In the quest to make healthier food choices and save money while doing so, you might envision your meals as spartan affairs, drab and as inspiring as gerbil food. However, that need not be the case. With a little planning and cost-cutting ingenuity, you can dine on nutritious fare for cheap -- without sacrificing palatability.
Stock a Nutritious and Budget-Friendly Pantry
As the foundation of a cheap and healthy eating regimen, the well-stocked cupboard encourages you to make healthy meals on the fly using ingredients you already have.
Two strategies that The Kitchn cooking website uses to stock up on cheap and healthy food include buying produce in bulk when it's in season and freezing it, and stocking up on healthful foods when they are on sale.
By buying produce in season, you get fruits and vegetables at the peak of their freshness, when they are most abundant during the year and lower in price. Freezing them in quantity ensures you can incorporate these nutritious ingredients into meals any time of the year. Moreover, bulk shopping during sales, such as buying 10 packages of frozen vegetables for $10, locks in a favorable price point over a number of meals.
Choose Foods With Nutritional Bang for Your Buck
As Real Simple Magazine notes, healthy food choices don't have to be expensive. Certain healthy foods can be had for pennies on the dollar per serving. These include:
- Oatmeal, which can help lower cholesterol and stave off heart disease, at 18 cents per half-cup serving.
- Oranges, which provide vitamin C, fiber and folate, at 84 cents each.
- Kiwis, which replenish the body with potassium, vitamin C and vitamin E, at 50 cents each.
- Chick peas, full of protein and fiber, at only 31 cents per half-cup serving.
Even certain so-called superfoods can be under $1 a serving, as Eating Well Magazine notes.
- Black and green tea, at 10 cents per bag, can help boost immune system and reduce the risk of heart attacks.
- Kale, at 60 cents per cup, contains vitamin K for bone health, vitamin A and lutein for eyesight.
- Almonds, at 18 cents an ounce, provide vitamin E, calcium, fiber and folate.
- Eggs, at 17 cents each, are protein powerhouses with vitamin D, lutein and xeanthanin, which prevent macular degeneration.
Swap Out Expensive Purchases
When committing to a healthful lifestyle, you may have to make some adjustments in your shopping and cooking habits. In lieu of expensive cuts of meat, substitute cheaper -- yet more flavorful -- cuts, such as chicken thighs and less expensive cuts of beef. Although the tougher and more sinewy parts of an animal may require longer cooking times and techniques, the payoff is a smaller grocery bill and the joy of experimenting with different foods and styles of cookery.
If you have a large freezer, buying a whole carcass or bone-in parts, is one way to have your meat economically -- and eat it, too.
Extend a Dish With Healthful and Cheap Add-Ins
Eating healthy for cheap is not about skimping, but rather about turning to healthy options that create a sense of abundance and provide solid nutrition at low cost. Whole grains such as brown rice and wheat berries round out your meals inexpensively, while bolstering your fiber intake and making you feel fuller longer. Quinoa, the ancient grain, can be eaten on its own or as an accompaniment to a main dish, as a high source of protein. To stretch out or replace a meat dish, add a variety of mixed beans to pasta.
Eating healthy and cheap does not consign you to a life of bland leftovers. If you don't like the idea of eating the same food over a succession of days, create entirely new dishes by reinterpreting precooked ingredients. Steamed vegetables you make for dinner one night can be transformed into sandwich toppings for the next day, then frozen for soup on another day and chopped into a rice medley for dinner later in the week.
Make leftovers work for and not against you by keeping a conscientious eye on the contents of your freezer and eating what's there. Label all your stored items to identify them easily and portion-control them individually to reduce waste and avoid overeating.