Start your new year off right by eating healthy on a budget. It doesn’t necessarily mean more time in the kitchen, but it does require some simple planning.
The New Year is here and it’s a great time to start fresh. That means managing your chaos – cleaning out your closets, organizing kitchen staples and yes, balancing your budget. When it comes to eating healthy and reasonably inexpensive, there are certainly ways to make it happen (and simply, too).
Here are 5 Tips for Eating Healthy on a Budget
Stock up on Shelf-Stables
(and Keep a Few Packages of Frozen Veggies on Hand)
Shelf-stable staples are great to have. It never hurts to have a supply of canned black beans, boxes of shelf stable broth, canned low-mercury tuna or salmon or even sardines and of course staples like rice, pasta, couscous and oats, low-sugar cereals such as corn flakes or nutrient dense granolas (so long as they are properly sealed). These come in handy when it’s time to make meals or snacks, as they are quick options for side dishes and even entrees. When the refrigerator gets barren and the fruit bowl is emptied, you’ll always have rice & beans to fall back on and a simple trip to the store to buy some veggies and/or fruit won’t cost you much if you buy just what you need.
Keep a supply of dried herbs and spices for seasoning your meats, beans, soups, salads, etc. Some basic seasonings to include: Italian blend, garlic, onion, thyme, pepper, sea salt and curry spice. I like to include ground red pepper so I can prepare my own taco-seasoning blend.
When it comes to frozen foods, choose those that aren’t seasoned. Look for versatile veggies or veggie blends like peas and carrots, chopped bell pepper and mixed medleys such as broccoli, cauliflower and carrots. This will keep your healthy kitchen going even if you run out of the fresh veggies at the end of the week. They are great for soups, casseroles, pasta, omelets and healthy “fried rice” dishes.
Build a Flexible Meal Weekly Meal Plan
A good rule of thumb is to include 2 proteins, 3-4 Veggies and 3 fruits for your weekly food budget. You’ll find that if you use each protein for 2 meals, you can stretch it to four meals and your 5th can be a vegetarian dish based on beans, eggs or frozen protein options (i.e.: Dr. Praeger veggie patties, frozen salmon patties) you already have in stock.
- Proteins: Fish, Poultry Lean Ground Beef are good choices.
<> To conserve with the beef (and eat less of it), try a blended burger supplementing half the beef with lightly sautéed mushrooms and onions so you’ll only eat half the red meat you’d otherwise eat. A blended burger works great for the first entrée; leftovers can be crumbled into either a pizza topping or for meat sauce for a pasta dish.
<> Fish should be eaten close to the time of purchase and leftovers the next day. A favorite way to repurpose a marinated baked salmon is in a protein-rich salad using leftovers as bits to complement the greens and other heart-healthy plant-based foods like quinoa and crunchy veggies.
<> If you like poultry, you’ll find chicken is quite versatile. From Chinese chicken salads to roast chicken dishes or casseroles, chicken is an easy protein to incorporate into a healthy meal plan.
- Veggies: Versatile veggies include leafy greens like kale or spinach because these can easily be used in a number of dishes from salads to saute´s, soups or egg dishes.
- Fruits: Eaten whole, sliced into oatmeals or used in smoothies, there a variety of ways to enjoy fresh fruit
Note: Herbs and aromatics like onions and garlic are great to have on hand because they liven up meals. While fresh onions and garlic aren’t necessarily shelf-stable, if you use them right away or refrigerate leftovers you’ll be fine for usage the same week. You can always use the dried versions, but fresh can really enhance flavor.
Stick to Your List
Don’t shop when you are hungry and definitely be sure to plan ahead so you aren’t tempted by things you don’t really need like those last-minute things you might pick up while standing in line. Creating a simple list is great to assess what you need to plan and prep healthy meals. You can always add a fruit, veggie or protein that looks super fresh and/or is ON SALE if you know you are gonna eat it within the week. Generate a list that reflects your families taste, good healthy standard choices like broccoli, leafy greens and apples.
Where you shop is your choice. You can always keep your eyes out for SALES and BARGAINS. Farmer’s Markets may help with your budgetary needs in some cases like buying lettuce in bulk, however you may find the same prices or even lower at Trader Joe’s or Aldi. COSTCO is great for stocking up on shelf stables.
Stretch Your Meals
Like building your meal plan, take those proteins you’ve bought and consider how you will prepare and repurpose leftovers. A 16-oz filet of salmon and a pound of lean red beef can easily stretch into 4 meals if you’ve got a family of 4. Serving up blended burgers saves on the beef and you salmon can stretch from a basic baked marinade into salmon patties made with salmon and veggies for leftovers the following night.
It’s always nice to have healthy grab-n-go so you aren’t tempted to buy junk food or spend money on eating out. Hard boiled eggs are easy to make and don’t take up much storage in your fridge. They are great for a quick breakfast or to add to a salad, or even prepare a delicious, heart healthy egg salad for quick sandwiches or atop leafy greens. Having pre-chopped veggies makes it easy to assemble a tasty, healthy salad or prepare a chunky bowl of heart-healthy soup.