Eating healthfully on a budget: Fresh ideas for the student shopper

Submitted by Chelsey McNiel on March 9, 2012 – 3:03 pm5 Comments

We all want to eat healthy, but when our paychecks are destined for more pressing priorities, the quality of our groceries is an easy thing to let slip. If we are honest, we know eating healthy can be an expensive lifestyle; however, let’s explore a few areas that could help us maintain both our budget and health.

If you’re a fan of saving money like the people on TLC’s Extreme Couponing, you might have tried clipping some coupons to get everything on your grocery list for free. But who has the time for all that preparation? Let’s face it, time is money and with a busy schedule that’s just not going to cut it.

However, a tip to take from the show is buying in bulk. It is usually cheaper but you will need storage space and maybe an extra freezer. When foods like pasta, oats or rice go on sale, try to stock up. These are cheaper options that will not only fill you up, but give you more options for recipes.

The Sunday paper can offer you a few good coupons without having to make it a part-time job. At the same time, a simpler way to find and use coupons is a coupon app. For instance, “Coupon Clipper” for iPhone helps you find deals at businesses around your neighborhood. Another option is getting a customer card like the “Kroger Plus Shopper’s Card.” It will give you daily deals and points toward saving a few cents at the gas pump. Kroger will also send you coupons for things you buy regularly.

Being organized is also a plus. Specifically, plan your meals in advance, make your grocery list and stick to it. Never go grocery shopping on an empty stomach; this will help you avoid impulse buying. Try to avoid brand names; generic foods can be just as tasty. Shopping alone also makes it easier to get in, get what you need and get out. Lastly, shop for everything in one place, because fuel costs are high and continue to rise.

While writing out your list, remember to add whole foods, cheap proteins and frozen fruits and vegetables. Unprocessed foods like eggs, mixed nuts and potatoes are usually cheaper; try to avoid boxed foods. Protein is essential for a healthy body, but you don’t need a steak or salmon dinner every night to maintain it. Canned tuna or frozen chicken breast are a good place to start. Also, taking on a vegetarian mind-set can help you cut back too. Replace beans for meat and add high protein foods like spinach, tofu or soy. Also, buying frozen foods instead of canned is usually half the price and offers more nutrients and a longer shelf life.

If you can’t go without dining on expensive meats, check for discounted products that are close to the store’s expiration date. Furthermore, check the classifieds for local farmers who have fresh sides of beef for sale.

Local farmer’s markets offer fresh, healthy foods but are often more expensive than a trip to the grocery store. Therefore, try your hand at growing your own food. Tomato plants can be grown in five-gallon buckets on your apartment balcony. Likewise, a window sill can be a fresh herb garden. If you have the space for it, plant a small garden or raise a few chickens for eggs and meat.

On the other hand, planting and caring for a garden takes time and energy. Yet, you may be able to find a rental plot or community garden to be part of. Community gardens usually ask participants to pay a fee, grow a couple things and then share with everyone. This is a rising trend in larger cities, so check around your neighborhood and if there isn’t one, you could start one.

Equally important is water. Cut back on your soda and juice intake but don’t buy bottled water. Buy a filtered water pitcher if you don’t like the taste of tap water or if drinking from the tap worries you. Also, keeping a reusable bottle with you will help to reach your daily water needs and promotes weight loss. Just in case you don’t have a water bottle with a filter already in it, place a couple twigs inside from a mint plant. It will give the water a better taste if you need to refill from the tap.

Since we live in a fast-paced society, it has become a custom to drive through fast-food restaurants or grab whatever is easiest. Although fast food can be cheap, it adds up quickly, so cut out as much junk food as possible. Likewise, cutting back on your calories and meal portions will help you stick to your budget. Skipping salty foods and switching to a low sodium or “no-salt-added” version of canned foods is a simple and heart-healthy change worth making.

Finding recipes you enjoy that are quick to make is essential. When preparing meals, make a double portion and set aside half for the next meal. You can freeze things like soups, breads or casseroles that can easily be reheated for a ready-to-eat meal. Resources for healthy recipes on a budget are only one Google search away, so take the time to find what will work for you. Be brave and try some new foods.

We must make a lifestyle change to eat healthy and stay committed to our choice. That decision will require rearranging some time and energy, but it can make a big difference, even if you do have a small budget.