Food & Drink

How Going Green Can Help You Save Big on Your Food Budget


What is it about warmer weather that makes our wallets lighter, our pants tighter, and our virtuous dietary goals suddenly supplanted by liquid happy hour dinners of moscow mules and sugar-free Red Bull and vodkas? Just me? Okay, no worries. You’re still going to dig this piece.

You see, I’ve spent the past decade plumbing the depths of how to make eco-friendly living attractive and accessible to the mainstream, to crush the crunchy and difficult stereotype of being a tree-hugger, and one of the many things I’ve found is that, when it comes to groceries and our food budgets, more sustainable behaviors can result in big-time money savings (and often even better health and well-being).

In a “what’s in it for me?” society, I crunched the numbers to show that making a few small—but meaningful—eco-tweaks to your normal shopping and prepping habits can yield crazy savings. Like real dollars. And yes, that’s money better socked away into your nest egg or your Sunday Funday fund. And because I adore you (and believe so heartily in the power of a well-planned, nourishing week), I’m including recs for my favorite gear that will help you stay the course on this sustainable, money-saving, totally-have-your-life-mastered train. Let’s get the party started.

Step One: Buy in bulk.

Source: Hipster Food

I’m not talking about buying 50 paper towels and 27 cans of coconut milk at a big-box store. I’m referring to the bulk aisles at your local health food store or market. Those clear containers house the same premium less-perishables you like to buy in packaged form, but often at 15-30 percent off (especially on organics and spices).

Peek at your shopping list and see if you buy any of the following: beans, legumes, seeds, nuts, grains, nut butters, coffee, tea, granola, spices, dry baking stuff, dried fruit, candy…Now, gather some bags and jars and try to shop for those items in bulk.

The benefits are endless: money saved, the earth spared of unnecessary packaging, and because you control the amount you buy, less waste (no more giant $50 box of hazelnuts staring you down in the pantry, making you feel guilty for not liking ‘em that much).

When I did this, I saved: $167 in one month. Studies show buying in bulk can save at least $100 per month no matter your dietary preferences.

What you’ll need:

Cloth bags in various sizes: These bags are totally magical and I throw them in the wash (Yes, with my jeans and such. No shame.), when I’m done and they come out good as new.

Large grocery tote: If you’re a city-dweller, you’re probably hulking your groceries occasionally on foot. This bag is sturdy enough for all of that action. And it looks damn good. There’s even a zip compartment for your wallet.

Glass jars in various sizes: For spices, coffee, nut butters, and the stickier things (hi, dried apricots), these are perfect. And they add an Etsy-esque cache to your pantry and never hold smells. You can also find these at thrift and resale stores for a song.


Step Two: Change the way you hydrate.

Source: @gofitjo

In a world of “But first, Coffee” shirts and motivational water bottles, it should come as no surprise that our hydration habits can amount to some serious expenditure. The environmental toll can be even more sobering. I visited a landfill recently and you know the two most prevalent things I saw there? Plastic water bottles and disposable coffee cups (complete with those oh-so-Instagrammable red lipstick marks).

Gross, right? And hey, we can do better with some beautiful, made-to-last sipping accessories. But there’s also a monetary boom to this BYO-behavior. For one, large chains like Starbucks, Seattle’s Best, and Peet’s will give you $0.10 off (sometimes more, if the Barista is feeling extra cool) every time you bring your own vessel. Other companies, especially smaller haunts, sometimes offer more of a discount, and if your local place doesn’t have a program in place, say you’d love to see them get one (Elevator pitch: It saves them on materials overhead). And they needn’t be cups you buy at the coffee shop.

And let’s face it: While bottled water is sometimes inevitable (Hi, Lollapalooza), bringing and refilling your own has been shown to save peeps as much as $1,500 a year. Think on that for a sec.

When I did this, I saved: $57 in one month. I drink coffee like a crazy person, and I usually don’t buy bottled water, so this will be way more if you do.

What you’ll need:

A trusty water bottle: I love bkr. (because, hello, gorgeous) and the simple stainless goodness of Klean Kanteen.

A cool coffee/tea vessel: Here’s the exact one I use and I adore it. Yes, I often get asked if I’m smuggling moonshine. Find one that makes you happy and you’re more likely to use it.


Step Three: Shop locally.

Source: Nutrition Stripped

Farmers Markets have taken on an almost romantic quality in our recent appreciation for slow and local food movements. And for good reason; they’re freaking awesome. They’re also amazing places to save money, whether you’re buying food or a bushel of peonies for a photo shoot.

This is another area where you can save big money on organics. (And don’t count out vendors who aren’t designated organic. They may do all sorts of cool, healthy, sustainable things, but have yet to get the certification. Chat with the people who grow the food and get the skinny. I think you’ll be pleased with what you find.)

While there are some items that simply won’t grow well in your area no matter how rad the weather is, most areas in the U.S. enjoy pretty bountiful showings at the markets. Go there, shop there, and buy as much as you can by way of perishables.

  • If you’re interested in variety and the best looking stuff, go early.
  • If you’re interested in the best deals possible and are open to all sorts of veggies, even the battered and bruised, go closer to closing time, as many vendors sell off their lingering merch at 2-for-1 prices.

Also, rejoice in the amount of unnecessary packaging you’re sparing your dumpster and the planet.

When I did this, I saved: $122 in one month. Granted, the month was June, when the selection is especially plentiful, but gone were the hefty price tags associated with packaged salad greens, fresh berries, bread, and other items I used to shell out a ton for. And I made friends with great farmers, which totally makes the food taste better and feel infinitely more special.

What you’ll need:

The cloth bags and tote bag from above will rock your world in this capacity, too. Hooray for double-duty!

I also dig these mesh bags, which are great for keeping salad greens and fruits well-aired during transit.

The Farmstand App is amazing. You can locate nearby markets in real-time and get advice for what’s in season.


Step Four: Prep and store your food, so you can stop tossing perishables.

Source: Clean Food Crush

Herein lies the battle, friends. How many times have you come home with a gorgeous haul of organic strawberries and then they sit in the fridge, wither beyond use, and hit the trash? The struggle is so real that Americans throw out an average of 40 percent of their food each year, mostly due to poor storage and planning.

Don’t be that person. Take the hour to wash, chop, and prep your perishables when you get home. When it comes time to make a quick dinner or pack lunch in a pinch, you’ll be glad you have all those bright, nourishing goodies, salad bar-style, ready to be assembled into something awesome.

When I did this, I saved: I ate pretty much everything I bought (which is rare), so if the 40 percent rule is applied, it will save you a lot of money.

What you’ll need:

Glass storage set with lids: Shop around for what works best for you. I like these because they’re a breeze to clean, can go from oven to fridge to microwave to dishwasher, and keep food très fresh. And glass is essential because seeing what you have is scientifically proven to help you eat the heck out of it.

Mason jars in various sizes: These work well here, too. Items like asparagus, for instance, need to be stored standing up in water like flowers. Glass jars are perfect for these applications.

Meal planning app: Plan out what you’re going to make, batch cook and prep, and never waste a morsel or wonder what you’ll bring for lunch again. Big money, time, and lifesaver right here.

If you’re looking for more info on how to store your produce, I adore this primer from Real Simple.


Step Five: Pack your lunch.

Source: Faring Well

It sounds old-school, but lunch-bringing has experienced a well-deserved renaissance. It’s generally healthier (because you control what goes into it, and what doesn’t), it’s better for the environment, and it’s a hella big money-saver.

There’s something also kind of French and cool-girl-vibe about having a beautifully prepared avocado toast with some olives, instead of a burrito wrapped in trash-upon-trash and pieces of rice and black beans all over your desk, AM I RIGHT? When you prep your ingredients as stated above, making attractive and interesting lunches you’ll actually be excited about is a breeze.

When I did this, I saved: $137 in one month. Full confession: I had a pretty serious Chipotle habit for a bit, so in the month where I packed my lunch, I gave myself a one weekday buffer to eat out if I felt so inclined. The $122 was from packing my lunch and snacks four days a week for four weeks. Not too shabby.

What you’ll need:

Stainless steel bentos: I’m totally sold on these bad boys. So much so that I own FOUR. They clean up easily, are adorable, and allow you to have so many lunch options in one tidy vessel. Plus, everyone wants to ask you about them, including the hot guy who works in marketing.

Stasher bags: I can’t get over these. Every time I bring them on TV, people go bananas and steal them from me. We know plastic bags are bad for the environment, cost money because they’re disposable, and are inelegant. These silicone versions are reusable and cool as heck.


Will you adopt these healthy habits? Share your thoughts in the comments below.