Want to start eating healthier, but don’t have a big food budget? With a little planning and some tweaks to how you think about cooking, you can make it happen.
I work on certain principles for healthy eating:
- Be a pig with veggies.
- When in doubt, eat as close to natural as possible.
- Eat less at a time. Don’t give your body a chance to gorge.
- Eat more frequently. Don’t give your body reason to store food as fat.
- If you don’t carefully plan all your nutrients, variety is the spice of health.
- Make healthy eating a habit, so it’s just what you do, rather than a chore.
Here are seven tips to help you get started.
Plan your meals
The most important thing you can do to save money on food is to have a meal plan. It will prevent you from eating out all the time, which is very expensive and generally not very healthy.
Sit down and think about your week ahead. Do you have any plans that involve a meal out? Now you just need to feed yourself for the remaining breakfasts, lunches, dinners and mostly snacks (eat less, but more frequently). Remember that unless everybody is gathered to say grace around the table, you don’t actually need “meals”. But plan the schedule anyway.
Fill in those slots with your favorite recipes, meals or snacks.. Using your meal plan, write out a grocery list and go buy what you need for the week. Try to stick to the list, so you don’t buy on impulse (expensive) or buy too much, so that it spoils (wasteful).
Cook at home
Preparing most of your food at home will save you a lot of money, compared to eating out. Many people buy coffee on the way to work each day. Buying a coffeemaker and preparing your morning cup of coffee at home will save hundreds of dollars per year.
Do cook at home. It is cheaper and healthier, and you can prepare your food just the way you want it, which is a pleasure in and of itself. Even better, eat food that does not need to be cooked as often as possible. Yes, that saves money, and that’s eating as close to natural as possible
Keep it simple, but go for variety
Keep your menu plan and your snacks and meals simple. Go for variety, but stay away from complicated recipes where you have to put in different amounts of different ingredients at different times.
Be flexible to buy what’s on special, and don’t be shy to buy marked down produce. Those half-price bananas? By three bunches, peel them, chop them up and freeze them for the next couple weeks’ smoothies. I use them in my Yonanas machine.
Think about simple breakfasts like cereal with milk and berries. Nature’s Path makes very healthy organic cereals, but simple cereals like Shreddies and Bran Flakes are cheap and healthy.
Smoothies are great. Nothing wrong if you want to throw in a few extra healthy ingredients. Spinach is a powerhouse of nutrients, and it doesn’t change the taste of your smoothie. Throw in cinnamon, fresh ground ginger, coriander, etc. Whatever you like. All these spices are healthy.
Don’t forget, variety is the spice of health.
Lunches can be leftovers from dinner or simple sandwiches or salads. Lots of fresh, raw vegetables are great: carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, celery with peanut butter on it, etc.
For dinner, try sticking to a formula to get you started. Include a protein, a starch (bread, corn, potatoes, etc.) and lots of veggies. A salad is great, but some cooked veggies are great, too. Be a pig with veggies.
Pack your lunch
Aside from making your own coffee in the morning, preparing a lunch to bring from home to school or work is probably the biggest money saving tip for those that work outside the home. And since most lunches you buy are unhealthy – greasy sandwiches or sauce-doused salads – what you bring from home is bound to be healthier.
The cost of buying lunch adds up quickly. So do the calories. If you do it for the social aspect more than the food, invite your coworkers to bring a lunch in, too. Have a picnic outside or eat together in the cafeteria. You don’t have to be lonely in order to save money and eat healthy. You could help others get healthy, as well.
Buy unprocessed ingredients
Unprocessed foods tend to be less expensive. They also tend to have less added sugar, salt, preservatives, chemicals and dyes. So they are healthier for you. Eat as close to natural as possible. Once you get in the habit of preparing food at home, you will naturally buy less-processed, more natural foods. Habits are powerful.
Buy in bulk, with caution
It is often possible to buy things in bulk, and sometimes you can get a significant discount by buying a fifty pound bag rather than a one pound bag. But if you don’t use it all before it goes bad, you’ve lost money rather than saving.
Only buy in bulk what you know you can use. Only buy dry goods in bulk.Things like flour, rice, and oatmeal have a long shelf life and are good candidates for bulk buys. Things like eggplant and strawberries are on a race to spoil.
Also, be sure to double check the price per unit, and compare it with the price of a more modest sized package.
Ditch the meat
Vegans will love this one. But it’s not necessarily a vegan suggestion. Find alternate sources of protein for some or all of your meals. Meat is expensive. Eggs, milk, beans and cottage cheese are all healthy protein sources that cost less than most meats. Learn to cook a few Indian bean curries, or make some breakfast burritos and freeze them ahead of time for a quick breakfast before you head off to work or school. Prepare an omelet for dinner, or make a smoothie with protein powder (or milk and cottage cheese) for any time you need to eat.
If you decide to lose animal products altogether, there are companies like Hampton Creek that make minimally processed vegan condiments that will make the transition easier.
By planning and preparing simple snacks and meals at home using natural ingredients, bringing your lunch to work instead of buying it, and eating meatless meals a couple times per week, you will be able to save money and improve your health. Why not sit down and get started on your food plan right away?