Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How do you eat healthy on a budget?

Food. You eat it, you use it to grow, and you poop out the rest. Sometimes food tastes good, sometimes food tastes icky. Sometimes you eat too much and feel sick, sometimes you eat too little and feel sick.

Who knew it was so much more complicated?

Recently, I watched the film Food, Inc, which is a documentary about the big, multi-national food industries and corporations, and how they grow and manufacture the majority of the food we eat today. I don't want to go into too much detail about the movie (this is a running blog after all), but it did make me want to think three times about my food choices.

I've never really talked about my food habits other than my candy obsession, so I thought I'd take the time to talk about my current nutrition status. My diet has slowly been progressing along with my marathon training.

One of the biggest factors affecting my nutrition is actually not will-power nor cravings, but cost. I'm gonna be honest: I don't make a lot of $. (I keep having dreams of winning the lottery..... but alas, not yet) Buying enough food to fuel my training is not cheap. Buying HEALTHY food to fuel my training is even LESS cheap.

As Food, Inc points out, (I knew this already, but whatever) most foods you can buy at the store have traveled hundreds/thousands of miles to get there, are full of artificial ingredients and pesticides, full of chemicals, and generally calorically empty. I am not about to waste my hard earned money on crap (literally, crap. Yes, crap/feces makes it into our foods. Yuck, I know).

The one saving grace is that I absolutely love to cook. It's one of my favorite activities. I can stand in the kitchen and play around with food all day.

So I have discovered that its WAAAAY cheaper and more nutritious to cook, rather than to buy. Since I am tired of writing in paragraphs, lets move on to lists, shall we? :)

How I eat on a budget and still try to be healthy:
  • I shop for ingredients more than I shop for pre-made anything. Buying a bag of frozen chicken and baking it is cheaper than buying rotisserie chicken. Buying a bag baby greens and tomatoes is cheaper than buying a salad. Buying balsamic vinegar is cheaper than buying dressing. You get the point.
  • I shop at the farmer's market. Other than all the well-known benefits, the major benefit for a single girl like me, is that you can buy EXACTLY the amount you want. I can buy one zucchini for 50 cents at the Farmer's Market, instead of buying a pack of four for $2 at the store. I can buy one scoop of garbanzo beans instead of buying a whole can. Not only is Farmer's Market produce tastier, it's cheaper for me to buy in small doses. I really don't want eat an entire 4-pack of zucchini, or an entire carton of berries. I can pay for only the amount I want and save some $$

  • I have go-to spices. I keep a jar of Cumin Powder, curry powder, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, cinnamon, crushed red peppers, and paprika. A jar of spices lasts forever, and can transform your dish to SPECTACULARNESS. It's cheaper than buying jars and jars of different sauces, most of which will inevitably sit in a fridge, half empty, for years. If you have a few spices you like, just get those, and you don't need a whole cabinet of spices you hardly ever use.

  • I buy frozen fish and meat. It's way cheaper. Also I buy canned fish, esp sardines and salmon. It's so easy to use, is full of healthy Omega-3s, and really economical.

  • I try to eat lots of vegetable and dairy proteins, because it's a lot cheaper and boosts my veggie intake. I like string cheese, greek yogurt, eggs, edamame, beans, quinoa, tofu, PB, and tempeh.

  • I brown bag all my lunches and snacks. Every day.

  • I shop once a week. This cuts down opportunities for me to "impulse buy" and waste money.

  • I cook a SH!T ton of food on Sunday evening/Monday evening, and eat leftovers for lunch and dinner the rest of the week. This ensures that on any other night, after my training, I'll have quality food ready for me in 5 minutes!

  • I bake everything. This cuts down on oil that I would otherwise have to use to cook.

  • I use oil spray when I need to sautee stuff.

  • I use veggies to "bulk up" my food, instead of adding more meat, or more carbs.

  • I freeze my bread as soon as I get home, to prevent any sort of molding. (I've thrown away countless loaves of bread because of this; lesson learned!)

  • I pop my own popcorn; you can buy an entire pound of corn kernels for less than two bucks! Do you know how long this lasts?

  • My condiments; ketchup, soysauce, worsteshier (sp?) sauce, Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce (the best!), strawberry jam. I don't buy a lot of condiments, cause most of the time, they just sit in the fridge barely used.

  • No soda, ice cream, chips, cookies, cakes, crackers, etc. They don't provide any nutrition. But most importantly, I can't afford them. (Unless someone else is paying, of course, :) )
Phew! That was a long list. So basically, my broke-ass-ness has, by default, led me to eat healthier. And my training requires me to eat healthier. At least those two points converge!

If all my wishes could come true and I had a million bucks to spend every month, I would love to buy all organic food, all cage-free and fair trade stuff. I would have a kitchen stocked with fruits and veggies in all colors of the rainbow, and I would have a ton of condiments and spices.

But right now, I support my local farmers, cook a lot for myself, and try to resist the candy isle as much as possible. Of course, I splurge sometimes, like I did yesterday: I bought a whole tub of chocolate mints at Costco! yessssss!!! :)

How do you stay on a budget and eat healthy? PLEAAAASE share any advice/tips you have. I'm not getting any richer here, haha.....ha :-)


  1. Love this topic! My tips:

    - Cereal is completely overpriced. Oatmeal is less so. Not the sugary crap-filled individual packets, but the bulk-size plain variety. Make it with water instead of milk to save on the cost of milk (but note that you lose the nutrients of milk in that trade-off)

    - Beans and brown rice (or any other grain, really) go a long way and are very reasonable

    - Homemade soup only requires beans, celery, carrot, an onion, a potato, veggie or chicken broth, and a handful of spinach or kale thrown in at the end

    - Hard-boiled eggs

    - There is no reason, ever, to buy jarred pasta sauce

  2. Thank you for the AWESOME tips. It can be tough to eat healthfully on a tight budget, so these are great. I support buying locally and eating homemade/fromt scratch whenever possible.

    Making large batches of dishes and saving leftovers helps too!

  3. This time of year, I love to make healthy, hearty soups and chili's, and stews. I freeze them in different size containers, some big for dinners, and little ones for lunches.

    Also, I buy bulk packs of chicken/pork tenderloin when its on sale, and pack it in individual freezer bags to use when I need it.

  4. I too am a broke ass shopper. It stinks. But I think most of your ideas are right on target. I bring my lunch almost every day and it's also a great way to keep an eye on your waist line.

    My mom bought those green baggies on the made for tv ad and they really do help your veggies stay fresh longer!

  5. Great tips! I wish I had more to offer, but you covered most of the things I live by...people always joke about our fridge not being packed to mass capacity, but I HATE to throw things out. I feel so wasteful and like you said, wasting your hard earned money. We hardly ever eat out, although, I do buy crackers and multi-grain or veggie chips to go with humus (we entertain a lot). Also, do you use any coupons? There are TONS of coupon sites that will give you wonderful discounts and there are some sites that focus on healthy items only. I can e-mail you a few if you like?

  6. I suck at eating healthy--- and your right, healthy food is so expensive! Thanks for the tips though-- i should work on it!

  7. ohh I always love more tips like this! I think that cooking at home is so important for health and for money!! I am all about saving molah!!

  8. when i am over budget...that magical budget number that only my husband knows, and only seems to pertain to ME when have cookies in my hand or six pounds of tomatoes.....i threaten to eat the foliage around our house.no but seriously we are on a budget also, i try to buy the bulk bin grains and i am going to start trying to make lentils. soups are soooo cheap!! i am with you on he spice idea. i dont have to use any veg stock. which is seriously so crappy,they all have some sort of msg in them or to much sodium.my fav builder bars are way to much(unless on sale) so i found a place online that has them for the price im will to pay.i do that bread thing to!! there is no way i can eat a whole bag of tortillas before they go bad....wait wait i CAN...but its not a good idea,lol

    cute/fun post, i lost track of all the spots i was laughing at

  9. They only thing I would add is getting on some of your favorite healthy snack sites (or any favorite food) and signing up for email (= coupons). Most of my food reviews are from coupons. I freeze everything (fruits/veggies/bread) too! Great post!

  10. These are awesome tips!! I need to make it to the Farmer's Market more often - other than that, I'm pretty much with you on ALL of the above!! Make it yourself, use fresh stuff, forget "pre-made" and "brown bag" those meals! haha - one of BEST tips right there. ;)

  11. hi! I'm new to reading your blog.

    I also go the route of buying the most basic of basics whenever possible; plain grains, frozen and canned whatever, store brand. it's getting a little painful now that even frozen and canned veggies and beans aren't as cheap as they used to be. I've also gotten a little better at accepting what I'll actually eat and what's probably going to go bad before I get to it. and keeping out of the grocery store saves a lot of money for sure- I definitely can easily drop $30 or $40 when I think I'm going in for two or three things for dinner. it's brutal!

  12. Isn't it sad that the healthier foods are more expensive, and people wonder why we are getting fat! Anyway, I found planning meals to be the best money saver and helps to eat healthy as well. Bringing you own lunch to work and snacks is key too.

  13. I thought you were going to ask for tips, so I came to this post totally ready to dish some out, but guess what? You know all my secrets! It's crucial to freeze bread, and I agree 110% with the Farmer's Market thing, they are my savior to get fresh, inexpensive local eats.
    Also, I really like the stores Fresh and Easy and Trader Joes. And I clip coupons! Okay, so I got a couple of tips in there!

  14. Nothing to add - I think you got everything here! I'm a recent college graduate working my first job/paying rent for the first time, and I will definitely keep your tips in mind. Thanks!


  15. I am so similiar to you with so many points on your list. I have at least a serving of fruits and veggies at every meal, I bulk up on them at lunch for sure. I eat oatmeal every morning for breakfast and switched to making my own bowl of oats from old fashioned oats this past June. I can easily say it has changed my life (or at least my breakfasts)! No lie, I get excited going to sleep every night so I can wake up and have another delicious bowl. It's so versatile!

    I utilize the frozen section of the grocery store a lot, especially for frozen fruit when it's not in season and so is really expensive and not great quality. Frozen fruit is great for smoothies, but also for the aforementioned bowl of oats! It's a lot cheaper than fresh, and is also a GREAT snack!

  16. Great post girl! I too shop local markets and try to buy in bulk or at least a lot of veggies. I always try and make a stew, chili, or veggie lasagna that will last a few meals.
    I always start at the perimeters of the grocery stores; that's where most of the healthy stuff is (and the beer) and leave the processed stuff in the middle alone!

  17. Those are great tips thanks for sharing. I need to cut my grocery bill.. I have become such a "yuppy" shopper, all of the organic products are so expensive. Some are worth it, others not so much.



Related Posts with Thumbnails