So, you kinda want to start eating healthier. And you sorta have an idea about what dishes you should include in your diet. But aren’t all of those high-protein products and superfoods just so expensive?
As we all know, crucial for a healthy lifestyle are not only exercise but a healthy diet, too. Unfortunately, some people feel that it is too difficult, complicated and time consuming to make healthy choices. On top of that, it seems that often healthy options that are also convenient are quite a bit more expensive than sugary, processed foods.
I’m here to tell you that it is actually a lot more simple than you may think.
And that you CAN totally do it.
Keep reading to learn about my top four strategies to stick to a healthy diet, even on a budget, and not get overwhelmed by it.
Cook at home
Many of you have probably gotten more used to cooking from home, since restaurants closed down during lockdowns in most countries. Maybe you’ve even discovered that you enjoy creating your own meals!
No need to give up this habit (completely) after all this is over. In fact, cooking your meals at home is one of the best ways to make your meals healthier and still very tasty on a budget.
And it doesn’t have to be complicated!
Get comfortable with a few simple, versatile dishes that you can fall back on. I personally like to cook, but during a busy week I’ll usually stick to my quick and easy go-to recipes like stir-fries, soups and oven dishes (which take a little longer, but that’s mostly passive time once you’ve assembled the ingredients), or simply get leftovers from homemade dishes from the freezer.
I always make sure to include a variety of vegetables, some protein and some (preferably fibre-rich) carbs. It is important to also include some healthy fats in the form of, for instance, olive oil, nuts or seeds, which I usually do automatically for cooking my foods or for adding flavour.
Find out what type of dishes you like and are feasible to make from scratch. Once you’ve gotten into the habit, it becomes easier and easier and you’ll be able to enjoy your favourite meals anytime and at a very low cost!
Make your own herb and spice mixes
While your at it, don’t forget to ad flavour to your food so you enjoy your healthy meals even more. If you already cook at home regularly, you’ve probably gotten used to adding sauces, pastes or pre-prepared spice mixes to your dishes.
Adding these types of seasoning can certainly be a great way to make eating certain foods, like vegetables, more enjoyable to eat.
Unfortunately, not only do they tend to cost more than they should, they usually contain a ton of added salt, sugar and preservatives, which you should try to minimize in your diet. Nowadays, you can also find unsalted spice mixes in mosts supermarket, but these tend to be more expensive than their salted counterparts.
For a few years, I have tried to recreate flavour combination with individual dried herbs and spices. You can buy these in bulk (for instance at Asian or Turkish shops, a (farmers’) market or online) and mix them together beforehand, or add them seperately to each dish.
You can still add salt to your dish to enhance the flavour, but it will probably be a lot less than what you would get in prepackaged spice mixes. I recommend using either seasalt (with added iodine) or pink Himalayan salt. These contain more minerals then regular table salt.
Tip: look at the ingredient list of seasonings that you enjoy. This gives you an idea of combinations that work well together, which you can then use to make your own seasoning. Alternatively, you can find many recipes online.
If you’d like me to share my favourite combinations/recipes, comment below!
Buy in bulk
Another advantage of cooking at home regularly, is that you can buy in bulk more easily, which can save you a lot of money and trips to the grocery store. Like I mentioned, you can easily buy dried herbs and spices and store them for a long time. For other ingredients, buying in bulk pays off, too. As long as you actually consume everything, of course.
Whereas you can stock up on dried foods such as pasta, rice and oatmeal, which you can store for a long time, you need to be more careful with buying large quantities of fresh fruits, vegetables and meat. This requires some meal planning (not necessarily prepping) on your part, so that you have an idea of how much food you consume in a given week, for instance.
Meats and fish
When it comes to meat and fish, a great option is to buy them frozen, or buy in bulk, portion them out and then freeze them immediately. For instance, I precut chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces, divide them into one or two-person portions and then freeze them. This is super convenient, since I can simply take out individual portions out of the freezer and cook them with some veggies and carbs for a quick weeknight dinner. you can preserve frozen meats and fish for several months.
As for vegetables, I usually choose a variety of (preferably local and seasonal) ones that I like in different colours. You can cut these up yourself and combine them to make a delicious stir-fry, pasta dish, side of grilled, mixed veggies, you name it.
Try to eat vegetables that spoil easily, like leafy greans, a little earlier in the week, as opposed to vegetables that tend to last longer. Another great option is to buy frozen vegetables (which are just as healthy), so that you can eat fresh produce in the beginning of the week and frozen ones at the end. Or, you could shop for vegetables twice a week to prevent spoilage and food waste.
You can keep flavourful vegetables, such as onions and garlic, for a few weeks in a cool and dry place and use them anytime you want to enhance the flavour of your dish and provide extra nutrients. Some vegetables you can cut up and freeze for several months if you aren’t able to consume them before spoilage. Freeze your vegetables as soon as possible when you know you will not be eating them, and don’t wait until they are already starting to spoil.
Nowadays, many precut vegetable mixes are sold in supermarkets. While convenient, I recommend you use these only occasionally, since on top of costing more (for essentially the same product), nutritional values may decrease quicker for precut vegetables, and they are usually packaged in plastic.
However, sometimes you just cannot get around it. And adding a precut veggie mix to your dish is definitely better than eating no vegetables at all and it does prevent food waste if you know you won’t be able to eat the rest of the food, which is very important.
Bonus tip: don’t be afraid of buying fruits and vegetables that look a little less pretty. These are usually less popular because of their size or appearance, but their quality is just as good (sometimes even better). You can buy less perfect-looking foods in more and more supermarkets or find them elsewhere (online, at farmers’ markets). I love this video by The Financial Diet for suggestions: See TFD’s video on groceries
If you struggle with planning meals ahead of time, I’ll share with you my own strategy on how to do this soon.
Batch cook for leftovers (or meal prep)
Now that you’ve bought a bunch of vegetables, herbs, and other ingredients for some of your favourite dishes, you could mix them up in different ways each time to create many seperate dishes throughout the week.
Cook a large batch of your favourite dish, which can be very convenient too. You can eat one portion when freshly made, preserve some for later in the week and freeze the rest portioned out for the next few weeks.
This way, you don’t have to cook every single day (because let’s face it, we’re all busy sometimes and even if you like to cook, sometimes you’re just not feeling it). Some dishes I find very suitable to cook in large batches and refrigerate or freeze for later are pasta sauces, rice dishes (nasi), chilis and soups.
If you’re already comfortable with meal planning, you could also try out meal prep. This means you execute certain stages of the cooking process beforehand, like chopping and cooking certain ingredients, or preparing the entire meal. This saves you time on the day itself, but might mean you’re eating something very similar a few days in a row.
Find out something that works for you, whether that is prepping your entire week of food (breakfast, lunch and dinner), a few meals a week, simply preparing the base of the dish which you can later customize with different ingredients or cook dishes you were going to make anyways in a larger batch.
Batch cooking allows you to buy in bulk, saving you money, and provides a delicious and nutritious alternative to ordering in when you’re feeling lazy, saving you even more money. Because who really needs an overpriced pizza when you have a yummy leftover bolognese sauce in the freezer. Cook some pasta with it, add some shredded cheese and voilà, you’ve got yourself the ultimate comfort dish in way less time than it takes your food to be ordered, prepared and delivered!
Don’t go grocery shopping without a list! A well established grocery list helps you make healthy choices in the supermarket (since you’ve essentially already made the choice) and gives you some guidance.
A grocery list is key, especially when you’re cooking at home so that you can create your favourite dishes just the way you like them. Carefully thinking about your list also helps you prevent food waste, since you take into account the batch cooking you’ve already done.
If you have trouble establishing your grocery list, especially if you’re doing groceries only once a week, check out this post.
Hopefully these tips inspire you, and eating healthy on a budget seems a little more feasible now.
What strategies do you like to use to stay on track with your food? Let me know!
Until next time,