Some people assume that healthy food is more expensive. In reality, eating healthy on a budget is entirely feasible. It just takes a little planning and foresight to get started. One of the biggest things that gets in the way of people eating healthy is lack of time and planning. It’s mid-work week, you just got off work, you’re starving and you have no groceries. Lots of folks are tempted to eat out—it’s convenient and there’s no cleanup. But many restaurant meals are filled with trash you shouldn’t be putting in your body—empty calories, additives and preservatives. Plus, dining out adds up—way more than healthy eating does!
You know how Europeans are thinner than Americans? Well, that’s got a whole lot to do with their eating patterns. For one thing, Europeans tend to do their grocery shopping differently. The average American family does their shopping in bulk. They head to their local grocery to load up on a cart-full of frozen meals, salty snacks, sodas, breakfast pastries and anything else they anticipate needing in the next couple of weeks. The average European, however, buys what they need a few days at a time.
Daily trips to the store may not be in your time budget, but finding a balance between these two methods is an excellent idea. Get in the habit of making one efficient trip to the grocery store for each week. How do you make the most of this trip? To start with, plan your meals. There are many resources online for inexpensive recipes that will guide you in eating healthy on a budget. Decide what you want for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks that week. Pay attention to what different food items cost and learn to get creative with those that are cheaper. Eggs, beans, seeds, cheaper cuts of meat, and frozen vegetables are great ways to get lots of nutrients for less money.
Make room for leftovers in your plan. Preparing six servings of grilled chicken and vegetables might cost the same amount as preparing four. Eating healthy on a budget is also about reducing waste and getting the most out of your dollar. One night’s dinner can be another day’s lunch.
When you’re ready to go to the grocery store, eat first. The old tale about hungry grocery shopping causing impulse buys? It’s true. Some studies suggest that listening to your own music or book on tape while shopping will also help prevent impulse buys. The idea is that this will keep you in your own world, with your own grocery list, instead of allowing you to be distracted by colorful displays of Vanilla Wafers at the end of an aisle.
While at the store, stick to your list. Most of the items you need for the food you’re planning to prepare should be on the perimeter of the store. This includes fruits, vegetables, herbs, meat, dairy and breads. These are the foods that make eating healthy on a budget possible. Most of what fills the aisle in the center of the store are processed foods which, yes, are already prepared to some degree. It’s true that you will have to put in the extra work for your budgeted and healthy meals. But, the money you save will be worth it. Plus, unlike eating at a restaurant, you will know exactly what’s going in to your food.
Now, this is not to say that eating out from time to time is wrong. I love going to restaurants—especially locally owned ones—a few of the good chefs prepare meals that are wholesome, healthy and delicious. Call ahead to ask or checkout their website to see what’s on their menu. It’s good to indulge from time to time. But that $26 salmon? I bet you could make it for $5. Just sayin’.