Eating Healthy On A Budget: Healthy Nutrition For Healthier Moods Part 2

In a previous article, (Read Part 1: The Happy Salad) I wrote about how eating healthfully helped my emotional stability and listed some ways that helped me lose weight and feel better. One common argument against eating healthy is that it is too expensive. Many people with bipolar disorder (as well as a lot of the world) deal with unemployment issues and/or are on fixed incomes. There is a myth that you can’t eat well without spending a fortune. I’d like to give a few tips that I have found to help me stay within a tight budget and still eat better. 

1) Plan your meals. Yes, we are all extremely busy, but if you don’t take a few minutes to plan out what you will be eating, there is no telling what you will end up putting in your mouth. Make a commitment to choose healthy foods by deciding ahead of time what you will eat and it is more likely that you will follow through. I like Pinterest for ideas – search “healthy meals” or “healthy low calorie meals” or some similar variation for great ideas and inspiration. Also check out your local supermarket ads – base your meals around what is on sale. In part of your planning, make sure you think about what you will make, when, and how much. There are great crockpot meals that take little effort and are very healthy and cheap and make many servings. Plan to make enough to have leftovers to eat for lunches and to have on hand when you don’t have time to cook a full meal. Plan meals that are quick and easy for busier days and more complex meals for days when you have more time to spend in the kitchen. 

2) Make a grocery list and stick to it. Making a grocery list is part of the planning process. And it is really important to not buy impulsively. Food marketers are paid to make packaging look appealing; food screams, “Buy me and eat me!” Don’t listen to them! You don’t NEED that bag of cookies! Buy only what is on your list. It will save you money AND you will be keeping to a healthier diet.

3) Eat at home. Believe it or not, it is cheaper to cook at home than it is to buy from the fast food Dollar Menu – and a LOT healthier. For example, a ¼ cup serving of brown rice (dry) is $0.18 (a 1lb bag, which is about 10 servings is about $1.75); a ¼ cup serving of lentils (dry) is less than $0.10 ($1.19 at my local grocery store for a 16oz bag which is about 13 servings); 4 cups of fresh spinach is $0.66 – that’s a huge portion! Cans of beans/vegetables are around $0.90 or less and serve 2-4, and bags of frozen veggies are around $2.00 and serve 4 or so. So, you could make a lentil stew with rice and spinach, which is full of protein and naturally occurring vitamins, low in fat and low in calories, that serves 6 people for about $6.00 TOTAL (which could include leftovers if there are fewer than 6 in your family). That is $1 per PERSON/MEAL! Or you can have a junior burger, small french fries and small soda for $3 plus tax per person. Filling and full of nutritious goodness for less OR greasy, heavy, fattening (and often not very filling) for more? Easy decision for me.

4) Buy smart.

  • Buy fresh fruits and veggies in season – they are much cheaper then. Here is a vegetable seasonality chart. And this one is for fruits and nuts.
  • When they aren’t in season, buying frozen is still great. And canned is ok, as long as you get fruits and veggies canned in water or fruit juices – syrup and oil are very bad for you. When buying frozen or canned, choose generic. The quality is usually just as good (sometimes better), but the price is a lot more reasonable. (This is usually because generics don’t have marketing budgets, which saves them a bundle.)
  • Buy cheaper cuts of meat, or better yet make a few meals a week meatless.
  • Buy in bulk, but only if you will actually use it. Bigger quantities are generally cheaper per pound, but if it will go to waste, better not spend more to “save more.”
  • Avoid buying convenience packaged items. Buy a canister of old fashioned rolled oats instead of individual packets of instant oatmeal, for example. Buy the bag or box of raisins instead of the individual sized boxes. You can create portioned goodie bags using snack sized baggies or little reusable containers once you get home.
  • Shop at farmer’s markets. You can get great deals on fresh foods, especially fruits and veggies, plus you’d be supporting your neighborhood farmers!
  • Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program – these are local farms that share produce with neighbors for extremely reasonable prices.
  • Shop at ethnic markets. These often have unique items at reduced prices. Great for keeping a variety of tastes on the table, too!
  • Buy from cheaper, online retailers. But beware of shipping charges. These aren’t usually recommended for fresh foods, but it depends who and what. Investigate before you buy.

5) Make less expensive healthy foods a bigger part of your diet. These include things like eggs, beans, seeds, frozen fruits and vegetables, in season fruits and vegetables, cheaper cuts of meat, and whole grains. Carrots, watermelon, bananas, cantaloupe, and oats are all good choices. Also try using more spices to shake up your flavors. An exciting meal is better than a bland diet, and spices are not expensive and last a while. Try turmeric, cumin, curry, and/or garlic, or for something sweeter, try nutmeg, and/or cinnamon. (I suggest using other spices instead of salt or at least keeping salt to a minimum.) Also try cooking with onions and other flavorful vegetables. Fresh fruit and cinnamon in a warm bowl of old fashioned oats is a cheap and delicious healthy breakfast.

6) Choose wisely. Avoid nutrient deficient foods, like iceberg lettuce, which is basically fibrous water, and choose nutrient dense foods like spinach. Brown rice has much more nutritional value than white rice. Select whole grain/multigrain pastas and breads over of highly processed white pastas and white breads. Use olive oil (a healthy fat) instead of canola or other vegetable oil. Both white potatoes and sweet potatoes, which give you a big bang for your buck, are good for you – it’s the way you cook them that makes them unhealthy. Baked or steamed with fresh herbs and spices, not butter and never fried, is the way to go here. Peanut butter is fairly reasonably priced and has a good amount of protein, but choose a variety that is lower in sugar and has fewer ingredients – peanut butter shouldn’t have high fructose corn syrup and a bunch of other chemicals. Natural is better.

7) Do not buy junk food. You don’t need to waste your money on chips, crackers, soda, candy or other junk foods. They are very costly – for your wallet and your waistline! You could eat an orange for $0.50 or a bag of chips for $1.00… Which will make you feel better? 

These are just a few things that have worked for me. Eating healthfully has definitely made a difference in my mood stability, and eating on a budget has helped decrease my financial stress – which decreases my overall stress and helps my moods! Win-win! I hope these tips will help you on your way to a healthier lifestyle, too.

Read the rest of Beka’s posts for IBPF here

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