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10 Tips for Healthy Eating on a Budget

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46% of the average American food budget is spent on meals prepared outside the home – with 32% of the daily calories the average American consumes coming from these sources.

Everyone is trying to save money these days. And it can be tempting to start buying bargain food. But, there are many ways to trim your food budget without giving up healthy eating. In fact, saving money can actually lead to better health.

Here are some tips for staying healthy and saving money:

  1. The cost of one family meal in a restaurant can buy a lot of food at the local farmers’ market. Buy food directly from the farmers. You’ll be supporting your health AND the local economy, while enjoying fresher food in its natural season.
  2. Cook more meals at home. Support family health, your budget and save time to boot. Save time by cooking for 2-3 meals at a time. For example, I might braise some greens for dinner one night, have them topped with eggs the next night and throw the rest in soup for a third meal. You don’t have to eat the same meal over and over again.
  3. Buy food, like beans and whole grains, in bulk rather than in small packages. The more packaging, the more expense. And there are bonus points for the environment with the reduction of excess packaging.
  4. Avoid convenience foods – which are generally highly processed. And you know what that means – yes, more money and less healthy.
  5. Buying organic is the most healthful, but its ok to cheat a little and save a little money. The produce found with the lowest levels of pesticide residues are: Asparagus, Pineapple, Kiwi, Onions, Sweet Corn (frozen), Avocado, Broccoli, Sweet Peas (frozen), Mangos, Cabbage, Bananas, and Eggplant. That’s where you can save a little if it’s not organic. Just avoid the dirty dozen, which can contain the highest level of pesticides and should always be purchased organic. These include: Apples, Strawberries, Spinach, Lettuce, Bell Peppers, Pears, Cherries, Grapes (imported), Potatoes, Peaches, Celery, and Nectarines. I will also add that soybeans, and anything made from soybeans, should only be organic.
  6. Eggs are one of the cheapest forms of protein food you can buy, and one of the most easily assimilated in our bodies. Eggs are not just for breakfast. Quiche, or crust less quiche (called frittata in Italy), with a salad or sautéed greens can make a great and easy dinner. Or, eggs on a bed of sautéed greens are a healthy option served in many Mediterranean countries. Eggs can also quickly be poached in soups.
  7. Sautéed greens are very inexpensive and cook very quickly – spinach, swiss chard, kale to name a few. Try them sautéed, steamed or braised. Or, add them to soups.
  8. Beans and lentils are cheap and loaded with protein and fiber! Especially when purchased in bulk. But you can even buy organic, canned cooked beans without additives for very little money. Lentils cook quickly, but cooking beans from scratch requires some planning. Also try them for soups and chili. Tofu, made from soybeans, is another source of inexpensive and versatile protein. This could be a good time to eat more vegetarian meals, at least a few times a week, supporting the health of your body and your budget. Again, there are bonus points here for the environment, as vegetarian meals generally have a smaller carbon footprint.
  9. Grow a garden – summer or winter. Yes, some things will even grow in the winter. Kale, chard and lettuce will grow here on the West Coast all winter.
  10. And, lastly, eat less food. Just about everyone eats too much! Most people can decrease the quantity on their plate by at least 20% and actually be healthier. Eating fewer calories extends lifespan, according to research.

The following recipe is what I call a Friday night meal (quick to prepare after a long week). And this meal is very easy on the pocketbook too!

4 cups cooked beans (I like a combination of black and pinto), heated, a little salsa added to taste. Place the heated beans on a bed of salad greens. Top with a little grated or chopped cheese, chopped avocado, chopped fresh cilantro, extra salsa and a few dollops of plain yogurt (healthier than sour cream). Optional: Place the whole thing atop a heated corn tortilla and eat it with a knife and fork. The best corn tortillas are handmade, which I recommend if you can find them. Serves 4.

Enjoy! And let me know what you think.