Healthy Eating on a Budget – 5 Habits for Eating Clean and Cheap

by:Vu Nguyen January 2, 2017

The New Year is a time for self-reflection.

Christmas is over. New Year’s Eve has come and gone. Another year is in the books! Time flies doesn’t it?

The first few days of the New Year are an opportunity for reflection of the past year; the people that we’ve met, the things that we’ve done, and the places that we’ve gone.

Unfortunately, for many of us, this self-reflection also includes regret about the things that we didn’t do. Particularly, the goals that we wish we had achieved. It’s just human nature to overlook the positives and hone in on the negatives – of all the great things that happened in the past year, the feeling that resonates most is guilt. If this is you, you’re not alone. Perhaps this guilt is amplified by the events of the past couple of weeks where “everything in moderation” became excessive consumption of food and drink.

Whatever the reason, get over it! It’s done. Self-loathing and self-pity won’t help you. You simply CAN NOT change the past – what has happened HAS happened. But, while you cannot change the past, you can certainly take control of the future.

But… it has to start now!

From Guilt to Excuses

In your reflection, your guilt may turn into rationalization and justification. Why you didn’t do this and why you didn’t achieve that.

Here’s a common excuse that I hear all the time: I wanted to eat healthy but eating healthy is too expensive.

If this is truly what you believe and it is truly this belief that keeps you from eating healthy, let me tell you this: eating healthy can be expensive – it doesn’t have to be.

Simply by refining a few habits, not only will you eat healthy without breaking the bank, you may also save money (perhaps another one of your resolutions).

Healthy Eating on a Budget

Want to eat healthy on a budget? Try cooking your meals!How do I know that eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive? From experience of course! I eat healthy while not spending a fortune on food. Here are the top 5 habits of someone who eats healthy on a budget:

  • Cook as many of your meals as possible: eating out, while convenient, is the most obvious way that you’re overspending on food. This is especially true, if you’re looking for healthy options. You pay a massive premium for convenience.
    • Example #1 – 2 eggs and a slice of toast will cost $3.50 almost anywhere you go. To prepare this meal at home would cost you less than a dollar (and about 5 minutes). Might not sound like a massive difference but twice a week, over the course of a year… it adds up!
    • Example #2 – Self-serve salad bar with nuts and chunks of chicken breast will cost $7.00 to $10.00. To make a spinach salad with chicken breast at home, you will spend less than $5.00. Yes, you may have to sacrifice a bit of variety but do you really need the pickled beets and the baby corn?
  • Plan your meals in advance: by heading into your meals with a plan, you won’t have to make impulsive choices. Impulsive choices, as it pertains to food, usually mean eating out and eating junk.
    • Thought #1 – I’m really hungry but I don’t know what to eat. I’d like to find a healthy option but there’s a McDonald’s next door and a Big Mac is much cheaper and much quicker…
    • Thought #2 – I could go to the grocery store and pick up ingredients for a meal but… it’s $0.25 wing night. It’s cheap and I’m feeling too lazy to cook tonight.
  • Don’t purchase junk foods: if it’s not in your pantry, you won’t (can’t) eat it. If it is then you will. Nothing complicated about that! And, you will save money.
    • Excuse #1 – I probably shouldn’t eat those Oreos but I can use a little snack… one or two (or ten) can’t hurt.
    • Excuse #2 – I probably shouldn’t eat those chips but I already bought them… can’t let them go to waste!
  • Pick 10 recipes that you love and recycle them: by having a set of go-to recipes, you never have to guess. Your meals will be predictable and planned while having the variety that you need.
    • Reason #1 – Eventually, you will know your recipes by heart meaning that cooking will be quick and easy.
    • Reason #2 – You will know exactly what you need to purchase at the grocery store and where they are located  meaning that shopping will be quick and easy.
    • Reason #3- After a while, you will have many of the ingredients (spices, etc.) on hand and whatever you don’t have, you can buy in bulk meaning that you will spend less money on groceries.
  • Use simple foods/ingredients: cooking is great and will save you money. That is, if you use discretion. If you insist on making complicated 20-ingredient meals then yes, eating healthy will be expensive and time-consuming (this holds true for unhealthy eating as well). The concept of simplicity can help you in other areas of life as well.
  • Bonus – Make your coffee at home or drink office coffee.

Cheap and Healthy Foods

Not only is kale cheap, it's also packed with nutrients. Not just for those on a budget!To elaborate on the concept of simple ingredients, here is a list of 7 nutrient-dense foods/ingredients that I use almost daily that don’t cost much. Make these the staple of your diet:

  • Beans and Legumes – packed with protein, iron, and vitamin B. They are also a great source of fiber. They are extremely versatile and can be added to almost any dish!
    • Can be as little as $0.75 for a can
  • Peanut Butter – loaded with healthy fats and protein (see blog on the benefits of dietary fats). It is also a great source of fiber. Just be careful, it’s addicting!
    • Can be as little as $4.00 for a kg jar
  • Eggs – great source of protein and healthy (good) cholesterol. Sunny-side up, poached, hardboiled? You decide!
    • Can be as little as $3.00 for a dozen
  • Oatmeal – great source of fiber and protein. It also helps lower levels of bad cholesterol. This recommendation is not to be confused with the sugar-infused pre-packaged oatmeal!
    • Can be as little as $3.00 for a kg bag
  • Kale – low in calories while being one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. High in fiber, anti-oxidants, vitamin C – what more can you ask for?
    • Can be as little as $1.00 for a bunch
  • Frozen Vegetables – high concentration of nutrients and vitamins. Be sure to steam your vegetables in order to preserve as many of the nutrients as possible. Frozen vegetables are also pre-chopped or pre-cut. Nutritious and convenient!
    • Can be as little as $3.00 for a 2kg bag
  • Seeds and Nuts –  nutrient rich and loaded with healthy fats. A bit more expensive than the other ingredients in this list but you don’t need more than a small handful at a time!
    • Can be as little as $1.00 per 100g
  • Bonus – Canned Tuna – packed with protein, each can having 30 grams of protein. Protein can be quite expensive. But, at a dollar a can, it’s no surprise that tuna is so popular in the bodybuilding community!
    • Can be as little as $0.79 per can

This is Your Year

No more self-loathing and self-pity. No more guilt. It’s time to take control of your life and achieve the goals that you deserve to achieve. The tools for your success have been provided! It’s your choice whether or not you use them.

Vu