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Pay Now or Pay Later – Eating Healthy On A Budget

paynowBy Jacquie Eubanks BSN, RN

Here’s the truth.  Eating healthy does not have to break the bank.  However, medical bills brought on by a diet devoid of nutrition may.  When it comes to food choices, there are many options for healthy and wholesome foods.  Processed foods, packaged for convenience, are not always the least expensive items in the grocery store.  The fact that many are detrimental to your health, may make them the most expensive of all.  The standard American diet is calorie dense but lacking in nutrition, resulting in the majority of Americans being overweight and undernourished.  Here are some economical ways to make a difference in your diet and your health:

  • Prioritize healthy eating.  If you feel you can’t afford to buy healthy foods, some decisions will have to be made how you choose to spend your money.  Make a budget if you don’t have one and see where you may have money to spend on nurturing your health.  You can buy that giant popcorn and soda at the movie theater or you can spend that money on dried fruits and nuts that you can bring with you.  You may find there’s more money in your food budget for healthy eating than you realized. 
  • Be a hunter gatherer.  We often think of food shopping as a chore and run through the store mindlessly tossing items into our carts.  Try to make the time to shop mindfully.  Choose foods without labels and buy bulk when possible.  Stock up on sale items and take advantage of deals.  Less expensive store brands that save money on packaging are just as nutritious as advertised brands. 
  • Whole foods are the most nutrient dense foods in the grocery store.  Most can be found in the produce isle.  Buy produce without packages and buy seasonally when fruits and vegetables are fresh, abundant and less expensive.  The healthiest foods are often found in the perimeter of the store.  Avoid the middle aisles where expensive packaged and processed food items are generally located. 
  • Save time and money by preparing larger portions, then dividing and freezing for use later in the week.  It’s cost effective, healthy and time saving too. This works especially well for those time crunched evenings when you really don’t have time to prepare a meal and may be tempted to pull into the fast food drive through or call in for a pizza delivery.
  • Souper Size.  Hearty soups made from beans and vegetables and served with whole grains are not only satisfying but are packed with nutrients.  A big pot of soup is easy to prepare, inexpensive to make and can be frozen in serving size containers to enjoy for lunch or later in the week. 
  • Drink water.   Sugary drinks are not only expensive, they negatively impact your health.  Nature provides us with the water our bodies need for healthy function.  In most areas, tap water is fine or you can purchase a water filter, which is less expensive and easier on the environment than bottled water.
  • Go meatless several nights a week.  Beans, legumes and whole grains are low in fat,  economical and when eaten in combination, are packed with complex carbohydrates, protein, fiber, amino acids, vitamins and minerals.  Beans are a good source of soluble fiber which helps lower cholesterol and keeps blood sugar balanced. 
  • Prepare you own food.  Cooking and preparing your meals at home gives you total control over the ingredients and your budget.  Buying lunch out every day is expensive and you may not make the healthiest choices.  We live in a society that has gotten used to take-out foods and prepared processed foods.  Eating out has become a standard rather than a special occasion.  Getting back to basic at home cooking is healthy and cost effective. 
  • Buy locally whenever possible.  Take advantage of local growers and farmer’s markets where you will find the freshest food available.  Food that is grown locally may be a little more expensive than the grocery store offerings but will be packed with valuable nutrition.  You may also find some items that you typically won’t find at the grocers.  Be adventurous.  Variety is the spice of healthy eating and vendors can explain how to use or cook unfamiliar foods. 
  • Plan ahead.  Basic meal planning and a shopping list of ingredients saves both time and money and limits impulse purchases.  Stock up on nutritious easy to prepare items such as whole grains, whole wheat pastas and beans that can be paired with other fresh foods.  Prepare stews and casseroles with less expensive cuts of meat.  Remember that slow cooker collecting dust in the cabinet?  Get it out and use it!  Many delicious, inexpensive meals can be prepared ahead of time so you can enjoy a hot, home cooked dinner that you can feel good about eating and serving to your family.  
  • Supplement.   Multivitamins and minerals can fill in nutritional gaps especially if you are not eating enough fresh fruits and vegetables.  Be sure to include health promoting omega-3 essential fatty acids for cardiovascular health and healthy inflammatory responses.

So, yes, you can save money and still eat quality foods.  All you need is a little bit of time, some planning and organization, and the desire for a healthy lifetime.  Remember, you are in control. Make the decision to eat healthy, regardless of your budget.  If we choose consciously and value our health above all, nature’s bounty will provide nourishment for a lifetime.    

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