The concept of eating clean isn’t a hard sell. The practice for people living everyday lives on everyday budgets, is more of a challenge. One of the biggest hurdles to committing to a cleaner diet is the cost that comes with it. This article outlines how you can eat clean without going broke.
There are some very real ways that you can eat clean and live better, and they start with good local food from good local organic and pasture-based farms.
Eating Clean Affordably: Start With the Food You Purchase
It’s the age-old concept–get more bang for your buck. When it comes to choosing the food that you purchase, the adage really holds true. Choosing healthier, more nutrient-dense foods like local organic meat and produce and pasture-raised meats is elemental in getting the “bang” into your food budget.
How your local meat is grown makes a big difference in its nutritional profile. “Grass-fed is one of the most nutrient-dense proteins you can buy,” says Dr. Anthony Gustin, DC, MS. The more diverse, more natural diets that pastured beef, pastured pork, and pastured poultry consume offer higher natural protein sources (like grass and insects) and result in higher nutrition without the need for synthetic supplements. Grass-fed meats offer lower fat, higher essential fatty acids, omega-3’s, and increased antioxidants, Vitamin E and other essential vitamins and micronutrients.
When you choose local organic vegetables, organic meats, grass-fed meat, and other local foods, that nutrient density is even higher. The reason for this is that food is less-traveled and therefore there is less nutrient breakdown owing to processing, handling, storage, and food degradation. Vitamins and nutritional elements in vegetables, for example, begin to deteriorate from the moment the produce is harvested. So choosing to spend your budget on as many quality local organic meats and vegetables and quality local grass-fed and pastured meats as possible really does make a difference both for your local food producers and for you.
Practical Ways to Stretch Your Local Food Budget
It’s true that eating better, clean local food is not always cheaper. Conscientiously-raised meat from local meat farms, in particular, can seem pricier, even if there are good reasons for the higher price. And while you may not argue the basis of that increased price, in the real world we live with real family budgets. So finding a way to balance the two is key to making your commitment to getting the benefits of better local food work.
- Purchase with portion control in mind. Americans are well-known for food waste. When we’re talking about such a valuable food resource as locally-grown organic meat and produce, that’s a true shame of a waste indeed. Often this stems from something as simple as buying in packages that are either too large for single-meal uses or in not breaking down larger packages (which can often be a deal and a money-saver in themselves).The solutions are simple: buy those larger bulk packages for the cost saving, but then break them down into more user-friendly packages for your needs; ask your local farmer about packaging options to see what you can do to get your packages in something more useful and less wasteful; buy smaller portions of pre-packaged local clean foods (a little more spent but used is cheaper than a lot spent on a lot of waste!).
- Plan meals to maximize. If you must purchase and perhaps thaw a larger-than-ideal portion, plan your meals accordingly so that you can use the portion for more than one meal. Maybe that two pounds of grass-fed beef tips becomes a one-pound meal of marinated steak tips and a one-pound meal of grass fed stir fry with local healthy veggies in the mix!
- Become a meal prepper. Another great way to use a large portion of something like local pastured meats or vegetables is to set aside a few hours and prep for the week ahead (something that’s becoming more and more popular by the day!). So many great recipes abound online, and this is a great way to eat clean while watching your lunch or dinner budget and having top-quality clean food for the busy week ahead!
- Balance local meat consumption with local vegetables and produce. Increase your daily local vegetable, dairy, and produce intake to round out your plate. Aim to “eat the rainbow”–a variety of six to eight servings of different colors and types of fruits and vegetables daily, supported with good whole grains. Eating that rainbow with in-season produce is a budget-saver, too.
- Check into co-op and bulk-buying options. Local farmers often offer a variety of buying options like subscription-type CSA shares, bulk-buying discounts, and purchasing through local food cooperatives.
There are a lot of delicious ways to stretch your meats so that you get the most out of every cut and reduce food waste:
- Soups, stews, stir-fries, sauces, and casseroles are all excellent ways to make a little go a long way. Just a pound of nutrient-dense, quality local meat in a sauce or stir-fry over pasta or whole grain rice can easily feed a family of four while meeting daily protein requirements.
- Smaller portions of crumbled, diced, or shredded meat used as salad toppers or flavorings for baked potatoes or pasta are a great way to stretch a cut and use up leftover portions.
- “Blended meat”, such as when you add things like diced mushrooms, peppers, onions, bread crumbs, to a dish (especially useful for ground meat) is a great way to add veggies and carbs to the meal as you add big flavor. Flavored burgers and meatballs are prime examples of blended meats.
Finally, using as much of a bird, roast, or cut as possible is the best way to maximize your local meat dollars:
- Don’t throw that carcass away, use it as a soup base or base for bone broth (which can easily be frozen and then used to cook rice or for soups and sauces…).
- Thinly slice leftover roasts for preservative-free sandwich meat.
- Pull remaining poultry from the bone for chicken or turkey salad.
- Slowly simmer bone-in roasts to cook off remaining meat from the bones of grass fed beef and pork, hams, etc. Use both the meat and the broth for dishes like soups, gravies (biscuits and gravy!), poutine, meaty gravy or reduction sauces served over roasted vegetables, pulled pork, chicken, or beef, barbecue sandwiches…
The more you start thinking about ways to use up and maximize your quality local meat and produce, the more ways will come to you and suddenly, the more affordable those better quality meals become. Just small changes in your thinking and cooking will make it easier for you to commit to eating cleaner, quality food and show you that you really can eat clean without going broke.