A healthy diet is fundamental to your physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Improving your diet typically centers around including nutrient-rich foods from all food groups. These include lean proteins, whole grains, healthy fats, and fruits and vegetables of many colors. It involves optimizing fiber-rich carbs such as oats, quinoa, and brown rice over processed carbs. It also involves replacing trans fats, added salt, and sugar with more nutritious options.
A common myth is that eating healthy is expensive. Have you seen the price tags of organic or whole food of late?
However, contrary to what many think, there are many ways you can improve your diet without going broke. These include:
#1: Cook at home
Cooking at home is way cheaper than ordering takeout or dining out. A simple comparison is how much it would cost to boil an egg at home and how much it would cost you if you ordered one from your favorite restaurant.
Besides being budget-friendly, cooking at home allows you to plan your meals. It gives you control over what goes into your food in terms of ingredients, which means no preservatives or extra salt. One of the main challenges of cooking at home is deciding what to eat, which is where meal planning comes in.
#2: Plan your meals
Imagine figuring out what to cook after a hard day at work. You are mentally and emotionally exhausted, and all you want is to reach out for that takeout and make your life a little bit easier.
Meal planning is a crucial aspect of eating healthy. Most people choose one day of the week when they plan or prep meals for the upcoming week. Since I primarily work from home, I work better with a food schedule. I plan what we’ll eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus snacks for all days of the week. Thus, we hardly ever order takeout.
Planning meals ensures that you only have to buy what you need, and if you run into some seasonal produce, you can buy that and incorporate that into your meal.
A trick I have picked up from years of cooking at home is always to cook large meals and use the leftovers for other meals. It saves me both time and money. You can use leftovers for lunches or reuse them in stir-fries, sandwiches, salads, and more. You can also choose to freeze leftovers as single-portion meals to enjoy later. Also, when you are on a budget, having leftovers in the fridge can stop you from reaching for the takeout menu on days you are too tired to cook a meal from scratch.
#3: Make a grocery list and stick to it
Once you plan what you will eat, the next step is to ensure that you have the required ingredients. Check your pantry and fridge and only list the items that are not there. With a specific grocery list, it is unlikely that you will resort to impulse buying or any other unintended purchases, whether in-store or online.
When shopping, go for whole foods. Some whole foods tend to be more affordable than processed versions. For example, a block of cheese is much cheaper than shredded cheese. Brown rice and oats will tend to be cheaper per serving than most processed cereals on the shelves. Also, whole foods are typically sold in bulk, yielding more servings per package and saving you more money.
#4: Take advantage of low prices, sales, and discounts
Most stores, even high-end ones, run sales and offer discounts. So sign up for text or email deals from your favorite stores, and if they have an app, install it so you know when they have a sale to stock up.
Consider also buying generic brands, which are more affordable. It is common to assume that generic brands are of poor quality. However, it’s important to note that all food manufacturers must follow set standards to produce safe food. So the generic brands may be the same quality as other national brands, just more affordable. But always make a point to read the ingredient list to ensure you don’t get a product that contains unexpected added ingredients or allergens.
#5: Don’t shop when you are hungry
Do you ever notice that it’s easier to reach out for highly processed food like soda, cookies, or pre-packaged meals when you go shopping hungry?
When I go shopping hungry, I automatically reach out for the lunch bar (made of chocolate, nuts, and a whole load of sugar). With all the processed sugar, this bar has no nutritional value, but my brain will convince me that since it has nuts, it must be healthy! If it’s not on the shopping list, it’s not good for your budget. So, every time I go shopping, I will ensure that I have had something to eat. Yogurt, nuts, or fruit will do.
#6: Buy cheaper cuts of meat or replace meat with other proteins
It’s not a secret that fresh meat can be pretty pricey. However, chunk steak, whole chicken, ground meat, or poultry, as some of the cuts of beef, cost much less. You can buy large, inexpensive amounts for different meals, including casseroles, soups, stews, and burritos. These types of recipes make large meals with lots of leftovers. You can also buy large chunks and recut them into smaller ones at home before freezing them separately.
Meat is not the only source of protein. For other days of the week, consider replacing meat with beans, lentils, eggs, or canned fish. These are considerably cheaper, nutritious, and easy to prepare. Also, most of them have a long shelf life meaning they will not spoil too quickly, and you can buy them cheaply in bulk.
#7: Buy in-season produce or frozen fruits and vegetables
In-season produce is usually at its peak in both nutrients and flavor. It is cheaper than out-of-season produce, which has been transported from far away to get to the store. Also, buy by the bag instead of by pieces and freeze the rest for later.
A common misconception is that frozen food is not nutritious. Quick-frozen produce is just as healthy as fresh produce. It is also cheaper and available all year round. You can use frozen fruits for smoothies or toppings for yogurt or oatmeal. Plus, they give you the advantage of only taking out what you need, and the rest is kept frozen and safe from spoiling, which is an excellent way to reduce waste and save money.
Final thoughts on improving your diet without going broke
There are many ways to improve your diet without going broke. While a healthy food diet isn’t cheap, with a bit of planning and organizing and smart choices when it comes to shopping, you can feed your family well and eat healthy on a budget.
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