Eating healthy, organic unprocessed foods is the very best way of eating, and in our family, it’s the way we’ve lived for the past few years. But, let’s face it: an unprocessed lifestyle isn’t cheap. Sometimes heading to the farmers market puts a pretty big dent in your weekly food budget, and you start to wonder whether you’re making the right decision when it comes to the foods you’re eating. Trust me, I know from experience.
Living in a single-income household with our two little girls doesn’t leave much financial wiggle room, especially when it comes to our food budget. Add on medical bills and life’s little emergencies, and sometimes my husband and I don’t even know how we’re going to buy food at all. But we decided years ago, no matter the budget, we’re going to eat as healthy and unprocessed as we can.
Being responsible for planning all of the family’s healthy meals within our budget is a pretty daunting task. But, I’ve discovered a great way to plan ahead and save money, while eating as many healthy, unprocessed foods as possible. The secret? Menu planning!
Menu planning not only saves you time and money, it helps reduce the stress of coming home from work and not having a clue what you’re going to make for dinner in under 30 minutes. Here are a few tips for menu planning on a budget:
1. Use the same ingredients throughout the week. Try to plan recipes for the week that will use the same ingredients. For example, one week I may make 3-Bean Sweet Potato Chili (see recipe below), Lentils with Sweet Potato, and serve Sweet Potato Biscuits with soup. Three meals, all using sweet potato. They’ll all taste different, look different, but you’ve based a few meals of the week on one simple ingredient.
2. Buy staple products in bulk. If you buy grains, beans and pasta in bulk ahead of time, you’ll always have a recipe starter in your pantry. Buying in bulk is oftentimes less expensive, saves constant trips to the store, and allows you more time and money to spend on choosing the best produce possible.
3. Use cookbooks and blogs to find healthy recipes. Don’t try to plan out every single meal by yourself. Get inspiration from cookbooks, blogs and magazines. Can’t afford cookbooks? I borrow them from the library to save money. Whichever your source of inspiration, adapt the recipe to make it as unprocessed as possible, and give it a try.
4. Plant a garden. Yes, this is a long-term version of menu planning, but believe me it helps a lot! Keep a record of the foods your family eats the most, and then grow them on your own! Not only will you save money, you’ll have fun growing your own fruits and vegetables.
5. Have fun in the kitchen! Menu planning and cooking healthy, unprocessed foods should be fun, relaxed and involve the whole family. A lot of times, we focus so much on what we can’t eat, we miss out on all the healthy natural foods we can eat. Ask your family what they’d like to eat, head over to the store or farmers market to pick up some fresh (hopefully local) produce, and make a meal together.
Three Bean Sweet Potato Chili
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon crushed garlic
- 1 small green pepper diced
- 1 large sweet potato diced
- 1 cup chopped kale
- 4 cups cooked black beans
- 4 cups cooked pinto beans
- 1 cup cooked kidney beans
- 2 cups corn kernels
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin optional
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika optional
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste or homemade ketchup
- 3 cups crushed tomatoes
In a large pot over medium heat, combine the olive oil, garlic, green pepper, sweet potato, kale, beans, and corn. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
Add the seasonings, tomato paste and crushed tomatoes, and stir to combine.
Cover, and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 35-40 minutes. (Add water if necessary during the cooking process to avoid burning the chili.)
Once the vegetables are tender, remove from the heat, and serve warm. Garnish with Greek yogurt, parsley and cheese, and enjoy!
Not sure how to cook beans? Try this tutorial. You can also used canned beans, as long as all the ingredients pass the kitchen test (so double-check the label!).
Want more tips on eating #Unprocessed on a budget? Check out these guest posts from previous challenges:
- Ten ways to save money on unprocessed food
- Unprocessed – and organic – on a budget
- Being poor doesn’t have to mean eating poorly
- Is it more expensive to eat local and organic?
About the Author
Jackie Gonzalez-Feezer is the recipe developer and photographer behind La Casa de Sweets, where she shares her grain-free and (mostly) vegan recipes. Having made the switch to a grain-free lifestyle a few years ago, her goal is to make healthy food taste good. You can also find Jackie on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
I’ve made this twice during October and love it!! Thanks for sharing.
I think if you’re at the point where you don’t know if you can put food on the table at all, you have to concede to some sacrifices. I’m all for unprocessed, organic eating, but not at the expense of not being able to feed my family! That’s pretty serious. Also, cheese and greek yogurt are processed foods.
@Charlotte, cheese and Greek yogurt can be processed but that doesn’t mean they are. Home cooks can make them.
For a long time I felt bad about how much money I was spending on groceries per week. Then I spent a week in another city for work and was eating eating only take out. Even though I’d made fairly decent food choices, at the end of that week my food expenses were TWICE as much as usual, I didn’t feel as vibrant and I gained 5lbs. And that week included almost 40 hours of sweaty, manual labor! I haven’t felt bad about how much I spend for an unprocessed diet since. As they say, “you can pay the farmer or you can pay the doctor.” I’ll pay my farmer, thank you.
This was really good. I left out the corn and used 1 can of each type of bean. I think it was *quite* peppery though, I’ll decrease that next time. I used a quart jar of tomato puree that I had canned from my garden, it was thick enough like that so I also left out the tomato paste.
I am trying to give up dairy, so I had some chopped up avocado on mine. I’ll definitely make again!
The cooked zucchini is an interesting idea. Thanks!
Why haven’t I ever thought to add kale/greens to my chili?! Thanks for the inspiration!
It’s such a great way to get your kids to eat kale, too!
Any suggestions for modifying this recipe to exclude tomatoes? I think pumpkin would work instead of the tomato paste, but I’m not sure what to swap for the crushed tomatoes. Thanks in advance for any suggestions!
I would think that you could substitute 3 cups of cubed, cooked zucchini — or even the equivalent amount of jarred roasted red peppers — for the crushed tomatoes.
Love the idea of cubed zucchini!