Feature: Eating Healthy on a Budget

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By: Krista Ehret – Eating healthy can be a challenge on many levels. First, you have to cipher through the endless array of dieting options and determine your definition of “healthy.” Next is creating a plan of action, which typically involves a complete purge of the pantry, freezer and fridge and lots of Pinterest recipe hunting. Finally, you’re faced with the hardest part, sticking to it. This is where gimmick diets get tricky. I am not a doctor or a dietitian, so I can’t say which way is best, but I’ve found what works for my family is avoiding the fads and simply trying to eat mostly whole foods and limiting processed options. I also try to eat organic when possible. The biggest hurtle with this particular plan is staying on budget, as organic can often equal higher prices. Here are some tips I’ve picked up through the years that allow us to eat healthy, but not break the budget.

Know the Deals.

All grocery stores have weekly ads you can view online. This is a great place to start when creating your meal plan for the week. Taking it a step further and knowing what is a good deal will help you even more. I keep a list of the foods that we buy regularly, and which store offers them at the lowest price. I shop at Kroger and Aldi weekly and always check the BOGO deals at Publix. If an item comes up for less than I usually pay, I will stock up. The pitfall can be getting lured in to buying junk food just because it’s a good deal. Try to focus on meat, produce (fresh or frozen) and healthy carbs.

Create a Meal Plan.

I strategically plan for our dinners every week. It immensely cuts back on waste, impulse shopping and eating out for convenience. Use the weekly ads to help decide on your ingredients, tack on any helpful online coupons, and then write out your menu. I keep mine on the fridge, so I can remember to get out meat to thaw or do any prep work ahead of time.

Shop the Perimeter.

Don’t let the temptation of the store ruin your good intentions. The tip I hear most often is to shop the outer edge where you find the produce, meat, dairy and frozen foods. Most of the processed stuff will be in the interior. I have an app on my phone that divides my grocery list into the sections of the store. It keeps me from running back and forth and perusing unnecessary aisles. Another option is to utilize the convenience of shopping online and then just swinging by and picking up the groceries. No way to impulse shop this way.

Know the Labels.

Food manufacturers like to slap lots of pretty words on packaging that really doesn’t mean a whole lot. Look for the “USDA Organic” seal as the terms “all natural,” “local” and “free-range” unfortunately are not regulated. When shopping for bread and pasta (yes, you can eat carbs!), look for the “100-percent Whole Wheat” seal. Anything can say “whole wheat,” but may only have traces of whole grain in it. When in doubt, always read the ingredients. If you can’t pronounce it, you may want to do a little research and think twice about eating it.

Eat Less Meat.

This is a tough one for many, my husband and me included. Most American meals are centered around a huge hunk of meat, a generous serving of starch and a measly plop of veggies. Organic meat is expensive, so you can really save by reversing this way of eating. Start small by having one vegetarian dinner per week. You can also eliminate meat from your breakfast and lunch. You won’t miss it as much at these meals as you might from dinner. Another option is to offer smaller portions of meat with larger servings of vegetables. Here are a few meatless meals that I eat regularly:

Breakfast:

• Steel cut oatmeal with a spoonful of peanut butter (the kind that contains just peanuts) and some unsalted mixed nuts or homemade granola.

• Smoothie (kale or spinach, banana, plain Greek yogurt, frozen fruit, ice).

• Slice of sprouted bread toasted with avocado and flax seeds.

Lunch:

• Spring mix salad with lots of raw veggies (cucumber, mushrooms, tomato, bell peppers, onion), homemade balsamic dressing, blue cheese and pecans.

• Slow cooker veggie soup.

Dinner:

• Veggie quesadillas with whole wheat tortillas.

• Eggplant parmesan.

• Veggie stir-fry with brown rice or quinoa.

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