When I was in college, I opted out of the food plan for dietary reasons and cooked my own food. This meant that I not only had to meal plan and prep, but I had to shop and budget as well. Broke college kid who couldn’t eat ramen or PB&J – what was a girl to do? I found myself in the same situation for a second time the year after graduating when I was a teacher with a busy schedule. There are only so many times you can grab a Larabar and shake up some protein powder.
Let’s forget the increased prices for “special” food like gluten-free bread or dairy-free milk alternatives because that “-free” label sure makes a difference – even regular produce has been going up in price, thanks to Bidenomics! And if your mom raised you with GMO/organic awareness (like mine), well then, you could either take out a loan just for your organic fruits and veggies or simply deal with the second-rate perishables that might be coated in toxic spray and hormone-disrupting chemicals.
Paying More for Less
Whichever way you voted, everyone knows inflation has skyrocketed since Joe Biden became president. Food prices have risen dramatically, with the July inflation spike being the highest since 1979. Finance reports projected the never-ending inflation was just going to continue increasing, showing “Bidenomics in action.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that prices rose an average of 3.7% over the last twelve months in 2023, which is two and a half times the inflation rate from when Biden assumed office with an 18% jump in consumer costs.
Now, thanks to Biden’s shrinkflation, your refrigerator is suffering and you need to make compromises, unless you’re open to surviving on protein-powder shakes, peanut butter, and rice cakes (yeah, I tried that for a hot second – let’s just say both my stomach and hormones went on strike in protest).
Learn from the Bros
We can take a tip from the “Bro Meals” on TikTok, which is pretty much just one protein, one carb, and one vegetable, then you change up the dressing or marinade for the meat. It’s easy, quick, and cheap – the equivalent of “girl dinner.” So, for your meal prep, simply pick a few different options for your protein, complex carbs, and veggies/fruit to mix up (as you would with your wardrobe in mixing and matching tops with bottoms to make different outfits with just a few items of clothing). And you could switch up the options each week to give your taste buds and fluctuating hormones some variety.
Think Chipotle-style prep. For example, one week you could do soft-boiled eggs, chicken, salmon, quinoa or rice, sweet potatoes, pineapple, mangoes, avocados and bell peppers, and voilà you have several different meals. Make boiled eggs and avocado for breakfast, pack salmon and sweet potato with mango for lunch, and cook chicken fajitas with pineapple salsa and rice for dinner. Don’t be afraid to also play around with different seasonings to (literally) spice things up.
Budget Friendly Grocery List
I’ll never understand why a salsa with fewer ingredients costs more than one with 50 additives, or how the OG brown rice costs more than bleached, enriched, white rice that needs more processing, or how plain, raw almonds cost more than roasted, salted almonds. For the gals who are trying to make more health-conscious choices, the prices aren’t cooperating at all. And I don’t mean buying fresh, cold-pressed juices on the reg – we’re talking just simple, basic foods that aren’t processed to the moon and back.
Some basic, unprocessed foods to keep on hand are salmon, eggs, ground chicken or turkey, beef/steak, extra virgin olive oil, lemons, beets, spinach, sweet potatoes, and berries. Try to throw in some probiotic-rich foods here and there as much as you can, such as yogurt (dairy-free if you’re lactose-intolerant – my favorite brand is coconut-based Harmless Harvest), sauerkraut, and kombucha (I stock up on these when they’re on sale, because it gets pricey).
Mix up your fruits and veggies, especially if you’re being mindful of syncing your nutrition intake to your current cycle phase. Also, remember to check out your blood type so you have a better idea of what foods may or may not be beneficial to your unique system.
Here are some easy foods to keep on hand that won’t break your bank. And don’t forget to shop at Trader Joe’s or Aldi for dependably affordable prices.
Eggs (don’t have to be organic/pasture-raised)
Chicken (weirdly enough, a whole rotisserie chicken at Whole Foods or Fresh Market actually costs less than buying a whole, raw chicken)
Sweet potatoes (air-fry or bake whole or in slices or chunks or mash)
Oats/oatmeal (use for DIY healthy granola and overnight oats)
Frozen fruit and berries
Frozen veggies (green beans and green peas especially have good protein and are easy)
Unsweetened applesauce (also helpful for baking instead of oil or butter)
Peanut butter (not good for all the time, but PB + apples or rice cakes for an occasional snack is cheaper and more nutritious than buying granola bars)
Protein powder (not advisable for every day, but a full meal-replacement serving filled with protein and nutrients mixed with milk can cost less than $3)
8 Food Budget Hacks
Skip some luxury foods until they’re on sale, such as coconut water, kombucha, fresh berries, and treats like chocolate and ice cream. If you do snag some chocolate or ice cream, put it somewhere out of the way (out of sight, out of mind) and wait until your period to treat yourself.
Don’t buy foods that aren’t satiating, like empty cereal or sugary granola or chips. You’ll end up eating more and spending more in the long run. Opt for nutrient dense food like eggs for breakfast or a protein focused snack like cottage cheese.
Shop sales regularly! Of course, you don’t want to buy something you don’t actually need, otherwise the shopping venture is completely counter-productive to the economic point of this tip. However, if paper towels or toilet paper are on sale that week, but you know you're not quite out yet, grab them now rather than waiting!
Pass on eating out or ordering in on the reg. Instead, set aside some time to meal prep and either eat leftovers the next day or store them in the freezer to pull out later. If you’re an Uber Eats regular, you’ll be surprised at how much you save when you make dinner instead.
Buy in bulk for basic ingredients you eat often, especially ones you usually buy pre-made. Canned tuna is a lot cheaper than deli tuna salad, and a bag of sweet potatoes you can chop and air-fry costs about the same as a few wedges pre-cooked and seasoned at the Whole Foods hot bar. You can even try saving up and doing a monthly Costco trip with a friend to stock up on things like eggs, meat, frozen salmon, etc.
Make a list and don’t deviate from it, at least not more than three items. If you plan your meals for the week and only buy what you need, you won’t waste money or food. This is easier said than done when you're ordering groceries online with a full stomach rather than grocery shopping in store when you're starving.
Only bring cash (or set a spending amount you can’t go over).
Plan meals with fewer ingredients. Chicken breast, mashed potatoes, and steamed broccoli require buying fewer ingredients than an Asian ramen recipe with 18 ingredients.
Budgeting is just part of responsible adult life, but unfortunately, Biden’s inflation has thrown a wrench in that wheel, so we have to do what we can to adjust. One silver lining is when you do treat yourself, you sure will appreciate it! Looks like delayed gratification is good for your wallet as well as your weight management.
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