The modern, fast-paced life leaves us with only a few choices for inexpensive healthy food. This challenge was recognized by experts and now there are guides available in the market that gives an in depth preview of the various options available. The present article focuses on healthier food options that not only promotes good health but also are pocket friendly.
Planning your platter is an important step towards the healthy food habits you want to develop:
Making a meal plan as well as the shopping list is crucial to developing healthy food habits. You must have a weekly budget, which must be divided equally among fresh fruits, green vegetables, whole grains, protein sources, and dairy products. Oil or butter must be provided only 10% of the budget. Once you have made a shopping list and planned the budget, you can spend the money judiciously on healthy food items. An example of the budget sheet is as follows:
For every $100 you spend in a week, spend $24 on vegetables, $20 on fruits, $16 on whole grains, $16 on protein sources, $16 on dairy products (low fat- milk, cheese, butter) and only $4 on oils/butter and other foods. Often there are deals and coupons in the store ads, look for them and try to use them to reduce the cost of the food items.
- Fruits and vegetables: When planning your meal, fresh fruits and vegetables must be given a priority. You must aim to fill half of your plate at every meal with fresh fruits and vegetables. Use cooking methods that utilize very less or no oil such as boiling, steaming or broiling. Eating fruits and vegetables is not as costly as you may think. Even a 5-9 servings of vegetables a day doesn’t cost much.
- Beans and Lentils: Choose your favorite beans or lentils instead of meat for at least 2 dinners per week. It is a general assumption that high proteins mean more money spent since we equate protein with meat. However the substitution with lentils will cost less and bring good amount of proteins to the plate. When you are including meat, aim for lean meat, which is the healthier option.
- Say No to frozen and processed foods: Frozen foods such as pizza, and processed foods such as cookies, chips etc are expensive and do not provide the nutrition they often claim for. When you read “No trans fats” on the label of any food item; consider it a marketing gimmick. Remember, that food item is processed and preservative has been used to preserve it. Hence, skipping frozen foods altogether is a good idea. Always go for fresh foods, whenever possible as they are rich in nutrients and are devoid of often harmful preservatives. There is also an indirect relationship between good and fresh food and money. If you are healthy, you won’t spend money on medication and hospitalization.
What you can do at home to both prepare healthy foods and save money: At home, you can make some basic changes which not only help you to save money but also ensure that you are eating healthy food at every meal.
Prepare large quantities of food and freeze: If you are working and do not have enough time to cook everyday and still want to eat healthy at every meal, then cooking large quantities of food every 3-4 days and then freezing it is a good idea. Doing this has multiple benefits; you can spend some quality time with your family; you will eat healthy at every meal and you will also save on cost.
- Dining out is not only expensive, but also unhealthy: Eating out is both unhealthy and expensive. In the restaurant, you spend generously on your food and rarely care if the food is cooked in olive-oil or butter. Try to cook your own food as much as you can. You can also involve your kids in the process of cooking. You will be able to spend some quality time with them and also eat healthy.
- Grow your own kitchen garden: Having your own kitchen garden also ensures that you will eat healthy. It also gives a sense of belonging to you. You do not always need a huge backyard for a kitchen garden, just a sunny window, some soil and lots of your love will do the trick. So go buy some seeds and create your own kitchen garden. There are many vegetables and herbs that are easy to grow. You will have fresh produce that is free from contamination. You can also opt for growing your kitchen garden in an organic way.
Spend money at grocery store carefully: While visiting a grocery store, ensure that you shop for healthy food items. Here are some tips for you to consider when you are doing your grocery shopping.
- Stock it: Items that perishes slowly such as rice, beans and cooking oil can be stocked and stored. Hence, aim to buy them when they are on deals. If buying bigger package is cheaper, you should buy and store them.
- Label-watch: Reading the label is important. The dietary details mentioned on the label gives you a better understanding of what ends up on your plate. Compare the labels and look out for food items that are low on sodium, trans-fats, saturated fats and sugars.
- Visit your nearest Farmer’s Market: In almost all the cities of the USA, you can find a farmers market that provides cheaper vegetables and fruits. Spot bargain and fresh produce prices drop when they are in season.
Selection of the food items: This segment deals with the choice of healthier food items. Here we have enlisted some of the healthier options in each class of food.
1.1. Fruits: Some of the fruits that are both inexpensive and healthy are apricot, avocado, banana, cantaloupe, kiwi, nectarines, papaya, pear, star-fruit, tangerine and watermelon. Children, especially love fresh fruit juices such as orange juice; however, it is advisable to limit it to only a glass per day. Sugar must not be added to the juice as it will add up and prove harmful in the long run. You can add fruits in your diet in various ways, such as adding fresh fruits to your breakfast cereal, eating a fresh fruit as a dessert, adding lemon to your salad dish, or cooking fish on the bed of lemon to add the flavor.
1.2. Dried fruits: On your next visit to Sprouts or Farmers Market, check out the dried fruit section where you can find dried apricots, dried mangoes and dried California raisins. Though rich in nutrients, dried fruits have lots of calories and hence they should be eaten in moderation. Eating a handful of nuts such as almonds, walnuts, etc. has been found to be good for heart health. Almonds are also a rich source of vitamin E, which helps in keeping your skin young and glowing.
1.3. Vegetables: Your platter of vegetables includes options in the green, red and yellow color.
Green vegetables: Some green vegetables, which are both tasty and healthy, are broccoli, collards, kale, mixed salad greens, parsley and spinach.
Red/Yellow vegetables: Red/Yellow vegetables must also form a part of the platter. Some options are as follows: Calabaza, Spanish pumpkin, carrots, pumpkin, and tomatoes. Sweet red and green peppers are also nutritious.
Starchy vegetables: Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn and lima beans are rich in carbohydrates and hence it is best to eat them in moderation. Make room for green or red vegetables by reducing the intake of starchy vegetables.
Tips to preserve vegetables: Vegetables tend to go bad easily; hence, you should either freeze them or make a stew or soup of the vegetables and then freeze it.
Tips for choosing the grains: The thumb rule for selecting grains for a healthy diet is that the grain should be low in sugar, low in sodium and high in fiber. Thus, opt for whole grain or multi-grain bread, which has the lowest sugar content but is high in fiber. Read the labels and select those grains in which the sodium content is less than 210 mg per serving. Some examples of such grains are oatmeal, puffed corn, and puffed whole grain cereal. You can replace the white rice and white sugar with brown rice and brown sugar.
1.5. Proteins: Processed food in this category should also be avoided. Eggs, beans and nuts are excellent sources of proteins and easy to include in your diet. Add nuts in your breakfast cereal or eat a handful of nuts as an in between meal snack. Raw nuts and whole chicken or cut-up bone-in chicken are both cheap and nutritious options that are rich in protein. Include lentils, legumes, beans and nuts in your meal.
1.6. Dairy products: Though milk is a rich source of calcium, not all dairy products conform to that classification. Cream cheese, sour cream and butter have little or no calcium and their use must be restricted. Include low fat milk, low fat yoghurt, and low fat cheese in your diet.
Eating a healthy diet may seem an arduous task to many of us. However, with a little planning and efforts you can turn your not-so-healthy diet into a healthy one. By following the tips mentioned above, you can improve your and your family’s health in the long run. Eating healthy combined with regular exercise will make sure that you live a long disease free life!