In the past weeks, like so many others in January, we started a new diet. It’s amazing! We are both visibly losing weight, all the foods we’re eating are nutrient-rich and calorie-poor and have discovered along the way completely new ways of cooking food (for example, roasting vegetables without any oil). It’s also super easy! All you do is limit what you eat to brown rice, fruits (no citrus, apples or bananas), vegetables (green, orange and yellow only), maple syrup and salt. The small menu alone promotes weight loss. Unfortunately, unlike most people this month, we did not embark on this diet to lose weight. We did it to identify and eliminate migraine triggers from my diet. (And I lied about it being super easy before. It’s really, really difficult.)
Life happens. Things change. And your budget has to be just as (if not more) flexible than you are. Which is why I have not laid out many specific numbers in the past weeks. I haven’t offered lists of What I Always Keep In My Pantry, nor have I scanned in my grocery lists and receipts as part of this how-to. The only number I consistently threw around was $30–and I debated about whether or not to do that. Because the truth is not everyone can live on that little. Not because other people are lazier, or less savvy, or less determined but because everyone’s situation is different. People have food allergies and dietary restrictions. I probably would not recommend living a vegan lifestyle on $30 a week unless you have a massive garden. (I would, however, point out that we live as vegetarians much of the time due to the cost of meat, so that would be absolutely doable.) If a friend moved in with us we would naturally increase our grocery budget just as we did back when we moved in together. The principles, however–confidence in the kitchen, learning to eat repeat meals, listing and shopping smart–hold true no matter what your situation. You just have to be willing to adapt your budget as you adapt to your life.
Guess what? Food is expensive. It’s especially expensive if you want to eat healthy, or local, or ethically. When initially putting together our food budget Matt and I realized that we would not be able to afford to eat locally and ethically so we decided to be as healthy as we could for as little as we could. Some day we hope to up our budget not to add more food in (we really don’t need more food) but to lessen our negative impact on the world. We didn’t expect to have to up our food budget to deal with a medical diet. But even in this unexpected circumstance we can still save using what we’ve learned on our $30 a week plan.
For example, our confidence in the kitchen has helped us to experiment and learn whole new ways of cooking. Without things like oil and butter cooking some things can feel daunting, but because we look at cooking as an adventure we began to gather new resources and ideas. Did you know you can “dry roast” root vegetables in the oven using salt rather than oil? Or if sauteing kale isn’t an option you can make it into chips instead? Rice can be made into crackers or milk with only water added as an extra ingredient. Use kosher rather than plain old table salt to add new textures to food. In one week we learned and tried all of these things because the skills to do so were already there. We saved so much money on rice milk and we were able to largely make our own chips/snacks without relying too heavily on (surprisingly expensive) rice cakes. Being adventurous made all the difference.
The fact that we had already learned to eat repeat meals was a huge help as well. Though we tried to shake things up with sweet potatoes, carrots and kale the vast majority of our meals the first week (and still over half the second) were brown rice with cooked vegetables. Even for breakfast! Despite our creativity it still sometimes felt like there wasn’t anything else we could do. Beyond that, we needed the brown rice at every meal because it has been our only real source of protein. If we were not already used to eating the same meal day after day things would have been a lot harder.
Finally our savvy shopping skills continued to stay sharp. It is much harder to shop sales when you have such a limited diet but you can still shop stored. We learned that Shaws carries kale for only 99 cents a pound. (Really!!) Dried fruits are cheaper locally but the only places to find them unsweetened are our local natural food store and Whole Foods. Bananas (which we added in week two and thankfully weren’t a migraine trigger) are generally much cheaper by the pound than by the item. Even the items we were not very familiar with, such as the rice milk, we could use our skills to assess as a bad investment. (Seriously, if you are lactose sensitive homemade rice milk is so easy and cheap!)
I’m not explaining all this to brag (though I am proud of us for getting through this so far). I’m going through our own personal example step by step to show how our methods can be applied to your diet, whatever it is. And whatever it is, it has to be less limited than ours right now. Even having added only two new things to our diet by the end of this week (bananas and oil) we are better able to take advantage of sales sales and on the whole shop smarter. You can save a lot on food with just a bit of work and a lot of intentionality. I promise.