My mother pointed this out to me: We all know some ways we can eat more cheaply, but that doesn't always leave us eating the healthiest of foods. She is trying (and succeeding) to lose weight while on a budget. Why is it that it is so much easier to eat junk food when you are on a budget? The fact is, that if you don't mind preparing more of your meals yourself (yes, using raw ingredients) and staying away from prepackaged foods, you can easily eat healthy on a budget.
1. Eat Less Meat
Cutting back on meat is very popular right now? Some do it because "so and so did", but here's why it is actually a good idea. Not only is meat an inefficient way of getting our calories and protein, but it is also expensive. There are many other, more efficient (both in terms of nutrition and budget) ways of getting your daily protein.
- Whole grains (especially quinoa) One cup of quinoa has 18g of protein and 9g of fiber!
- Beans, lentils, and other legumes
- Peanut butter, nuts, and seeds
Emphasize grains and legumes. They add a heaviness to a meal that most people rely on meat for.
Dried beans and other legumes are nutritional superstars (and are super cheap. They don't always have to be the side dish either. They are great in a variety of dishes as either stretchers (more on that later) or as the main ingredient because they provide plant based protein and fiver. Even though it takes longer to prepare dried beans (what with the soaking and all), the results are well worth it because you get less sodium and 5x more beans for your money than with canned.
Grains such as pasta and rice can definitely stretch your food dollar. Meatless meals where pasta or rice are served make you feel more full, and if you use whole grain pasta or rice, you will have the added bonus of fiber and protein.
2. Buy Locally
Go to local farmers markets to buy local seasonal foods. Often at these places, you are buying directly from the farmer, so you get fresher and cheaper food. If you just want run of the mill veggies, most towns and cities have some pop up produce stands when crops are abundant. Some local farms will even allow visitors and let you buy directly from them on site. Some of these farms even have "u pick" veggies at a much cheaper rate.
Where I used to live before I moved to Florida, (the Tennessee side of the Kentucky/Tennessee state line right by I-65) we were lucky to live near a community of Amish and Minonites. It is called Perrrytown and is in Kentucky. They had several stores that were open year round with dry goods (bulk grocery items, canned goods, etc.), but in the summer the produce markets opened up! There were several in the community, so the prices were competitive. They had a shipping center where the minonites would sell many of their crops to be shipped to local grocery stores.
3. Eat Seasonally
Seasonal foods are not only at their peak of flavor and nutrition, they often cost less since they don't need to be shipped in from other places (like other continents). What fruits and veggies are in season where I live??? When your favorite fruits and veggies are in season, preserve them with freezing, canning or drying!
4. Grow your own.
Being able to go outside and pick your own tomato for your sandwich is certainly the freshest way to get one. It can also be the cheapest. . . if you plan correctly. If you grown too big of a garden, you could end up with more money invested in the veggies you do use. Also, if you buy all expensive starts from Lowe's or Home Depot, you may not end up getting the best deal. It is more economical to start your veggies from seed. If you make the one time investment of buying heirloom seeds, then they can be collected from your crop and used for the next year.
Growing your own garden does not mean you have to have a quarter acre designated to your veggies. Some of us just don't have the space or the time. A small kitchen garden can be grown on your back patio in containers. One squash plant in a hanging basket, for instance, may provide enough squash for your family throughout it's growing season. Two bean plants may provide enough for dinner and it will continue to produce as long as you keep it picked and the weather cooperates. One tomato plant in a pot will definitely provide plenty of b.l.t.s, but may even give you enough for a batch or two of sauce that can be frozen for future use. Herbs are always a good addition to a patio garden, or even a window sill garden! Have fun and try different things.
One really neat gardening trick, is the everlasting green onions! You take one bunch of store bought green onions. When you cut off the bottom inch of the onion bulb, don't throw it away!!! Plant them for the next time you need green onions. In just a few weeks, you will have a whole other batch of onions, ready for your recipes!
5. Preserve it When it's Cheap
I've already mentioned canning, drying and freezing your local produce when you can find it cheap. Many foods will freeze well. If boneless chicken breast is on sale, buy a bunch, divide it into smaller portions to be used in cooking, and freeze. Same thing with other meats such as hamburger, steaks, turkey, etc.
Another way to preserve meals is to go ahead and assemble the meals in ready to cook packs. Slow cooker meals are especially good for this. For instance, freeze 2 pork chops in the water and barbecue sauce with onion to make slow cooker pulled pork.
Similarly, you can also cook the meals to be reheated later. Make sure if you do this, you use containers that can be used to cook in. Foil pans are great for anything that will need to be put in the oven to reheat.
6. Skip the Processed Foods!
Some processed or prepackaged meals may seem cheaper (more convenient, anyway). The real steal in these ready to use meals is in the nourishment they provide. Their empty calories will leave us still hungry for the nourishment our bodies require.
Many processed foods can be duplicated for less at home.
Frozen waffles, tv dinners, baked goods, prepackaged kids lunches, etc. can be easily assembled in your kitchen for less. Some can even be assembled and frozen for convenient use later. Many other processed foods (candy, chips, soda) are foods that we are better off without and serve us best as a special (and rare) treat.
7. Buy the Whole Chicken
Instead of buying chicken piece by piece, plan meals that use breast and thighs on different nights. Chicken legs and wings can be frozen until you have enough to make a separate meal of just legs or wings. You can also roast a whole chicken and use your leftovers in recipes calling for chopped or shredded cooked chicken. Whole chickens can be found for around $0.90 per lb, compared to $3.00 per lb (or higher) for individual parts.
Adding cheap healthy foods (that don't have an overbearing flavor that could change the flavor of your dishes too drastically) to your favorite recipes will help 'stretch' your food dollar and can even help conceal veggies from those who wouldn't normally eat them (maybe even yourself? ). For instance, cauliflower can replace half of the potatoes in your mashed potatoes. It doesn't change the flavor, and when well cooked and mashed, doesn't change the texture either.
Stretchers don't have to stay hidden. Add veggies or legumes to many recipes to 'stretch' it AND make it healthier.
The best way to eat cheaper and healthier is to make a plan specifically for your family. Start by writing down everything you eat for a week, and save your receipts from the grocery store. From there, tweak the foods you eat to make them healthier, see what prepackaged foods can be made yourself, and how else you can use your grocery money more effectively. Also, limit the amount of meals you eat out.
Until next time. . .