How to Eat Healthy on a Budget

One question I get a lot from clients is, “Isn’t eating healthy expensive?” and I always answer, “It doesn’t have to be.” In the same way that you can pay $25 or $200 a month for a gym membership, you can spend a lot or a little on what you eat. What a lot of people don’t know is that, to a point, the less you spend on food, the healthier your diet will be. Here’s how.

1. Eat At Home – You can have steak and crab legs at home for about the same price a plate of spaghetti marinara will cost you at a decent restaurant. Everybody knows it’s cheaper to eat at home, but its also much healthier. Even if you aren’t making the absolute best diet choices, when you cook at home, you control how much salt, sugar and fat you use, and it will almost always be much less than a restaurant will use. You also control the quality of the ingredients you cook with, and you can be certain that those ingredients aren’t nearing (or already past) their freshness date.

2. Plan Your Meals, Make a List, Stick to It! – This is the biggest key to saving money AND to not bringing home crap you don’t want to be tempted to eat later. Spend some time each week planning your meals and snacks for the days ahead. Then take inventory of what you have on hand. Be thorough when you do this, actually hunting for each ingredient from each recipe. Make a grocery list as you go, writing down only what you need for that weeks’ planned meals and snacks. Finally, take your list to the grocery store and do not stray from it! Whether something is a good deal or you think you’re running low on it, it doesn’t matter – you planned your meals and made your list, so if you needed it, it would already be on there. Leave it for next time. (Chances are, you’ll forget all about it because you didn’t need it anyhow.)

3. Go Vegan – Know what’s cheap? Beans and whole grains. Know what’s expensive? Meat, poultry and fish. Know what’s low in calories? Fruits and vegetables. Know what’s loaded with saturated fat and cholesterol? Cheese. People think I spend a ton of money eating a vegan diet, but the truth is, the expensive stuff is the processed junk I try to avoid anyhow – the “non meats” and cheese substitutes. It turns out that a diet based on whole plant foods is crazy cheap, super nutritious, and it’s┬áthe easiest way to achieve a calorie balance and┬ámaintain my weight.

4. Prioritize Organic – Is organic food healthier? In terms of nutrient content only it is not. However, if you feel, as I do, that not ingesting chemicals designed to kill other living things is healthier, then I do think organic is the way to go. But it can be expensive. My solution is to prioritize what I buy organic according to known chemical levels found in non-organic varieties. There is a handy web site (and even an app!) designed just to tell you what these levels are. The Environmental Working Group has created their “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists to guide penny-wise consumers like me. “Dirty Dozen” foods are those that you should try to always buy organic and “Clean Fifteen” are those you don’t need to worry about, because the regular varieties have hardly any chemicals present at all. Check out their lists here: EWG.org

So, to summarize: By planning meals, making a list, shopping strictly from the list, cooking at home and eating plants that may or may not be organic, you can not only save yourself some cash, but you’ll be getting higher-quality, lower-calorie, nutrient-dense food all the time. Talk about a win-win!

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