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Cheap food can be healthy food!

October 15, 2010

Sometimes it’s hard to eat well when you’re strapped for cash. And usually when you’re low on cash, you’re working a lot trying to make money, stressed trying to pay bills and not sure what to buy and end up grabbing something from a “value menu.” It may seem cheap, but cooking at home is still cheaper and so much healthier. Another big temptation is frozen entrees and packaged meals, but again, it’s better to get some fresh fruits and veggies and some grains to prepare- better choice for the wallet, hips and arteries all at once. It’s also really cheap to take dinner leftovers to work the next day, rather than spend $6 on another meal. Often when I really focus on basics and cut out all unnecessary snacks, I find that buying rice, beans, vegetables and herbs is a much, much cheaper and healthier route than my normal list.

Provided you are fairly well stocked with spices and have a salad dressing and various oils and vinegars on hand like I always do, you can create a ton of different salads and soups with just a few staples which all keep well. Carrots, romaine, celery and potatoes are my favorites for staying fresh a week or longer when I don’t have money or time to shop for fresh food very often. Here’s my list when I go back to the basics due to lack of funds. I take a cue from the rest of the world and cut out meat and dairy, and make the bulk of the meal rice and beans. You can do a lot with rice, vegetables and beans. I’m not trying or struggling to get back 100% vegan, but honestly it doesn’t even cross my mind to get any meat, fish or cheese. The only thing I still want are cottage cheese and yogurt and sometimes I get them, but not usually. I’m just completely in the habit of thinking of my meals from the veggies up and I’m glad I’ve come to that point. I don’t enjoy touching chicken or preparing it, though I don’t mind tuna or sushi. Sushi is great regardless, I like veggie just as much as fish varieties. Which reminds me- sometimes I pick a food theme for the week and stick with foods in a certain part of the world or from a specific cookbook. Once I get all the basic ingredients for Asian, Greek, Thai, Italian or Mexican, it’s easy (and value-conscious) to keep making variations on the theme.

Ok, here’s our list:

1 lb. bananas

5 lb. bag carrots

6 pack romaine heads ($3.29 at Costco)

Head of celery (for snacking and adding to soups)

Add a tomato, cucumber and lemon to the list for quinoa tabbouleh if budget allows- this makes several meal’s worth

Bulk brown rice

Bulk quinoa

Bulk oats (main breakfast choice)

Sprouted Tortillas (or if money is super tight La Favorita from Costco)- burritos, wraps, pb&j… cheaper than bread

Canned chickpeas, white beans, pinto beans, black beans if on sale

Lentils, split peas

Natural soups and soup mixes  (add tons of water, broth and veggies to all soups to make several meals out of one)

Frozen veggies to throw in soups once fresh are gone

Large bag of mini sweet peppers or bell peppers if on sale (usually about $5 at Costco)

1 bunch each- Italian parsley, cilantro- both are so cheap and add so much flavor

Pack of buckwheat soba noodles from the Asian market- about $1 for 6 bundles

Canned tomatoes to mix with veggies and herbs for marinara

Bulk popcorn- pop on stovetop for a snack (usually about 67 cents per pound)

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