Eating Healthy on a Budget

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By: Gabrielle Lambie- Nutritionist

If you listen to economic news around The Globe these days you are almost certain to hear talk of economies that are on the brink of recession or already in a recession. Here in Trinidad, we are already in a recession. ‘Recession’ seems almost like the latest buzzword. It’s on our minds and has more than likely begun to affect our lives.

No matter how the economy may change however, some things remain necessities, and the need to eat to improve and maintain our health is one of those things.  So, how do balance a healthy diet with reasonable food bills?

  1. Buy local

Not only are you likely to spend less on locally produced/grown food, buying local also stimulates the local economy in the long run. When you buy from local producers, more of what you spend is kept within your community rather than in a foreign market.  As more money is kept in the local market, farmers and producers are able to grow their businesses, supply can increase which in turn lowers prices and creates jobs. It’s a win-win situation all around!

  1. Prep for your Grocery trips

Always make a grocery list and stick to it.  Plan your meals for the week, or month, check the pantry, and compile a list of what you need (only what you need!).  At the supermarket, avoid the temptation to impulse buy! Or at the very least, limit your impulse purchase to one item per shopping trip.  Also, it is often worthwhile to explore the idea of using more than one supermarket and produce market to buy the items on your list. This approach takes away the convenience of ‘one-stop-shopping’ but with prices sometimes varying widely among food retailers, the effort to shop-around will definitely pay off in terms of savings and variety. 

  1. Focus on quality

Use your hard earned dollars to buy nutritious food. Buying food items full of empty calories is like throwing away your money. Your body doesn’t benefit in any way and in the long run, your health may actually suffer leading to increased medicals bills or more money spent at the gym trying to lose weight.  This goes for both grocery shopping and when buying prepared foods. On the days when there just isn’t enough time to  prepare lunch or dinner, opt for a healthy, pre-packaged lunch made from whole foods, as opposed to fast food. For example, the meals offered by GoSmart (available both by order and pre-packaged at various retail locations such as Puff n Stuff) are of a superior quality and make for convenient guilt-free meals any day of the week.  Use the money you would usually spend on items such as snacks, cookies, soft drinks, juice drinks and cakes to buy more nutritious items. The bottom line is to make sure your body & health benefit from whatever food you buy.

  1. Buy whole, less processed foods

Generally, the more processed a food item is, the more expensive it is, and the less healthy it is. Buying foods that are as close to their natural state as possible increases your savings and benefits your health. A whole block of cheese is cheaper than the same weight in shredded cheese. Dried beans are cheaper than canned. Whole chickens are less expensive than chicken parts. Whole fresh produce is cheaper than pre-peeled and cut vegetables. The list goes on.  

  1. Re-evaluate who prepares your meals

Cooking at home is many times cheaper than buying prepared food. Cooking more meals at home will benefit both your pocket and your health.  Find some recipes that are easy and quick to prepare. Save time by planning what meals you will be cooking the week ahead and prep those meals on the weekend.

Of course, for many of us cooking all our meals at home simply isn’t feasible and we need the convenience of pre-packaged meals. In such instances, choose a company like GoSmart that focuses on providing healthy gourmet food that you never have to feel guilty about enjoying.  Again, the focus is not simply on saving money and cutting costs, we want to ensure that whatever food we buy is nutritious and beneficial to us.

  1. Eliminate wastage

Once you have spent money on food, you want to ensure none of that food is wasted. Wasted food = wasted money. To help eliminate wastage, package, label and refrigerate or freeze your leftovers for use at a later date. Leftovers can be used in other recipes or enjoyed as part of a meal later in the week. Vegetables can be added to soups, stews, or pies. Left over poultry or meat can be used to make sandwiches or to top a homemade pizza.

‘Leftovers’ also applies to unused fresh produce. Produce can also be frozen and stored until you need them.  This may change the texture of some produce but most of their nutrients are preserved. Frozen fruits are especially great for use in smoothies or juices while frozen herbs and vegetables are perfect for use in soups.

Lastly, don’t let food get lost in your refrigerator or pantry. Keep both storage areas well organised and clean and always be familiar with exactly what food you have in there. Adopt the First In- First Out (FIFO) method of food storage used by restaurants and other food-service establishments.  Store items bought from a longer period or closer to their expiry dates near the front so they are used first, and store more recently purchased food behind them. This way you are less likely to end up with food past their expiry dates lost in the deep dark corners of your pantry/fridge-freezer.

  1. Buy produce that is in-season.

Produce that is in-season is cheaper because the supply is greater and transportation costs are lower as they do not have to be sourced overseas.  In-season produce is also more nutritious because the time between harvesting and consumption is less than with imported, out-of-season produce.  Want to enjoy your favourite fruits later on? – Buy them in bulk and freeze them yourself.

 Try new foods

Keeping your diet interesting doesn’t have to expensive. Be open to trying new herbs and spices, cheaper vegetables and fruits or even new types of cuisine. For example, Mexican food is full of flavor, uses cheap staples like rice, and incorporates beans- a less expensive alternative to poultry and meat with the added benefit of dietary fibre. Mexican food also allows you the flexibility of switching up ingredients and is a great way to use leftovers.  Arabic cuisine also combines easily available and inexpensive herbs, spices, vegetables and staples to make dishes that are as tasty as they are nutritious without placing any strain on your food budget. Being on a budget doesn’t have to limit your creativity or result in a mundane diet that feels like punishment.

Eating healthy on a budget is definitely possible. It may take some extra time, effort, and planning while making you tap into your organisational skill set; but, in the end it is all worth it!

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