I realize that a post about food may not seem like it belongs in a “workout Wednesday” post. However, health is not just about physical fitness. Health depends largely on how we eat. So I wanted to do this post to change things up a little bit and talk about food.
Have you guys seen this?
OK, so maybe you shouldn't be eating fake food. But that doesn't mean you can't eat healthy food that's fast, cheap, or easy.
A few years ago, I started eating salads for lunch every day at work, er… almost every day. This wasn’t with the intent of a “diet” (which apparently confuses my coworkers). It was partially with the intent of making healthy eating choices for myself. But, truth be told, it was mostly with the intents of least resistance, and lowest cost.
I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I don’t like for things to be huge ordeals. Humans like the path of least resistance, right? I keep my cooking as simple as possible because if I complicated it, I’d never cook. So I thought I’d share a couple of ways I keep costs down while eating healthy.
1. I shop on Saturdays.
Designating one day a week when you do your shopping can help you reduce your overall grocery spending. Some people (like the Food Nanny) recommend shopping only once every two weeks. I can’t do it that way. Maybe you can.
2. I buy the staples.
I have a list in my phone of groceries. I keep the same items on that list at all times, and I add things as they become necessary (floss, shampoo, etc.). The things I buy every single Saturday include
- Other fruit (shop by season/price)
- Bagged spinach (1.99 for a bag of Kroger Tender Selections spinach. This gives me lunch for five days.)
- Grape tomatoes (always cheaper than yellow or cherry)
- Zucchini (to use when I don't want frozen veggies)
- Other veggies (shop by season/price/need)
3. I buy the occasionals.
I know “occasionals” isn’t a word. I’m using it to show that I don’t buy these things every time I shop. It just depends on my supply, what I intend to cook, and what the current deals are.
- Avocados (depending on price)
- Sweet potatoes/yams
- Chicken breast (fresh or frozen, depending on price)
- Frozen vegetables ($1/bag at Smith's)
- Frozen fruit ($10 big bag at Costco, or buy fresh on sale and freeze it)
- Plain Greek yogurt (best deal comes in a larger container, or make your own)
- Cottage cheese
- Neufchatel or other cheese
- Yogurt dressing (yummiest, healthiest, lowest calorie option)
- Almond coconut milk (unsweetened)
- Carton of egg whites
- Homestyle orange juice
- Canned tuna
- 2 lb container of quick oats and old-fashioned oats (better for making oat flour and overnight oats)
- Bag or bottle of Stevia sweetener
- Protein powder
- Nut butter
- Lawry's meat marinades (these get really cheap; watch for sales!)
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
Now that you have the food, this is where I show you my simple tips and tricks for each meal.
I absolutely don’t spend time making breakfast in the morning when I work. In the summer, I may take some time to make some Biggest Loser pancakes or egg white omelets or something. Here are some low-cost, healthy, quick breakfast ideas I use.
1. Plain Greek yogurt plus fruit
My favorite combination lately mixes 6 oz plain yogurt with a splash of almond milk, 1 tsp Stevia, some pineapple chunks, and coconut flakes. Holy moly it is delicious. But you don’t need to get fancy. You can just cut up some strawberries, slice some oranges, or throw in some blueberries (I just got 2 lbs for $5!). It just depends on what is in season and what you have time for.
2. Protein shakes
This is easy to throw together, albeit noisy in the morning. I use about 1 cup almond/coconut milk, 1/2 frozen banana, 1 Carnation breakfast packet or 1/2 - 3/4 scoop chocolate protein powder, and either 1 tbsp peanut butter, or 2 tbsp PB2. I blend it in my Magic Bullet. It’s yummy, and cold, and sweet. It keeps you full for quite a while. And I’m pretty sure chocolate and peanut butter is the best.
I buy the $10 bag of frozen fruit at Costco. I fill up half the Magic Bullet cup with that. Then I use some yogurt and orange juice or Fuze. Easy peasy. Also VERY sugary/high in carbohydrates. Use this on a hot day that you expect to be active. Sometimes I have spinach ice cubes that I throw in there too. Put in a partial scoop of protein powder or 1/3 cup egg whites in for some added protein. It'll keep you full for longer.
There’s about a million ways to do oatmeal. Just look at the Gracious Pantry website! I pay less than $4 for the enormous container of oatmeal that lasts me for several months. I typically make 1/3 cup quick oats with 2/3 cup water in the microwave. I’ll put in lots of cinnamon, and a little bit of honey or stevia. It’s easier to use less sweetener if you decrease it over time; your taste buds adjust. If I have some extra time in the morning, I like to make microwaved cinnamon apples to put on my oatmeal. I also like to make overnight oats, which you can find on Pinterest. And slow cooker oats can be great because it can provide breakfast all week. There's 45 servings in the 2 lb container of oats. That's only $.09 per serving, which is on the high end. To reiterate, that's breakfast for a month and a half, folks, for $4.
5. Toast options
I honestly rarely buy or eat bread. I buy the Ezekiel frozen kind, and it stays in my freezer for a few months. I like this option for the days when I want something savory. I just defrost then toast a piece of Ezekiel. Then I either fry up or scramble an egg, and I put the egg on the toast. If I am feeling a little less healthy, I’ll put on a piece of American cheese. As a preworkout, sometimes I’ll toast a piece of bread, smear on some peanut or almond butter, and use a little bit of honey. It keeps me full for quite some time.
All these options are inexpensive and fast to make.
When I’m working, which is 9 months out of the year, I take my lunch stuff to work and leave it in the fridge all week. This includes my bag of spinach, my dressing, tomatoes, cucumber wrapped in foil, croutons if you want, and other desired salad fixings. These might include boiled eggs, canned tuna, or avocados. I also keep a plate and silverware at work because I try to be eco-friendly. So every day at lunch, I bust out all my salad fixings and throw it all together. I tear up my spinach, throw down some tomatoes, slice some of my cucumber, possibly use tuna/egg/avocado, and put on some dressing--I don't like a lot of it.
Maybe two or three days a week, I’ll also have fruit with my salad. This could be an apple, orange, half a grapefruit, mango, strawberries, some grapes, or whatever I bought that’s in season.
When I told you I choose to eat like this due to least resistance and lowest cost, I wasn’t playing around, people. It’s easy to bring all my stuff on Monday, and not have to prepare or think about lunch for the whole week. I never have the “I forgot my lunch” problem. I don’t like to think about or make lunch. Therefore, least resistance.
Additionally, it costs $2 for the spinach, $1 for the cucumber (which could last two weeks), $2.39 for the tomatoes (which could last two weeks), maybe $.17/egg, and $3.50 for the dressing (which lasts me for at least a month). So every day, lunch costs me about $1.10. You could add $.40 for a half a can of tuna, or $.50 for half an avocado. Still, you’re at about $2 per day for lunch.
I like to have a variety of snacks. Most of them I just keep at work in a snack stash. Some of the ones I use frequently are:
1. Roasted almonds (buy the big bag at Costco, bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes)
2. Granola bars (make your own, or a big box of 100 calorie Quaker ones from Costco lasts me all year)
3. Sliced apple and peanut butter
4. Baby carrots
5. Other nuts or seeds (get them unsalted if you can) such as pumpkin, sunflower, or pistachios.
6. 100 calorie bags of popcorn (or make your own and bag it--super cheap!)
Be careful with the serving sizes of nuts, seeds, and nut butters as they are very caloric. Small amounts can be very filling anyway.
I typically stick with the traditional dinner method of protein, veggie, and carb. I try to go heavy on the veggies, and healthy on the carb options. To repeat, my end goal is to have a process of least resistance, and lowest cost.
So here’s what I do for my 20 minute cheap dinner meals…
1. Buy your meat frozen, or buy it at a good deal fresh, then freeze it yourself.
- When I buy it fresh, I don’t pay more than $2/lb for chicken breast--watch for sales! I cut the breasts into 4 oz servings, and freeze it in sandwich or snack bags.
- When I buy fish, I usually get tilapia or salmon, and I don’t pay more than $10/bag at Smith’s.
- Jennie-O turkey burgers are great options, but you can also buy two 1 lb rolled package $3 if you use coupons.
2. Defrost some chicken, fish, or turkey. Do this overnight if you want less work.
3. Marinate your meat while you’re at work, or pick your spices. This makes it easy to cook your meat on a stove top or grill. I also like to bake my chicken sometimes.
4. When you get home from work, turn on the stove to 325. Put a fork-tortured sweet potato in the oven and let it hang out for 1.5-2 hours. If you’re pressed for time, you can do a higher temperature with less cooking time.
- Another option is to start some brown rice in a rice cooker about an hour before you eat.
5. Cook your meat however you want to when the potato, rice, or other healthy carb option has 15 minutes left.
6. About 5 minutes before you want to eat, throw some frozen veggies in a Pampered Chef microwavable steamer for 2 minutes. Stir, then cook again for another 2 minutes. I like to use broccoli, cauliflower, or mixed veggie bags. You could do this on the stove if you want.
This should have a protein, veggie, and carb hot and ready to eat at the same time. It shouldn’t have required more than 20 minutes of your energy and attention. So the meat should have cost around $.50 for your chicken (4 lbs would be $8, and that’s 16 servings), $.50 for veggies ($1 per bag, if you eat half the bag), and probably $.60 for a sweet potato, or even less for brown rice. That’s dinner for about $2.
If you're OK with lots of leftovers, you can also make a bigger crockpot meal. Another healthy, easy meal I make a lot is turkey spaghetti with spaghetti squash. (Just use a jar of spaghetti sauce, buy some ground turkey, and microwave the whole squash--dinner in 15 minutes!)
All of the above is how I function on a budget. It is possible to eat healthy and not spend a ton of money. Before I close, here are some final tips...
**Bonus tip 1: Wash your fruits (especially berries, tomatoes, and grapes) and veggies (cucumber, zucchini, broccoli, etc.) in a mixture of vinegar and water right when you get home. The general ratio is 1 part vinegar to 10 parts water. This gets rid of bacteria and makes it so your produce lasts longer. Wrap your veggies like cucumbers and zucchini in foil. They’ll stay fresh that way.**
**Bonus tip 2: If you're in Utah, follow freebies2deals.com because she posts the best weekly deals at grocery stores. This helps me save money on produce since I know which stores have the best prices. She has also posted when produce is in season.**
I hope this helped you, or someone, to put things into perspective as far as eating healthily, efficiently, and cheaply are concerned. This is by no means comprehensive. There are a lot of ways to do things (for example, meal prepping for a whole week). It may seem like these meals are boring or limiting. The thing is, you can change up flavors and meals as you desire. No two meals have to be the same. There are so many options.