Diet Healthfully on a Budget

Diet Healthfully on a Budget

There are a lot of obstacles on your road to eating healthfully — families addicted to junk food, break-room vending machines, the irresistible lure of Sara Lee. But a tight budget doesn’t have to come between you and the low-calorie, healthy food you want to eat. Healthlinerx women share some of the strategies they’ve used to keep their waistlines and their budgets trim.

Think Quantity

Buy in bulk. You can get things like natural peanut and almond butter, cereals (all bran), rice, whole grain pasta, all kinds of stuff. I even buy my spices in bulk — way cheaper, too!

Pick Unprocessed Foods

The less processed a food is, the less expensive it generally will be. A head of lettuce is cheaper than a bag of lettuce. Fresh produce is (usually) cheaper — and definitely healthier — than canned, as long as it is in season.

Find Farm-Fresh Produce

Does your town have a farmers market? Some places have them year-round, and you can get in-season veggies and fruits much cheaper than at the store, since you’re usually buying directly from a farmer. Sometimes you can buy a lot of a particular item if it’s close to the end of prime and freeze it, saving even more than if you had to buy it later on.

Avoid Prepackaging

Avoid processed foods like prepackaged macaroni and cheese. It’s expensive, high in fat and low in nutrients. It might seem cheap because it’s under a dollar a box, but you get very little for your money. Buy your own pasta and add a little tomato sauce.

Try “Damaged” Goods

One trick you might try is to go to your local grocery stores and ask the managers if they have any damaged goods they’d be willing to sell cheaply. A lot of superthrifty penny-pincher types do this. You might be able to pick up some things that are still perfectly safe but that the store doesn’t want to put out on the shelves because they’re not perfect. And if there’s a bakery in your area, ask for day-old bread.

Pack Your Lunch

Brown-bag it. I’ve learned that the so-called “healthier” selections at fast food joints are extremely pricey.

De-Fat Cheap Meats

Some of the cheaper cuts of meat are still good, and there are ways to cook off or skim off the higher fat that many of them contain. Hamburger is much maligned for its fat content, but if you buy medium (not lean), you can save money. If you make burgers, grill or broil them. That way the excess fat falls away. If you make casseroles, brown the meat and skim or drain off the fat first.

Cook with Crock-Pots

Dry beans are cheap, and you can get a one-and-a-half-quart Crock-Pot pretty cheaply, then cook beans in it all day while you’re at work. It probably uses even less electricity than running your stove burner for the long time it takes to cook dried beans. You can make enough for several days in a pot that size, and you can often find older, bigger pots really cheap at garage sales. has lots of tips for using them to make all kinds of food.

Add Your Own Flavor

Buy the less expensive plain yogurt and add your own fruits.

Cook with Dried Beans

Dried beans are great for making soup. You can very inexpensively make a huge pot of split pea soup. If you want it healthier, make it vegetarian. Or rehydrate the beans, cook them, smash them, add seasonings — and you’ll have nonfat refried beans.

Combine Proteins

Canned beans are quite cheap and can boost the protein content of your meal without adding calories from fat. If you are using a limited portion of meat, try combining it with beans or tofu so you have both a meat and a vegetable source of protein. That means using casserole and chili recipes. If you avoid cheeses and sour cream with these meals, you won’t have to deal with the high fat or the higher price sometimes associated with them.

Opt for Oats

Oatmeal is really good. Not the little instant packets, but the kind you cook. It’s filling, it’s high in fiber and it keeps you full for a long time.

Bake Your Own

Instead of shelling out for bread, buy whole wheat flour and some yeast. A five-pound bag of flour makes a LOT of bread for pennies a loaf. You can make the dough at night (flour, yeast, water, salt) and let it sit in the fridge. The next morning, let it warm up to room temperature, and then shape it and bake. Do a bunch at once and freeze the baked loaves. Plus, kneading whole grain dough counts as a workout!

Grow Herbs

In regard to parsley, basil and cilantro, grow them yourself during the summer. You can even grow them in a pot if you live in an apartment. This way, you’ll have fresh herbs for your meals and soups. Be sure to pick the herbs regularly so they continue to grow. Freeze the extra for the winter: Wash it, let it dry, chop it and put it in a labeled plastic container (not a bag) in the freezer. Even if you buy a fresh bunch from the market and see that it’s going to go bad because you didn’t use it, do the same.

Stir-Fry with Egg

When I was living on not enough money, my most common meal was a stir-fry of rice and vegetables with egg. Scramble an egg or two (and don’t worry about buying the expensive ones), chop into small bits and set aside. Cook plain old store-brand bagged rice (brown preferably, but white’s okay). Stir-fry vegetables of your choice (onion, broccoli, carrot, cabbage, etc.) in a little oil, with a little garlic if you can, and then put that and the egg on the rice. It’s pretty filling, and it’s nutritious and cheap.

Easy Tomato Sauce

Canned tomatoes (especially on sale) are relatively inexpensive, and mixed with a can of tomato sauce and some spices can make a nice sauce full of those healthy lycopenes.

Simple Soups

Make your own soup! Soup bones are usually free at the butcher. Long, slowly cooked broths draw out a lot of good nutrients from the bones. They just need a few celery leaves and an onion to round out the flavors. You can skim the fat and add macaroni or dried noodles, or rice and whatever veggies you have on hand.

Tuna Surprise

I like tuna cakes. They make a nice warm sandwich and have lots of protein. I just mix a can of tuna with an egg white, a bit of seasoned bread crumbs and a sprinkle of onion powder. Then I spray a skillet with butter spray and cook about four minutes on each side.

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