Tonight we have a special Guest Post from Lauren Davidson. She is about to graduate college and she wanted to write an article for us for the experience. She is interested in writing about health and budgeting. I think she did a good job. Let us know what you think…
How Healthier Eating is Cheaper
Special diets are very popular these days, but buying meal plans and unusual ingredients can get very expensive, very quickly. Many people who want to lose weight and eat healthier just can’t afford to keep up with these diets! For example, going wheat- and gluten-free has been advocated as a way to shed belly fat, but dieters who substitute regular foods with gluten-free versions should be prepared to spend up to 10x more per serving. This is especially true for the 44 million borrowers struggling with student debt (like myself!).
Luckily, there are ways to eat healthier that don’t cost a set amount per meal, force you to shop only at certain stores, or eliminate common foods from your diet. Healthy eating on a budget IS possible, if you follow some commonsense suggestions.
Stick to Cheap Proteins
Red meat is expensive, and research shows that it also has damaging long term effects on your body when not eaten in moderation. This doesn’t mean that you have to cut red meat out entirely, though. When shopping, look for less expensive cuts of beef and ask a butcher or a shop employee working the meat counter how to cook those cuts in ways that make them tender.
Poultry such as chicken and turkey is healthier for you than red meat, and also less expensive. Eggs are another excellent source of cheap protein, and they go way beyond just easy breakfasts. Soufflés and omelets can be served for dinner, too. Add plenty of fresh, chopped vegetables and you’ll have an inexpensive but healthy meal.
Keep in mind canned tuna as an alternative to fresh fish, which can be significantly pricier. One can of tuna contains about 120 calories and 28 grams of protein, and will cost you between $1 – 2. Canned Salmon and canned sardines are also good standbys if tuna gets boring.
Lastly, don’t forget about legumes. Beans are probably the cheapest and most underrated form of protein, but also one of the most versatile. Challenge yourself to think beyond the basics, such as soup and side dishes. Toss them into salads or blend them into dips; there’s very little that they can’t be added to, and at around $1 for 16oz they are just about the cheapest protein you can buy.
Buy Frozen Fruits and Veggies
The cost of filling your menu with fresh fruits and vegetables can be prohibitively expensive, but there are some great tips and tricks to loading up your diet without emptying out your wallet. First, buy fruit and vegetables that are in season and freeze or can them for future months when they become more expensive. Second, stock up on frozen fruits and vegetables because their nutritional value is surprisingly close to that of fresh produce. Canned versions tend to be high in salt if they’re vegetables, and they lose some of their nutritional value because of high-heat processing. Frozen produce, on the other hand, needs no additives and retains more of its natural nutrients.
Ever wonder why frozen fruits and vegetables are so often cheaper than fresh ones? Since it takes an extra step to freeze them, at first it seems counter-intuitive that frozen is cheaper. Actually, it’s the higher cost of transporting and displaying fresh produce that gives frozen its economic advantage. Fresh produce must be brought to its destination much quicker, and more carefully, so that it arrives in unmarred condition before it goes bad. Frozen produce, on the other hand, can hang out in the freezer for weeks or even months with very little change in quality. It’s also much easier to transport, since bags and boxes can be stacked on top of one another without fear of bruising. Just another reason to check the frozen fruit aisle!
Buy in Bulk
Buying in bulk can save you big bucks! If you are single or have a small family, find a friend or relative who is also interested in healthy eating on a budget and go shopping together at the big box membership stores like Costco, BJ’s Wholesale Club, and even Amazon, then split both the quantity and the cost. The most important advice when shopping in bulk at these stores is to limit your list to healthy items. Stick to meats, produce, and fat-free or reduced-fat dairy products such as skim-milk mozzarella sticks. Don’t fall for the sugary stuff, but do load up on staples such as pasta, beans, brown rice, coconut oil, and yogurt. These stores also run continual sales, so scan coupon books ahead of time and look specifically for healthy options.
Look for Nutritionally Dense Foods
“Superfoods” is one dietary trend that is encouraged when combining healthy eating with cheap meal planning, but try to stay away from the exotic varieties that can cost a lot. Superfoods are those foods which are nutritionally dense. Great examples are kale, broccoli, spinach, carrots, blueberries, and salmon. Remember, frozen blueberries and canned salmon will cost much less than their fresh counterparts, and are nearly as good for you.
Other nutritionally dense foods include kefir and low-sugar yogurt, both of which are full of probiotics which can help regulate body systems and improve the immune system. These foods are also high in protein, which makes them more filling and postpones hunger. Combining nutritionally dense foods, such as topping yogurt with fresh or frozen berries, is a great way to start your morning or to hold off hunger pains mid-afternoon.
Lauren Davidson is a soon-to-be graduate from the University of Pennsylvania with majors in Communications and English. She is also a freelance writer for hire. You can see her work at LaurDavidson.com.
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