Eating well is paramount to your emotional and mental health, but that does not mean you must spend a lot on food. Whether you are living alone, at school, or bringing up a family on a tight budget, the following tips will guide you on how to eat healthy on a budget.
But before we begin,
Note that eating well on a budget is not always about the price of food. It is also about enjoying the meal, and this increases when you share food with others. Ideally, make budget meals pleasurable and inexpensive by doing the following:
Shop with Others: Shopping and cooking at home with your kids is one of the best opportunities for them to learn how to balance a budget, where to buy different foods, and how to read and make sense from food labels. It’s also an excellent opportunity to teach them the difference between organic, natural, and processed foods, and more importantly, it makes shopping fun and interesting.
If you live alone, organize with your friends and agree on common shopping time. Shopping with friends allows you to spend time with your friends without lagging behind on your errands or chores. It’s also an excellent opportunity to take advantage of the ‘buy 1 get the 2nd item at 50% discount.’
Making Meals Times a Social Experience: As simple as it may sound, talking to loved ones or a friend over a meal plays a major role in boosting mood and relieving stress. Like I explained in my previous article titled cooking at home made easy, “Just gather your loved ones together and chat as you share the meal. If you are alone, invite your coworker, neighbor, or a friend over.”
Cooking with Your Friends or Kids: Invite your friends to share cooking and shopping responsibilities – for example, let him or her prepare what to drink as you prepare the actual meal. Sharing cooking chores with others deepens your relationship with them, and if you are dating, cooking with your significant other can be romantic.
Eating Healthy on a Budget: Where and How to Save Money
1. Healthy Choices are Cheap
Cut the junk: Throw processed foods such as cookies, soda, crackers, processed and prepackaged meals out of your shopping cart. Your body and bank account will thank you.
Eat out less: On a quick look, it seems like fast foods are cheaper than preparing foods at home. That’s wrong. A meal for 2 with fries and drinks at an ordinary US restaurant cost 10-15 dollars; for four people it adds up to 20-30 dollars. On the other hand, cooking a simple and healthy roast chicken or beef stew with vegetables is less expensive, and it leaves you with leftovers.
Make and follow your grocery shopping list- If you are always armed with a well thought-out shopping list, you will never waste money on impulse buys. In fact, a grocery list can reduce your expenses on food by 20%-25%.
Start by shopping along the perimeter of the grocery store: This helps you fill the cart with healthy foods like meat and fresh produce, leaving less or no room for junk foods (typically placed in the middle rows or at the counter) and which cost more.
Beware there is hidden sugar in food: Many processed foods and prepackaged foods contain hidden sugar. You will be attempted to buy them because they are cheap, but remember that consuming too much sugar at once causes rapid swings in blood sugar and energy levels, causing serious health problems. Avoid meals such as mashed potatoes, canned soup or vegetables, white bread, sugary cereals and refined pasta, even if they’re cheap.
Don’t substitute saturated fats with bad carbs: Most people substitute good sources of saturated fats with processed carbohydrates, thinking they are eating healthier. Note that some sources of saturated fats, such as whole daily, fill one faster so that you end up eating less.
Know the Good Carbohydrates from the Bad Carbohydrates
Good carbs, also called healthy carbs, include foods such as beans, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. They are digested slowly, providing stable energy which in turn stabilizes insulin and blood sugar levels.
Bad carbs, also called unhealthy or refined carbs, are foods such as refined sugar, white flour, and white rice that have the most, if not all, of their fiber and bran removed. Refined foods are digested abnormally fast, triggering sharp rises in energy and blood sugar levels. Avoid buying them, even if they’re cheap.
Shop on a Budget, but Buy Healthy Foods
When eating on a budget, it is still crucial to consider the quality of food you are buying. Organically farmed food minimize the health hazards associated with usage of herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides to grow crops; irradiation and additives to process or preserve foods; and consumption of genetically modified foods. Ideally:
Buy cheaper chunks of quality meat: Settle for cheaper cuts of grass-fed, organic, free-range sources of meat, instead of the more expensive chunks of steak from industrially grown animals.
Educate Yourself: Some vegetables and fruits have higher levels of chemical residual than others. As a rule of thumb, if you will don on the skin (such as is the case with strawberry, cucumbers, and apple) buy organic. For foods such as bananas, avocados, and pineapples, it’s okay to munch on the conventionally farmed varieties.
Shop wisely: When eating on the cheap, the regular grocery store is not your friend. Other options present a cheaper option:
- Discount Stores: Club or warehouse stores such as Costco offer awesome bargains for foods such as cheese, chicken breast, and seasonal produce. To minimize waste, divide the food into small, more manageable portions and freeze it.
- Talk with the farmers: Most states have weekly farmers’ market days where you can buy fresh produce directly from the farmers at substantially lower prices, compared to what you would get from the grocery or discount stores. Ideally, go shopping towards the end of the trading day; you will find most vendors selling their remaining perishable foods at incredibly low prices.
- Join a community supported agriculture group (CSA): A CSA presents an awesome opportunity to have locally grown foods delivered directly from farmers. Besides making shopping a social experience, CSA clubs lowers the cost of food by eliminating middlemen.
- Visit corner stores and ethical markets: Most offer a vast variety of affordable vegetables and fruits, and more items.
- Buy store/generic brands: Store or generic brands are always cheaper than the name brand and they are of the same quality.
- Join a grocery saving club and shop for coupons.
2. Proteins Can Be Cheap
Whether it’s from vegetarian or meat sources, the body needs proteins to perform most of its functions. The good news, there a few dietary adjustment you can adopt to save and still eat enough and quality protein.
Buy cheap cuts of meat and exercise portion control: You will save a few dollars on the meat but even more when you stretch it for more meals by making tasty sauces, stews, stir-fries, and casseroles. Use the bones to prepare tasty bone broth and add whole grains, beans, and vegetables to make a delicious and filling meal.
Try Vegetarian Protein: Veggie sources of protein, such as lentils and beans, are cheap, tasty, and easy to prepare. During your shopping, stock up on canned or dried lentils, seeds, beans, eggs, and nuts.
Consider Probiotics: Soft cheeses, kefir, and yogurt are cheap sources of calcium and protein and most of them contain good bacteria that boost mental and digestive health. Good sources of vegetarian probiotic include vegetables and sauerkraut pickled in brine instead of vinegar.
Canned chicken and fish are great alternatives for things such as enchiladas, sandwiches, salads, and casseroles.
3. Buy in Bulk
Buy in large quantities: Buying non-perishable foods such as canned fish and beans in bulk saves money and time. For perishable items such as bread, meat, and milk, buy and share with friends or freeze in small portion to use as needed.
Shop for fresh produce while in season and purchase the bag: When fresh produce is in season, it’s usually at its tastiest, most nutritious, and cheapest. Take advantage and purchase fresh produces such as potatoes, apples, grapefruits, onions, and oranges by the bag rather than by individual pieces – it’s economical.
Shop from the freezer aisle. Walk around the frozen food section and look for the biggest package of veggies. Fresh and frozen veggies are nutritious, they taste fresh, and more often than not, the largest frozen bag will offer the best value for money.
Shop for grains and cereals in large quantities and preserve them in airtight containers. Whole grains such as barley, rolled oats, millet, and brown rice are all good sources of nutrients.
4. Leftovers Can Be Used to Make Tasty, Cheap Meals
Stews, stir-fries, and soups: Prepare a base with a sauce or broth or by sautéing garlic or onion. Then, add your leftovers. Adding in a little meat does a lot of good by adding substance and flavor. If you are a seasoned cook, take advantage of spices and herbs to add a unique flavor.
Anything Burritos: Leftovers make tasty burritos. Just put all your leftovers in one tortilla shell with a little salsa or cheese and enjoy.
Try Combinations: You might not have thought about it, but there are a lot of foods with different flavors that go well. For instance, make a green salad and add veggies or whole meals inviting top or leftover meat from another meal.
5. How to Make Your Budget Meal Inviting
Appearance makes a lot of difference in the visual appeal of foods. Eating on the cheap can be romantic, fun, elegant and delicious. Here are some quick tips on how to spice up your meals:
Make your meals colorful: Contrasting colors are attractive to the eye. For example, add yellow corn or bright leafy green to a dish of lentils or black beans. Use yellow or red peppers, red tomatoes, carrots, and yellow pepper to color up a green salad.
Make inviting dinner table settings: Place some fresh flowers or a candle at the center of the dinner table. Use colorful place mats, napkins, and tablecloth.
Involve kids: If you don’t have a lot of free time, invite the kids and let them decorate the table in their own ways; you will marvel at their creativity.
6. Desserts Can Be Healthy, Delicious, and Affordable
Lastly, eating on the cheap doesn’t mean skipping out on desserts. Instead of the usual unhealthy junks such as cakes, muffins, and cookies, end your meals with home-made popsicles, yogurt, dark chocolate, and frozen treats such as bananas, berries, and grapes.
Well, that’s about all on eating healthy on the cheap. In our next article, we will talk about eating well as you age. Subscribe to our email list, and be the first to know when we publish it.
Also, if you loved the tips I have shared in this article, please take your time and leave me a comment; I love it when my readers comment on my posts. It gives me the motivation to research and write a new post.