There’s a reason that healthy eating seems unattainable. The recipes can seem complicated (translation: lots of prep time) with ingredients that sound unfamiliar and when you seek them out, are expensive and outside your realm of what’s possible. Stretching your dollar to get healthy food on a budget can seem like an impossible mission.
So are you doomed to a life of junk food or less than healthy ingredients? Must you compromise your health in order to make ends meet?
Nah! I got this.
What I’m going to do is break it all down for you, by categories, giving you my best picks: the foods that give you the most nutrition for your money—at reasonable prices.
In my world, whole grains are the foundation of good health. Since they’re whole, meaning their nutrition is intact and high in fiber, they promote good digestion (so your body is well-nourished) and they help you to stay satisfied longer, so you eat a bit less—which is great for a myriad of reasons.
Pound for pound, they are inexpensive, easy to cook and delicious.
Whole grains are becoming very popular, which is great. I found a 5-pound bag or organic quinoa at Costco for less than $10. That’s a great price for a great product.
If your family is into breakfast cereals, don’t be fooled by packaging and health halos. Go with the simplest ingredients and add your own fruit and other flavors. For instance, choose plain oatmeal in a large container over the artificially-flavored single-serving packages.
If dry cereal is your choice, go with a toasted oat or other cereal that’s low in added sugar, low in sodium and has at least 3 grams of fiber in a serving. The simpler the cereal, the lower the cost. (Stay away from corn-based cereals unless they are organic to avoid consuming GMO corn.)
For breads, you need not go to an artisanal bakery to get a good quality loaf. Simply look for the word “whole” in front of the grains that make up the flour of the bread. “Multi-grain” or “wheat” doesn’t necessarily mean the grains were whole before being ground into flour. And skip white bread, no matter how cheap it might be.
For pasta, choose a whole grain based pasta that’s low in sodium and high in fiber.
White flour is seriously inexpensive, while whole grain flour can be pricier. If you can’t swing going all whole grain, buy a small bag and mix it with white flour in baking. You will add more fiber and healthy nutrients to your desserts without over-taxing your wallet.
Buy In Bulk
Buying in bulk helps you—and the planet. You save on price because there’s little or no packaging to jack up the cost and you throw less in the trash. Store bulk grains in jars or plastic containers. Keep them fresh by simply placing a bay leaf in each container. They will last for months so feel free to stock up when there’s a sale.
If your favorite loaf of whole grain bread is on sale, grab a few loaves and freeze them for the future.
Finally, consider making whole grain porridge in the morning over packaged cereals. You save money; your family eats whole, unprocessed grains at a fraction of the cost of dry cereals (even oatmeal). And—you decide what’s in it, so you know exactly what your family is eating. You’ll find recipes for morning porridge at christinacooks.com
Try this Apple and Berry Scented Quinoa – you can make this with just about any whole grain.
Beans and Other Protein
This is a big one because so many people wonder where to get the best protein for their health. This is me so you know where this is going. Want to save a ton of money on your weekly groceries? Skip right on by the meat, dairy and fish cases and head on over to the bulk bean section. You will get great, digestible protein at a fraction of the cost of animal protein.
And you’ll stay big and strong.
Here’s the thing. If you’re buying inexpensive meats, poultry and dairy products, you’re getting a lot more than you think. These foods come from factory farms where the animals are not only cruelly treated but they are fed inferior feed, injected with hormones and steroids and other unsavory compounds that increase the size of animals quickly. They are fatter. You’re consuming a meat product that’s higher in saturated fat than it should be. The result is high cholesterol and triglycerides--and heart disease for you. That inexpensive meat just got very expensive.
So while I realize that fast food burgers, chicken dinners, processed meats and inexpensive cuts can stretch the budget, the longterm cost is high.
My advice here is to reduce your intake of animal protein and increase your intake of beans, tofu and tempeh—all affordable, delicious and satisfying—and easy to prepare.
If you must eat meat—or chicken, pork or dairy—buy the best: organic, grass-fed, even if it means you have to save up for it and serve it as a special occasion.
Black beans, lentils, white beans, chickpeas, kidney beans and more can be purchased in bulk and cooked as desired. If you like the convenience of canned beans, but not the cost, simply cook a big pot of beans and freeze them in portioned containers. They are as easy to use as canned beans with less sodium, no additives and no packaging to toss into the landfill. If you like canned beans, even the organic versions can be found in supermarkets for about a dollar a can.
Tofu and tempeh are incredible source of protein that fit into any budget. They are versatile, easy to use and delicious. In most places, you can find these products in any supermarket. No need for a specialty or natural food store. Try them. You’ll like them.