Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Eat...better on a budget

Want cheap healthy food? Grow your own!

After my appearance this morning on CBC Radio One's Early Edition, I thought I would do a follow up post with some easy ways to truly eat well on a limited budget. With so many people either out of work or working at lower paying jobs than they used to before the recession it is important that we not equate eating cheap with eating badly. When I was doing my internship in Edmonton to become a dietitian (completely unpaid!) my husband had to support two households: a mortgage AND rent, 2 sets of utilities and flights to come home so we could see each other. Budget eating was imperative: I ate a LOT of rice and beans. When we are stressed and busy, a trip through the drive thru might seem easier than cooking from scratch. But when we are under stress, we need good food even more to help our bodies cope and defend against the damage stress can inflict. It can be are 5 ways to eat well on the cheap. 

1. Buy staples in bulk. Stock up when items you use all the time are on sale and buy staples in bulk or warehouse size packs. The important thing here is not to buy everything supersized. If you buy a warehouse pack of chicken and you are cooking for one, you will likely bid at least half of that adieu. If you can't use the package before it goes bad you are wasting money, not saving. Good things to buy in bulk are frozen veggies, whole grains like brown rice or quinoa and dried beans. If you have a family, you can probably use up staples like cereal, soups, cheese, olive oil and trail mix pretty quickly too.

2. Trade convenience for cost savings. The more processed (value added, in grocery speak) a food is the more it costs. Whole wheat pasta is about 25 cents a serving; a seasoned and sauced "side dish" style pasta is usually 2 or 3 times that. Pre-shredded cheese costs more than brick cheese and individual yogurts cost more per serving than a family sized tub. "Prewashed" salads cost tons more than a head of lettuce or bunch of spinach. Take 30 seconds to scoop out yogurt into tupperware for lunches and get a family member shredding cheese for you. I hate shredding cheese for some reason. I make my husband do it.

3. Think veggie. Vegetarian proteins are incredibly healthy and way less expensive than animal proteins. Crumble up extra firm tofu in chili or burritos. Bulk up vegetable soups with beans or extend lean ground beef with lentils in your favourite recipes. To save even more (and keep extra sodium at bay), cook beans from scratch instead of buying canned. The trick here is to think ahead. Soak beans overnight and then cook them in the evening while you are watching TV or doing other chores. Then you have a batch in the fridge ready to go when it comes time to make a quick meal.

4. Plan to succeed. When everyone arrives home tired, it can be tricky to figure out what to cook and all too easy to go to MacDohs. Pour yourself a cup of coffee tonight and think of 10 super quick meal ideas, like spaghetti, chili or grilled cheese and spinach salad and post it on the fridge. Make sure you keep your kitchen stocked so you always have the ingredients for your go to meals. Next time you are at a loss for the age old question "what's for dinner?", you can just go to your fridge and get cooking. Wash and prep veggies when you get home from grocery shopping so they are ready to go for snacks and meals. Make lunches the night before so you aren't scrambling come morning. 

5. Rethink snack food. While chips, pop and candy seem like inexpensive options the costs really do add up. Instead of spending $5 on pop a week for your kids, use the cash to buy 100% juice instead. Does your family go through a couple of bags of chips a week? Take that $5 and use it for some healthy unsalted nuts to add to lunches. What to snack on instead? Popcorn! Making popcorn from scratch on the stove takes the same amount of time as putting it in the microwave and is just pennies a serving, even with a bit of butter and salt added to it. Not to mention how much healthier it is.

I would love to hear your favourite money saving tips for eating well....

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