If you ever feel like eating healthy is a strain on your wallet, you’re not alone. Between $10 green juices and $8 bags of kale chips, it can feel like healthy food has become a luxury good. But you don’t have to shop at fancy health food stores or drink a daily kombucha to be healthy. In fact, some of the most humble foods — beans, lentils, greens, and whole grains — pack in a lot of nutrients for a very small fee. With a little planning and a few simple swaps, healthy meals become accessible to any budget.
- Give beans a chance. Eat vegetarian for at least one meal per day. Beans, lentils, tofu, and other vegetarian protein sources are far less expensive than meat, poultry, and fish.
- Cook in season. Locally grown and seasonal vegetables are more economical than purchasing out-of-season varieties that have to travel thousands of miles. Think winter squash in January and tomatoes in August. Added bonus: Seasonal produce tastes better and usually offers the most nutrients.
- Chill out. If you absolutely must have blueberries in January, buy them frozen (or better yet – freeze them yourself during peak season). They are picked at their peak and flash frozen, so they offer the same nutritional value as fresh at half (or even less) the price.
- Be preppy. Skip the pre-chopped or pre-marinated items and do some of the prep yourself. You are paying a pretty penny for someone else to do what you can do at home with a knife and a whisk. That goes for pre-prepared packaged items too.
- Waste not, want not.
- Plan your meals so you know exactly what you need for the week.
- Roast a whole chicken for one meal, use the leftovers for a second meal, and then use the bones to make broth.
- Use all parts of the vegetable. Add beet greens to a pasta dish or soup, and use vegetable scraps to make homemade vegetable broth. (Pro tip: Keep scraps and trimmings in a bag in your freezer until you have enough to make stock.)
- Freeze fruits and vegetables that you won’t eat before they expire or use them in smoothies.
- Cook up a pot of soup that can be frozen.
- Use your leftovers! Not in the mood for the same exact meal? Here are 7 ways to repurpose leftovers into lunch.
Don’t be fooled by marketing. Marking claims like all natural, GMO free, and gluten-free doesn’t always mean it’s healthier. Some of these labels, like organic offer many environmental benefits, but may not provide more nutrients, so you may want to emphasize organic on certain products like the dirty dozen or animal products if you’re on a budget. The premium charged for many gluten-free specialty products is only beneficial to those sensitive or intolerant to gluten. So, be wary of health claims that may lead to a higher price tag and choose wisely.
Eating healthy doesn’t have to break the bank. Keep things simple and get back to the basics. The latest exotic (and often expensive) superfood isn’t going to save your life or melt away unwanted pounds, so beware of grandiose claims and know that eating a balanced diet filled with real food is your best bet for both your body and your wallet!