Cheap and Healthy – To Dream the Impossible Dream

17 Sep

Don’t get me wrong. When it comes to eating, I still think you have to choose between inexpensive and healthy most of the time. Other than lobby the FDA, there’s not a lot we can do about that. It is possible, however, to achieve some semblance of balance between Freshology and Supersize Me. The following are ten tips that work in my own life. Take ‘em or leave ‘em.

  1. Eat at home. You’ve heard it before, and that’s because it’s true. You can make like, five burgers at home for half the price and calories of the local pub version, even with the fancy cheese. (Yes, fast food burgers are cheaper. But we’re talking about healthy too, right?). Almost all my tips are based on this first one.
  2. Shop at Aldi. Unfortunately they aren’t paying me to say that. Even if you don’t have one near you, it might be worth the drive. I’m always floored by how much cheaper my grocery bill is there. Not every single one of their odd store brands is worth it (the chocolate bars are WEIRD), but definitely pick up all your basics here like milk, cheese, meat, eggs, and bread.  Go ahead and skip the produce in favor of…
  3. The Farmer’s Market. If you have a good one near you, you’re lucky. They usually have more in-season and local items, which tend to be cheaper. But if you’re like me (i.e. too lazy not motivated to prepare fresh produce before it spoils), check out tip #5.
  4. Forget organic. Yep, even for baby food. Studies show that the pesticide traces found in even the dirty dozen are pretty negligible. Just limit yourself to 12 apples a day and wash ‘em real good.  If buying organic is something that really matters to you…well, you’re probably too rich to be reading this article anyway.
  5. Frozen beats fresh, at least sometimes. This won’t work for everything (read: lettuce, bananas), but I get almost all my veggies in their frozen form. Frozen lasts a long time in case you don’t get around to making that gourmet meal right away. What’s the point of saving a few pennies by going fresh if you end up throwing most of it out? Most veggies are flash frozen at picking, so they retain all their nutrients (much more so than canned, which are preserved with insane amounts of sodium). And nowadays they make some pretty yummy mixes. I like Bird’s Eye.
  6. 100% whole what is getting cheaper. The cost of whole wheat noodles, tortilla shells, etc used to be pretty prohibitive. But check it out, there are a lot more generic choices now, so you might find it’s not too much of a wallet stretch to make this change. It’s certainly one of the healthiest things you can do. Make sure to look at the ingredient list. The first ingredient should include the word “whole.”
  7. Go generic! This is my number one (er…7) money-saving tip. I’ve tried couponing, and at least in my neck of the woods, buying the store brand is STILL cheaper. The ingredients in most things are identical, and with a few exceptions, I can’t tell a difference in quality. I actually noticed that Kroger “Oreos” had less sugar than the real McCoy. Publix fro-yo is better than any other store-bought brand I’ve tasted (not to sound like an advertisement).
  8. Pick your vice. This is a health tip I’ve lived by since high school. Everyone has their junk food weaknesses, and I am a strong supporter of those. In exchange, just give up the stuff you can live without—it won’t take nearly as much will power. For me, it’s donuts and potato chips. Sure, they’re good if I’m eating them, but the swoon-o-meter does not equal the calorie load. And I sure don’t feel like spending money on them.
  9. When you do go out, drink water. Nothing saves more money and calories than this tip. Liquid calories are an INSANE drain on your pocketbook, and they will straight-up make you fat. I’m not suggesting you only order water forevermore though. Like the last tip, choose the one instance in which you really like to purchase your drink. If you’re a Starbucks addict, skip the sweet tea at lunch. If you must have a cocktail, make your coffee at home or at work. If you’re like my [quite slender] friend who likes to have something to drink whenever she’s in the car (like as in lemonade, people. Geez.), cool! Have a beer at home. Just pick one.
  10. Don’t buy anything pre-cut or pre-cooked. I break this rule quite often myself in the name of convenience, but I know the difference it makes. At the store the other day, I saw a 4 oz fruit cup that cost almost $8! That’s more than some cuts of meat!! And the kicker is, it was mostly berries, which don’t even require cutting. Forgo those pre-cooked fajita beef strips too. They don’t give you very much for the money, and the sodium in all that stuff is out of this world.

And a bonus tip:

Go by a weekly schedule. This may not work for everybody’s lifestyle, but it sure does for us. Eat the same or similar meals on regularly occurring days. For example: Mexican Monday, Pasta Tuesday, Meatloaf Wednesday, Homemade Pizza Thursday, Crock pot Friday, etc. Having a plan keeps you from grabbing the KFC chicken bucket out of desperation, thereby saving your waistline. It saves money (and definitely time) by virtue of its predictability. You can always deviate from the plan if you’re feeling inspired. It won’t get too boring if you change up the elements of the meal. For instance, use whatever meat is on sale for your crockpot night or change the toppings or even crust (try Portobello mushrooms as a “crust”!) on pizza night.


One Response to “Cheap and Healthy – To Dream the Impossible Dream”

  1. GreedyFrog September 17, 2012 at 4:47 pm #

    I LOVE Aldi! The two things I never get from there are meat, because I am lucky enough to have a great butcher’s shop nearby, and bread because I bake my own.
    I have liked about 90% of what I have tried from Aldi. Their cookies are addictive, and I love their deli-style range of olives.
    Sadly, I am not being paid either for saying this! 🙂

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