There's always something new in the world of diet fads and trends, many requiring lifestyle changes and budget-busting expense. So-called clean eating, which involves consuming fresh foods that are as close to their "natural" state as possible, is an efficient way to maintain healthy eating habits. Although this regimen carries a reputation for being costly, it's possible to adopt this dietary approach without spending a fortune.
Get Healthy for Less: 10 Ways to Eat Clean
Contrary to popular belief, all produce doesn't have to be organic, which typically costs more than the nonorganic variety. Frugal devotees of clean eating should save their spending on organic produce for the "dirty dozen," the fruits and vegetables with relatively high concentrations of pesticide residues, such as apples, celery, lettuce, grapes, peaches, and strawberries. Feel free to indulge in the "clean 15," produce such as pineapple, watermelon, peas, eggplant, and tomatoes with minimal residues on the parts consumed. Organic or not, always rinse before eating.
A study by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University found that a sample of eight vegetables grown and distributed locally through farmers' markets was no more expensive than comparable items at the supermarket. Local farmers' markets are good sources for the freshest produce, much of it organic. Some farmers even negotiate prices, especially with repeat, loyal customers.
In-season produce tastes better and is generally cheaper than out-of-season fruits and vegetables, largely due to the cost of transporting the foods over long distances from grower to market. Before setting out on your next shopping trip, check out what's in season in your area. The website Field to Plate posts links to seasonality details for many states; see a chart at the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture website for seasonal fruits and vegetables at a San Francisco farmers' market.
Drinking plain, old-fashioned water from the tap is a fundamental rule of clean eating. Water is important for your health and costs considerably less than juices, teas, and soda -- not to mention bottled water. If there's any concern about water quality (or taste) in your area, invest in an inexpensive home water filter or buy water from a store that sells filtered water dispensed into refillable jugs, a more costly option but still cheaper and healthier than sugary drinks.
Completely removing meat from your diet is not a principle of clean eating. But replacing meat with vegetables in casseroles and sauces is a quick and cheap way to maintain a clean-eating lifestyle. Eggplant is a healthy, cost-effective substitute in lasagna, for example, and lentils can substitute for ground beef without sacrificing much in the way of texture or taste. In 2014, the average price for one pound of ground beef was close to $4; one pound of lentils rarely costs more than $2 a pound.
One way to cut your food budget is to reduce serving sizes. Several studies, including one by the Journal of Nutrition, have identified two interrelated trends: portion sizes continue to increase and many Americans overeat. Take stock of how much you're dishing out at home and consuming when dining out and cut back to more appropriate servings. Adhering to dietary guidelines for portion sizes could decrease the amount of food you eat, keep your weight on track, and reduce the amount spent on groceries.
Buying in bulk lets you purchase the exact amount you need for the week or for a specific meal. Bulk buying saves money by reducing waste and forgoing fancy (i.e., costly) packaging. Many supermarkets and health food stores keep bulk bins stocked with spices, whole grains, beans, nuts, dried fruits, and more; many of the items are organic.
Improper storage of fruits, vegetables, and leftovers is a sure path to waste -- of food and money. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 30 percent to 40 percent of the American food supply is never consumed. Adherents of clean eating, with its focus on fresh, can stem such loss and simultaneously save on groceries, by storing food properly. Invest in reusable bags and containers and check the specific tips offered by The Kitchn food blog.
Eating leftovers in their original but reheated state saves money and reduces waste but gets tiresome after a while. But the remains of almost any meal can be reinvented. Day-old grits can be transformed into a grits casserole with the addition of cheese, sautéed vegetables, and seasoning; mashed potatoes turn a thin soup into a hearty potage; and near-stale bread ground into breadcrumbs can coat chicken cutlets and fish fillets or help soften and bind a meatloaf.
Don't waste money on trendy new foods or recipes. Juicing, chia seeds, and algae milk are just a few of the latest headline grabbers. Juicing, for example, requires an expensive juicer and wastes a good portion of the fruits and vegetables. It's easy to be tempted by new food ideas, especially when they claim to offer medical benefits. While you're on a budget, though, stick to fresh foods you know and use regularly.