A lot of my friends have commented they would love to Eat Clean but they are on a budget, so they can't. Well, I'm here to tell you, I am an unemployed single mom, and WE EAT CLEAN!!!! There is no magic trick, just a few solid tips I can give you.
1.) We only buy produce that is in-season. The stuff in the fliers that is on sale is the only produce we get. I check all the fliers carefully, keeping a list of what produce is the cheapest at what store. I choose the store with the best deals that week and buy my produce from them.
2.)I plan my menu AFTER I select my meat and produce for the week, not before. When I do it before, I end up shopping for particular ingredients, which does not keep me on budget.
3.) We only drink water, tea, coffee, and milk. Before we purchased juice, soda pop, and sugar-free drink mixes, adding $10-20 per week to our grocery bill. It took a little getting used to but now I order water when I go out too. I have coffee in the morning and DD9 has milk. We have water for the rest of the day, with the occasional cup of tea if we have been out in the cold weather.
4.) We buy produce from a food co-op. Our city has a co-op that purchases from local farmers. It's win-win, because it helps out the farmers and it helps out my family. I only discovered this when I became unemployed because I saw the fliers posted in the government offices. It is not limited to particular income levels - anyone can do it. You sign up at the beginning of the month and pay your money (I get the family of 4 pack for $20). I have added up the produce we get from this and often it would be double to triple the price if I bought the same stuff in the grocery store. It also means that I spend very little on produce for a couple of weeks. At the end of the month, you go and pick up your big bag of fruits and veggies. We've also tried stuff I might never have bought, like rutabagas.
5.) I look for inexpensive protein sources. Chicken breast 4 times a day and protein powder would be great but it's simply not in the budget. I use beans (canned and rinsed, or dry and cooked in the crock pot), eggs, Greek yogurt, nut butters, nuts, skim milk, and canned tuna.
6.) I buy some meats frozen instead of fresh. I purchase some meats frozen because they are less expensive. Sometimes I can get a great deal on frozen chicken breasts, frozen fish, and frozen turkey breast. Fish is nearly ALWAYS cheaper frozen. Just read your ingredients carefully and make sure you are just getting fish. You don't want someones butter and seasonings messing with your salmon fillet. Again, watch for the sales!
7.) We eat out VERY rarely. When I looked back at all the money we used to spend on fast food and pizza, I realized that eating clean is far cheaper for our family. Just one McCrud meal for 3 of us was right around the $20 mark. Add delivered pizza for $25 once a week. That's $45 to go towards your yummy lean meat budget! We probably eat out less than once a month now, and always have our water bottles and coolers with us when we go somewhere.
8.) I make my own bakery items and treats. This may too time consuming for some people, but it has worked well for us. When I do get full time employment, I plan to spend Sunday afternoons making food for the week ahead and I hope to keep this up as well. I make homemade tortillas (pennies for a package that would be $3 at the store), pizza dough, peanut butter oatmeal cookies, trail mix, chex mix and granola bars. This stuff is literally pennies on the dollar in comparison to the same goods store-bought.
If you are thinking about starting to eat clean, but the budget is holding you back, take a long hard look at what you are spending on take-out coffees and lattes, fast food, delivered pizza, microwave meals and frozen dinners you shove into the oven. Look at the beverage budget you spend at the grocery store every week, and keep track of how many soda pops you buy from the vending machine at work. You may well find you will SAVE tons of money eating clean.
I noticed that the first couple of weeks my bills were high, because I was purchasing staples like sucanat, pure maple syrup, and whole grain flours, pastas and baked items. Now it has evened out and for a family of 3 I spend about $200 a month on food and beverages.