Eating out at restaurants is convenient, but many people do not have the time or money to eat out every night. Eating at home can be both healthier and cheaper – if you do it right. If you dine at home a lot (or would like to), keep reading for some tips on how to eat healthy on a budget.
A Well-Balanced Meal
A well-balanced meal includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, grains, proteins and dairy products. The daily recommended serving size for each food group varies depending on age, but typically you should be eating 1-2 cups of fruit and 1-3 cups of vegetables each day. According to ChooseMyPlate.gov, half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables, and the more colorful, the better! Especially try to incorporate red, orange and dark green vegetables. If you have trouble getting in your daily fruits and vegetables, try mixing them in regular dishes (adding vegetables to soup, for example).
Adults should eat around 6-8 ounces of grains each day, with at least half of them being whole wheat grains. Whole wheat grains include things like brown rice, bulgur, buckwheat, oatmeal, rolled oats, quinoa and wild rice.
Four to 6 ounces of protein is recommended daily for adults. Proteins are found in meat as well as items like beans, peas and eggs. For meat, choosing a cut that is at least 90% lean is best, and baking or grilling is healthier than frying.
Each day, you should consume 2-3 cups of dairy. Dairy products include milk, cheese and yogurt. There are many different milk options available, but the healthiest options are skim (fat-free) or 1% (low-fat). They taste just as good as whole or 2% milk, but they contain less fat.
Other Healthy Suggestions
In addition to eating a well-balanced meal, here are some other recommendations for eating healthily:
- Eat seafood. Seafood is loaded with nutrients like protein, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids. It is recommended that adults eat 8 ounces of seafood (such as fish or shellfish) per week to get these extra nutrients.
- Reduce sodium intake. A little bit of sodium is okay, but many food manufacturers add a lot of unnecessary salt, which is unhealthy. Look for labels that say “Low Sodium,” “Reduced Sodium” or “No Salt Added.” You can also compare nutrition labels to see if one brand of a particular item has less sodium than another. When cooking, refrain from adding any unnecessary salt to meals.
- Eat less solid fats. Solid fats include ingredients like butter or shortening. Foods that contain these ingredients, such as pizza, processed or fatty meats (like hot dogs) and desserts, should be avoided as often as possible. It’s okay to indulge every once in a while, just make sure solid fats aren’t part of your regular diet.
- Drink water. Replace sodas and other sugary drinks with water. If water is too boring for you, you can add a little flavor by mixing in 100% fruit juice.
- Eat in moderation. Portion control is one of the most important parts of eating healthy. Over-eating even healthy food can result in weight gain and other health problems. If you have trouble controlling your portion sizes, try using a smaller plate. You won’t be able to fit as much food on it, but it creates the illusion of a fuller plate so you feel full faster. Also, don’t force yourself to eat everything on your plate. If you feel full, pack up the rest and eat it for lunch the next day.
…On A Budget
Wanting to save some extra money at the grocery store? Here are some tips you may find helpful.
When going to the grocery store, plan out your week’s meals ahead of time. Take stock of what you already have and try to plan meals using those items so you have less to buy. Plan meals with fruits and vegetables that are in season, because they are typically cheaper than those not in season.
Before you head out to the store, eat. When you are hungry, you may end up buying a lot extra food you don’t really need because it looks good at the moment. Also check for sales and coupons before going to a particular store (read more about coupons below). This may help you choose what store to go to, and you can also plan your meals around what particular items are on sale.
At the Store
Here are some tips for saving money at the grocery store:
- Canned fruits and vegetables are typically cheaper than fresh fruits and vegetables. They are also just as nutritious, as long as nothing is added to them. For fruit, make sure that they are in water or 100% juice instead of syrup, and that vegetables do not have any extra salt added.
- Alternatively, frozen fruits and vegetables are cheaper than fresh as well. Make sure that there is no sugar (for fruit) or butter (for vegetables) added.
- Rice and pasta are budget-friendly and count toward your daily intake of grains.
- Beans, peas and eggs give you protein but are cheaper than meat.
- Canned seafood, such as tuna, salmon and sardines, costs less than most other fish.
- When buying meat, buying the larger size is often a better deal than getting a smaller one. Go for the large one to save money, and you can always freeze what you don’t use for another meal.
- Drink water instead of soda. Not only is water healthier, it’s also free!
- Check the unit price to ensure that you get the best deal. Often, larger sizes of items are a better deal. If it’s an item you don’t use often or will go bad quickly, it’s better to pay the slightly higher price than to waste the food. If you will get a lot of use out of it, however, you may save a lot of money by buying in bulk.
- Don’t forget to check higher and lower shelves. Often, stores will put the most expensive items right at eye level so you will see them first. Look up and down before grabbing an item to make sure you are getting the best price.
- Many stores also offer a generic brand of a product at a lower price than a name brand. In most cases, these off-brand products don’t actually taste any different.
- If a particular item is on sale or you have a coupon, but it is sold out by the time you get there, ask the manager if you can get a rain check. Many stores will allow you to come back and purchase the item for the sale price after they restock.
Coupons are an excellent way to save money at stores. Coupons may come from either the store selling the product or the manufacturer of the product and can be found in newspapers, in flyers or online. Most stores will allow you to use two coupons on the same product if one is a manufacturer coupon and the other is from the store. Many stores will also accept coupons from competitors. However, coupon policies will vary between stores, so be sure to check with the store before attempting to use coupons.
If a store you frequent has a rewards program, you may want to consider joining. Rewards programs are free to join and will give you access to special deals and coupons. (Just make sure you are not signing up for a credit card, as many stores offer those as well).
Eating healthy at home doesn’t have to cost a fortune. You can save a lot of money just by planning well and only buying what you need, and sales and coupons can help take those savings even further. Eating at home is typically healthier (and cheaper!) than eating out, but for tips on eating healthy and saving money at a restaurant, check out this article.
How do you eat healthy on a budget?