It is widely believed in western countries that it is cheaper to buy junk food than it is to buy healthier options. Certainly, the price of fruits, vegetables and lean meats can be very high, but there are ways to ensure that you eat healthy when you are on a tight budget. You just need to put some effort into planning ahead rather than waiting until the last minute and eating something pre-made or out of a packet. Follow these tips for eating healthy when money is tight.
Plan meals at least a week in advance
If you want to save money on grocery products, you need to plan your meals in advance – at least a week in advance. Then you can write a detailed shopping list before doing your grocery shop and ensure that you only buy the food that you need. If you stick to similar menus every week, you can also do some research and work out where to buy the cheapest products; for example, fruit and vegetables may be much cheaper at one supermarket, whereas meat may be cheaper at another. If you are a regular meat eater, try to introduce at least one day a week when you eat a vegetarian alternative. Meat is often the most expensive part of a dish, but meals can be just as tasty without.
Go for the right type of convenience foods
Buying fruit and vegetables can work out very expensive if you end up buying too much and it goes to waste, or you don’t have enough and have to go to a more expensive local shop for extra. One way around this is to opt for frozen versions. There is a wide range of frozen vegetables in particular, and because they are frozen soon after picking, they can be just as tasty, and possibly more nutritious, than the fresh version. There are also many foods that you can buy tinned – tomatoes and fruit like grapefruit and pineapple are great to have in the store cupboard. Just remember to check the label for salt and sugar content and buy the lowest versions possible.
Experiment with different recipes
When money is tight, you may be tempted to stick to the same three or four meals that you can cook well and that you know can be prepared cheaply. However, with a little bit of experimentation and the help of a couple of good cookery books, you should be able to vary your meals enough that you don’t get bored of them. You can also ask friends and family for ideas. Even simple dishes like casseroles can be different just by adding slightly different ingredients. If you do become bored, there will be more temptation to go for a greasy takeaway or to prepare something unhealthy.
Cook from scratch and in bulk
Many people are tempted to buy pre-made sauces for their food, such as a jar of bolognaise sauce, or white sauce for a lasagna. However, it is cheaper to prepare your own sauces; the fact that you know exactly what goes into them is an plus. Then when you do make a meal, you are not confined to the amount of sauce that the jar provides. Cooking in bulk is a great way of ensuring that you have plenty of healthy meals to hand. You can freeze the extra portions and then defrost them when you just don’t feel like cooking. If you usually eat sandwiches for lunch at work, you can save a lot of money by making up a large batch and freezing them. Just don’t be tempted to add in lettuce and other items that don’t freeze well.
Stretch meals with cheaper ingredients
When cooking from scratch, you can often eke out meals by adding in more of those ingredients that are cheapest. When making tomato-based meals, for instance, an extra tin or two of tomatoes will provide a couple of extra portions without compromising the taste. Adding beans or a dried soup mix to casseroles can provide plenty of extra bulk and roughage for a very small amount of money. When it comes to cooking meat-based dishes, look for cheaper cuts of meat and cook them for longer – it is worth investing in a crockpot or slow cooker for that very purpose. You can throw all the ingredients in and let them cook all day if necessary.
Grow your own fruit and vegetables
Even if you aren’t particularly green-fingered, you can easily grow certain types of fruit and vegetables, such as strawberries, onions and tomatoes. Onions and tomatoes in particular are the base for many dishes and, even better, you don’t need to eat them straight away. Onions can be peeled, chopped and frozen and tomatoes can easily be made up into portions of tomato sauce, that can then be frozen or jarred. Most fruits can also be frozen so that you have a never-ending supply, even during the winter months. The satisfaction of eating your own home-grown food is hard to match – and the money you save will be a bonus.
You don’t have to compromise a healthy eating plan just because you are on a strict budget. Following the above tips should enable you to both cut costs and eat healthily.