Healthy Eating on a Budget: what simple steps can you take to bring healthier options into your plan…
Healthy food is all around us and we hear about the benefits of eating certain foods, that we should eat organic, not too much of this, more of that, etc. But often the cost seems to add up when we are thinking of adding a lot of “healthy” food to our grocery list. Is it possible to eat healthy on a budget? Is it beneficial to overall diabetes management? What simple steps can you take to bring healthier options into your plan?
A randomized clinical trial among youth with type 1 diabetes and their families found that “Improved diet quality was NOT accompanied by greater cost for youth with type 1 diabetes and their parents.” This challenges the typical thought that increasing the quality of the food eaten also incurs a higher cost. The trial shows that eating healthy, even with kids is possible and won’t break the bank.
If you have thought about making adjustments to your overall nutrition plan to improve quality, start with the following basics to contain cost and add long term benefit to your health.
Healthy Eating on a Budget:
- Plan and prep meals ahead of time. Spend time on a day off planning meals for the week.
- Create a grocery list from what is on sale in the local grocery circular.
- Define a few meals (10) that would be “go-to meals” so you always have these food items in your fridge or cupboards.
- Buy fresh produce when it is in season and freeze it. Out of season produce is expensive.
- Organic – aim to buy the dirty dozen produce as organic and choose non-organic for others.
- Look for sales and plan meals accordingly – If your local grocer offers a savings card, sign up for it.
- Get the weekly grocery circular to see what is going to be on sale. Plan meals around what is on sale for the week. (Look online to find recipes that work with the main sale items).
- Watch for sales on frozen veggies if you do not want to do much prep in the kitchen, often frozen mixed veggies will be on sale 10 for $10, etc. – it’s a great time to stock up and without worry that the food will go to waste. You can use it as you want in recipes.
- Try the less expensive cuts of meat. Chicken thighs instead of breast and for look for cuts without much prep done – with bone or with skin-on – if you are willing to do some prep it often reduces the cost. You can also prepare tougher cuts of meat by using a slow-cooker/crock-pot.
- Use Whole grains and Beans. Buy these dry and cook them yourself for less expense. Black beans can be added to chili or soup to add protein and healthy fiber for less cost than meat. Mix them with ground meat for burgers or meatloaf which stretches the amount you get. Whole grains like wild rice, quinoa, and barley are inexpensive and can add bulk to a meal to make it more filling. You can also cook grains ahead of time in large portion and freeze some of it for easy use in a later recipe.
- Choose eggs for protein source – make boiled eggs which are easy to use through the week – on a salad, egg-salad for a sandwich, or even for a snack that is no carbohydrate.
- Buy canned tuna in water when on sale.
- Use Natural Peanut butter – Smucker’s has a Natural, no sugar added peanut butter that tastes great and is less expensive. Look in your natural foods market for a “grind your own peanut butter” option.
- Make meals in a slow-cooker and freeze portions for later. (A great cookbook is Fix it and Forget it: Slow Cooker Recipes for Diabetics – lots of recipes with beans which are really cheap if you buy them dry and soak them yourself).
- Portion in freezer safe containers with carb count labeled for ease of use.
- Organize your fridge and pantry so items get used up. Create a “staple food” list to put on the fridge door. When you need to buy more, check it on the list for the next grocery run.
- Buy in the bulk section if your grocery store has one. Prepackaged food tends to be more expensive due to the package itself. Some things like whole grains (oats, rice, noodles) or snack items like Popcorn kernels are a lot less if you buy in bulk.
- (Popcorn is easy to pop in a pot on your stove with a tsp of oil and a cover – heat oil, add 1/3 to ½ cup kernels and with lid on at low/medium heat allow kernels to heat until you start to hear a pop, then move the pan around on the stove to get things popping. When the popping slows, remove from heat and slowly remove lid away from you to avoid steam).
- Another bulk buying option is a store like Costco or Sam’s Club – you might be able to split the cost of some things with a friend if you shop together. The bulk items are a lot less in the large quantity than they are at the grocery store.
- Look for dehydrated veggies – add to soups for year round ease of eating veggies.
- Use old fashioned oats (bulk section) for breakfast instead of boxed dry cereal or pre-packaged instant oatmeal.
- Buy chicken/beef or veggie broth cubes instead of canned/boxed broth. Great for a soup base.
- OR save ends of veggies from fresh vegetables, freeze and use to make a broth by boiling in hot water.
- Grow some of your own veggies or herbs. When the season allows, plant some tomatoes or peppers, leeks or even salad greens in a pot. Herbs grow well year round in a sunny window as well as outside – these can enhance the flavor of the food you cook tremendously and fresh, homegrown is less expensive than the dried herbs at the store.
- Buy the grocery store or “home” brand rather than Brand name. For most products, this saves money without changing taste.
Check out these websites for some meal planning ideas to get you started and remember to create a meal plan or menu based on what is on sale this week, stock up and enjoy a variety of food for less cost.
Low-Budget Pantry Items Everyone Should Have:
Lentils, Black Beans/kidney beans/navy beans, Oats, Brown Rice, Frozen non-starchy veggies, Pasta and Pasta sauce – Try bean or lentil based pasta for lower glycemic and lower carb., Fresh Eggs, Frozen berries, Spices such as chili powder, garlic powder, curry powder, cinnamon, onion powder, salt and pepper. Onions, Cans of Tomatoes, Cans of Tuna, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard