How Can I Eat Clean and Healthy on a Low Budget?

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question-icon-newI have noticed that many of the healthy foods I need to eat are very expensive. I am just starting a new job and I have not started making that much money yet. What are some low budget healthy foods I can eat to make sure I stay on track with my nutrition plan?

answer-icon-newYou’re right. The health food industry has boomed over the last 10 years, and many companies are serving to profit on their product because it boasts that it is healthy. Not only is price a concern, but it’s hard to know what is, actually, healthy.

If you follow some simple guidelines when shopping, your finances won’t suffer one penny (it will even save you money), and your health will improve greatly (which will save you even more money in the long run).

Guideline #1: Eat the majority of your foods straight from the earth. Although a can or frozen entree of prepared dinner may seem like the way to go, it almost never is – in terms of calories, preservatives, other added unnatural ingredients, and cost. However, single-ingredient canned foods can be a healthy, inexpensive way to go – if you read what’s on the label. Here are some great healthful food staples to have on hand that not only fill you up, they’re also very inexpensive. They become even less expensive when found on sale in your grocery store or local farmers market.

Staple Foods For a Healthy Diet

Fresh Foods:

  • Cheaper fruits: Apples, bananas, citrus, whatever is cheap and in season (like strawberries or grapes).
  • Cheaper veggies: Celery, carrots, squash, cucumber, onions, garlic, broccoli, cauliflower, or whatever is in season and cheap.
  • Eggs (for a whole grain muffin egg sandwich for breakfast or lunch).
  • Low-fat or skim milk (to bake with, or to make oatmeal with, or to just have as your beverage).
  • Potatoes (for dicing, spraying with cooking spray, seasoning, then placing in oven to cook, or to make them baked).
  • Tortillas, 100% whole wheat or corn (bake your own tortilla chips with several day old tortillas).

Dry or Canned Foods:

  • Barley (to add starch to any protein for a great meal, or to add to soup since it thickens and ads texture).
  • Bouillon cubes (without MSG), and/or low-sodium chicken broth (generic brand is okay if no MSG).
  • Brown and white rice (cooks best with low-sodium chicken broth).
  • Canned beans (low-sodium is best, often costs more, so just drain and rinse regular beans).
  • Canned black olives (to add flavor to a salad or sautéed chicken or shrimp).
  • Canned nonfat refried beans.
  • Canned tomatoes (crushed and paste, to make spaghetti sauce or chili).
  • Dried beans (great for soups, chili and one-dish meals).
  • Dried lentils (serve with protein, starch and veggie).
  • Dried split peas (for a cheap, nutritious and amazing soup – follow package directions).
  • Hot teas (for breakfast, or for an evening relaxing).
  • Oatmeal (old fashioned, for oatmeal, granola or cookies).
  • Popcorn (not the microwave kind).
  • Powdered milk (put in baked recipes instead of fresh milk, and use with oatmeal).
  • Whole wheat flour (for baking and making pancakes and waffles).
  • Whole wheat pasta.
  • Whole-grain crackers (for snacks, to have with cheese).

Frozen Foods:

  • Frozen vegetables and fruits (to have on hand if you’re out of the fresh stuff).

Oils and Condiments:

  • 100% Canola oil (for baking, mainly).
  • Soy sauce, low sodium (for your stir-fry recipe).
  • Cooking spray.

Guideline #2: Don’t be afraid to splurge on higher priced healthier foods. These foods are more satisfying, higher in nutrients and will fill you up. They’ll also last a long time because you’ll use them in moderation. These include:

  • Butter (yes, butter, for sautéing for a different flavor, and baking)
  • Chicken breasts
  • Cinnamon
  • Fresh fruits and veggies (avocado, tomato, bell peppers, lemons, spinach)
  • Honey (in place of sugar)
  • Lean meat (top round, eye of round, top sirloin)
  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Nuts (almonds and walnuts are cheaper choices depending on time of year)
  • Olive oil
  • Peanut butter and other nut butters (almond butter)
  • Salsa
  • Shrimp (one package goes a long way for one person)
  • Tilapia (same as shrimp)
  • Tofu (for stir-fry, or to use in place of meat)
  • White cheeses (low-fat string cheese, shredded mozzarella, farmer’s cheese)

Guideline #3: Follow a formula for your meals. Use this formula for your dinner, or make your own formula: lean protein + healthy carb + vegetable + salad = great healthy meal. Sauté, bake, BBQ, or broil lean protein (tofu, chicken, fish, lean beef or game, shrimp) in a small amount of butter or olive oil and season to taste, serve with a side of healthy starchy carbs (brown rice, whole wheat pasta, yam, sweet potato) or some fibrous veggies (as in stir fry vegetables or cauliflower, broccoli, mushrooms). You can steam, bake or eat your veggies raw which go great along with a side salad. For dessert (if you must have it), ideas are below.

Sample Daily Menu
Now that you have your ingredients and basic guidelines, here are some examples (to try or use as a formula) for your healthful, low-fat, highly nutritious meals during the day. These recipes are from my book “4 Weeks to Fabulous Challenge“. Checkout my profile page for more details!

Breakfast: Oatmeal made with powdered milk and water, a sprinkle of brown sugar, cinnamon, a handful of nuts, a banana, and a cup of hot tea.Variations: Add a handful of frozen blueberries or strawberries into your oatmeal.

Lunch: Quesadilla: spread one (or two if you’re active) whole wheat tortilla (or two corn tortillas) with ¼ cup nonfat refried beans or black beans, 1/8 cup of mozzarella cheese, and if you have one (and I recommend you should), a ½ cup mashed avocado. Fold in half, if using a flour tortilla. Heat either in a microwave or broil in an oven. Serve with salsa. End with a citrus fruit. You can also make these ahead of time and eat them at room temperature since leftovers make a great lunch, too!

Dinner: Slice a chicken breast into strips. Sauté in 1 tablespoon of olive oil, salt, pepper, and any spices you may want to add. Cook until done. Eat with one cup of brown rice (made with chicken broth), a cup of steamed broccoli, and a small dinner salad. Other options: Do the same recipe structure as chicken, but use scallops, shrimp or baked tilapia. Or, instead have chili (with lean beef), whole grain pasta with tomato sauce, stir-fry using frozen veggies.

Snacks: For healthy, inexpensive snacks, try:

  • 1 low-fat mozzarella stick with 8 whole-grain crackers.
  • Air-popped popcorn, sprinkled lightly with salt.
  • Celery stalks (unlimited) with 2 tablespoons of natural peanut or almond butter.
  • 1 hard-boiled egg and an apple, grapes or citrus fruit (unlimited).

Desserts: For cheaper alternatives for dessert, try:

  • 1 cup sugar-free gelatin (Jell-O).
  • 1 cup sugar-free cider or diet hot chocolate.
  • ½ cup fat-free frozen vanilla yogurt with fresh fruit.
  • Fresh berries with low-fat yogurt.
  • 1 small piece of candy.
  • 1 single serving of unsweetened apple sauce.

This menu format is meant to be very satisfying and also good for you. Quality of food is incredibly important because it will fill you up longer, and be better for you. Be sure foods are mostly natural, low in refined sugars, starches, trans-fats, cholesterol, sodium, and high in soluble and insoluble fiber, and high in nutrients, minerals, and phytochemicals.

Don’t succumb to the inexpensive “ramen noodle” world of thinking! Eating healthy does not mean eating expensively, or omitting flavor. Good luck and healthy eating to you!

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