4 Tips for Healthy Eating on a Budget
“What food can I eat that will boost metabolism and burn fat?” People ask me this all the time. They’re searching for a magical formula that will allow them to shed weight with little effort. They see endless ads for that perfect weight-loss solution, citing scientific research and never-before-seen effects. The typical result? They shell out hundreds of dollars (broken into $20-per-week payment plans), lose weight, stop using the product and its highly specific instructions on accompanying diet and exercise changes, and pack on the pounds again.
While these seemingly miraculous products and services certainly have assisted some people in reaching their goals for life, those unable to afford the often-steep prices may feel doomed to staying overweight forever.
However, the truth is that healthy living comes at a surprisingly low price. All it takes is a few culinary skills and some knowledge of nutrition to implement better wellness practices. The result: steady weight loss achieved without the aid of a magical potion or crazy workout regime. Even with little increase in exercise, a diet change can shed weight in a sustainable, delicious way.
Often, the biggest hurdle is learning where to start. With hundreds of diet plans on the market, creating a healthier lifestyle may seem confusing. Often, consumers receive mixed messages. While Dr. Loren Cordain, creator of the popular Paleo diet, advocates for animal protein, the documentary Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead has turned many followers against consuming animal products. Who is right? Both make convincing cases, using scientific evidence to back up their claims, and the average person does not possess the skills to dissect the assumptions behind the arguments.
After studying a variety of diets, I’ve come up with some ground rules to help you navigate the maze of advice and information.
- Eat as naturally as possible. My rule of thumb: the less processed, the better. This translates into grocery savings. Take cheese, for example. Shredded cheese contains additional preservatives to prevent mold and maintain the shredded form. These additives are not needed in a block of cheese, which is sold at a cheaper unit price. Carrots provide a similar case study. The washed, cut baby carrots must be treated (typically with chlorine! Eek!) to keep them from shriveling and turning white. Whole carrots are free of unnecessary chemicals – and, again, have a cheaper unit price.
- Cook at home from scratch. For the sake of saving time, it is very tempting to dine out or buy instant meals at the grocery store. However, a low grocery budget demands that you set aside time to cook from scratch. Making a pot of soup, as opposed to buying it canned, provides a healthier meal – or set of meals – at a lower cost. For example, an 11-oz. can of Campbell’s soup costs around $2.50. Now, instead, imagine making a stock from your leftover chicken bones, throwing in some produce you have in the refrigerator, adding other dinner leftovers, and finishing the soup with seasonings. You end up with much more than 11 ounces of soup, using leftovers and a few other ingredients on hand. I make a pot of kale, carrot, and rice soup for $2.50 with half the sodium and four times the quantity!
- Be cautious of packaging. Unlike local farmer’s markets, billions of dollars are poured into marketing campaigns for highly processed foods. A giant box of cereal looks substantially more filling than a carton of eggs, yet the simple carbohydrates in cereal leave you feeling full for a fraction of the time that a two-egg breakfast would. On top of that, the box of cereal is partially filled with air, making it appear both greater in volume and a better bang for the buck. Finally, eggs can seem dull and work-intensive in comparison to an eye-catching, colorful box of cereal – a design that has undergone extensive consumer testing for attractiveness and visibility. Low-budget shoppers need to be aware of these marketing tactics to avoid spending money on food they really cannot afford.
- Seek out good resources that cater to you. For those who need a little more personalized support, I tailor my Whisking Apprentice cooking classes to the needs of the individual – from low-cost ingredients to time-saving techniques – so that everyone possesses the tools to eat well. But if one-on-one help isn’t in the cards, there are solutions for those who cannot afford a gym membership or protein powder meals: at the very beginning, all it takes is a good cookbook or a recipe blog. My blog Surviving on Stamps, Cook for Good, and Frugal Feeding are all great resources for those on food stamps or a tight budget.
Whether we’re crunched for time, strapped for cash, or just helpless about where to begin, there’s hope for all of us in terms of nutritious eating. The bottom line: staying healthy doesn’t have to include being wealthy. Bon appétit!