One of our biggest challenges so far since living on the boat is eating healthy on a budget. It’s funny because you’d be surprised at how many people, upon finding out that we live on a boat, ask us silly questions like, “What do you eat?” I mean, what do they think we eat? Plankton and seaweed?
Contrary to popular belief, we don’t eat a lot of fish. Not because we don’t like it, but because we’re terrible fishermen. Truth be told, it’s not really the fishing part we’re bad at (although we are kind of bad at it), but it’s the killing part. Hmmm… vodka on the gills or blunt force trauma to the head? Neither is on my list of fun things to do, so we’ve refrained from seriously trying to catch our own food… so far. However, I, being the budget-bitch and all, am determined to learn. I mean, fishing is free! And fresh!
Until we learn to be better fish-catchers (and fish-killers), the local market is our ocean. Food is definitely our biggest expense besides our monthly marina costs. There is a huge difference between eating cheap and eating healthy, and eating healthy costs a little more in the short term, but it’s worth it because over time, you’ll pay the price (literally and figuratively) if you eat like crap, with medical bills, insurance premiums, etc.
Don’t get me wrong… there are times when I succumb to the devil on my shoulder and chow down on some Totino’s Pizza Rolls. But we stay away from processed foods, we eat a ton of veggies and fruits, and we only buy organic, cage-free and grass-fed when it comes to our meats and eggs.
I would say our monthly grocery budget hovers somewhere around the $600 mark for both of us. We could do a lot better, but lately I’ve been lazy and haven’t been properly planning our meals and making lists beforehand, so I go and just buy stuff, randomly planning my meals in my head as I walk down each aisle, which is a terrible way to shop for groceries.
My goal this year is to start planning my meals better. Oh, and to not go shopping when I’m the least bit hungry. I’ve found that when I plan my meals out, I walk out with a lot more money left in my pocket. I often try to take it a step further, and try to coordinate meals with shared ingredients so that all ingredients get used.
In fact, I got the idea for coordinating meals with shared ingredients when I signed up for a trial awhile back for a meal-planning service called The Fresh 20 (no affiliation, I just think it’s a great service). Members get a meal plan every Friday, complete with a list of 20 grocery items – all fresh, nothing processed. These 20 grocery items are essentially all you’ll be using to make your week’s meals with. (They do have a list of 20 staples you should always have on hand such as spices and condiments – these aren’t counted into the 20 ingredients).
After you shop, you spend one hour prepping your meals. Yes – just one hour, one time, for the entire week. They may have you dicing all of your onions or peppers ahead of time – the thought is if you have the cutting board and knives out and knock it all out at once, you’ll save a ton of time during the week (when you’re likely tired from working… or snorkeling). In fact, most people end up eating poorly because the they are too tired to even think about preparing a meal.
The meals are straight-up gourmet, and each of them is very simple to make, especially since all of your prep-work was done beforehand. They even have different sets of meal plans for different dietary needs, such as gluten-free, vegetarian, and even single meal plans for you lovely single folks.
You can download a sample meal plan by going to their site – at the bottom, they have an email signup form to fill out to get the download. Even if you don’t end up using the service, it’s still good to check it out because it will give you the knowledge to become a better shopper.
Another awesome resource I came across is this FREE e-book called Good and Cheap. It is about eating well on $4 a day. Seriously. Four bucks a day. Check out the free download here. You don’t even have to subscribe to anything to get it. It’s seriously just free and the photos are gorgeous, and there are a variety of awesome recipes.
Last weekend, I challenged myself and went to the store with my planned meal list and $100. I told myself I was not allowed to go to the store again for a week. I was pretty proud of myself because I only spent $80, but later realized that I totally forgot some of the veggies I needed for a soup I was making. But per my own rule, I couldn’t go back. Just had to make do and it was delicious!
As today rolled in, I had pretty much expended most of the food in the pantry, and was totally bummed because I still have one more day to the challenge. Then I realized I had one chicken breast left, 2 cans of kidney beans, and some leftover chicken stock. Chicken chili for dinner tomorrow!
Sometimes you just have to get creative and make do with what you have on hand, but by preparing a meal plan ahead of time, you can save a lot of time and money. I know a lot of you are out there cruising and there are places where there just isn’t adequate provisioning, so it’s harder to plan ahead (not knowing what local sources you’ll have for grocery items), and you’re left to fend for yourself with whatever is on hand, but if you get creative and actually use that random stuff that’s in your pantry, it’s a good way to not only save money, but you’d be surprised at how many tasty meals can be made from what seems like nothing.
What’s the best meal you’ve made from random stuff in your pantry or galley? Do you have any tips on eating healthy on a budget? Let me know in the comments.