Good morning! We have a guest post from Jay Mistri he is a freelance finance writer from Massachusetts who runs Tips From Jay, a personal finance blog geared towards frugal living and day to day money saving tips. Instagram and Facebook
In today’s society, unhealthy eating has become incredibly common and integrated itself into our everyday lives. If you ever find yourself perusing the organic section of your local supermarket or shopping at Whole Foods, you’ll find that the healthier foods typically cost more. I mean, what sounds better? A pound of apples or a cheeseburger and fries from Wendy’s for the same price?
First of all, it is important to note that regardless of the cost, healthy eating should be a top priority as it’ll save thousands of dollars in medical bills and save you plenty of physical and emotional pain down the road in life. But if you’re on a budget like me, just know that it’s still possible to eat healthy without breaking the bank. It’ll take a little bit of nutritional knowledge and some self discipline but here’s a few tips that will help you on your journey to a healthier lifestyle.
Identify High Quality, Low Cost Foods
This should come as no surprise, but you’ll find some of the best vitamin rich foods in the produce section, which is where you should go first when you get to the supermarket. Besides the fact that fruits and vegetables are essential components of a healthy diet, shopping for them first will fill up a big portion of your cart or basket and may make you think twice about spending the extra $4 on the family sized bag of chips.
Now some produce can be quite expensive so here’s some of my favorites that I can usually pick up for very cheap:
Bananas – $0.50 per pound
Bell Peppers – $1.50 per pound
Potatoes – $0.79 per pound
Broccoli – $1.86 per pound
Kale – $1.67 per pound
Onions – $0.80 per pound
(These prices are based on the price at my local Stop & Shop. Costs may vary at your local supermarket)
Each of these food items is low in calories and loaded with plenty of essential vitamins. Typically a couple of pounds of each of these will last at least a week for a single person. Personally I buy 3 pounds of bananas, a 5 pound bag of potatoes, and a few crowns of broccoli for under $10 on a regular shopping day.
As for proteins, I like to stick with chicken because it’s lean and inexpensive. The cut doesn’t matter too much to me, I usually get whatever is on sale, although I mostly prefer chicken breast. Usually with meats I buy them in 5 pound packages or heavier because they cost less (per pound) than the smaller portions. Fish is another healthy source of protein but can be quite costly.
For grains and carbohydrates it’s hard to go wrong with brown rice or whole wheat pasta. These are both good sources of complex carbohydrates, which are our everyday supply of energy, and will probably be the cheapest thing on your grocery list (aside from bananas). HOWEVER, it is important to note that white rice is heavily processed and regular pasta is made with highly refined flour. Both of these are simple carbohydrates that serve as very short term energy before being stored as fat and should be avoided.
At this point in your grocery haul your cart should be pretty full with produce, protein, and grains with very little space left for junk food. And the best part? All of this usually costs me less than $20 every week.
Boxed Lunch Instead Of Takeout
There are two reasons why I bring my own lunch to work instead of going out to eat: it’s much cheaper and it’s much healthier. A takeout lunch can cost upwards of $10, which means dining out can cost over $200 every month. Not to mention the food at most chain restaurants is worse for you than you think.
Let’s take Chipotle for example. Sure at a glance the burrito with cheese, chicken, beans and veggies seems healthy but this is a deceptive image. Despite healthy base foods, the meats and beans are loaded with salt and several other preservatives. These alone can make a single burrito over 1000 calories and well over your daily limit for sodium. This surplus of salt can cause bloating by making you retain more water weight and also result in high blood pressure in the long run. On the other hand, making the same burrito or a taco salad at home allows you to control everything that goes into your meal with no hidden health consequences for a fraction of the price.
The Cost Of Snacking
Something I’ve noticed a lot from people who complain about the cost of healthy food is that they’re always filling their shopping cart with unhealthy snacks. Let me ask you this; how much does a pack of Oreos cost? The answer is $2.99, or the same as 2 pounds of apples. In other words, the cost of Oreos (which in my opinion is probably the worst food you can put in your body) is the same as a healthy alternative snack yet I see them or other cookies in shopping carts more than fruit.
Let’s look at another example. Chips and microwave popcorn cost about the same as a bag of unpopped popcorn kernels. Chips and microwave popcorn are filled with saturated and trans fat. Popcorn by itself (or a little salt) is actually a very healthy snack, being high in fiber and low in calories.
These are just two examples of how unhealthy snacks can be replaced with healthy ones for the same cost but the list can go on and on.
Overall, healthy eating is more than possible on a tight budget but it does require some planning and better awareness of our eating habits. Don’t let the price tags at the supermarket scare you away from a healthy lifestyle, they’ll haunt you later in medical bills.