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12 Self-Reliant Ways to Eat Healthy on a Budget

Try these obvious and not-so-obvious ways to save money and still eat well.

| January/February 2016

  • Farmers often offer discounts on imperfect, in-season foods at the end of the day at farmers markets.
    Photo by iStock
  • Many natural health practitioners consider fermented foods such as sauerkraut a crucial daily element of a healthful diet.
    Photo by iStock
  • This bread recipe requires only 4 ingredients, as compared to commercial breads which include many ingredients and preservatives.
    Photo by iStock
  • Making your own yogurt is a simple process with a tasty, healthful result.
    Photo by iStock
  • Delicious seeds are filled with healthful fats and fiber, and make a great snack.
    Photo by iStock
  • Farmers often offer discounts on imperfect, in-season foods at the end of the day at farmers markets.
    Photo by Fotolia

As a nutritionist and doctor of natural medicine for nearly 25 years, I can tell you that cost is the most common excuse people give for not eating healthfully. But, as I tell everyone in my office who makes this complaint, it doesn’t have to be. Of course, we’ve all heard some of the old standbys when it comes to slashing food costs: Ditch the expensive prepared foods and eat out less, for example. But eating shouldn’t be about skimping—it should be about abundance. Here are some more of my favorite ways to save money while eating very well.

1. Grow your own food, even in pots.

This is basic, but it’s important. It’s simply much more affordable to grow food than to buy it. As long as you have a sunny window or a balcony, you can grow strawberries, tomatoes, herbs and many other plants in pots. Step up to a tiny yard and you can actually grow a lot of food, especially if you choose to have a garden instead of a lawn. While you’re at it, choose crops that will come back every year, such as asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes (as long as you leave a few roots), raspberries, blueberries, rhubarb, horseradish and watercress. These healthy foods will cost you nothing after you’ve planted them the first year, but will provide many years of harvesting. You might also participate in or start a community garden, workplace rooftop garden, or other cooperative garden project that will help you enjoy a portion of the crop yields in exchange for shared labor and socializing.

2. Grow your own herbs.

Store-bought herbs are expensive, and they quickly lose flavor and go bad. On the other hand, most herbs are incredibly easy to grow from seed, replenish themselves and last a long time. Plus, they’re absolutely fresh when you pick and consume them, adding to their depth of flavor and nutrition. It’s also simple to preserve homegrown herbs.

3. Create an edible fence.

If you’re ready to try your hand at growing your own food, you can save money on food and fencing by planting an edible fence such as raspberry or blackberry bushes, or even Jerusalem artichokes. Jerusalem artichokes, or sunchokes as they are also known, are more like potatoes than artichokes. They grow quickly to more than seven feet tall. A Jerusalem artichoke fence will be seasonal, but as long as you leave a few roots when you dig up the bulbs in the fall, your all-natural fence will grow back every year.

4. Plant your scraps.

Before you throw out all your semi-used vegetables, consider planting them instead. While not every vegetable scrap will grow into a whole new vegetable, many will. You’ll want to save and plant the tops of beets, carrots and parsnips with at least a quarter of an inch of the vegetable intact to nourish new root growth. The same is true of potatoes: Look for eyes and keep a small amount of the potato intact to plant directly into the earth. Water your vegetable scraps as you would vegetable plants and before you know it, you’ll have a bountiful vegetable harvest at a price no one can resist—free!

5. Grow your own sprouts.

Sprouts are among the most nutritious foods we can eat, and it’s incredibly easy to grow your own. All you need is a glass jar, sprouting seeds, water and a strainer. Simply take a few minutes each day to rinse, strain and soak the seeds, and you’ll have inexpensive superfoods in your kitchen on a regular basis. Even if you don’t want to grow your own sprouts, many store-bought sprouts are quite affordable, especially mung bean sprouts (also called bean sprouts).

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