Eating healthy is a big part of my life; not only just for me but for my family. It is so important to us that the girls enjoy healthy foods just as much as the “treats.” We live very much by the saying, everything in moderation…including moderation. Lucky for us Madz will eat baked fish and Charli loves her raw spinach and carrots, but I’ll be the first to say these items aren’t always the most affordable. So I understand the argument that it can be cheaper to buy the processed food over organic but only sometimes; with the proper planning and some great tips there is a bigger bang for your buck to be achieved. To help provide you, and me with some true proper- perspective, I’ve asked Brent’s cousin Lauren a nutritionist in Boston to write up some tips for keeping your budget and your health in tip-top shape. Enjoy!
From Lauren over at Running Carrot…
Kerri asked me to write a guest post about eating healthy on a budget. I thought this was a great topic because I’ve been living on a small stipend during my dietetic internship this year. I’ve had to learn to balance my funds to buy my beloved vegetables and have a little left over for dark chocolate and wine to celebrate Wine Friday in our apartment. Although, I can definitely learn from Kerri and minimize the after-work trips to Trader Joe’s for those non-essential dark chocolate almonds I love.
The first and most important step is to PLAN.
Look at your store’s fliers for the week to see what items may be on sale, or if there are any coupons for certain items. Plan meals around these sale or cheaper items. In-season produce will often be the cheapest, so this is a great way to try a variety of fruits and vegetables for a wide range of nutrients. Don’t be afraid to try new and different items, such as beets, swiss chard, or parsnips. When in doubt, just sauté or roast new veggies!
Head to Pinterest, your favorite recipe blogs, or cookbooks to find recipes for the items. Or, if you have meals you regularly eat in your households, stick with those. I like to find 1-2 new and fun recipes each week to try out, and the other days, I stick to something simple.
A simple way to plan out balanced meals is to try to have:
- Leafy greens and/or 1-2+ other vegetables
- Palm-size portion of protein
- Small amount of fat (olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, butter)
- Carbohydrate (sweet potato, winter squash, rice, quinoa, fruit, etc.)
- Example: Chicken, broccoli and carrots roasted in olive oil, sweet potato with a little butter and cinnamon
- Balancing your meals will keep you satisfied. The veggies have tons of fiber, and the protein and fat will keep you full and satisfied.
Take a post-it, and fill out the meals for each day of the week, like below:
- B: Green smoothie
- L: Salad with canned salmon, avocado, and almonds
- D: Chicken, sweet potato, broccoli
- Snacks: Orange; kefir and blueberries
You may choose to only fill in dinner if you stick to the same few breakfasts and lunches, or you can fill in everything.
Now, you can create your grocery list! If you have a list, you can stick to it and avoid roaming the grocery store without an idea of what you need. A trip to the grocery store with a list will also be much quicker, and I’m sure Kerri is always looking to save time with two little ones in tow or at home.
Lastly, do not go to the grocery store hungry! I repeat, DO NOT go to the grocery store hungry. If you’re starving and walk by your favorite snacks, they’re probably going to end up in your cart and on your receipt.
Budget Food Items
Frozen Produce: People tell me all the time that they buy fresh produce for the week, and it goes bad before they can use all of it. The trick is buying frozen produce. Frozen produce is flash-frozen after harvesting the produce, so all the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients are retained compared to canned vegetables. In fact, produce loses nutrient content over time, so frozen vegetables can have MORE nutrients than fresh produce that travels across country before getting to your cart. Look for just vegetables instead of bags with sauces.
Bulk Food: Check out the bulk bins! Instead of buying individual snack-size packs of nuts or trail mixes, you can make your own from the bulk bins. Nuts are nutritious, satisfying snacks, but they can be expensive. Buy them in bulk to buy the size you want at a lower cost. You can also buy other items in bulk, such as rice, quinoa, beans (dry) and lentils, or baking items. However, be careful about all the items you buy in bulk. Sometimes people shop at Costco but end up overeating on snacks or wasting food. Costco is great for items that will last a while, such as olive or coconut oil, nuts, or quinoa. You can even buy spices in bulk to add flavor and extra anti-oxidants to your food. Spices, such as black pepper, turmeric, or ginger, are very high in anti-oxidants and they can even increase the absorption of nutrients in your food!
Farmer’s Markets: The produce at farmer’s markets is local and often very high quality and fresh. I bought a huge bag of local, fresh spinach at the farmer’s market today for $4.00, and I guarantee I would pay $6-8 for the same amount of organic greens at Whole Foods. Farmers may even offer deals near the end of the market, so they don’t have to take their products back home.
CSAs: CSAs are also a great deal for high-quality, local food. It’s can be a high up-front cost, but you get a ton of produce weekly for a low cost. The CSA I’m planning to get for this summer/fall will only be about $8 per person per week (4 of us are splitting a large share), but we’re getting over 10 pounds of fresh vegetables, herbs, and fruit each week. I’m a veggie lover, so this is a huge bargain!
Prioritize and stock up: Think about your priorities in terms of food quality. Personally, I care about buying high-quality protein, such as organic meats and eggs, wild fish, and organic dairy products. If there is a sale on organic chicken, I’ll stock up. If you can afford to stock up and have a higher bill one week, it will lower your costs other weeks. Fish is an expensive item, but you don’t have to leave it out! Choose canned salmon (it’s always wild!), sardines, or tuna for a great, high-quality protein. Eggs are very budget-friendly and a highly nutritious protein – they’re great for breakfast! In terms of fruits and vegetables, follow the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists. Items on the Dirty Dozen are high in pesticide content, so you may consider buying these organic, compared to the Clean 15, where buying conventionally is fine.
Think about snacks: Choose nutrient-dense snacks that will satisfy you. Which item will fill you up more – 12 chips or a handful of nuts? If you buy the chips, you may be likely to keep snacking past the one serving, leaving you snack-less for the rest of the week. Some satisfying snacks are include Greek yogurt, frozen berries and kefir, a piece of fruit and a handful of nuts, a hardboiled egg and ¼ avocado, or a banana and peanut butter. Try to have some fat and/or protein with your snacks to keep you satiated until your next meal. A little fat or protein goes a long way. Fat also helps you absorb nutrients, so all the vitamins & minerals you paid for don’t go to waste!
Make it yourself! Many grocery store items are easier and cheaper to make, such as salad dressings, guacamole, or sweet potato fries, and you can avoid some of the sugar or additives hiding in these products! Mix together some olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a salad dressing or bake chopped sweet potatoes with olive oil. You can also save money by buying items in their whole form and chopping them yourself, such as carrots instead of baby carrots.
Leftovers! By the time I get home from work and the gym at night, I’m tired! I don’t want to make a fancy, full dinner every night, so I rely on leftovers. When I cook a meal, I’ll often make enough for 2-3 meals. For example, I’ll cook a few portions of chicken, then have some for my salad the next day at lunch, or for dinner the following night. Soups, chili, or stews are a great, budget and leftover-friendly meal. You can make a large batch for the week and keep in your fridge, or freeze them for a quick and easy meal.
Yes, it can be pricey to eat healthy, but it doesn’t have to be. Think about getting the most nutrition for your buck, and fill your grocery cart accordingly. When you replace the bag of chips for fruit, or the Lean Cuisine for a homemade meal, you’re saving money, as well as nourishing your body and mind. Let me know if you try out these budget-friendly tips, or if you have any other tips! For more nutrition tips and my thoughts on food, check out my blog.