10 Tips for Eating Healthy on a Budget

Disclaimer – I am not a professional nutritionist, medical practitioner, personal trainer or anything else that would make me certified to recommend lifestyle changes.  I am simply someone who reads a whole lot about food/nutrition/wellness and am an avid runner.  I advocate for eating real food and am anti-GMOs.

I have recently been asked to provide someone with tips on how to eat healthier without spending a lot of money.  I’m sure if you do a Google search on this topic there are more than enough websites with responses that some may question why add another, but I figure if people value my thoughts enough to ask for advice then I’m surely going to give it.  Here are 10 tips and yes, I either regularly follow them or have tried them.

#1 – MEAL PLAN.  Honestly I don’t know how people grocery shop without knowing what meals they are going to make.  I have never even attempted it.  Every week I look at my planner for the week ahead and figure out what nights I have more time to cook and what nights may need a quick option.  I typically come up with 4 meal ideas as I tend to cook Sun. – Wed. and use Thurs. and Fri. to eat the leftovers.  Sat. is usually a free for all (ie pb&j, eggs, etc) or eating out.  Meal planning saves time (no more wondering what to make for dinner or rushing out to buy an ingredient) and money (no or fewer impulse buys) and results in healthier eating.

#2 – DRINK WATER.  Water is the cheapest and healthiest option available.  Too bland?  Try adding some lemon or look up how to make fruit infused water.  Soda and diet soda are the worst options in terms of your health.  If you truly need a caffeine fix stick to one cup of coffee that you make at home – Starbucks everyday does not save you money!

#3 – START SMALL.  Choose one area to improve such as finding healthier snack options or adding more fruits and veggies to your plate.  A few years ago I vowed to start making homemade pancakes to freeze and I haven’t bought a box of Eggo ones ever since.  You’ll never be perfect and that’s ok.  Every healthy decision you make is one better decision towards a healthier overall lifestyle.

#4 – BUY IN SEASON PRODUCE OR FROZEN VEGGIES.  Try to visit local farmers’ markets for better deals than the grocery store, but if you don’t have time at least buy what’s in season.  If you’re craving strawberries in January be prepared to pay a lot more than in June.  I will always recommend buying organic particularly when buying the “dirty dozen” and I realize that it is more expensive, but if you can afford even a few items that are organic then go for those.  Frozen veggies have just as much nutrition as fresh and you don’t have to worry about them going bad and wasting your money before you get to use them.

#5 – BUY WHOLE WHEAT PASTA, RICE AND BEANS.  Pasta is cheap, so choose the healthiest option and go with whole wheat.  I will admit the texture can take some getting used to and you may want to mix it with regular pasta to make the transition.  Rice is cheap as well and comes in a lot of varieties.  Beans are not something I eat (the texture bothers me) but they’re a great source of protein for not much money.

#6 – LIMIT RED MEAT.  Steak and ground beef are expensive.  Choose chicken or turkey to save yourself money.  It also helps the environment, but that’s another topic.  Use ground chicken for tacos, make meatballs with ground turkey… my dad is a hardcore meat and potatoes guy and even he admitted my recipe for turkey burgers had more flavor than he expected.

#7 – FIND YOUR WEAKNESS.  There is at least one or two foods that all of us crave that will cause us to gorge no matter how much willpower we have.  Don’t buy those foods; it’s as simple as that.  I adore Taskykakes, but you will only ever find them in my house once a year – in the fall when the spice cake krimpets are out for the season I will buy one box and indulge.

#8 – LIMIT FAST FOOD.  Burger King, McDonalds… their food is chemical garbage.  I can attest to it because if I eat it I literally am sick on the stomach the rest of the night.  If you can afford it choose places like Panera or Chipotle.  If you can’t then come up with a list of quick and easy meals that you can make on super busy nights so that you’re not tempted to go through a drive through.  I’ve had many late nights this spring with coaching track and rather than rely on concession stands or fast food for dinner I plan ahead and rely on crock pot meals.  To hold me over until I can eat late I pack a pb&j and healthy snacks.

#9 – MAKE CROCK POT MEALS.  Crock pots allow you to buy cheaper cuts of meat such as roasts and chicken thighs and still cook delicious meals.  Many recipes have short lists of ingredients which saves money as well.  Plus it saves a lot of time for those busier nights.

#10 – READ INGREDIENT LABELS.  Too often people focus on the nutrition labels on packages because they’re concerned about fat and calories.  For people who have legit medical concerns such as diabetes I would agree that is important.  For the average person with no major medical issues though, read the ingredient label instead.  If you can’t pronounce most of the ingredients it’s likely full of unhealthy chemicals.  Beware of “healthy” snacks that claim to be “all natural” – even organic gummy snacks can be chock full of sugar.  Avoid artificial flavors and colors whenever possible.

Feel free to comment with your thoughts, ideas or recipes that are both healthy and low cost!

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Changing Tastes

In the past 7 months I have changed my address, my job, my relationship status, my workout routine, my coping skills, my goals and my perspectives on different aspects of life.  One thing I have found that I cannot change, however, is my taste buds.

Whether it is a myth or has scientific proof to it the statement that taste buds change every 7 years is definitely not the case for me.  I have tried vegetables (excluding corn and potatoes because I do eat those but then again they’re more starch than anything) in various ways from grilling to coating with cheese or dips and I just cannot stomach them.  I have made a teeny bit of progress in being able to tolerate onions and peppers in dishes so long as they are finely chopped.  Anything big enough to pick out though I will remove.

I have also been in a battle lately with whole wheat bread.  I want to like it.  I know white bread is filled with numerous preservatives and would probably make our ancestors rolls in their graves to know how it is made.  Whole wheat to me though is just so… grainy.  I’ve tried various brands, the latest being Sara Lee soft whole wheat.  I tolerate it best if I have it toasted though I will use it in a PB&J if needed.  It just really isn’t as satisfying taste wise, and I find myself caving and grabbing a slice of white bread when I really want to enjoy the taste of bread.

Whole wheat pasta is even worse to me.  I’ve tried using the technique of making spaghetti with half whole wheat and half white pasta, and even that isn’t sufficient for me.  The texture just bothers me too much.

I often feel hypocritical living and advocating a healthy lifestyle when I know my diet is less than stellar.  I want to devour a salad made with fresh greens, toss veggies in everything and anything and shun white sugar completely.  I just can’t.  It’s not for a lack of trying; my taste buds just refuse to accept it.  I will continue with the struggle though because I know the payoff health wise would be worth it.  I’m in my 4th round of “every 7 years” – maybe this year my tastes will finally change.

It All Started with Pancakes

I recently found the blog 100 Days of Real Food.  I am amazed at the ability for this family to go cold turkey on processed food for 100 days and consider them a real inspiration.  With that said I personally cannot be that dedicated or motivated to do something so drastic.

Like most I’m a creature of habit and in order to change specific habits I need to ease into them.  In this case I chose to start with one meal, breakfast, and one recipe – pancakes.  Prior to finding the blog I relied on Eggo chocolate chip pancakes to be my food of choice in the mornings.  Once I actually read the ingredients on the box, however, and realized many of them I couldn’t pronounce let alone guess what they really were, I realized I should really be making pancakes from scratch.  I love homemade pancakes (and by homemade I mean Bisquik pancake mix), but always found that freezing leftover pancakes would result in hard spots once I microwaved them to eat later.

The recipe I found on the blog for whole-wheat banana pancakes intrigued me for 2 reasons:  one – it promised that the recipe worked great to freeze pancakes and two – it called for white whole wheat flour which promoted a milder taste than typical whole wheat.  A few weeks ago I put the recipe’s claims to the test and found that it held true to its word – I was able to eat great pancakes from freezing and microwaving and I didn’t notice a taste difference in eating whole wheat.

I will admit I cheated in being 100% healthy – the first batch I made followed the recipe but near the end I threw in some chocolate chips.  I made my second batch today splitting the original recipe into two bowls so that I could add frozen blueberries to one and chocolate chips to the other.  It is my hope to find “healthy” (ie organic and dark) chocolate chips so there won’t be any future guilt in making the recipe.

Since making my first batch I have begun making other small changes as well in hopes of improving my eating habits.  I’ve bought all natural peanut butter and jelly along with whole wheat bread.  I admit I’m getting used to the bread’s texture, but I’m hoping the more I eat it the more it doesn’t phase me.  I’ve been choosing snacks from the organic aisle such as Annie’s Cheddar Squares which I will attest taste identical to Cheese Its.  Today I found pumpkin spice Kefir which made me super excited as I love nearly everything pumpkin spice flavored.

Don’t let me fool you – I have indulged in Pizza Hut, ice cream and Tastykakes this past week.  I am, however, taking baby steps towards a healthier, more natural diet.  Each time I choose something that is less processed or organic, or I make it from scratch I build more confidence that I’m moving in the right direction.  And it all started with pancakes.