Eating right on a budget: What to Buy that’s healthy and inexpensive
In the last entry of Eating Right on a budget, we went over the techniques that will allow you to shop happier and distraction free. In this entry, we are going to go over the foods that will not only save you money, but also help you achieve your fitness goals.
Prepared Foods are expensive!
Supermarkets and delis make a lot of money with their prepared foods. It costs them very little to make the dishes that they turn around and sell for a high return.
For example, If you were to buy the ready made foods in the deli-department of your local supermarket, such as rice and beans for your carbs, quartered rosemary chicken pieces for your protein, and a veggie stir-fry as a side, you will have really racked up the price and caloric tabs.
You can achieve the same meal, with more control over the seasonings and your salt intake, by buying the ingredients and putting it together yourself. Study after study has shown how premade foods trend much oilier than their homemade cousin.
Most supermarkets have rotisserie chickens either whole or in parts that you can buy for a decent price. Some stores will even sell them at a discounted price after a certain hour; excellent when trying to maximize your dollar. You can buy them in many different flavors, though it is always wise to check the salt content on the label to make sure you aren’t getting unwanted sodium in your diet. Plain will allow you to dress the chicken however you like at home, so that may be a good choice.
Now, go to the produce aisle and pick out your veggies. You can purchase the whole snow peas, bean sprouts, onions, bell peppers and other stir-fry friendly veggies, or in many cases the supermarkets will have pre-cut stir fry mixes available for purchase for a little more money, and frozen stir fry mixes (though you will want to make sure they don’t have a high-sodium sauce added). If you want to save money, and you plan on cooking the vegetables that night, the discount produce rack is a perfect place to find the food for your upcoming dinner. Just be sure to ask your grocer when they mark produce for clearance/discount, and why they put the food there. Chances are it is perfectly fine; you just will need to use it quickly. As with all sale items and discounted foods, it is best to watch the register when they care checking you out to make sure that they sell it to you for the right price.
As for the carbohydrates, buying a pre-made box of reduced sodium beans and rice is drastically less expensive than buying the prepared version in your deli, has a boatload less salt, and will provide you with multiple portions. For even greater savings, you can buy dried beans and a bag of rice, and have a month’s supply of this dish for less than the price of one meal from the deli.
Boom! By choosing to make the meal instead of buying it pre-made, you have just saved yourself A LOT of money and calories. Good job!
Seasonal Can Be Less Expensive
It comes as no surprise, but when food is easier to produce and deliver to the store, it ends up costing much less. Think about watermelon in the summertime, versus how pricey it can be in the winter. This is true of almost all fruits and vegetables.
Find out what is seasonal in your country and region, and shop using that as a guide. Not only will this introduce variety into your meals over the course of the year, your food will be fresher, tastier and will cost you less. Fall is when you should incorporate squash into your meals, and summer is when berries are at their sweetest and broccoli is plentiful.
Even better, if you have enough land to support growing vegetables and your region allows you to grow the food you enjoy, consider starting a garden.
The Hidden Costs of Processed Foods
To achieve your fitness goals, you need to put good fuel into your body. Unfortunately, much of what is sold in the supermarket is highly processed, and will hinder rather than help you.
The allure of these processed foods is price; a pack of store brand hot dogs can be purchased for a couple of dollars, when organic turkey sausage can cost three times more, easily. But there are costs beyond the price of the food itself.
Processed meats can be filled with nitrites and sodium, both of which have an adverse effect on heart health. They also make you retain water, which is both uncomfortable and makes you heavier than you are. If you think about it, it feels like glue in your body when you eat too much of anything processed; you move slower, feel bloated and uncomfortable. Not for me.
Almost every processed food, from the Twinkie to chicken salad, is loaded with High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), or Corn Sugar as “Big Corn” is trying to call it now. There are numerous studies showing the horrific effect this substance has on blood sugar levels, appetite, weight retention, diabetes, etc. This is a substance the body does not know how to process this; put as little of it into your diet as you can manage, without the focus of this taking over your life.
And this doesn’t even get into the issues with bleached flour, preservatives, artificial colors and flavors... all of these things work together to increase your medical expenses as you decrease your food bill with cheap, unhealthy food. Spending a little more on whole, natural food can save you money in the long term, even if you are spending a little more in the grocery store right now.
Finally, snack foods like Twinkies and Ho-Hos are generally more expensive than a banana or other healthy options, which give you more for your dollar, and do far less damage. Also, the healthier options teaches healthy eating habits, which are definitely long term, maybe even through generations.
When is Organic Necessary?
For most of us, it’s not realistic to eat all organic all the time — organic options aren’t always available, and sometimes the cost is simply too high. A large part of why the cost is so high is because the USDA has set the standards very high. Thankfully, local farmers and regional farms have started making pesticide free, hormone free, cage free and free range options in both produce and proteins that are far better than the mass produced, preservative laden foods, but don’t have to hop through all the hoops needed to attain organic status.
That said, sometimes it really is best to purchase organic foods, despite the cost, due to the dangers associated with certain items. It is best to buy peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, imported grapes, spinach, lettuce and potatoes organic, due to the high level of pesticides found on and in these foods in the stores nationally. Conversely, you can almost always buy onions, avocados, frozen sweet corn, pineapples, mangoes, asparagus, frozen peas, kiwi, bananas, cabbage, broccoli and papayas with confidence, knowing that they generally have the least amount of pesticides found on and in them in the grocery stores. [[put link here]]. But no matter what you buy, it is imperative that you wash the produce you get from the store or the farmers market; for you and your family’s health in one way or another. I will cover the topic of organic food in greater depth in a later blog.
Inexpensive and Healthy Food Choices
Store Brand: Unless you are a huge fan of the name brand product, always consider trying the generic or store brand. You may find that you like it just as much, and the savings can be enormous, especially if you can convert a number of your household purchases to generic. Often the generic brands are made in the same factory by the same company - If your little ones won’t eat the cereal unless it has the pink Frankenstein on it, consider keeping the name brand box around, and putting the generic cereal in it. The kids will never know, and you can get the exact same product for half the cost!
Frozen Fruit and Vegetables: Frozen Fruits and Vegetables are a superior choice over canned, every single time! Because they are often frozen right when they are harvested, they are much fresher than canned (or even produce-section) vegetables, and they generally are not loaded with salt or other preservatives like their canned counterparts. You can buy a bulk-sized bag of frozen mixed vegetables, corn, peas, or any variety you like, and store the uncooked excess in a freezer bag that you push the air out of when you are done. This ends up being much cheaper than cans over time, and the reduced waste is better for the environment.
Proteins: Consider buying lower priced cuts that have the fat content you are seeking. Speak with the butcher or look in recipes/online for that particular cuts’ cooking directions. And just like the produce, it is best to ask your butcher when they do their markdowns for the day, and plan your trips to the store around that, so that you can get the best food for your money. Just be sure that if you buy meat that has been frozen before (ask your butcher if you are unsure), that you cook it before refreezing, unless you want a bad case of freezer-burn; it will be safe to eat, but the texture will be dry and not enjoyable. And to guarantee savings, canned tuna (low salt, in water), eggs, ground beef (drain fat after cooking), frozen chicken breasts, calves' liver, cottage cheese, greek yogurt (some brands are pricier than others), milk and whey are excellent, low cost protein options. The amount of protein you need is on a very individual basis. There are generic one-size-fits-all tables out there, but I suggest using them as guide lines only.
Carbs: When people think of inexpensive carbs, they usually think of ramen noodles; not the healthiest option. There are a whole world of fibrous vegetables, whole grain foods, fruits and other options that will give your the carbs you need without breaking the bank. Sweet Potatoes, other root vegetables and legumes are an excellent source of both starch and fiber that you can find in the vegetable aisle, and they are generally very inexpensive. A sack of sweet potatoes can help fill out your meals for a month, as could a bag of beans for a similar low cost. Fibrous vegetables and fruits, such as broccoli, carrots, avocados, apples with peel, dark leafy greens and tomatoes, also provide some carbohydrates along with essential nutrients. And for some quick energy from simple sugars that are also high in fiber, consider raisins, strawberries, raspberries, prunes and other sweet fruits. So ditch the ramen and still save some cash on carbs!
Oils: I do not believe in Fat Free. Reducing your overall fat intake while maintaining a healthy fat intake, needed for enhanced cognitive function, hormone production, vitamin absorbtion, shiny hair and strong nails is ideal. Also, Fat Free products tend to cost more money (and are HIGHLY processed), so purchasing food in a more natural state is not only better for you, but it can cost less. Save money by buying the extra virgin olive oil store-brand; it tastes almost exactly the same, and one bottle lasts for a long time. Fish oil, in capsule form, can give you the omega fatty acids you need without having to buy fish several times a week, which is much more expensive. Mixed nuts are a great source of oils, but watch out for salt content, buy them unsalted. Finally, organic, unsalted butter (which can be much less expensive than margarine), can assist you in any meal you cook.
Bottled water vs filtered tap water
Bottled water has become the primary source of drinking water for most Americans, and with it a brand new and expensive item on their monthly food bill.
There are benefits to drinking filtered, purified water, but you don’t need to give all that money to large corporations. Buy a good water filter for your fridge or faucet, like the one linked below, and fill reusable, washable bottles from it that you can take with you. One six dollar filter can produce months of clean drinking water; you can even use coupons on the filters themselves to save some money.
If you are in an absolute rush and HAVE to buy a bottle of water, keep in mind that many brands of bottled water are just repackaged tap water, and can contain impurities that even your at-home water filter can easily remove. A little bit of research goes a long way.
Following these guidelines, you are now able to make a good-for-you list of healthy, inexpensive groceries that will set you up for success, both physically and financially.
Remember that saving money does not always mean having to subtract; substitute with healthy, delicious and affordable options, and this will guarantee victory.
Follow the shopping instructions listed in my first blog, stay true to the list you made after reading this entry, and come back soon for the next chapter, where we give you tips on what to do when you bring it all home.
“We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.”—Marshall McLuhan