Eating well can be expensive.

And like most people, I do not have an unlimited food budget. Shelling out those extra few dollars for organic groceries can be painful, but at the same time I know that my ability to run directly depends on the quality of my nutrition. So I am slowly learning to meet the needs of both my budget and my body. Here’s how:

PRACTICAL TIPS TO EATING WELL ON A BUDGET

1. Establish your priorities. The first question that begs to be asked that I don’t hear nearly enough is: How important is good nutrition to you? Money is always the top excuse as to why we can’t eat better, but there are usually small changes we can all make if it becomes a priority.

The bottom line is that we are going to have to make some sort of sacrifice for the sake of our health. Personally, there are things I can’t afford (like a car) because of what I spend on food and training. It’s a choice I’ve had to make. And ultimately, unless you’re willing to sacrifice somewhere, none of the following tips are ever going to work.

2. Plan and prepare. When it comes to food, saving money always means investing more time in planning and preparation. Yes, we love the convenience of food on the go. But eliminating them from our grocery runs will instantly slash our bill. Be ready to start washing, chopping, storing, and freezing. Sit down and plan your meals out for the entire week. Make a grocery list and stick to it.

3. Invest in a freezer. If you have the space, this will save you major dollars in the long term. Buy good meat in bulk. Buy entire animals if you can. Get fruits and vegetables in large quantities when they are in season (and therefore the cheapest), then freeze them for use throughout the year.

4. Invest in a nutritionist. I know the rates can seem daunting at first, but you don’t have to hire one for life. Get a few friends together for a group session. Pay for just one or two or three consultations. Learn to read food labels. Get a grocery store tour (be careful when attending free tours – they are usually sponsored by a company with a vested interest in what you buy, so you won’t always be getting completely transparent information).

Spending money on a nutritionist may initially seem counter productive, but there’s absolutely nothing worse than finding out that you’ve been spending all your money on the wrong things. Look at it this way: Can you afford not to? A nutritionist will point you in the right direction, and you can go from there.

5. Eat real meals. As opposed to snacking all day. You’ll be amazed at how much more you eat when you’re on the run. Make time for meals. Sit at an actual table; don’t eat alone like a mindless zombie. You will generally eat less (and slower) if you eat with others, plus you will actually enjoy your meals.

6. Pay more but eat less. Buy higher quality foods but pay attention to your portions. A nutritionist can help you with this. It’s important to be able to accomplish this without being hungry, which is very possible by eating the right foods. Fruits and vegetables contain significant amounts of water and are therefore more filling. Whole grains are more satisfying than white flour-based products. In the end you will feel full by eating less.

7. Choose your battles. You don’t have to buy everything organic. Pick and choose according to your means, but keep in mind that there are certain foods with higher pesticide loads (and therefore better bought organic). You can find a list of these foods (along the foods you can get away with buying inorganically) here. That same link also contains even more money-saving grocery tips as well as budget-friendly menus and recipes.

8. Get to know your food community. Most cities these days will have some sort of resource for getting fresh food at a good price. It could be a community garden. Or a food box program. Or a farmer’s market. A little bit of research into this can go a long way. If you live in Ontario like me, you can benefit from Vitality’s annual Guide to Organics.

9. Remember that any change is a good change. Don’t get discouraged. The information out there may seem daunting and the prices may seem high. But your body is the greatest asset you own. Invest in yourself.

In the end there are really no easy ways around this. Eating well will take up more of your time. It will take some sort of financial sacrifice. It will be hard work. But it will also help you live longer and feel happier. You’re stuck with your body for life; how you prioritize the food you eat is ultimately your choice. I’ve made mine.