You want to eat healthy, really you do. The only problem: you can't afford organic! That's for soccer moms in million dollar homes in New Jersey. Or your friends who have their own apartment in Manhattan via their job as a high powered corporate attorney.
Can you really eat healthy on a budget? Depending on your level of discipline, you can eat as healthy as you choose. Here are six missives for healthy eating on the cheap that you don't want to forget. Put it next to your grocery list at home, make it your mantra to repeat before you buy every morsel.
Put Healthy Eating Above Your Latte Habit
This is probably the hardest part. So many people lament not being able to eat healthier, and then go spend $15 a day on junk. A muffin from the baker in the morning, a latte from Starbucks, a sammy loaded down with mayo from Subway at lunch…you get the idea. You've got to make a choice. Spend money on junk that doesn't really fuel you or spend wisely. What does fuel you? We'll get to that.
It's a myth that frozen veggies are less nutrient-rich than fresh veggies. While fresh may have the advantage in flavor, you'll be getting just as healthy an addition to your meal with that frozen package of spinach as you do from the fancy plastic box it comes in fresh. And guess what? Frozen is cheaper than fresh. Especially when you consider that you get to keep it in your freezer a lot longer than you can keep fresh veggies in your fridge.
Be Prepared and Shop Around the Rim
Make a list, check it twice, don't veer from it. Temptation may be lessened when you go to the store prepared. Need some help? This article from WebMD lists 15 foods that are healthier alternatives to junk, and are ultra cheap. Start your trip around the rim of the store. Most people don't realize the junk is in the middle! Fill your cart up with goods that are placed in the perimeter.
Go for Healthy Eats, But Avoid Pre-Cut
Here's a budget tip: pre-cut foods are more expensive than whole foods. So that little box of mushrooms or cubes of cantaloupe will set you back farther than grabbing them for yourself and putting them in a bag. Same goes for chicken. Buy a whole chicken and cut it up at home rather than buying the vacuum wrapped pieces. Of course, this goes for the refrigerated section of your store. Pre-packaged frozen is a different story.
Go Generic, Ethnic and Farmer
Your litigator friend has Whole Foods. Fine. But you've got more inexpensive options for shopping than you realized, because I'm about to tell you that ethnic food stores, farmer's markets and Kroger brand will save you serious money. For some reason, people think farmer's markets are more expensive than grocery stores. Nope. If you buy something in bulk or simply negotiate prices where others don't, you'll be getting a deal. And think about it, other cultures eat out less and have a cuisine that's healthier than American foods. Isn't that a good place to start? The stores' prices tend to match smaller demand, which adds up to savings. You've heard it before, and it's true, generic brand anything is made of the same stuff as the name brand, just without the sexy packaging.
In case you didn't get to that WebMD article above, stock up on beans, legumes, frozen veggies and fruits. Think canned fish and inexpensive cuts of meat for soups and casseroles (leftover bonus!). Pasta and rice are inexpensive staples to have on hand, as is quinoa. Tortillas are inexpensive and perfect for making a burrito from what you made the night before. When it comes to cooking, spices are the way to add flavor. So make sure you have a full range of them at home to spice up your healthy food. Low cal and light condiments will add flavor, too. If you really want your food dollar to stretch, invest in the tools below.
Invest in Cookware
If you don't have a crock pot or a casserole dish, you're throwing your food money down the drain. Chili, soup, baked chicken and fish dishes are easy to make in a crock pot. Throw the ingredients in and then forget it. Have leftovers for days. Same with casserole recipes; they heat up well and make bringing your lunch to work a breeze. Just a few ladles into that Tupperware container and you're out the door.