Last week it was all about eating 5-a-day, but I'd like to move a bit passed that and talk about eating healthier on a budget. It can take some time to acclimate yourself to eating healthier on a budget, but you needn’t do it all at once. There are several ways to start and it won't all happen overnight. You don’t necessarily have to make more money to eat healthier, but you do have to make your money work harder for you. I know people who have ample funds and yet no idea how to step away from the ease of prepackaged foods where opening the box, adding water, and stirring is all it takes. The number of additives, fat, sugar, salt, and some unpronounceable ingredients is reason enough to move to something more natural. Personally, if a product has more than six ingredients, I move on but that’s me. So, where is a good place to begin?
When I first began eating on a budget I felt as though I were poor ... I felt like I was the only one who “had” to cook from scratch. My friends pantries were wall-to-wall prepackaged foods and that included their refrigerators and freezers, too. It took me longer to make our meals, but they were well thought out and carefully planned. I only had so much money to spend. Sometimes I involved my children in the process but as a young mother, I'll admit, I preferred cooking alone. I’m better at sharing my kitchen with my grandchildren than I was with my children - you’ll have to decide what works for you. One thing I’ve noticed is most of us eat more than a serving size making it difficult to maintain a budget not to mention a waistline so another way to reduce costs is to watch how much you eat. After a few years of "eating poor" I realized I was the rich one ... my family was eating wholesome food, prepared personally by me.
Waste is another way to literally throw money away. Canned soups are costly and again have ingredients that aren’t always good for you - excessive salt, fats, and unpronounceable ingredients can play havoc on your health. Making your own soup is something that takes some getting used to but once you have a handle on it you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it all the time. Of course, if you don’t use whole vegetables it may take some adjustments. I rarely buy prepackaged ready-to-eat vegetables. They are not cost effective and the part of the food they remove for you is actually quite useful. Here’s what I mean ...
When I prepare carrots for supper, I cut off the top and bottom and if I don’t buy organic I also peel them. Rather than throw the discarded pieces away, I toss them into an old bread bag and freeze them (hang on I’ll tell you why in a minute). Into that bread bag I also toss in onion tops and bottoms, the onion skin, discarded celery leaves and stalk bottoms, some potato skins (not too many though), leftover peas and/or pea pods, leftover green beans and/or the ends if you use fresh, etc. When you purchase these foods pre-packaged it’s more expensive as well as wasteful. When my bread bag is full I toss the mass of frozen discards into a large pot with a beef bone or chicken bone or vegetarian stock cubes (and a tablespoon of vinegar to pull the calcium from the bone) and bring to a boil. Reduce to low for a couple of hours. Remove from heat and when cool, strain. The broth is suitable for vegetable soup. Taste and add salt/pepper, thyme, or whatever herbs you like. Usually, if the beef bone is fatty, I refrigerate the broth and when chilled, I remove the fat that forms at the top (don’t throw it away, I’ll tell you why in a minute). Reheat the broth, add some pasta, barley, or rice (you can precook if you like), diced potatoes, a can of whole tomatoes which you have cut up (check the price, it’s usually cheaper than the diced ones). Then can add your family’s favorite vegetables, cooked ground beef (better cuts are often more expensive per pound, but you get mostly meat instead of fat) and you’re ready to serve a relatively cheap bowl of soup. It’s also a good way to introduce vegetables to a picky eater. Now, for the fat that you skimmed off the top of the chilled broth ... freeze in a discarded baggie and add a tablespoon to your dog's dry food, if you have a dog - it's good for their coat ... otherwise ... yep, just throw it away ... though there were times I'd use it in cooking ... not so much now.
Another way I save is to avoid buying canned chicken. When whole chickens are on sale, I buy two and roast them as soon as I get home; I put a half an onion in each cavity and sprinkle some salt in there, too. Sometimes we make a meal out of one sometimes I use them both for other things. Once cooled, pull off the meat and put in containers. I usually use saved a bread bag separating the chicken into different uses ... like diced for casseroles, shredded for chicken salad or chicken burritos, slices for hot or cold sandwiches, or anyway you use cooked chicken. Need recipes? You can Google “chicken recipes” or leave a comment and I’ll be happy to provide some of my family’s favorites. Oh, I should mention you can make chicken broth by adding a bag of frozen vegetable discards to the chicken bones and use instead of a beef bone for chicken broth.
One item I see many families buying is yogurt in cute, little six-packs. We love yogurt and if you don’t want to make your own there’s a simple, cheaper and healthier way. Skip the fancy individually packaged, overly sweetened six-packs and opt for a large tub of low or fat free plain yogurt - Greek yogurt is wonderfully thick and creamy without gelatin and other additives. Add your own fruit (fresh or frozen store brand berries or peaches, canned peaches in juice works well, too - and save the juice for smoothies!) plus a bit sugar or sugar alternative and a wee bit of vanilla and you’re ready. You can put a serving size (½ cup) in individual storage containers or small glasses (covered with plastic wrap) and refrigerate. Does it take more time than snapping off a pre-packaged pre-sweetened yogurt? Yes, it does. But aren’t you and your family worth it? No chemicals, no additives, you control the sweetness, you select the fruit. It doesn’t get better than that. Making your own isn’t difficult either, but it does take some time and it can be cheaper if you’re mindful of serving sizes.
While it's 'easier' to grab a fruit snack ie, six pouches of fruit roll-ups or gummie whatever, it is more expensive per serving than a 3# bag of organic apples even though a box of six fruit snacks boasts "real fruit." An apple IS real fruit through and through. Besides those convenience foods do have a long term effect. Check the links at the end for some ideas on eating healthy on a budget.
Another huge waste, in my humble opinion, is bottled water. Tap water, these days in most communities, is very drinkable. After all, you use when you cook or made coffee, right? Rather than purchased bottled water, use a washable container for your water. Be sure to wash both the bottle and its top in a dishwasher or hot, soapy water. Many people refill the washed bottles, but neglect the tops - many germs linger in the tops so wash them, too. And, I won’t even talk about the effect to our environment! Need more info on bottled water vs tap water? Click here.
After posting my blog last week and reading some of the responses, I was prompted to view some shoppers shopping carts ... what I saw was money being thrown away ...
- Baggies - so many of the items we purchase come in usable bags - just shake out or rinse if necessary and store in a drawer or whatever
- “Just add water” type foods aka prepackaged convenience foods - it’s so easy to make your own - it just takes a bit of practice
- Juice (eat the whole fruit / drink water)
- “Toss in the oven” prepared foods - check the ingredients and nutritional information particularly the salt, fats, and chemicals
- Convenient “lunches” for children (and adults!)
- Foods with cartoon characters - including prepared lunches, snack foods, chips, etc.
Want another opinion on eating healthy on a budget ... check out these links: