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!

Massage Therapy

Those of you who know me well know I am not a big fan of medications.  If you did not already know that you can refer to my entry about popping pills.

With that said I definitely am an advocate for other therapies.  Fortunately I am quite healthy and rarely need a doctor for any illness or ailment, so I cannot say that I have experienced many of them myself.

Years ago I went to a massage therapist for a minor back injury.  A friend (drunkenly) picked me up and proceeded to carry me down a hallway and tripped on a dog causing him to drop me.  I went down on my knees hard and my back arched.  I didn’t think there was any serious injury, but I did have a mild nagging pain in the middle portion of my back.  I decided to see if massage therapy would help the spot before I ventured to the doctor or an orthopedist.  A few sessions later I no longer had the pain, and I also found the relaxation of a massage to be beneficial for me as well.

As a Wellspan employee I am allotted $500 worth of massages a year through Wellspan Center for Mind/Body Health.  Yes, this is a very luxurious benefit, but I am glad that as a health organization Wellspan recognizes the importance of overall wellness for its employees.

I had my first massage session the end of April and did a second one tonight after work.  Sitting in a cubicle all day answering phones takes its toll on my neck and back as I’m sure many office workers can attest.  The massage not only worked out the stiffness that had developed in my neck, but loosened deeper spots in my back that I had not even realized were so tightened up.  While driving home I also felt this overwhelming calmness.  I typically hate driving on 83 as I feel that is the speed everyone drives on it, but I wasn’t phased even when I had tractor trailers around me.

Many people who have never had a massage assume it’s just completely pleasurable.  It is, but not always in the ways one would expect.  If a massage is done correctly you will actually experience some soreness afterwards, and it’s recommended that you drink a lot of water to help flush out the toxins that are released during the massage.

A lot of people also tend to think massages are a luxury expense.  My first session was 45 minutes in length and only cost $65.55.  I think that’s a small price to pay (and would pay it even if it wasn’t covered for me) for both stress relief and treatment of my minor ailments.  Even if you can only afford to go once every 6 months or even once a year I say you should treat and heal yourself with the experience.