Healthy Eating on the Cheap

pile of money

Looking back over the years since I became a Chapter Leader for the Weston A. Price Foundation, and then while I worked full-time on my nutritional practice, the most common complaint I heard from people was that eating healthy is just too darn expensive! Even now that I’m semi-retired, I still hear the same thing. Not wanting to create an objection, I patiently ask these people what they’re currently eating and how they prepared it.

The inevitable answers include packaged cereals for breakfast; canned vegetables, legumes, and beans; frozen dinners, hash browns, and desserts; and numerous other prepackaged, ready-to-eat meals that require nothing more than heating up in a microwave oven. They tell me many of these foods are available at a highly reduced cost when they go on sale. For meats, they frequently purchase ready-to-eat products such as wieners, luncheon meats, and precooked sliced turkey or beef. While they occasionally buy hamburger or a roast that can be cooked in a crock pot, for the most part their diet consists of a can of this, a package of that, and maybe some precut washed salad greens!

I did, and still do, understand people’s anxieties regarding their perceived idea of how costly it is to eat organic whole foods. But after documenting the cost of their current food choices alongside healthy replacements, I’ve been able to show them that many working families can eat a nutrient dense diet even in the face of real financial hardship. These families stay healthy and avoid many of the inevitable pitfalls that accompany the diet we now refer to as SAD (Standard American Diet).

Check out the handy little ebook Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is! Guide to Healthy Food Shopping. Author Stephanie Anderson makes the case that once you factor in the medical costs of poor food choices, healthy foods are the economical choice.

I want to convince my readers that switching to a nutrient dense diet and buying pesticide-free organic vegetables and fruits, grass fed meats, pastured eggs, and other whole organic foods only seems more expensive in the short term, but the benefits nevertheless far outweigh the cost of health problems like low energy, depression, and nervous disorders that are related to consuming devitalized foods. Such conditions arise because all the work to extract what nourishment can be found in these high-sugar, additive filled, non-nourishing foods is left to our internal organs.

If you’re not ready to consider transforming your diet, I would heartily recommend that, at the very least, you seek out a Standard Process practitioner who can supply you with some of the world’s best whole food supplements. I’m grateful that many of the people I’ve worked with did in fact commit to a healthy diet. How did they do it? By starting with baby steps, and over time slowly incorporating some or all of the suggestions below—with great results.

As you begin transforming your diet, it’s important to take on a tough task: stop saying that you “hate to cook!” I believe this may be one of the most destructive phrases to our health. It embeds itself in the subconscious, and we do indeed reap what we sow! Starting today, say this instead: “I love to cook.” Slowly, that will become the mental bridge over which you will earn the rewards of better health.

Seeing the vibrant, healthy faces of the people I’ve helped is a reward that’s hard for me to express in words. So without writing a book (smiles), I will endeavor to outline a few of the most important steps below. Along with some recipes, you’ll have enough information to help you get started eating healthy on the cheap.

I’ll leave the other steps as a personal homework assignment and/or a commitment to join the next Weston A. Price chapter meeting in your area. You’ll meet many traditional cooks that will help you begin your journey, even if you may now perceive it as impossible.

Seven Steps to Frugal Healthy Meals

  1. Do it “one day at a time” for a lifetime of energy, health, and longevity.
  2. Learn to make bone broth and/or meat stocks for nutrient dense meals.
  3. Learn to make power packed meals with beans and legumes.
  4. Learn to ferment foods that supply adequate probiotics for your gut health.
  5. Learn to make easy breads and cereals with heritage grains.
  6. Learn to make and eat great tasting low or sugar free desserts.
  7. Grow your own indoor and outdoor vegetables, or join a CSA.

Introducing one change at a time will allow you to stay the course without the frustration of trying to achieve it all in a few weeks or months. So let’s start with steps 1, 2, and 3. In my opinion, this may be the least expensive, easiest, and possibly most satisfying way to start eating nutrient dense foods.

As for the others on this list, step 4 is the first and most essential recommendation advocated by Sally Fallon Morell in Nourishing Traditions. For those new to fermenting and making probiotics, the process is highly detailed in my blog post “The Tremendous Benefits of Lacto-Fermented Foods.” I also recommend my 90-minute DVD and booklet Cook Your Way to Wellness for a great visual guide to making these important foods and beverages.

Step 1: Do It “One Day at a Time” for a Lifetime of Energy, Health, and Longevity

I cannot think of any person or family who has eaten the elephant all at one time! (Grins.) In this regard, those with whom I’ve had the privilege of working have, first and foremost, understood the true meaning of transformation. Here is how I define transformation from SAD (Standard American Diet) to FND (Frugal, Nutrient Dense):  “A change of variables or coordinates in which a function of new variables or coordinates is substituted for each original variable or coordinate”(Merriam-Webster Dictionary).

Step 2: Learn to Make Bone Broth and/or Meat Stocks for Nutrient Dense Meals

Bone broths and meat stocks can be cooked for the most part in your crock pot while you’re working, sleeping, or doing other tasks. A bowl of soup or a casserole made with bone broth or meat stock, plus a few veggies (even spent vegetables in your fridge), as well as beans, rice or legumes, and/or added meat, will cost you pennies per serving compared to cans of highly heated and processed foods, which may have little or no nutrition but lots of added flavorings and additives. MSG, a major additive, is often disguised on cans as “natural flavoring.”

Bone broth and meat stock are two very different things. Essentially, meat stock is primarily used by people with gut sensitivities or by those following the GAP diet recommendations. A super book with great photos that explains these differences and much, much more is Cooking Techniques for the Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet, Part I: Meat Stock and Bone Broth by Monica Corrado, MA, CNC, CGP. For the rest of us, there are many beautiful bone broth recipes in Nourishing Broth and Nourishing Traditions. These books explain the tremendous health benefits of long, slowly simmered bone broths that are rich in nutrients and support the entire body.

Below are the basic contents of bone broth. You can learn more about each of them in my recent blog post “Fish Broth and Your Thyroid!

  • Collagen: Holding the Body Together
  • Gelatin (84–90 percent protein for hair, nails, etc.)
  • Bones: Living Framework
  • Bone Marrow: The Body’s Blood Bank

Step 3: Learn to Make Power Packed Meals with Beans and Legumes

For a full description of the specific nutrients you get by adding beans, which are infinitely healthier, satisfying, and less expensive than many foods, read my blog post “The Very Best One Dish Meal!” Oh! By the way, you can also cook beans and legumes in bone broth instead of water while you’re at work! Now that’s what I call easy and inexpensive nutrient dense cooking.

I also found this handy cost calculation regarding beans at The Simple Dollar:

Average cost for a can of cooked beans: $1.19
Average contents of a can of cooked beans: 2 cups cooked beans
Average cost for a pound of dried beans: $1.99
Average cooked contents of a pound of dried beans: 8 cups cooked beans

From this, a few calculations are easy.

Average cost of pre-cooked beans: $0.60 per cup, cooked
Average cost of dry beans: $0.25 per cup, cooked
Energy and water use to cook beans: $0.01 per cup, estimated
Savings per cup using dry beans: approximately $0.34 per cup, cooked

Conclusions: There are a lot of variables here. Almost all of these measurements were done using my own local grocery stores as well as my own calculations and timings in my kitchen. The experience of others will certainly vary.
—from “Dry Beans vs. Canned Beans: A Cost-Effective Comparison,” by Trent Hamm

After looking at these figures, all I will say for certain is that there is a cost savings in using your own beans that adds up to roughly minimum wage (after taxes).

Instead of cooking your beans in plain water, try making some of these great bone broth recipes and use the broth instead. NOW THAT’S NUTRIENT DENSE :>)

Basic Bone Broths from The Traditional Cook

Chicken bone broth: chicken back bones and feet
Beef bone broth: beef oxtails and/or marrow bones
High gelatin broth: 1 pig foot and chicken feet
Fish broth: snapper head and/or bones, or use some other non-oily fish. (Fish broth requires special cooking instructions. See the recipe in my blog post “Fish Broth and Your Thyroid!”)

Add to above ingredients:
1 gallon or more water
½–1 tablespoon organic apple cider

Instructions for chicken, beef, or high gelatin bone broth:

  1. Place the bones of your choice in a crock pot, or use a soup pot if you’re making it on the stovetop. Fill with approximately 1 gallon of water, or enough to cover the bones. Add the organic apple cider vinegar (this helps extract the minerals from the bones).
  2. Set the crock pot on high for the first hour, then turn to low for the remaining time. For the stovetop method, bring the broth to a gentle boil in the soup pot, then lower to a simmer for the duration of the cook time, about 12 hours.
  3. Remove bones and/or marrow to a large glass bowl to cool. (Separate the marrow from the bone to add back into the broth.) Once the bowl has cooled, store in the refrigerator overnight. The following day, scoop broth into BPA-free containers.
  4. Freeze or use a portion of the broth to make a medicinal bone broth soup right away. The meat from the oxtails, chicken or fish may be mixed into your medicinal bone broth soup for a hardy addition.

For more explicit bone broth recipes, see the books recommended above by Monica Corrado and Sally Fallon Morell.

Last, but certainly not least, I recommend this wonderful article for mastering meal planning at The Nourishing Home website.

An afterthought from the Traditional Cook...

None can be an impartial or wise observer of human life but
from the vantage ground of what we should call voluntary poverty.
—Henry David Thoreau


To choose your organically grown and fresh ingredients wisely, use the following criteria:

  • chemical- and hormone-free meat
  • wild-caught fish
  • pasture-raised, organic eggs
  • whole, unrefined grains
  • virgin, unrefined, first-press organic oils
  • whole-food, unrefined sweeteners
  • pure, clean, spring water
  • sea salt
  • raw and/or cultured milk and cream products

Photo from iStock/alfexe

Note from Maria: I am a Certified Natural Health Professional, CNHP, not a medical doctor. I do not diagnose, prescribe for, treat, or claim to prevent, mitigate, or cure any human diseases. Please see your medical doctor prior to following any recommendations I make in my blogs or on my website.

Maria Atwood, CNHP

Maria Atwood is a semiretired Certified Natural Health Professional and Weston A. Price Chapter Leader in Colorado Springs, CO. Visit her website at Also check out Maria’s Cook Your Way to Wellness DVD (also available as an e-learning course) and be sure to follow her Tips from the Traditional Cook blog.
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