dish. You can choose each one based on sustainability and price. 

Saving Money and the Planet

Eating sustainably grown food is an excellent way to lower your carbon footprint and protect the future of farming. Although many organic or eco-friendly products are more expensive than their less sustainable counterparts, there are many ways to buy them for less. And, of course, you can grow some of your own food. Eating well never felt so good.

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