Whole Paycheck? No Way.

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Shopping for one at the nation’s top organic grocer doesn’t have to bust your budget. You just have to make smart decisions.

I love to eat. And I like to cook. Although some people might be surprised about this, anyone who knows me well can attest to my interest in exploring the city’s culinary offerings and also whipping up some tasty meals at home. Like a good Austinite, I’m always trying to refine my lifestyle to figure out what works best in terms of health and how I feel when I eat certain foods.

When I moved here, I ate more meat than I was used to and probably took one too many trips to Kerbey Lane and Magnolia (no offense intended to those restaurants). Over the last two years, I’ve been gradually eating less meat and experimenting with more plant-based meals.

For this exercise, my goals were to get as much bang for my buck as a single person, meaning I was shopping with a few recipes in mind but also looking to buy some basics that would last for the coming weeks. I was armed with a list, a calculator and $100 in cash.

ALTHOUGH WHOLE FOODS MARKET GETS A BAD RAP FOR BEING TOO EXPENSIVE, YOU JUST HAVE TO BE SMART ABOUT WHAT YOU BUY AND HOW YOU SHOP. HERE ARE MY TIPS:

TIP 1

Stick to the 365 and 365 Organic Everyday brands, which are Whole Foods Market’s exclusive brands that offer discounted or affordable versions of everything you might need in your pantry, from whole grain pasta and canned goods to frozen organic vegetables and condiments.

TIP 2

Use the discount cards given out for their juice and smoothie bar, bread section and Whole Body department, which offer a free item based on how many you’ve purchased in the past.

TIP 3

Buy in bulk. Last year, they revamped and greatly expand- ed this section, offering a ton of spices (you can buy enough oregano or red chili powder for an entire month for less than a dollar), many varieties of granola, healthy snacks like walnuts and almonds, and dried beans.

TIP 4

If you do purchase grass-fed beef or organic chicken or wild salmon, wait until it’s on sale or forgo it in favor of (more affordable) non-animal protein like seitan or tofu.

My gradual progression from being meatless on some days to going vegetarian for a few weeks has most recently manifested itself as… veganish. The “ish” allows for a little flexibility, since it’s not always practical at various events and galas around town to refrain from all meat and dairy. Sometimes, it’s impossible. Cooking for one person also changes the dynamic. I like to prepare bigger meals early in the week to use all the fresh ingredients as soon as possible and eat the leftovers later for lunch. I will be the first to admit that I have cheated, but I feel better than I did when I ate meat more often. Also, I think it’s a more sound choice for the planet’s long-term sustainability.

I stayed within budget, spending $92.25 on a total of 39 items. So, what was in my shopping bags at checkout? A sampling: broccoli rabe, baby bok choy, green kale, apples, bananas, garlic and onions, peppers, firm tofu, brown rice, long-grain brown rice, garbanzo beans, 365 Creamy Peanut Butter, organic diced tomatoes, herbal teas, spices, texturized vegetable protein, and more.

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