The number one reason people say they don't eat healthy? It costs too much. Sure, if you’re sipping on cacao maca shakes alongside your turmeric juice shot while munching on a $17 Whole Foods salad bar creation, things can quickly add up. But it doesn't have to. Here's how to eat healthy in a whole, nutritious delicious way.
As a nutritionist, eating healthy is a focus for me. I shop the farmer’s market multiple times a week, avoid refined sugar like the plague, and stay clear of anything that’s been deep-fried (with the exception of tater tots on bar nights with the beaux.) I also except a certain level of quality from the food I purchase. I shop smart and savvy, yet I do not compromise on produce and quality meats; my produce is as organic as possible. I’ll splurge on a dozen organic eggs and a delicious piece of wild caught salmon, but I’ll shop the bulk section for dried lentils, beans, and quinoa.
In order to budget for this assignment of how to eat healthy on a super tight budget, I stuck to eating primarily vegetarian with the exception of organic eggs. You can still consume a healthy diet with animal proteins, just make sure to select the highest quality and organic options that you can in lower quantities. Excellent and inexpensive ways to vary your protein intake include adding a variety of different beans like chickpeas and black beans, along with different types of lentils.
You may notice that I also tend to eat very similar things day to day – but for me, these are my favorite foods and they keep me energized and healthy. If you feel like you’re restricting your diet in any way or bored with your meals, make some changes and incorporate different whole foods.
Also, yes, my budget includes dark chocolate. (Yours should too!)
How to Eat Healthy with Budget-Friendly Food Rules
- Shop Seasonal. I stuck to a lot of local, seasonal food to get the most bang for my buck. Winter squash such as spaghetti squash are not only inexpensive because they're now abundant for the season, but they provide a lot of quantity (one spaghetti squash lasted me 4 days!) and quality nutrition. Other seasonal things included organic apples, sweet potatoes, and Brussels sprouts. If the food I want is not in season, I head to the frozen section instead. Frozen fruits and vegetables are great options and still pack nutritious benefits too. Frozen produce is often picked when ripe and frozen immediately, preserving its vital nutrients in the process.
- Buy Eggs! One of the most versatile and high quality proteins out there (about 6 grams per egg), eggs are an inexpensive superfood that can easily be added to your diet. I love batch cooking half a dozen of eggs at the beginning of the week to use as snacks or the addition to delicious bowl meals. Eggs can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and can be used in so many ways from paleo pancakes, to frittatas, and more.
- Shop the Bulk Section. Purchasing things like grains, beans, lentils, seeds, nuts, flours, etc., is much less expensive when you purchase it from the bulk section. Not only does it reduce packaging cost, but also it allows you to select the exact amount of food that you need.
- Batch Cook Like It’s No Ones Business. I am a huge fan of (sanity-saving) batch cooking. Not only does it make throwing together breakfast, lunch, and dinner a breeze, but it also allows me to spend some therapeutic time in the kitchen. I batch cook lentils, dried beans, grains like quinoa and brown rice, roasted vegetables, and overnight oats all in one night. It’s so important to take some time out of your busy schedule to meal prep and plan, making eating healthy throughout the week easy and quick. For this week I batch cooked my hard-boiled eggs, spaghetti squash, tomato sauce, quiche, roasted vegetables, overnight oats, quinoa, lentils, and beans.
- Stock your pantry with staple ingredients. Having a pantry filled with staple foods like spices, bulk pasta, grains, nuts, seeds, dried beans and lentils, cooking oils, a variety of nut butters, canned goods like diced tomatoes, and vinegars ensures that you’ll only need to stock up on fresh produce and quality proteins throughout the week, keeping grocery costs down. For the purpose of this article, the staples I stuck to that are not considered in the total price are spices, olive oil, avocado oil, salt and pepper, sriracha, garlic, and apple cider vinegar.
- Grow A Garden. This is not an easy option for many of us. However, do what you can with what you have. I have a few pots of fresh herbs in my kitchen window of my apartment where I can happily grow basil, oregano, and mint. These herbs were used in my recipes and did not factor into the total price. If you have a spot of sun or maybe a backyard area worth digging into, grow something! Anything from herbs to tomatoes, squash, peppers, lettuce, and more can be yours for cheap (free!) if you grow them yourself. If this isn’t an option, join a community garden in your neighborhood or join a local CSA (community supported agriculture) to reap the harvest of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, and eggs from a farm nearby.
The Shopping List. I shopped multiple times throughout the week at my local Fred Meyer’s grocery and Trader Joe's to get the best prices.
Rolled oats (2 pounds) $1.78
Unsweetened coconut flakes (¼ pound) $0.74
Chia seeds (¼ cup) $1.09
Dried black beans (1 pound) $0.99
Organic quinoa (½ pound) $2.24
Dried green lentils (¼ pound) $0.42
2 cans organic canned diced tomatoes $3.58
1 can organic tomato paste $0.89
Spaghetti squash $1.49
Organic peanut butter $3.49
Frozen blueberries $2.49
Brussels sprouts $2.29
Sweet potatoes (2 pounds) $1.98
Organic collard greens $1.89
Avocado (4) $3.49
Organic baby spinach $2.99
One dozen organic eggs $4.89 (8 were hard-boiled, 3 were left for the frittata)
Organic fuji apples (6 pounds) $5.99
Organic dark chocolate bar $2.50
How to Eat Healthy for $45 A Week: The Meals
Breakfast: Overnight oats with ½ cup homemade oat milk, ½ cup rolled oats, frozen blueberries, 1 tablespoon chia seeds, 1 heaped tablespoon peanut butter, and a handful of coconut flakes.
Lunch: ½ avocado, 2 hard boiled eggs, and a side of cooked quinoa, black beans, and lentils with apple cider vinegar and olive oil.
Dinner: Spaghetti squash with homemade tomato sauce, 2 mini lentil meatballs (based roughly on this recipe from Minimalist Baker), and fresh basil from the garden.
Snack: Apple + 2 tablespoons peanut butter.
Dessert: Dark chocolate dipped in peanut butter.
Breakfast: One apple cooked with ½ cup rolled oats, one tablespoon peanut butter, one tablespoon chia seeds, handful coconut flakes.
Lunch: Collard green wrap with ¼ cup quinoa, ½ cup black beans, ¼ cup spaghetti squash, ½ avocado, sriracha, and oregano from the garden.
Dinner: Spaghetti squash with tomato sauce, sautéed spinach, 3 lentil meatballs, and basil from the garden
Snack: Apple + 2 Tbsp peanut butter, one hard boiled egg.
Dessert: Dark chocolate.
Breakfast: Overnight oats with ½ cup homemade oat milk, ½ cup rolled oats, frozen blueberries, one tablespoon chia seeds, one tablespoon peanut butter, and a handful of coconut flakes.
Lunch: One piece of quinoa, spaghetti squash, and spinach frittata (based roughly on this recipe from the Happy Hungry Yogi) with a side spinach salad dressed with extra virgin olive oil and apple cider vinegar.
Dinner: A big bowl of goodness: quinoa, a hard-boiled egg, ½ avocado, roasted sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts, and spinach dressed with extra virgin olive oil and apple cider vinegar.
From the Organic Authority Files
Snack: Apple and peanut butter.
Dessert: Dark chocolate.
Breakfast: Overnight oats with ½ cup homemade oat milk, ½ cup rolled oats, frozen blueberries, one tablespoon chia seeds, 1 heaped tablespoon peanut butter, and a handful of coconut flakes.
Lunch: Mixed quinoa salad with fresh herbs, a hard boiled egg, ½ avocado, spaghetti squash, cooked lentils and black beans with apple cider vinegar and olive oil.
Dinner: Two pieces of quinoa, spaghetti squash, and spinach frittata with a side of quinoa.
Snack: Apple + 2 Tbsp peanut butter.
Dessert: Dark chocolate dipped in peanut butter,
Breakfast: Overnight oats with ½ cup almond milk, ½ cup rolled oats, frozen blueberries, 1 heaped tablespoon peanut butter, and a handful of coconut flakes.
Lunch: A big bowl of goodness: ½ avocado, quinoa, black beans, roasted sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts, and spinach dressed with extra virgin olive oil and apple cider vinegar.
Dinner: Spaghetti squash with tomato sauce, sautéed spinach, lentil meatballs, and basil from the garden.
Snack: Apple + 2 Tbsp peanut butter, a hard boiled egg.
Dessert: Dark Chocolate.
Breakfast: One apple cooked with ½ cup rolled oats, one heaped Tbsp peanut butter, handful coconut flakes.
Lunch: Collard green wrap filled with black beans, quinoa, ½ an avocado, and a drizzle of sriracha.
Dinner: Spaghetti squash, the last of the homemade marinara sauce mixed in with cooked lentils and a side of roasted sweet potatoes.
Snack: Apple + two tablespoons peanut butter.
Dessert: Dark chocolate dipped peanut butter.
Breakfast: One apple cooked with ½ cup rolled oats, one heaped tablespoon peanut butter, handful coconut flakes.
Lunch: One piece of quinoa, spaghetti squash, and spinach frittata with ½ avocado and roasted sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts.
Dinner: A big bowl of goodness: Two hard-boiled eggs, spinach, quinoa, and ½ an avocado dressed with extra virgin olive oil and apple cider vinegar.
Snack: Apple + two tablespoons peanut butter.
Dessert: The last bit of dark chocolate.
There you have it, how to eat healthy and whole for $45, no processed gunk required. As you can see, with a bit of batch cooking and planning, eating healthy, whole foods can be done in an easy, delicious way. And yes, the dark chocolate is always necessary.
Photos By Kate Gavlick