Life · Tips and tricks · Uncategorized

How I learned to actually eat healthy for cheap, and why I thought I couldn’t

I remember moving into my first apartment my second year in college with no cooking skills. I grew up eating a lot of frozen meals and my family always had a love for pizza and 89 cent tacos on Taco Tuesday. This apartment was the first time I’d have to buy groceries for myself. Unfortunately I ended up only ever getting frozen food because I thought it was cheaper and easier than anything fresh.

In Montana, crops don’t grow. It’ll set on fire in the summer and be a ball of ice in the winter. I tried to grow my own strawberries one year and they got as big as a toenail before the deer ate them all. “Fresh produce is expensive” I told myself and had heard from others, so I avoided it completely.

Or so I thought.

It wasn’t until I moved to Germany where I learned to cook. Granted, their food is cheaper than anyone else, but seeing how easy cooking is I started to wonder how I could afford to not cook in college. A lot of us think it’s cheaper and easier to get a fast food burger meal for $8 rather than go to the store to buy all the ingredients for the same meal, get home, put it all away, and then have to actually cook it. It’s not.

I’m going to show just how much cheap and (kinda) healthy food I was able to buy at a grocery store, vs slightly more expensive choices at another. Keep in mind I’m in Australia right now, currently $1 US dollar = 1.36 Australian dollars. I’ll also show how much it costs to recreate the $8 burger meal.

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The total bill for this came out to be $33.43 AUD ($24.56 USD). Yeah, Germany I know it would have been like 5 cents.

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Finding food on sale is always a good idea, freeze it if it’s too much. 90% of things can be frozen. These sausages will last a month for us. The German here eats them mostly.

Your first step – Make a list

It can be daunting, but you should begin memorizing prices of food you buy often by price/weight. Most stores list the price of an item, and below it how much it is per kilo/pound. Basically (from countries I lived in at least), pre-made items will be the most expensive, meat next, after that is dairy, then fresh produce plus grains, beans, and legumes, and finally canned food.

Example list – In Australia:

  • Pre-made meals: $16+/kilo
  • Spices are all different but $22/kilo is normal
  • Ground beef, chicken breast: $8/kilo; Turkey $11/kilo; Sausage $4.75/kilo;
  • Butter, cheese $6/kilo; Milk $1/kilo; Yogurt $4.50/kilo; eggs $4.50/kilo
  • Carrots, apples, oranges, frozen vegetables, potatoes, anything impossible to be out of season, $2/kilo; Broccoli, zucchini, bell peppers, things that are babies with seasons hover around $5/kilo
  • Beans, oats, rice all around $2/kilo
  • Canned tomatoes $1.50/kilo; Canned tuna $4.50/kilo; Canned beans $2/kilo

This is a really good outline of things you should always have in your cupboard, cabinet, fridge, freezer, closet, drawers, whatever

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Here’s $42.79 worth of food from Costco. Not much. That ugly plastic bag with the dog is 2.3 kilos of lean ground beef but divided into 500g sized amounts. It was the most expensive thing here at almost $20. Pie is a necessity though. Always.

Buying in bulk

Always a good idea. The yogurt we buy from costco is 1/2 the price anywhere else. Rice in bulk is never a bad idea and you’ll have a sack for cats to play in when it’s gone.

Budget

You may think this should come first, but I found it easier once I got a feel about the prices of food. Do it first if you want. If you’re some rebellious emo kid you can never do it because you’re some rebellious emo kid. Get a notebook and track your spending. One week of tracking will let you know what you can spend on groceries. I’ll show you a picture of my budget book. We got paid way, way, way, way, way more than normal for 2 weeks of work so we spent $150 on groceries which will last 2 weeks at least. Our grocery goal is $50-75 per week for two people.

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We have 3 categories: grocery, gas, and entertainment (I write ent. bc I’m lazy). I don’t include bills because they always change. We had $150 for groceries, but spent $156.79. Also we spent $25 eating Costco hot dogs & pizza all week to celebrate lol. Oops. Also the nutella was to replace someone else’s because we haven’t had it in a long time and ate it all. ALSO the blog thing isn’t money, I just like to spend time on here 🙂 .

Anyway, seeing my outline might help you get an idea of how to do yours, I know it would have helped me!

Recreating a meal from McDonald’s/Burger King/Hardee’s/In-n-out for less than half the price

This isn’t really healthy but it’s more about showing how cooking at home is cheaper. The markup at restaurants is commonly around 230% (or more?), but are advertised to seem cheap. Let’s assume you want a 1/4 pounder burger, even though I know people out there (Sebastian) could easily eat a pound to themselves if they really wanted. We’re thinking average weight and sizes here though. The total cost of all ingredients would be:

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  • Bun: $0.29 per jumbo bun (1 pack of 6 = $1.25)
  • Beef: $1 for 125 g (1 kilo extra lean at Costco = $8)
  • Cheese: $0.10 per slice (1 kilo “tasty” AKA cheddar = $6)
  • Lettuce: $.10 per serving ($1.25 for an entire head = 6 cups. I hope you like lettuce)
  • Tomato: $0.20 for 2 slices ($1.40 for 2 avg sized tomatoes at $5/kilo)
  • Onion: $.03 for a fat slice ($0.25 for one big ol onion, 8 servings)
  • Ketchup: $.05 ($1.25 for 500mL bottle – 25 servings)
  • F*ck mustard I’m not putting it on here
  • Fries: $.26 for 100 g (1 kilo frozen fries = $2.65)
  • Coke. Not Pepsi. Coke sponsor me: $0.59 for 500 mL ($1.48 for 1.25 L)

So the total for a cheeseburger = $1.77, fries =  $0.26, Coke = $0.59

Total meal cost: $2.53

Total groceries: $23.53. Serves at least 6 people. 8 burger patties!! or 2 if you’re a relentless meat eater. I think (I hope) everyone knows how to cook a burger, so making one would cost less than 30 minutes of time. Meals like this that are literally impossible to mess up are a good start to younger kids learning culinary basics like knife skills.

Calories: A small (Australian small – fries are American kid sized here) Whopper meal with a 0 calorie drink is 918 calories at Hungry Jack’s (Australia) and 1,030 calories (USA). This same meal made at home with a 0 calorie drink is 620 calories (calculated on Myfitnesspal).

Drink water

If you drink a lot of pop, juice, beer, wine, coffee, tea, Bear Grylls we all know what you like, then you’ll be surprised how much you save by not buying any of them at all. If you’re a coffee addict I already know I can’t stop you.

Eat mainly vegetarian or vegan

Obviously meat and dairy is expensive, so try to eat meat for only one meal a day or less. There’s about a billion vegetarian/vegan meals and replacing meat with beans is an easy and tasty fix as long as you don’t have a date or anything later. Just make sure your macros are correct. It’s better for you and the earth anyway.

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You can do this now that you know they’re all $1.77. Look how much cheese is on those burgers. Wow.

The reason some people think it’s expensive to cook is the total cost of groceries. If someone never learns how to cook it seems like more effort than it’s worth, and on top of that a hint of fear and uncertainty might exist because they’re unsure of how it works. I hope this has helped anyone at least a little bit.

I’ll make a list of the cheap meals I make on a regular basis which should hopefully inspire people to get healthier. I haven’t eaten a cooked meal at a restaurant since May 2016. Mostly because I’m poor BUT, still I think it’s a good thing. Your heart will thank you. I thank you for reading.

Unrelated but I also want to mention I’m saving up $64.40 to switch to self-hosted for 1 year (stoked about it). My blog is a blossoming independent young lady and I want it to look and feel as pretty and important as it is to me with complete freedom and independence. I love this blog and I love everyone here. Everything’s going to stay the same for you, my followers,  there just won’t be “.wordpress.com” on the end. I added a tacky donate button for  the goal, since I don’t earn enough. I’m going to be real and say please don’t help if you can’t or don’t want to. It’s cool. Only do it if you’re able to and completely happy to help. If so, here’s a button with a dog looking like a russian grandma. If not, cool too. Still love you. Kinda. Kidding I do.
Donate

See ya in the next post 😎

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44 thoughts on “How I learned to actually eat healthy for cheap, and why I thought I couldn’t

  1. Great post. Yes, it is worrying that healthy optiona are often so much more than the junk options. My kids are forever telling me about junk food snacks they pick up at school.

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  2. First, I’ve got to start by saying (agreeing) Costco pumpkin pie IS a necessity! (now I want pie…)
    I, too, shop Costco/buy in bulk, even though there’s only two mouths to feed; however, in saying that, I have to add the disclaimer that one of those mouths leads to the stomach of a teenage boy… That ‘thing’ consumes a ridiculous amount of food and “food products” (aka chips, pizza rolls, rice crackers, anything carb-based)! Personally, I do love a tasty steak from time to time, and I’ve learned to prepare them properly – usually better than any restaurant in the area! By purchasing my own cut of meat and cooking it at home (better than the restaurants!), I save my poor cash-strapped budget a tremendous amount! And at the same time, I take that 10-lb bag of Costco red potatoes, boil up half the bag at one time, and with it, make one huge batch of mashed potatoes (one of my son’s fav food groups! I use sour cream and butter instead of milk!) – serve mashers one night, and portion two other servings into the freezer for cheddar potato soup! Quick dinners later on already in the freezer, just waiting for spices, chicken broth and cheese! Yahoo!

    Good luck with the website growth! Hopefully it’d do better than those strawberries! Of course, I doubt there’ll be any deer nibbling! HA! (I tried strawberries too over here, along with green beans, corn and cataloupe – squirrels… dang rodents with fluffy tails!)

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    1. When my brother and I were teenagers he was also the one doing all the eating. When we had pizza we’d have to get an entire one just for him, he’d devour box fulls of Dr. Pepper and just kept getting taller and skinnier. My boyfriend traded places with him when I moved away from home, he’s now the one whose favorite food group is mashed potatoes, he goes through phases of what his favorite food is (right now Costco hotdogs) but it’s always carbs or meat. Freezing food in preparation is hard when it gets eaten before I can put it in containers lol but it’s the best thing you can do for future tired you, such a good idea! Also, if you want to try to make your mashed potatoes a bit healthier you can add some plain greek yogurt to it, it adds some sourness and creaminess like sour cream but with some protein 🙂 We buy tubs of the stuff for real cheap at Costco (where else). Thank you! I hope no deer try to eat my blog lol. My dad actually sent a picture of a pumpkin they had sitting outside for decoration this fall, it’s completely frozen but there’s bite marks ALL over it from the deer trying to eat it hahah. Good luck to you and your teenager!

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      1. I’ll have to try the Greek yogurt thing! My son’s not too fond of sour cream in the first place (he may totally balk at Greek yogurt if he sees me using it, so don’t tell him!) – in the mashed potatoes is the ONLY place I get to use it and have him still eat the food! 5 lbs of potatoes makes a LOT of mashers! Even for MY son! As a matter of fact, that day, my daughter was over too, so there was enough for THREE people, AND enough to stash in the freezer for later! My son LOVES the CrunchMasters rice crackers from Costco along with tortilla chips, Goldfish crackers, mashers, and Totinos pizza rolls. (I absolutely LOVE that you have Costco over there in Australia! That just makes me smile so much!)

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      2. I love that they have it here too! And you wouldn’t even realize you were in Australia once you got in there, it still has most of the American stuff too 🙂 That’s a lot of mashed potatoes, and now I really want some haha. I can’t even imagine the size of the pot you used but I can imagine once you whip out the big pot the kids are like “Mom’s making mashed potatoes again”. Those pizza rolls are seriously like a drug, they’re so good they’re hard to stop eating. They don’t have them here in Australia lucky for me!

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      3. Pizza is one of my fave foods, but I’m really picky about it, especially the sauce (I don’t like tomatoes and I’m allergic to onions). I do not like those pizza rolls at all! Never have, never will! I like Costco’s pizza, though, and their hot dogs! 😊

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  3. I am happy to pay more for fresh organic fruit and veggies…I mean those are the core to healthy living. Anything processed might be cheap, but it sure ain’t good for you. The older you get the more what you eat influences how you feel, how you look, how you think. After a bout with breast cancer I stopped eating 95% of meat ( in the US it is loaded with antibiotics and other toxins unless there ts free range. Dropped dairy and sugar too. Main diet is fruit, and veggies: bok choy, swiss chard, bettroots, cabbage, kale. Worth paying more to protect your health.
    Peta

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    1. I actually wrote the whole post about how fruits and veggies are actually much cheaper to eat than processed foods and meat/dairy. Organic is more expensive and shown to not be any better for you yet but it’s definitely a good idea to get organic with things you eat the skins of (like apples) because of pesticides. Good on ya for being healthy 🙂

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  4. Yay, I’m so proud of you and your blog – both are growing up in this big ol’ world. :’D ~tears of joy~ I promised myself I wouldn’t cryyy… anywho, good luck with raising money! I donated and wish you all the luck. ❤ Love your blog as always! 😀

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  5. This was a fantastic post – and incredibly true. There’s alot of misinformation out there about ‘eating healthy’. You don’t have to buy all organic, you don’t need all those non-GMO pre-made snacks…that’s actually not healthy at all anyway! Produce is actually very affordable, and certainly more affordable than going out to eat 🙂

    -Clarissa @ The View From Here

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  6. Years ago, when I was single and living in Scotland, I lived above a green grocer’s shop; I was a volunteer, and didn’t have much money to speak of – I couldn’t afford meat, though once or twice a month I would treat myself to the best haggis in the world from the chippy across the road. Otherwise, I ate vegetarian, and for £2 a week, I could buy tonnes of veggies and legumes; I cooked a lot of Asian (I’d splurged for a bottle of good soy sauce, and sesame oil), and also stews. Now, in Switzerland, our food budget in any given month is roughly $1,000. Several people we know regularly go across the German border for groceries (30-min. drive from here); we do it about once a year for things we can’t get here, but otherwise we try to (and can afford to) support the local market. But wherever I’ve lived in the world, fresh cooking has always been cheaper, healthier, and far more versatile!

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    1. I had no idea what ‘haggis’ was, so I looked it up and have no idea what to think of it. The UK has some weird food. I don’t blame anyone for going to Germany just for groceries, it’s unbelievably cheap and the restaurants are too even. That’s really good for you for supporting the local farmers, sounds like you’re single handedly keeping them in business haha

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      1. Haggis is basically a lamb sausage; but the spices added make the difference between an indifferent taste, and a great one. 🙂 Any time I’m in bonnie Scotland, Haggis is on the menu as often as I can get it!

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      2. As far as German restaurants go, you’re right – they are dirt cheap compared to Switzerland! When getting married years ago, we looked at a few restaurants in Switzerland, and in Germany (just over the border) for the evening celebration with closer friends (about 60). The German restaurant offered us a meal with house wine included for the same price as a single bottle of wine cost (without the meal) in the Swiss restaurant… needless to say, we dragged everyone in a convoy across the border for our meal!!

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      3. I remember being in Germany and complaining about the prices (I’m from the US where it’s all really cheap). I didn’t realize how nice it was until I came to Australia. I had no idea Switzerland was expensive, especially since it’s right next to Germany but wow I would have done the same thing you did!

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  7. You’re burger looks nice 🙂

    For those with a freezer: I usually make my own ready-made meals. There’s no difference in cooking for 2 or for 6 basically. So I cook for 6, we eat 2 and freeze away 4 single helpings.
    After a long day at work and not feeling like cooking you can still have a good meal for a reasonable price within minutes. Pizza services takes longer ;.)

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