This post goes out to my girls @TerrecaRiley and @danidee! Earlier today we were talking about how it can be so hard to eat healthy when you're on a tight budget. It's easy to fall into the trap of eating cheap fast food, or despairing at the grocery store when you see the price of health food. I was inspired to create this list of ways to save money while eating healthy – hope you enjoy! And if there are methods I've missed (I'm sure there are tons!!) feel free to chime in. :)
1. Prepare your own food as much as possible.
Eating out is expensive! Cutting it out of your diet lets you take back control of your wallet and your health. When you make your own meals, you know exactly what's going into it – limiting your exposure to excess salt, sugar, MSG, and all that other bad stuff.
2. Take time to make a grocery list.
It only takes a few minutes, and the benefits are worth it. Sticking to what's on your list keeps you from making last-minute impulse buys, like that chocolate bar winking at you from below the cash register. Also, NEVER go grocery shopping when you're hungry. That's just asking for disaster.
3. Stock up on cheap, healthy foods that don't spoil.
Dry beans and lentils are dirt-cheap, as well as excellent, hearty sources of protein. They'll fill you up and give you long-lasting energy. Consider going meatless a couple times a week (because meat is expensive, y'all) and using legumes as your main protein source. Canned salmon and tuna fish are also great cheap sources of protein. Raw almonds and peanuts are great energy-boosting snack foods to combat mid-day fatigue. If you can find it for cheap, all-natural peanut butter is also an awesome snack spread on whole wheat bread or a banana!
Focus on complex carbs – that means whole wheat, lots of fiber, long-lasting energy. No bleached, starchy, super-processed foods like white bread. Go for whole wheat bread; it's the same price. Keep an eye out for 2 for 1 deals, and keep the other loaf in the freezer for up to 6 months. Another carb MVP: brown rice. It's so cheap, but SO much better for you than white rice. The added fiber keeps you fuller longer, and aids in digestive health. Plus, there are almost infinite ways to prepare it. Sweet potatoes, too, are great, and stay fresh for around one month when stored in a cool, dark place. For a quick and healthy snack, plain popcorn will satisfy your munchies without loading your body up with sodium and sugar. Dry oats make an excellent breakfast.
4. Buy fruits with a long shelf life.
Man cannot live on whole wheat bread and peanut butter alone – you need some fruits and veggies! Inexpensive fruits with a long shelf life, which you can buy in larger quantities: apples, bananas, oranges, kiwis, and pears. Grapes and cantaloupes are also cheap, but must be consumed more quickly.
5. Buy same day.
If you don't have a refrigerator, keeping food fresh can be tricky. The solution: buy ingredients the same day you're going to use them. Leafy greens, carrots, peppers, and many other veggies can certainly survive several hours at room temperature.
If you want to make eggs or meat (and you totally should, because chicken thighs and eggs are both inexpensive sources of protein), just make sure to cook it within 2 hours of taking it out of the refrigerated section. Any longer is enough time for dangerous bacteria to grow.
6. Drink lots (and lots) of water.
All day long, but especially right before meals. When you're properly hydrated, you're less hungry. This is a good tip for controlling overeating, too; if your stomach is full of water, you need to eat less before your body tells you it's full.
Also, cut out all sugary beverages, such as juice and soda. You're just wasting calories AND money. Diet beverages are no better – studies suggest that they can lead to diabetes and cancer later in life.
7. Learn to meal plan.
Meal planning might be intimidating if you've never done it before, but there are SO many resources online. It helps you shop smart and eat healthy, while minimizing costs (because you're not buying anything you don't use). Check out the resources at the bottom for some helpful links on budget meal planning.
Meal planning can also help you to strategically re-purpose your leftovers. Done with that rotisserie chicken? Make chicken soup! Got leftover ground beef? Turn it into pasta sauce. Made too much rice? Add some leafy greens and make it a grain salad.
8. Look online.
The internet is full of tips and tricks for stretching your paycheck or even getting by without one! For example, BudgetBytes is a cool site with cheap, healthy recipes that tell you exactly how much they're going to set you back. You can learn to meal plan or copy existing meal plans; check out supermarket circulars online to see what's on sale, or just find healthy recipes. Most importantly, you can find a community of people going through the same struggle as you, and that's like winning half the battle. With their support and ideas, you WILL make it through! :)
Find inspiration, healthy recipe, and budget meal planning tips on these helpful sites: