This Cancer Survivor Shops for Health-Promoting "Real Food" on $200 a Week — Here's How

She believes that food is medicine and shops accordingly.

Carrie Forrest in a pink t-shirt in front of a white kitchen
Photo: Courtesy of Carrie Forrest

Carrie Forrest has a master's degree in public health with a specialty in nutrition, and she is the creator of the Clean Eating Kitchen blog. As a cancer survivor with an autoimmune disease, she tries to eat a clean, whole food-based, health-promoting diet — free from gluten, dairy, and added sugar.

Forrest lives in Pismo Beach, Calif., with her husband. Although he is more than three decades her senior, he has fewer dietary restrictions than she does. But when shopping and prepping food for the household, Forrest says, "I try to focus on a 'real food' diet that helps us both age well and feel our best."

Here's how she does it on $200 per week.

Grocery Shopping Strategy

"My husband is retired, and I am the breadwinner of the household now," she explains. "We do keep a tight overall household budget, and our food budget is a big part of it."

But, since food and nutrition is a top priority, they allocate budget to include organic and locally sourced foods, grass-fed meats, and wild-caught seafood. "We try to shop seasonally and sustainably as much as possible and are willing to spend more for higher-quality products," she says.

She shops two to three times a week to keep a stock of fresh vegetables and fruit on hand. Forrest's favorite grocery store to shop is Trader Joe's, but she also shops at Whole Foods and her local health food store and co-op. She buys some basic food staples at Costco and Amazon.

"Since I live in California, I also go to a lot of farmers' markets, especially in the summertime for fresh fruit," she says. "I also get my grass-fed meats from a local rancher."

Among her budget-saving tips for stocking up on fresh produce without breaking the bank? Stock up on the Environmental Working Group's list of the so-called "Clean 15" produce items that are free from pesticides even when not organic, she advises.

Here's a sample grocery list for Forrest's household, with intended uses:

  • fresh or frozen kale, collard greens, or spinach for green smoothies
  • frozen berries for breakfast smoothies
  • fresh lettuce for salads
  • broccoli or cauliflower to roast for Buddha bowls
  • rice for Buddha bowls
  • wild-caught fish or beans for Buddha bowls
  • cassava flour to make homemade grain-free tortillas
  • fresh seasonal fruits for snacking
  • cabbage to make slaw for salads or tacos
  • fresh vegetables, like cucumbers and radishes to make homemade pickles

Splurging vs. Saving

Forrest makes room in her budget for some pricier grocery items that she considers worthy splurges. "I buy a share of grass-fed meat from a local rancher once a year and keep it in an extra freezer in my garage," she explains. "It's expensive, but the meat is grass-fed and grass-finished which means it's much more sustainable for the environment and healthy for us."

Further, she'll spend more on eggs, poultry, and meat in order to avoid supporting consuming these proteins from feed lots or factory farms.

But where she splashes out on these priorities, she saves in other areas. For instance, she avoids buying pre-packaged items like snack bars or chips. "I try to make as many homemade versions of packaged items as much as possible," she notes, for instance, snack bars, trail mix, and granola.

Further, she supports her family's diet with affordable plant-based proteins like beans and lentils. These, she says, "can really help fill the gap when you don't want to spend the money on the higher-end grass-fed animal proteins."

Forrest also has some go-to grocery items that are affordable and exceptionally versatile in meal prep. "People are surprised how versatile something like cabbage is," she says. I love to shred it finely for slaw, but it is also great roasted, fermented into sauerkraut, or chopped and made into quick refrigerator pickled cabbage. Cabbage is also great because it's incredibly healthy, but it's also inexpensive and grows all year round."

Prepping and Planning

Forrest says her best budget-saving advice is to plan meals. "I used to go to the store and buy whatever looked fresh. But, then I wouldn't know what to do with everything I bought, so it would just go bad," she says. "Now I spend a few minutes every couple of days to plan my meals."

This way, she knows exactly what she needs — and doesn't need — when she goes to the store. She keeps a small whiteboard in her kitchen to jot down what to make for lunch and dinner each day. ("Breakfast is easy because I always make a green smoothie," she says.")

Forrest preps food in her household using a guiding principle: "Plan to have leftovers," she says, "If you are a household of two, then cook for four. If you have a household of four, then cook for eight." When you pack up the extra servings and store them in the fridge, you not only streamline the budget but also know you have a meal ready to go for the next day.

Healthy Doesn't Have to Mean Expensive

"As a healthy food blogger, I often hear from readers that they are concerned that a healthy diet is going to be too expensive," she says. "I really think that you can eat healthy even on a strict budget. It comes down to planning ahead and making smart purchasing decisions."

And, she says, when you know how to shop for healthy foods, the payoff is more than worth the effort. "I truly believe that food is medicine," Forrest says. "As someone who has overcome a lot of health challenges, it's worth it now for me to spend the time and money to shop for and prepare healthy meals. Being sick is no fun and is also very expensive and time-consuming. At this point, I'm able to manage my autoimmune disease by eating lots of healthy real foods and avoiding preservatives and chemicals, and too much sugar that likely contributed to my health issues."

It's not about perfection — it's about effort and intention, she says: "You don't have to eat perfectly to be healthy, but it does make sense to try and eat a clean diet."

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