By: Alma Hill
Eating healthy is hard. Eating healthy when you have no money, seems practically impossible. You gaze sorrowfully at aisles filled with fresh kale and quinoa, and make the desolate trek to the daunting, sodium filled world of ramen noodles. At home, you eat your second, and last meal of the day, dejected, bloated, and kicking the waste bucket that you tossed your “New Year, New Me” resolution into.
I’ve been there. We’ve all been there. You want to be healthy but the way your bank account is set up …Eating healthy on a lean budget is definitely a struggle but, it’s not impossible. There are sacrifices, and few rules but if you follow this formula, you can be as trim as your budget without breaking a sweat.
I call this the "Broke As Dishes Diet," but before I get into the foods I recommend, I have a few Pro-Tips that I wish I’d known sooner.
Get Decent Dishes
A Crock Pot, A Cast Iron Skillet, and a Rice Cooker have been my saving grace. Each cost me $20 or less, except the cast iron, which I bought for $35 with a coupon. Let me emphasize this: each one was WELL worth it, especially for crafting easy meals with little preparation.
This step seems so simple, but has really been the biggest and most effective way for me to buy healthy food on a budget. Local grocers are often overlooked. I live in Central Florida and used to shop at a chain grocer every week. I was spending upwards of $120 a week on groceries and, like clockwork, I’d be out of food by Friday. Last weekend I found a grocery store called Kissimmee Meat and Produce where I bought 10 LBS of Fish AND 10 LBS of Chicken FOR LESS THAN $25. YES. YOU READ THAT RIGHT. Sure, it’s a lot of protein, but with that small investment, I’ve made sure my family has food for the next three weeks or so. I cannot recommend Minority Owned Grocers any more highly. They always have AMAZING sales on fresh meat and produce. Some look down on small chain grocers, saying things like “I don’t trust the meats” but trust me, I know from experience, from an Aldi’s regional manager: it’s the same meat. Exactly the same. As in the same truck picks it all up, then drops it all off, at different grocery stores. The branded price label is the only difference.
Now that you have the tools at your disposal, what do you eat?
When you’re on a budget, meal planning is absolutely crucial. Look up different flavor profiles that are inexpensive to recreate. Mexican food is always easy to do on a budget as most dishes have repetitive ingredients and, rice is a staple.
I plan a week in advance, but I make sure to plan around sales. If chicken is 49 cents per pound, I’m eating chicken at least 4 nights that week. If Broccoli is buy one get one free for a stalk, that’s a good three nights worth of meals. Sticking to the sales papers and planning your meals will reduce impulse buying and will help you save some serious bread.
Stick to Low Cost Proteins
Chicken leg quarters are typically cheaper (average cost: $5-$10 for 10lbs) , but a decent pack of chicken breast is only marginally more expensive. For variety, buy fish on sale. Skip the salmon, and go low. Tilapia is a very inexpensive fish that can go a very long way if purchased at the right time. I purchased a full case of individually wrapped Tilapia Filets fo$18.99 recently. Keep longevity in mind when you’re on the B.A.D Diet. Both of these proteins lend themselves well to being stretched out over time since you can purchase a lot for low costs.
Count On Carbs
Potatoes and Brown Rice will keep you going and are healthy, very cheap staple foods. I’ve never bought a 5lb bag of potatoes that cost more than $6.00. You can get 2lbs of rice for less than $5. Don’t go for the cheaper alternative in white rice. It’s less healthy because it’s filled with chemicals, and often bleached for color. Brown rice has been through less of a chemical treatment process but it’s still important to investigate the kind of rice you’re buying. Splurge an extra quarter on the real stuff. Your body will thank you.
Buy Produce Weekly
At a farmers market, or a local grocer, you can easily buy a weeks worth of produce for less than $20. At my local markets, a pound of fresh green beans costs about $1.50, Spinach can run you about $3.00. Broccoli can tack on another $4.00 then I get additives like peppers onions and garlic for an extra $5.00 or so. Switch up the combinations of food so you don’t get bored.
I know this is contradictory to what anyone else is saying but I personally feel this is one of the most important steps. Most people don’t have the time to cook, or prepare 3 meals a day. So these tips, while helpful, will not help you when you’re in a hurry. I buy a full bunch of celery and a mini jar of peanut butter typically as something I can carry around with me and much on pretty quickly if I get hungry. Some good cheap snacks include granola bars, homemade trail mix (nuts, semisweet chocolate, and coconut flakes cost less than $10). Buy fruits like strawberries, and oranges to satisfy those sweet cravings.
Don’t Harp on Breakfast
It’s the first meal of the day, and you can get away with being a bit boring here. One Minute Oatmeal has never been more than $4 and can be switched up on a regular enough basis to provide variety. Brown sugar one day, peanut butter the next, fruit on the following day. It’s a snap to microwave as well, so don’t be afraid to just grab and go.
So if you budget right, your meal plan for the week can look like this:
Vegetables & Fruits: $20
For $50 (or less depending on your portion size) you can eat like a king for a least a week, if not two. Take the time to manage your money, your diet, and your health, and you’ll never eat ramen noodles again.