Tips To Healthy Eating On A Budget

June 10th, 2018 4 min read

Last Updated: August 12th, 2018

Tips To Healthy Eating On A Budget

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If only your waist could be as skinny as your wallet! If your belt-tightening is not just a necessity but a weight-loss goal, these may be challenging days for you.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), food costs increased 5.5 percent in 2008 and are likely to increase another 3 to 4 percent in 2009. The cost of eating out also increased about 4 percent in the past year. But, despite these statistics, it is still possible to stick to a healthy diet without busting the bank.

Calorie Counting on a Budget: Shopping Guidelines

Fortunately, there are smart ways to overcome the current costs for food. Here are some general guidelines for healthy food shopping when counting calories and pennies:

  • Buy whole foods. The more preparation that has gone into a food, the more it will cost. For example, a head of lettuce, whether it’s romaine or iceberg, costs less than bagged salad. The same applies to meats — buying and roasting your own turkey breast is usually a fraction of the per-pound cost of sliced turkey at the deli counter.
  • Cook more of your own meals. Cooking at home is easier on your budget than eating out or buying meals precooked and gives you total calorie counting control.
  • Buy in bulk. Put your freezer to good use; large bags of frozen vegetables and fruits can save you money over fresh produce. Apply the same strategy to bulk meats, especially when they are on sale.
  • Buy in season. Buying fruits and veggies in season is always easier on your budget.
  • Try dishes with beans and rice. Both beans and rice are budget-friendly, especially when bought in bulk, and can add fiber, nutrients, and texture to any meal. They can be a healthy, low-fat meal on their own, as well.
  • Watch the sales. If you’re wondering where to shop, keep an eye on sales announcements. You can find deals at almost any store.

Related: Here Are 16 Ways To Lose Weight Fast

Calorie-Counting on a Budget: Stretching Your Dollar

Donna Weihofen, RD, MS, a nutritionist at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison, recently did some comparison shopping in her local area stores to find out which foods offered the best calorie counting and cost bargains. Her results reflect the budget diet recommendations created by national groups such as the USDA.

Related: 42 Fast And Easy Tips To Lose Weight

“Of course the lowest-cost proteins are dried beans and eggs,” says Weihofen. “Then the next step up is canned beans, milk, and whole chicken. And the next step up was chicken thigh, then chicken breast, then deli chicken. Chicken is really a bargain, but the deli chicken was out of sight compared to the rotisserie chicken.”

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Related: Studies Suggest Freezing Hunger Signals Might Be Useful For Weight Loss

Weihofen recommends taking advantage of the opportunities a whole chicken (rotisserie or baked at home) presents. Use the leftover meat in a chili, stew, or soup later in the week. And of course, the bones can be used to make stock for another soup later as well.

Weihofen also found that whole baking potatoes present a cost-saving opportunity, as does buying frozen vegetables. “Frozen red peppers are cheaper than buying the fresh peppers, for example. If you just weigh that stuff out, you’ll see what the difference is,” she says. Another trick for cost saving is to think in terms of versatility and multiple meals, especially if using bulk ingredients: A bean chili today might become the filling for a taco or wrap tomorrow.

Calorie Counting on a Budget: Putting Together Low-Cost Meals

If you are sticking to a specific diet plan, you may wonder how to make all this work — calorie counting, tracking carbs and fat grams while stretching every dollar. Just apply what you know about portion sizes and calorie counts to low-cost foods. Here are some ideas for specific diet plans:

  • Low-carb diet. For a low-carb) meal, serve baked chicken (from your whole chicken) and mixed frozen vegetables, or a crustless quiche made with budget-friendly eggs.
  • Low-fat diet. Chicken and bean chili with a baked potato and lots of frozen veggies followed with a seasonal fruit for dessert makes a tasty low-fat meal.
  • Low-calorie diet. One cup of mixed bean chili with a cup of cooked frozen veggies served over one-half cup of rice provides a filling 450-calorie meal.

Related: What Happens When You Consume Less Than 1000 Calories A Day?

Dieting on a budget takes creativity, especially when some of the best low-calorie foods, like fresh fish and berries, are expensive. But, with smart shopping and a willingness to experiment with new foods and flavors, calorie counting on a budget is not only doable, but can be fun, too.

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