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Excuses Busted: Eating Healthy on a Budget

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Excuses Busted: eating Healthy on a Budget | Little Flecks of Gold

This post begins my "Excuses Busted" series. I'll be talking about common excuses people give for not living their healthiest lifestyles. An excuse I hear all the time is "I don't have the money to eat healthy." Well, if you think about it, eating healthy can help you save on medical costs, so it's definitely worth a little extra money. But it's definitely possible to buy healthy food for the same price of unhealthy food, or even for less. Here I'm going to offer what I've learned about eating healthy on a student budget:

Eat at home and learn to cook.
You've probably heard this before and it's pretty basic: it's much cheaper to make your own turkey sandwich than to go buy one at Subway (an entire loaf of bread costs less than a Subway sandwich, for crying out loud) and it's healthier because you have complete control of what's going in your body! The same applies to processed food: it's a lot cheaper to make your own chicken and rice soup than to buy a can of Progresso (I made chicken and rice soup the other day, and based on my very rough calculations, would say I spent around $2-2.50 for four servings. That's less than half of what it costs to buy canned!)

Stock up on healthy basics. 
I wrote a post about cheap healthy foods last year that includes some of the basics, but here's a more complete list:

Grains
Whole grain pasta - Spaghetti is my go-to meal when I'm in a rush, so naturally I've opted for whole-wheat to get more bang for my buck. If you don't eat gluten, you can always get brown rice pasta instead. You can also make these five ingredient peanut noodles with whole grain noodles.
Brown rice - I'm not a huge fan of rice, but if you can't live without it, definitely make the transition from white to brown if you haven't already. 
Quinoa - While it's not particularly cheap and I don't use it a ton, it does come in handy once in a while for a salad or pizza bites.
Oatmeal - It's the stereotypical healthy breakfast food, but you can also use it instead of breadcrumbs in recipes or even in smoothies!

Protein
Eggs - Not only are they a great source of protein, they have a lot of other nutrients as well. They're very cheap and last up to two weeks. You can use them in healthy baked goods, protein pancakes, egg white oatmeal, veggie omelets and much more.
Canned beans - Rich in fiber as well as protein, beans are a very versatile food and also inexpensive. You can use them in tacos, soup, hummus and even as a substitute for flour in some desserts.
Frozen chicken breasts - Not only is buying them frozen usually a better deal, frozen chicken breasts also don't need to be cooked right away, which is pretty darn convenient. 
Canned tuna - With omega-3 fats in addition to tons of protein, tuna is a super healthy option that won't hurt your wallet either. It's great for when you don't want to make an full-on meal, but need something that will fill you up.
Nuts - Whether you choose mixed nuts, almonds or peanut butter, nuts are very satiating, have healthy fats and are just delicious.

Beverages
Almond milk - I'm lactose intolerant, so this is a no-brainer for me, but if you want to buy regular milk, that's fine as well.
Coconut water - While it's not the cheapest drink in the world, I keep this on hand just I get sick, overexert myself or need extra electrolytes for another reason.

Produce 
Bananas - Buy a bunch and freeze them for smoothies!
Frozen fruit - A lot of frozen fruit is cheaper than fresh fruit and it's also easier to get things out of season. Sometimes I like to get the tropical smoothie mix, but I usually get mixed berries to use in smoothies and on pancakes.
Frozen vegetables - If you need a side for your dinner, frozen vegetables are great. My personal favorites are broccoli and cauliflower, but choose what you like best!
Carrots - I buy carrots every week and inevitably use them all. Whether I eat them as snacks, juice them for smoothies or include them in a soup, they're invaluable in my kitchen.
Celery - This is another soup staple, but can also be eaten as a snack or used in black bean burgers.
Apples - Sometimes I'll alternate these with another fruit, but apples are one of my go-to snacks most weeks.
Sweet potatoes - They're rich in vitamin A and are great for boosting your energy with all their healthy carbs. I eat mine plain, but if you need a little more pizzazz, try using coconut oil or Stevia.

Condiments
Spices - I leave this up to you because everyone likes different tastes. I personally hate cumin, but use turmeric all the time, so my spice list is a little unconventional. However, it never hurts to stock up on the basics: cinnamon, basil, salt, pepper, chili powder etc. 
Soy sauce - I love Chinese food, so soy sauce is great to have on hand in case I want to make a stir fry or something. Get the lite (it's lower in sodium.)
Olive oil - Pretty self-explanatory. For sauteing etc.
Coconut oil - I don't have butter, so I substitute coconut oil in baking. I also use it for removing my makeup. (If you'd rather just have butter, that's totally fine. They both have their own health benefits.)

Healthy Eating Basics Grocery List

You definitely don't need to buy everything on this list every week, or even everything on this list. There will be things on this list that you don't need and it's definitely not all-inclusive either. It's just a way for you to get a jump-start on brainstorming meals.

Develop your personal arsenal of healthy meals you enjoy. 
I always see "What I Eat In A Day" posts and think I could never do that because what I eat varies a lot. However, I will give you a couple of options I turn to frequently for each meal, just in case you need a little inspiration.

Breakfast:
Two-ingredient banana pancakes: Blend two eggs and a ripe banana in a blender and cook like pancakes. I always top mine with berries.
Whole wheat toast with jam or honey
Smoothie (including some sort of vegetable or this when I'm feeling indulgent)
Oatmeal with almond milk, dark chocolate, almonds, honey and bananas (I should probably put this under every category because I eat this all the time. Also, I do not heat it up.)

Lunch/dinner: 
Turkey sandwich with spinach and tomato
Tuna melt with tomato
Spaghetti

Snacks:
A piece of fruit
Carrot and celery sticks
Apple w/ peanut butter
Almonds
Popcorn (I get the 97% fat-free kind, but air-popped is also great)
Smoothie

The trick is to stock up on basics that will allow you to make your favorite foods often. I keep Better than Boullion and canned green chiles on hand so I can make black bean soup, for example.

Buy locally and in-season when you can.
This is healthier for you and can save you money. Do you skim the ads to see what produce is on sale? Chances are you're already buying things in season then.

Don't always go for the latest craze.
Sometimes the latest "super-food" isn't even much of a super-food and is expensive to boot. Stick to the basic super foods: spinach, apples, berries etc. and save yourself the trouble and money. You don't need to stress about going organic either. Washing your fruits and veggies is the most important part of avoiding pesticides, but if you'd like to go even further, buy the "Dirty Dozen" produce organic and eats lots of the "Clean Fifteen" produce (see the lists here.)

Tips to avoid waste:
I'm cooking for one right now, so waste is pretty hard to avoid sometimes. However, I've figured out a couple of ways to avoid it: I can't get through a bag of spinach in a week, so I freeze what's left for smoothies. I have a hard time eating a dozen eggs in two weeks, so I try to use recipes I like that include eggs (cue the two-ingredient pancakes.) I'm also not afraid to use only egg whites, since it's cheaper than buying a carton of egg whites anyway and I'm using at least part of the egg. I've learned to eat my leftovers before making another big meal as well.

Those are some of my best tips! If you have anything that's helped you eat healthier on a budget, let me know in the comments!

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