Is eating healthy on a budget possible? Sometimes we hear “health food” and immediately see $$$, but is that accurate? Shouldn’t we be fueling our bodies with healthful real food as opposed to filling them up with fake food-like substances in effort to save as much money as possible. The older I get, the more frugal I’ve become, but when it comes to what I put in my body, I’m everything but cheap. I have one body, and it’s going to cost me less to fuel it the right way as oppose to fighting illness because I didn’t. And let’s be honest, how much do we (as Americans) spend on junk food?! Regardless of how cheap it is, those pennies add up, and so do the possible side effects of all the harmful additives, preservatives, and dyes. If we cut out the crap, we have more money for the real stuff our bodies need. If you’ve already committed to a healthy lifestyle or are ready to start your journey, here are a few tips that may help if you’re on a budget.
1.WEEKLY MEAL PLANNER
The best way to create a weekly meal planner is to commit and just do it. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or fancy, and it will save you money, time, and stress. And most importantly, it will support your change to a healthy lifestyle.
- How to get started?
- Decide what to use. (e.g. notebook, whiteboard, Excel sheet, etc.)
- Whatever you decide to use should be accessible and visible. A visual will help. If you’re typing it on the computer, print it and display it in the kitchen. If you’re hand writing on a meal planner, print several blank copies to keep on hand. Remove all obstacles that will prevent you from creating one and using it.
- Decide WHEN you’re going to create your weekly meal planner. The weekend seems to work well for many but do what works for you and your family. Whenever you do it, give yourself time to shop.
- Create your plan. I suggest making meals that require the same, or many of the same, ingredients. This can cut down on time, money, and waste. Batch cooking is something to consider. This will make it easier to create the plan, shop, and prepare meals. Be mindful of your schedule for the upcoming week: will your schedule impact when, how, and what you eat? If you get off track, simply get back on. Don’t let one conflict derail your entire week.
- Create your grocery list. Create a grocery list based on your weekly plan. Don’t forget about what you may already have on hand, especially fresh produce you don’t want to waste.
- Stick to your plan as closely as possible. Remember, the meal planner is supposed to help support you and your family’s healthy lifestyle. It’s not designed to dictate your life. Let it be a resource to make things easier, not stressful.
- Review and Improve. At the end of each week, reflect on what worked for you and what didn’t, what your family liked and disliked, and how you might make next week more successful, easier, or beneficial. This is a good time to get the entire family involved. You might even require the kids to make suggestions. If their current suggestions aren’t as healthful as you would like, you might wait until you have a few things in the rotation for them to pick from. Make it fun for everyone. This is a journey, and it’s more fun with family and friends.
2. Batch Cooking
Batch cooking can include complete dishes and/or ingredients.
- Batch Cooking Complete Dishes. This may not be ideal for all dishes, but many can be doubled or tripled very easily. It can reduce stress during the week and save you time and money. I think meal planning is a great idea regardless of how or when you cook because it can alleviate stress through the week, but having meals already prepared takes it to another level.
- Batch Cooking Ingredients. This may seem more appealing to some. You prepare a few grains or complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, chickpeas, beans, lentils, etc. Then you prepare several veggies that you can mix and match through the week. You can pair things differently to create different meals or you can use different herbs, spices, and sauces to change it up. (e.g. Mexican vs. Indian). Don’t forget about salads! Feel free to throw some grains and veggies on some spinach or arugula, which is a perfect meal.
3. Grocery List
Make a grocery list and stick to it. It’s time to reference your meal planner.
- In-Store: If you shop in the store, a thorough list keeps you on track and saves you time and money. You will be less likely to get distracted with the clever marketing and placement of all the processed foods and food-like substances we don’t need.
- Online Pickup: Utilize online pickup, which can save you even more time, as well as money. You’re cutting out the distraction obstacle all together. It’s easier to skip on everything you don’t need OR want, which makes it even easier to stick to your grocery list and healthy weekly meal plan.
- Fuel First: DON’T shop when you’re hungry. Let me repeat, DON’T shop when you’re hungry. If it’s unavoidable, drink water beforehand and a healthy snack if you have one available.
- Finding Your Ingredients: While I believe in shopping locally, don’t be afraid to purchase things online for items you can’t find. If it’s something you use often, ask your local health food store if they’ve considered keeping it in stock. It’s likely they have.
4. Ditch the processed foods
- Real the Labels: If you’re buying anything canned, boxed, frozen, or packaged in any way, read the ingredient list. The ingredient list should be the food you are buying (e.g. Frozen broccoli should contain only broccoli.) You don’t need to aim for perfection, but you should be able to read the label. Granted, there are some ingredients that you may not be familiar with that I would consider to be okay. On the flip side, there are also some common ingredients to avoid if at all possible, but you don’t have to know every single toxic additive, preservative, or chemical. Check out What to Look for In Processed Foods: 10 of the Worst Ingredients
- What vs. How Many: It’s safe to retire the rule of thumb, “it’s okay if it has five ingredients or less” or avoid it if it has more than five. First, “five” is an arbitrary number. Secondly, many foods we should avoid have fewer than five. It’s not the number of ingredients that matter; it’s the ingredients themselves. Thirdly, many good foods contain way more than five ingredients because of spices, herbs, fruits, vegetables, etc. I’ll admit, I like seeing a small list too, but I don’t make decisions based off the quantity. Quality over quantity ALL the time!
5. Buy in Bulk
Buy in bulk, ONLY when it makes sense
- Unit Price: Don’t be fooled by all bulk items. Some are in fact more expensive, so it’s good to check the unit price, which allows you to find the better deals. Don’t be afraid to nerd-out and use the calculator app while shopping, there’s nothing shameful in being smart! For example, key in the price, then the number of units (i.e. ounces) to get the unit price.
- Real Food Rots: Don’t buy in bulk when you don’t plan to eat the food before it spoils, loses flavor, loses nutrients, etc. (e.g. don’t buy a massive bottle of toasted sesame oil if you rarely cook Asian dishes. Or better yet, maybe it is time to buy the bigger bottle and explore cooking a variety of Asian dishes. Just keep them “real.”
- Look Forward. Keep in mind you may be spending more money up front, but you are saving in the long run.
- No Processed Foods: Buying food-like substances in bulk NEVER makes sense. The price or sale should be a moot point. When it’s around, you’ll eat it.
6. Items on Sale
Purchase items on sale, ONLY when it makes sense.
- Flexibility: When you purchase real food, just be ready to use it. It’s real, so it won’t last forever. Remember your meal plan, but let it be a resource. This is when you’ll appreciate being flexible.
- Freeze Food: Some fruits and veggies are perfectly fine to freeze, so you can use them at a later date.
- You Eat What You Keep: This is true for healthful, real food and edible food-like substances. If you keep good food in your kitchen, you’ll eat good food. Conversely, if you keep bad food in your kitchen, you’ll eat bad food. You’ll eat what you keep around!
- Freeze Food: Freeze food before it goes bad, so you can enjoy it later as opposed to throwing it away. Just be sure to label those items, so you’ll know what and when you froze it.
- Prepare to Eat It: Food that is discounted is often near the “sell by” date, but it’s safe to purchase if you plan to eat it right away.
- No Processed Foods: This is worth mentioning again…buying food-like substances on sale NEVER makes sense. The price or sale should be a moot point. When it’s around you’ll eat it.
7. Drink Up
- Hydrate from Home: Purchase a filter, and drink water from home as opposed to bottled water.
- Love Your Water Bottle: Buy a water bottle you love, keep it with you, and keep it full! If you have it, you’ll drink it. When you stay hydrated, you are more likely to make better food choices because your body will tell you to eat when you’re hungry rather than when it’s dehydrated, bored, tired, etc.
8. Say No to Sugary Drinks
Ditch the sugary drinks and coffees.
- Coffee Mug: While you’re shopping for a water bottle, look for a travel coffee mug you like, and use it. This will help you say “no” to the expensive dessert coffees that tempt us when we’re out and about.
- Juice Isn’t Necessary. Eat real fruit and cut out fruit juice. Juice often isn’t 100% fruit juice anyway, and it contains all the sugar without the fiber. We need vitamins and minerals, but not at the cost of consuming unnecessary sugar. This is a healthful choice and will save you money, especially when you’re purchasing it with meals outside your home.
9. Keep your coffee clean
- Black is the new healthy. If you’re adding anything to your cup, read the label. Keep it real by leaving out the sugar, sweeteners, and creamers that are loaded with preservatives, additives, artificial sweeteners, etc. If you must have it sweetened, use a natural sweetener, such as stevia (real stevia). I’ll warn you and agree with you that your coffee will not taste the same; that’s because it’s not the same. It is, however, natural, healthful, and yummy. Why do you drink coffee in the first place? It is probably for the caffeine, or even habit for some. You get both without the crap. Plus, black coffee is often an acquired taste, so I dare you to commit, stick with it, and learn to love it. Like most things on this list, it will save you time and money.
“It is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Quitting heroin is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Drinking your coffee black Is. Not. Hard.” -Melissa Hartwig
10. Cook at Home
This may seem like a no brainer, but who sticks to it?
- Just Do It: Commit to it and follow through.
- Meal Plan: Using a meal planner will help you fuel your body with real, whole foods making it easier to stay on track.
- Stay Fueled. Stay fueled with real food, drink your water, and keep healthy snacks on hand. This also make it easier to skip the drive-thru.
- Healthy Snacks: If needed, keep a healthy snack on hand, so you don’t get ravenous. This leads to convenience eating, and it’s hard to make good decisions at that point.
11. Prioritize Organic Foods
- Dirty Dozen: Purchase organic fruits and vegetables from the dirty dozen.
- Clean Fifteen: Purchase conventional fruits and vegetables from the clean fifteen.
- Eat Your Fruits & Veggies: Organic is always a better choice, but it’s better to eat conventional fruits and vegetables than not at all.
12. Relax with Recipes
- Don’t feel obligated to use every ingredient in a recipe. There may be one or two that are pertinent to the dish, but most dishes can be tweaked (leave out what you don’t have, replace what you don’t like, or add what you have).