A few weeks ago, I came home to an empty fridge. Too tired to go food-shopping, I opened a can of tuna and followed it up with a healthy portion of Goldfish. Later, I realized it was the second time I’d had that very same “meal” that week.
Being a graduate student, I don’t have a ton of time or money to worry about buying food. But still – tuna and Goldfish are far from a balanced meal. So, determined to eat healthier, I got in touch with a nutrition counselor. She gave me some tips to try to eat healthier on a budget.
1. Forget the food pyramid.
You can spend a lot of time experimenting with different diets based on grains or fruits and vegetables. Instead, focus on eating real food. Avoid msg and preservatives. And pay attention to what your body’s craving. You’ll find that if you do so, your diet will full of different colors and textures, because it’s filled with a variety your body is dictating.
2. Eat real food.
I once did a little personal research on how much more I’d spend if I bought organic. I generally spent about $20/week on produce and basic groceries. When I bought all the same items, but organic, I spent more than double.
Still, quality is more important than quantity. You should know where your food comes from, so buy healthier, even if it means buying less. When you can, buy local. This is particularly easy to do during the spring, summer, and fall, because you can buy from farmers’ markets (some of these are even open year-round) or try a CSA.
A lot of fruits – like cranberries and blueberries which are rich in antioxidants – maintain their nutritional value when frozen. Buy now, thaw later.
3. Meat doesn’t have to be your only source of protein.
This doesn’t mean you necessarily have to give up meat. But meat takes a while for your body to process, so it slows you down. Eat meat in small portions. Try eating meat, fish, and poultry just a few times a week.
Work with legumes: you can do almost anything with them and they’re super cheap.
Nuts and organic, cage-free eggs are other good weekday staples.
4. Cook for yourself.
This is a big one. It’s cheaper than eating out and you’ll know what’s going into your body.
Sometimes, after a long day, making a meal can seem like a tiring task. So make it easy on yourself. Do you food shopping on Sundays, before your busy week begins. Cook a large batch that evening that you can package for lunch over the next few days.
Also, stick with simple, fast meals during the week. You can make a delicious, rich salad with tons of great ingredients in less than ten minutes, for example. Try recipes on websites. (My favorite is Epicurious.) They have the time a meal takes to produce, so you can see what’s viable for your schedule.
Listen to your body’s food cravings, think quality not quantity, limit meat intake, and make simple, easy meals for yourself.
Stay tuned next week for … a simple pumpkin pie recipe. Who says you have to be a talented cook to come to a Thanksgiving dinner prepared?