How to Eat A Balanced Diet When Your Budget Sucks
Let’s face it! At least once in a lifetime, you will hear somebody saying “eating healthy is just too expensive”. I have heard that countless of times and I used to believe that myself, until I was forced to try when facing a tight (very tight) budget. Today I want to share with you some tips and recipes ideas so that you can eat a more balanced, healthier diet even if your budget sucks (with bold capital letters!).
Eating healthy is easier than you think
Don’t let social media fool you into think that “healthy” just means “fancy” foods that are often overpriced. Eating that way can be extremely difficult and overwhelming for a lot of people. It is also expensive, so the average earner can’t keep up. We all love times of bonanza, but economic crisis and personal finance struggles can happen to anyone, and during such times, you don’t have to trade your health.
Before I start I want to note that I understand “eating healthy” has such a broad meaning. For you it can mean eating paleo, or keto, or going vegan; but for the matters of this post, and in general terms, when I refer to “eating healthy” I mean “natural, less or non-processed food”. Whatever that you cook yourself that is made with natural ingredients (aka: not boxed ingredients) and doesn’t involve massive amounts of fat can easily falls within this category.
It doesn’t matter if you do paleo, keto, vegan or something else, as long as you eat as natural as possible, and take into account your own dietary requirements, you are all set (my condolences to those yummy Paleo cookies out there labeled as healthy and all).
Processed Foods cost a fortune
Many people often complain that eating healthy costs, and it can seem that way when you can grab a “full meal” at Mc Donalds for $5. But when you look at it in the long wrong, you’ll notice that eating processed foods is costing you way more than you think.
One visit to the store is more than enough to find out how expensive processed foods really is. I mean, a bag of crackers or chips can easily cost $3 and I can buy pasta or rice plus some veggies for the same price and have a decent homecooked meal on a tight budget.
Let’s take apples as an example. They are nutrient dense, have carbs, provide fiber and a whole lot of vitamins and minerals; while a bag of chips is full of sodium, additives and other stuff that are simply not good for you in the long run. So, my first recommendation for when you are trying to eat healthier on a tight budget is consider the “real value”, and not just focus on “the cash value”, which is obviously important at this point not as important as the real value which is the nutrition you get versus the cash you pay.
Understanding the "Real Value"
When you are on a tight budget, finding the balance between eating healthy and stretching your cash can sound difficult, but it really isn’t if you so the following exercise:
The main factor to consider here is obviously the nutritional value; you can do this by answering the question: “What will give me more nutrition for less?” In the example, apparently, you have to pay more for a bag of apples but you are actually getting a whole lot of nutritional benefits that you obviously won’t find in a bag of chips, and for so little cash. So, again, focus on the real value and eat as real, natural, whole, non-processed foods as possible for you. It will not only make you feel great and bright, but you will be satiated and it will help your budget even more in the long run, as you get more experience.
But, how to actually eat healthy on a budget?
Look for sales, then plan!
I’ve read this a million times: “plan your meals” and then, “stick to your list” and I tried and tried and tried really hard to do it, for years!, but IT. JUST. DIDN’T. WORK. FOR. ME. Sigh!
It is important to understand the value of meal planning, but when you are on a tight budget you can often plan an amazing budget friendly menu for the week and then find out in the store what you are looking for is sold out or too expensive. It’s the most frustrating thing ever! It has happened to me enough so now I do the exact opposite and I advice you to do the same: first look for sales in your local grocery store; then, plan your meals around what you’ve found.
Use your freezer
When going to the grocery store or farmer’s market you can sometimes find a really good deal on seasonal fruits and vegetables. This is a great opportunity to get those veggies prepped for the freezer. This make it really easy to prep a healthy meal on a budget, and will be available to you at not extra cost.
Learn to cook with less
Pure and simple; learn to cook with less ingredients. It sounds pretty obvious, but I think is worth mentioning. When on a tight budget I found out I could make most of my favorite recipes with 5 ingredients or even less, so I started to simplify. Most foods don’t need a lot of ingredients to taste good, they just need some extra time so the flavor can develop.
For instance, you can make a delicious rice with spinach with 5 simple ingredients: onions, salt, pepper, spinach & rice. The secret for it to taste yummy? Caramelize the onions very well by cooking over a low to medium flame before adding the rest of ingredients. Or, you can make an incredible easy Chickpeas Curry that tastes great with just curry powder and coconut milk. Just heat the curry powder over a low flame for a few seconds until is fragrant and once you add all the ingredients, let it cook on medium low for some time.
If at any given time you are out of ideas, go to your search engine and type: “3 ingredients (or 5 ingredients) _____” (fill in the blanks). You’ll be surprise of how many people have tried already cooking with less. Just be creative and open to this new culinary experienc
Buy on the local Farmer’s Market
Going to the farmer’s market has its challenges (like, when you go with kids and they want everything they see, lol) but it can be a great way to save money, so take your time and explore your local farmer’s market.
When I started going to the local farmer’s market, I found out fairly quickly that in the entrance prices were much higher than in the rest of the market, specially the back. You can easily find more for less, or even half the price; so, go straight to the back and explore prices there first.
Paying attention to every inch of your FM can save you a lot of money in the long term. In my local FM there is a stand were they sell everything for $1 or less. I wouldn’t have discovered this stand without some exploring. They sell mostly baked products and sweets that expired the day before or are about to expire in the next couple of days. Once I found 500gr of organic quinoa and 1Kg of Spelt flour for 50 cents each (usually priced $2.99+ each in the local supermarket). After this discovery I will usually go there first.
Pay a visit to the local ethnic shops and budget-friendly grocery stores
Don’t be afraid to go to the local ethnic grocery store. Sometimes you can find cheaper produce or special ingredients for an affordable price.
There are also some budget friendly grocery stores like Lidl & Aldi, where you can find great deals on produce and they often sell whole grains and alternative GF, and organic ingredients with a reduced price tag
Learn to use those stems and leaves
Now that you found those great deals on the Farmer’s market, please, don’t throw half that in the garbage in the form of leaves, stems or even skins! Be creative with what you bought. Our Apple Peel Chutney for example, was the result of having huge amount of apple skin after making an Apple Crisp for Rosh Hashanah one year and now it is something I always make! It’s delicious!!
Broccoli and cauliflower stems, are a great addition to stir fries. I usually remove the roughest outer skin of the stems with a potato peeler, and chop or cut into strips. It taste delicious and I love it for added texture and crunch. I also use it in soups, curries, stews and veggies rice. Broccoli and cauliflower leaves are a great addition to stir fries and soups as well. You can use onion, garlic and carrot peels to make a delicious broth. You can use carrot peel in carrot soup, or as a topping after seasoning and baking until crisp. Just think out of the box.
Repurpose those leftovers
I used to be so mortified when I had leftovers but now I actually plan to have some to play with. Yes, I am a fan! If you have leftover spinach you can make some spinach rice, mix it into pasta, or curry, or make a fritatta; with mixed veggies you can make stews, curries, veggies nuggets, or simply add some soy or tamari sauce and make a quick fried rice. Do you have leftover apple pie or crumble? transform it into a delicious cake.
Consider eating more veggies
Veggies are the way to go when eating healthy, and specially on a budget because meats and fish can be quite expensive.
Vegetables are incredibly versatile and as such, should always be on the top of your shopping list. You can eat them as salad or as a main dish. You can blend them into a smoothie or make a creamy soup. You are more of a wrap person? You can blend things like carrot, corn, spinach with a couple of eggs and you’ll have an easy wrap, add some sautee veggies and there you have an easy quick lunch. You can also serve fresh veggies, like cucumbers, or roasted ones, like sweet potatoes, as a snack with hummus on the side. Nowadays you can even turn veggies into sweet treats, if you are into that!
Don’t forget to add legumes, like beans, lentils and chickpeas to your menu for added protein. Nuts and seeds are a great source as well.
Some Easy Healthy Recipes for Tight Budgets
Do you happen to have some fresh or leftover veggies that you can cut into stripes (julienne) or into cubes?… Use them to make an easy stir fry, and add some tofu, tempeh or eggs for a budget-friendly meal.
Eggs, even organic, are one of the cheapest protein sources. You can take advantage of to cook a milliard of things. If you don’t eat eggs, you can make a fritatta with chickpea flour, which is another great source of protein.
This is a combo made in heavens for tight budget, and it’s so easy to make and satisfying!
Rice Noodles are a great alternative for those who loves noodles (like me!) but want to escape the same pasta and sauce combo. You can also substitute noodles for zucchini noodles if you wish 😉
I love love love this Minimalist Baker’s recipe for Veggie Sliders. It is so full of flavor and so easy to make and you just need 7 ingredients. Looking for a nut-free option? Try our Ultimate Vegan Meatballs.
And that’s it for today folks! Hopefully you now feel relieved knowing that eating balanced and healthy is possible, even when you budget sucks.
Want to share your money-saving tips or recipes for tight budgets with us? Share it on the comments section below! Looking for more ideas and inspiration? Follow our Pinterest Board, Healthy Eating on a Tight Budget, and don’t forget to follow on instagram to keep up with other easy recipes.
Until next time,