12 tips for eating healthy on a lean budget

A little planning and creativity will help you maintain a balanced diet – and a balanced budget.

LifeSynch, a Humana subsidiary, offers extensive health behavior resources, including behavioral healthcare, employee assistance program (EAP)/work-life services, behavioral pharmacy services, health coaches and Web-based wellness tools. As part of their commitment to change health behaviors and improve lives, LifeSynch’s health coaches will be contributing a series of articles that demonstrate how easy it can be to make a healthy change.

Eating healthy and staying on a budget is difficult even before you throw in a crazy schedule that we all seem to keep. The following suggestions might make it easier for you to maintain a balanced diet and a balanced budget.

  1. Buying from bulk bins can be a cost-effective way to go. It wastes less food and packaging than prepackaged products. It is also a great way to try new things. For instance, buy a cup of grain that you have wanted to try. If you find you are not a fan of it, you will not have wasted food or money on a whole bag.
  2. If a recipe calls for 1 pound of meat, try only using ¾ of a pound and add rice, diced mushrooms, peppers, or almost any vegetable you have on hand. It will be healthier and cheaper.
  3. Making your own bread is not as difficult as it sounds or looks. Flours, a little oil and sugar, and yeast are virtually all you need for homemade bread. Baking your own is cheaper and can be healthier.
  4. Have a small amount of leftovers from last night’s dinner? Don’t throw them out. Even a small amount of diced meat or vegetables will work well when mixed with eggs to create a quiche or frittata, which make simple, filling and inexpensive meals.
  5. Use more dry beans. Think it’s too much trouble and time-consuming? Dry beans need to be rinsed and soaked in water overnight, but that only takes a few minutes to set up. If you don’t have time to simmer them for a couple of hours the next day, put them in the crock pot to cook for the day. Since beans freeze really well, consider making a huge pot and freezing half to use another day.
  6. Only buy enough fruits and vegetables for one week. Food waste is a big issue in the United States. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the average American throws away several pounds of food – and a lot of money – each month.
  7. Plan ahead. If you don’t plan for the week then you will be constantly running to the store for one more thing to complete a meal or will decide it’s too much trouble, you don’t have time or are too tired and wind up going to a restaurant, which is usually not the most cost-effective or healthy choice. Make a grocery list for the week, go to the store, and prep as much as you can on the weekend.
  8. Don’t throw away “scraps.” Have part of an onion and broccoli stalk left from a meal? These two ingredients are important in many soups. Multiple websites offer a variety of ways to use these and other ingredients to make delicious, cheap and filling soups.
  9. Keep your grains and dry beans in clear glass jars. This will inspire you to actually use them!
  10. When your frozen vegetables start getting a little frosty, it is time to use ‘em or lose ‘em. A couple of times of year have a pantry and freezer cleanout week. Purchase the bare minimum from the store that week and force yourself to get creative with things that need to be used. Even if you save only a few dollars each time you do this, it will add up over time. Do you have some frozen vegetables that are getting a little frosty? Don’t throw them out. Eat them with a frozen pizzza or toss them into soup.
  11. Make smoothies. If you have fruit that is close to becoming overripe, don’t toss it in the trash – toss it in a blender with milk, yogurt, almond or soy milk or juice. It’s quick, easy and delicious.
  12. Fresh herbs can make a big difference in many recipes and may even be required to make it taste just right. But they can also be expensive – unless you grow your own. If you have extra, whether you grew them or bought them, chop up whatever you don’t use immediately, place in ice trays, pour water over the top, and freeze. These can be used in soups and stews.

Do you already incorporate some of these suggestions into your regular routine? Or do you have others that work? If so, share them with others in the comment section below.

Lacey-pic-webLacey Starkey, a learning facilitator and personal health coach/mentor at LifeSynch, a subsidiary of Humana, has a bachelor’s degree in wellness science and a master’s degree in health education. She is also a certified personal trainer and group exercise instructor. In her spare time, she enjoys being outdoors, exercising and staying active in her local community garden.