Eating Healthy on a Budget

It makes no difference what your income is, we have all noticed that food is getting more expensive. We are buying less and less for more and more. I noticed this trend almost a year ago when I was living in the US and as a family of six, it did have its effects.

Now with more people strapped for cash and out of work, there is a movement away from healthy eating in an effort to save money. We see this in McDonald’s and Wal-Mart’s steady rise in income despite the global economic down turn. People are looking to buy calories and not nutrients.

In the long run, this choice is not cost effective. Being sick is very expensive, especially if you do not have health insurance. Also, if you are sick, you cannot work.

There is no denying that many people are experiencing profound stress and depression at this time and food may be the last thing on their mind. However, remaining well nourished is an investment in our health and in our future productivity.

Even in the best of times my family has had a food budget and over the years I have learned many “tricks and techniques” to eating healthy while remaining within my budget.

The Basics

Eating out is expensive and can blow a food budget to pieces in the first two weeks of the month. If you are used to eating out more than once a month, you have a very lucrative place to start. Here are some tips to eliminate this budget buster (you may also lose weight):

1. Take your own lunch to work. Leftovers are great, so are soups, salads and sandwiches.

2. Cook for a day, eat for a month. Many times people eat out because of lack of time. Plan to set a day aside when you are going to prepare some meals for the month and then freeze them. When you are pressed for time, surprise, you already have a healthy and budget friendly meal waiting in the freezer.

3. Buy a crock pot. There really is no easier way to prepare a meal, literally you set it and forget it. Just make sure you have it adjusted to the right temperature.

4. Start a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly tradition of having a potluck with neighbors or friends. Just because you are on a budget does not mean you cannot have fun. If you each are preparing only one meal, not only will you save money, you will also be able to splurge a little on ingredients to have a truly rich feast. Even better, you are building community.

Some people do not eat out, but they buy a lot of packaged foods or ready-to-bake meals. Packaged foods may be easy, but they are not easy on your pocket book. These foods also tend to be nutritionally dead and are more expensive than homemade foods, even if you buy them at big box stores. They are just not a good health investment. This does not mean that you will never buy packaged foods again; you just want to be selective in what you are buying and how often.

Places like Costco and Wal -Mart offer bulk prepared foods, but they are usually of the lowest quality. In other words, you are buying calories, not nutrients. Fortunately, Costco does sell organic prepared foods, but purchasing them should not be a common practice.

Also Keep in mind that meat is expensive, period. We do not need to consume animal protein every day. We do need protein every day, but we can get this from other sources. Reduce intake of animal protein to 1-2 times a week.

Other sources of protein that are good for you and your wallet are:

1. Whole grains

2. Vegetables

3. Eggs

4. Beans and legumes

5. Nuts and seeds

6. Milk

7. Cheese

8. Broth made from leftover bones

In the end it comes down to planning ahead. We get used to eating out and buying prepared meals, it is a habit. If we can re-program ourselves to plan meals ahead, cook ahead and make the most of our leftovers, we will establish a habit that is cost effective and healthy.

Local and in Season Foods

We are used to eating grapes all year round, yet they are only in season during the summer. We are accustomed to eating tropical fruits even if we live in temperate climates. The price of transporting and growing these crops commercially is a cost the consumer is not directly paying for in terms of money (the earth is picking up that bill), but we do pay when it comes to taste and nutritional content.

When we buy foods that are in season they are cheaper, especially if we buy them locally. The benefit of buying local is that you have the best possible produce and you are stimulating your local economy. Many farmers’ markets also have people who sell prepared meals and this is a great buy because again, you are stimulating your own economy and buying something nutrient rich.

Remember, you can wash and freeze much of the produce you buy. You can also can tomatoes and fruits, or make jams. This is not at all hard and it is practically free, prepared food. When in need you can just open a can and you have a meal. The best book I have found about preserving food is Oden Schwarts’ Preserving. It is out of print but can be purchased online at Amazon.

Buying local and in season can be easy if you know where to look.

Here are a few more tips:

1. Find a local farm, buy a share and you can pick up your produce weekly.

2. Find out who is growing what in your neighborhood (stimulate new economy).

3. Plant your own.

4. Buy frozen.

Coupons and Sales

Depending on where you live, you may or may not have access to coupons. Coupons can save you moneyï؟½or cost you more if you are not coupon wise. Don’t fall into the trap of buying it just because you have a coupon or you may be spending more. ï؟½

I’m always trying new things because I tend to buy what is on sale and most of the time this works out, especially after a close inspection of the label. Check labels for expiration dates, packing dates and most importantly, for cheap ingredients like artificial colors, artificial flavors, and hydrogenated oils or words you cannot read. Such products are not a steal; they are robbing you and your family of good health.

Some more tips to follow:

1. Be coupon wise

2. Look for ï؟½buy 1 get 1 freeï؟½ deals for things you use

3. Buy sale items

4. Buy non-brand names

The bottom line is that homemade, local, and in season are the most cost effective and nutritious choices you can make. Not only do these choices make more sense, they taste better.

Plan meals ahead and make a shopping list so you don’t buy too many unnecessary items. This will all help you stay within you budget and inshallah, have some money to spare.

First date of publication is May 3, 2009.

About Anisa Abeytia
Anisa Abeytia, B.A. USC , M.A., Stanford is an integrative health specialist currently pursuing a M.S. in Holistic Nutrition. Over the past ten years Anisa has pursued various fields of holistic and traditional medicine. She has studied at the oldest herbal school in the United States and pursued a two year certificate program in Islamic Healing. She writes regularly on the topics of health and nutrition. She maintains the website Women's Healing Circle, a site dedicated to the natural health of women and their families.