One of the most common misconceptions about eating a nutritious diet is that it’s too expensive.  The reality is that, with some pre-planning and a little more of your time, eating healthfully can be very affordable.

Probably the most important step you can take to improve your diet while helping your budget is to cut back on meat.  The evidence is now abundant that a plant-based diet is better for you, resulting in a reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other chronic illnesses and helping you live longer.  You’ll  find that by substituting plant-based proteins for meats, your meals can cost a lot less.  Even if you’re not ready to do it every day, consider building some of your menus around the following staples:

  • Beans, peas and lentils – these can be used in burgers, chilis, casseroles, tacos, burritos or wraps, salads, curries and soups.
  • Quinoa – this seed is one of the few plant-based foods that is a complete protein, providing all 9 essential amino acids.  It’s versatile enough to be eaten for breakfast, in baked goods or in meals such as pilafs, salads, casseroles, power bowls and soups.
  • Whole grains – while processed grains have had much of their nutritional value removed, whole grains keep their highly nutritious brand and germ.  Swap in brown rice for white, whole grain pastas and breads, oatmeal instead of packaged cereals and other whole grains like barley and millet.
  • Tofu, tempeh and other healthful alternatives are also budget friendly.

Buy foods in bulk – in addition to reducing waste by using less packaging, you’ll find that you can save a lot on oatmeal, whole grain flours, rice, peas, beans, nuts, seeds and organic popcorn.

Shop the perimeter of the store – the middle aisles tend to have the processed and pre-packaged foods, sweets and snack foods.  Make sure you’re buying fresh fruits, vegetables and whole foods that don’t have a long list of ingredients – especially chemicals and additives.  Be adventurous and consider baking your own breads and muffins using whole grains, nut and berries instead of the packaged products.

Buy on sale – every week the supermarkets put out circulars online and by mail that advertise their sale items.  Find your local Sprouts, Trader Joe’s or other farmer’s markets and get a membership to a store like Costco where you can save a bundle on items like fresh organic spinach or frozen organic blueberries and broccoli or organic quinoa and chia seeds.

Cook more and eat out less – take some time to plan meals before heading out to the grocery store so that you buy what you need instead of impulse items.  Making the time to cook meals from scratch will not only save you money, it will be much better for your health.  If you have more time on the weekends, cook larger portions that can be frozen and used later in the week, or take the time to prep and pre-chop fruits and vegetables instead of wasting money on the pre-cut ones from the store.  Have fun trying out new recipes and involve the whole family in preparing meals.

Start a garden – depending on the size of your yard, set aside some space for growing one or two (or more) of your favorite vegetables.  You’ll save money as well as reaping the full nutritional benefits of eating freshly picked produce that you grew organically.  If you don’t have a yard, consider a container garden or seek out a community garden.

As with anything else in life that’s worth doing, it may take a little more of your time and effort to improve your diet while maintaining a budget.  What you’ll find is that the payoff is more than worth it and before long you will have established a routine and a much healthier lifestyle.

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