I often hear complaints that health food is expensive and while it can get pricey, there are ways to make sure you don't break the bank. The truth is that eating healthy on a consistent basis can actually be just as expensive as eating junk food and eating out. Sometimes, eating clean in particular can be even cheaper than the opposite. The following tips are separated into two categories to help you eat right and spend right too. By incorporating BOTH lists, you are guaranteed to save money while staying fit. Let's go!
THE FOOD - HOW TO SHOP
Unfortunately, most of us do not eat close to the recommended amount of daily vegetables. This leaves many of us buying a bunch of fresh vegetables, they go bad then getting trashed because we couldn't eat them fast enough. The other issue is that we are too lazy or too tired to cut up our veggies and prepare them.
The solution is to purchase frozen vegetables. They're cheap, they last longer and some even offer the convenience of popping them in the microwave for five minutes and serving them straight out the bag. If you don't want to buy all frozen veggies, get a mix of fresh and frozen and you'll always have them in stock.
Instant Brown Rice
This heart healthy food helps with digestion, gives you energy and even helps lower the risks of diabetes and cancer. Brown rice is filling, full of fiber and has no sodium when prepared alone.
Regular, bagged rice is even cheaper but the instant version will make your life so much easier. Just pour it in a microwave safe dish with the some water and warm it until it's ready. Serve with black beans, corn or peas for a tasty, healthy side dish or even a main course.
Fresh Fruit & Fruit Cups
Fresh fruit is cheap and easy to pick up and grab on the go. I recommend apples, oranges, peaches, plums and other fruit with a decent shelf life and don't need much preparation besides rinsing. Although a bit pricier, a fun and cheap fruit variation are fruit cups. The fruit with water instead of syrup is the healthiest and the different fruit combinations will satisfy your sweet tooth.
Potatoes are packed with potassium, magnesium and are fat free when prepared alone. This vegetable gets a bad wrap mainly because of how we prepare them. Instead of buying frozen potatoes or loading them with a million toppings, try slicing them into wedges, baking them and serving with a side sauce instead. Sweet potato fries have also become popular in recent years so get creative - the sky is the limit with this hearty food.
Fruit snacks are cheap and can be a healthier alternative to candy if you often crave sweets. They are sweeter than fruit but not as calorically dense as most chocolate, cake or cookies. Try purchasing the fruit snacks that are organic and made with real fruit. They are about as expensive or cheaper as a family size bag of chips.
Ditch the Microwave & Bagged Popcorn
Popcorn is a healthier snack but microwaved and bagged popcorn in particular can be full of calories, sodium and other unnecessary harmful ingredients. When it's not, it can get way too expensive. Invest in a big jar of kernels and brown paper bags. When you want popcorn, pour about a half of cup of kernels into the bag, fold it over and place it in the microwave for 3.5 minutes.
The result will be all natural popcorn with far less calories and zero sodium. Not to mention it will stretch much further than the instant popcorn you buy in the box. If you must have toppings you can try low fat butter or a small amount of low fat caramel or chocolate for drizzle.
Buy Meat in Bulk & Freeze It
No matter what, meat will always be pricey so buying in bulk is the way to go. Find wholesale grocery retailers near you like Costco or Sam's Club and stock up on meat to freeze. If you can't afford their membership fees then a 5lb of skinless, boneless chicken breasts will run you about $10 and about $8 at Aldi.
If you're on a tight budget, buying certain canned goods can save money and keep your calories in check. If you're diabetic or have high blood pressure, be sure to check the sodium and sugar content as canned foods can be full of both. Foods like canned green beans, black beans, corn and fruit are the healthiest options. For a dollar so or more, there are also canned organic and natural options to choose from.
Ditch the Meat and/or Cheese for a While
It's no secret the meat and cheese can really tax your grocery bill. Not only that but eating too much of both can negatively affect your health. The cheapest meat tends to be the most processed and have the most sodium while the cheapest cheese is the most fattening. Try not buying one of the two (or both) every grocery trip and you'll be amazed at how much you'll save and how much you won't miss them.
Drink More Water
This tip may sound cliche but we all know that soda, fruit juices and alcohol can really add up in money and calorie department. Try drinking water with at least two meals a day and I promise, your wallet and your body will thank you for it.
THE PLAN - HOW TO SAVE
I'm terrible at using coupons but my sister is just the opposite and has hipped me to the game! These little things come in the mail every month so why not take the time to look through them instead of wasting paper and throwing them away? You'll find that you can save on almost everything mentioned in the food list above especially if you have a family and need to buy in bulk. Put aside your pride and clip those coupons!
We are conditioned to choose the popular brands when shopping but some of the off brand items have literally the same ingredients - literally! If you're a brand snob on certain foods because they really taste better, get them. But if there are items that you can compromise on, compare labels and go with the cheaper option. Almost every working class person buys generic items at some point so there's nothing to be embarrassed about.
Make a List Before Grocery Shopping
Keeping a list is something I learned from my mother at a very young age and now it's a requirement as an adult. I never go grocery shopping without a list and I find that it saves me money and so much time. By scanning your kitchen and writing down everything you need, it keeps you organized and makes it less tempting to over shop.
This is also a must if you hate grocery shopping and want to get in and out as quickly as possible. Also, make your list in order of the store you're going to so you won't have to go down an isle more than once.
Meal prepping is the it thing to do right now because it's so freaking convenient. Cooking big meals a couple times a week and preparing them for the next 3 or 4 days is a good way to track your health and spending. Not to mention, it saves precious time. Find some healthy meal prep ideas on Pintrest or YouTube from some of the best to make the process fun and creative.
Eat at Home
As tempting as it is to stop and get fast food, you'll feel better about yourself if you keep doing it at a minimum. On the days you're running late for work and don't have time to fix breakfast, your meal prep will save the day and it will save your pockets.
Refuse the dining offers from your coworkers and friends and eat out only once or twice a week. After a while, your taste buds will get used to it and you'll find yourself eating at home for weeks at a time.