eating healthy on a budget

A healthy diet is an admirable goal, but sometimes the costs can be prohibitive. By following several easy steps, even people on a very tight budgets can make healthy food choices.  

1. purchase in-season produce   

   Produce is one of the best options to create healthy and delicious meals, but can often be expensive. Purchase produce when it is in season, which is usually when it is on sale. Be sure to store vegetables appropriately to get the most use from them and ensure that they don’t go to waste. Freeze vegetables when you find a good deal. Preparing vegetables and storing them in glass jars in the fridge allows you to quickly prepare healthy meals and it helps keep the vegetables fresh longer. If you purchase vegetables at the local farmer’s market, visit the market near the end of the day, when farmers may be more willing to reduce their prices.  Better yet, grow your own vegetables. A garden can produce enough vegetables and fruit for canning or freezing, but even a pallet garden or pots on a patio can grow enough to last through the growing season.

2. buy in bulk

   Consumers can make informed purchases of other ingredients as well. For most products, compare the “price per unit” to get the least expensive brands and package sizes, which are the best value, unless you know you cannot consume the entire package before it goes to waste. Whole grains and starches are often inexpensive, yet filling. Buy beans, pastas, and brown rice in bulk to maximize savings if you can afford the upfront cost.

3. buy specific cuts of meat

   If you would like to include meat in your meals, try less expensive cuts of meat. Although many inexpensive cuts of meat are tough and sometimes lean, try slow-cooking them to infuse flavors and make them more tender. Also it can be more cost efficient to purchase whole chicken rather than specific pieces; plus the bones are perfect for making your own broth. Opting for bone-in pieces of chicken is lower cost than de-boned, and as a bonus the bones will keep meats more moist and flavorful. Although not always logistically feasible, if you eat meat and have the ability, hunting big game in your own state can provide meat for less than one dollar per pound.
 
4. make it at home

   Homemade versions of pre-packaged foods will greatly increase your cost savings. For example, make your own taco seasoning or salad dressings to cut expenses. Make your own granola bars and prepare other snacks, such as carrot sticks, and keep them with you so you are not tempted to purchase other snacks at the last minute. Try new recipes that rely on inexpensive ingredients, such as Indian and Mexican fare, which are based on rice and beans. You can often find appropriate ingredients for good prices at local ethnic markets.  

5. plan weekly meals in advance

   Attempt to prepare meals in advance, such as all lunches for the week, so you practice eating what is already in the fridge and so you are not tempted to spend money going out to eat at the last minute. Eating leftovers is an excellent way to maximize the amount of food you eat that has already been purchased, so keep an organized fridge so leftovers do not go to waste.  If you do not prefer to eat leftovers, repurpose them into a delicious new meal.

5. batch cooking

   Batch cooking cuts costs and prep time in the kitchen. Often done on the weekend, cooking in bathces for the week ahead allows you to utilize bulk dry goods and use the vegetables in the fridge before they are past their prime. Choose a grain or seed such as oats for breakfast, or quinoa for a dinner side. Roast a pan of your favorite veggies,  make a big pot of soup or a big bowl of kale salad—all great dishes that will last well throughout the week and allow you to vary meals each day so you don’t get tired of eating the same thing.

6. make a grocery list

   When planning a grocery shopping trip, create a list and plan a week of meals in advance. Only buy items on the list. Plan weekly menus based on the sales at your local grocery stores, and create a weekly grocery budget. Although it can be a hassle and time-consuming, consider going to multiple grocery stores if they are close together and the sales justify it. If your grocery store offers savings cards, sign up for one and look for coupons. Do not go grocery shopping when you are hungry or rushed, because you may make unhealthy decisions on impulse, and do not go into aisles that do not contain items on your grocery list.  

7. buy frozen organic fruits and vegetables

   No matter where you live, there are certain times of the year when some fresh veggies and fruits are less than abundant. Find great alternatives in the freezer aisle to get you through a lackluster produce slump.

8. buy online

   There are some pantry items we just can’t live without. Search online to find websites that carry your everyday items for less than you might find them at your local market. Amazon and Vitacost are two of our favorites!

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