Eating on a tight budget can be a challenge. Eating well and healthily on a tight budget can seem downright foreboding, but it's not as hard as it seems. Often it's as simple as trading pricey prepared foods for simple, healthy ingredients and investing a little more time in cooking. Get started by preparing a shopping list of healthy, inexpensive foods to keep in your kitchen.
Carbohydrates have had a bad reputation with dieters since the success of the Atkins diet and its competitors, but they're healthy and nutritious when used as the basis of balanced meals. Potatoes are inexpensive and versatile, and keep well at room temperature for weeks. Rice will keep for years, though its quality deteriorates over time. Buy it in large bags from ethnic markets, or in small quantities from bulk foods stores. Brown rice is more nutritious and higher in fiber. Even good brands of dry pasta are inexpensive, and the quality of healthy whole wheat and multigrain versions has increased dramatically in recent years.
Peas, beans and lentils are among the healthiest of foods, and the most budget-friendly. When eaten together with grains they provide complete protein, and they're high in fiber and nutrients. Don't try an overnight switch to lentil patties if you or your partner is used to steaks and burgers. Ease in with familiar bean-based dishes such as chili, refried beans and hummus or other bean dips. Over time, you can increase your consumption of pulses and cut down on your use of pricier meats and poultry. It helps if you have a taste for ethnic cuisines that are heavy on legumes, such as Indian or Middle Eastern food.
Fresh produce is high in vitamins and minerals, rich in fiber and low in calories and fat, all good things from the health perspective. Produce is available year-round in this age of refrigeration, but it's best and cheapest when it's in season. Check out your local farmer's market, and at the supermarket watch for specials on things you like. Remember, it's not a bargain unless you actually eat it. If you find that fruits and vegetables often spoil before you eat them, consider buying frozen instead. The higher initial cost is offset by their storage life and lack of waste.
Tips and Tricks
Stock up on spices and herbs. They add lots of flavor with minimal calories and cost, and many have positive health benefits. Watch for sales on frozen fruits and vegetables, and fill your freezer while they're cheap. Use the fruit in healthy, refreshing smoothies and shakes, and eat the veggies as sides or in soups and casseroles. If you rely on costly prepared foods because of time constraints, set aside a day to cook in quantity and freeze prepared meals for quick lunches and dinners through the week. Join or start a community kitchen, to share the cost of buying and preparing healthy foods in quantity.
- On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen; Harold McGee
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Can Eating Fruits and Vegetables Help People to Manage Their Weight?
- Good Housekeeping: Delicious Decisions -- Choosing Healthy Food for Your Heart
- USDA ChooseMyPlate.gov: Healthy Eating on a Budget
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Become a Savvy Farmer’s Market Shopper
Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.