Eating kosher, healthy and on a budget

Kosher.

Healthy.

Budget.

3 words that do not necessarily work well together. In general when I hear “kosher food”, the word “budget” is about as far from my mind as “pork”. And when we’re talking “healthy food” I’m certainly not thinking about what I ate last Shabbat….

Keeping all that in mind, however, it is still possible to eat healthy while keeping strictly kosher, and trying to stay within a budget. It’s not easy, but it’s achievable.

I have kept kosher my entire life, and I was raised to eat a healthy, balanced diet, so the only “new” thing to me is the budget part. Which isn’t really new either, as I left home at 17 and moved to Israel, where the kosher part was easy, the healthy was an effort, and the budget was necessary because I was a student.

The difference of course, is that I am now shopping and cooking for my family, and not just for myself. And my  husband and three children do not always appreciate my ideas of a healthy, balanced diet. On a budget.

The first step towards keeping grocery bills to a minimum is true for everyone: Make a menu for the week, and make a shopping list based on the menu. Add staples (bread, milk, orange juice etc.) to the list, and shop only once for the whole week.
In addition, spend a little time organizing your pantry. A few years back I spent the time (and money) Tupperwaring my pantry. It was a costly venture, but well worth it. Most of my pantry is now organized into labeled Tupperware containers. Simply by opening the door of the pantry I can tell if I am out of flour, sugar, pasta, rice, cereal, baking supplies, chips, snacks, tea etc. I no longer have to shuffle through all the items in bags in order to find things at the back. I almost never end up with duplicates of things that I don’t need.  A secondary benefit to this, is that I am reluctant to buy something that I don’t have a Tupperware container for.

The next step is something that I learned while living in Israel. Buying generic brands is generally a lot cheaper, and rarely lesser quality. When I am shopping for something and I notice a large discrepancy in price between the name brand and the store brand, I first check for a kosher symbol. Then I check the ingredients and compare to the name brand. In many instances they are identical. So I purchase the generic brand. Initially I only buy one of a generic brand, just in case the taste is actually different and unpleasant. For some people the idea of buying generic anything is terrifying, but let me tell you, most of the time, there really is no difference. Often, the store brands are manufactured by the name brand and simply labeled for the store. If there are things that you cannot bring yourself to buy generic, make that choice, whether it’s ketchup, mayonnaise, cream cheese – spend a little extra on those things, and less on pasta, rice, sugar, coffee, yoghurts, canned vegetables, juice etc. For my family, the no argument brands that we always purchase are Hellmans mayonnaise and Philadelphia Cream Cheese. Beyond that, anything goes.

Don’t buy more than you will use. For the longest time I was purchasing the gallon jug of milk weekly. At a certain point I realized that I was throwing away some milk every week, because we were not finishing it before it went bad. So now I buy the smaller jugs. I buy 2 – 1 for the kitchen and 1 for the extra fridge in the garage. I make sure the dates are really good. We rarely throw out milk these days. Same with fruit and vegetables. If canteloupes are on sale “Buy 2 for $4”, you can buy 1 for $2 if you won’t use two before one goes bad. If you’re buying bananas, buy some that are ready to eat, and some that are green.

Finally, on the budget side, choose where you shop. For many of us, convenience is the most important aspect. While I agree that staying close to home/school/work is great, sometimes it pays to go just a little out of your way to get a better deal and save money. We have a Publix grocery store that I can walk to from our home, and while I do normally shop there, I am aware that it costs me more to do so. In fact, they recently raised the price of Thomas brand mini-bagels (which my kids love) to over $4! At the same time, both Target & Walmart sell the exact same ones for under $3. So if I am shopping at Publix, I will not buy those bagels and I am also aware that other items are way overpriced. When at all possible I shop at Walmart. I am not a fan, however, it is undoubtedly the cheapest place to grocery shopping. The best time to go is early in the morning, right after taking the kids to school. If you do that, you can get in and out within 45 minutes.

On the healthy side, fruit and vegetables are key! If you’re budgeting, then organic is mostly not an option (I know it’s not for me), but even with conventional fruit & vegetables you are getting some really good nutrition. My kids love fruit, and we always keep apples. bananas and other seasonal fruit in the house. Seasonal is important, because if produce is in season it will be cheaper, and hasn’t been stored for long periods of time. Local produce is generally tastier and cheaper, as it has not had to travel so far to get to you. So next time you pick up a package of grape tomatoes, take a look and see where they originated from…

We do not eat a lot of meat other than on Shabbat. Kosher meat is very expensive, no matter where you buy it. So is kosher chicken. Most of the meals that we eat are accompanied by vegetables, and the only dessert we serve on a weeknight is fresh fruit. The kids also take fruit and vegetables to school.

When all is said and done, it is possible to keep kosher, eat a healthy, balanced diet, and to stick to a strict budget. If anyone reading this would like to contribute ideas on how to further save, please feel free to leave a comment.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Elise
    Feb 07, 2011 @ 13:45:40

    those are good thoughts.

    Reply

  2. vanessabrooksceo
    Feb 07, 2011 @ 13:57:16

    I also wanted to add (somehow forgot it in my lengthy post) that it’s important to take advantage of BOGO deals, but only if it is for something that is already on your list, or that will be on it the next week. Like if canola oil is BOGO, but you just bought a new one, you shouldn’t get the deal. But if you know you will need more oil next week, go ahead and do it. I also use BOGO for extravagant things, like fancy cookies or brand name items where I would usually buy generic. If the better tuna is BOGO it obviously pays to get that than the cheaper one I usually get. Just sayin’

    Reply

  3. Mara ~ Kosher on a Budget
    Feb 08, 2011 @ 12:10:02

    Fun to find your blog! I actually think you *should* get the Canola BOGO – it doesn’t go “off” and will store well if you have the room for it. In fact, if you have a coupon on the oil and can get it for even less, you will save even MORE money. I shop ahead and stock up when things are rock bottom. That way, I never have to pay more than $.75-$1 for a box of cereal, $.75 for a pound of pasta, etc. I still pay dairy and produce fresh every week, but am careful to buy in season and on sale. It’s not always easy to keep kosher on a budget, but we’ve definitely found that it is doable!

    Reply

    • vanessabrooksceo
      Feb 08, 2011 @ 13:15:34

      Ah, the key there is “if you have the room for it” 🙂
      Unfortunately, I don’t. I can’t store food items in my garage in Florida, because they’d either go bad (even oil can go rancid) or attract all kinds of pests. But I agree, and will often take advantage of BOGO if I’m close to running out of an item.
      Welcome to my blog – my posts are pretty random, it’s like my “all those things I have to say but no one wants to listen to” place. Enjoy!

      Reply

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