More Ways to Save Money and Eat Healthy
- Make your own dips, sauces, salad dressings, soups, and spreads for wraps and sandwiches. When you make these items at home, you can reduce or eliminate the sodium and fat and cut caloriesfound in pre-packaged products. The items are inexpensive to create, and they add spice to your healthy eating plan. When you make these items as you need them, they will be fresh, and you reduce food waste.
- Look for creative ways to add fruits, vegetables, and alternative grains into your diet. Instead of eating plain egg whites, make an egg-white omelet with spinach, shallots, and mushrooms. Experiment by making spicy chicken lettuce wraps, gazpacho, peppers stuffed with quinoa, and broiled polenta with tomato sauce.
- Try alternative grains. Quinoa, called a “super grain” because of its high protein content, can be used as a savory, or can make a delicious breakfast, when served with bananas and honey. Try quinoa, buckwheat, millet, and other alternative grains to give your body a break from traditional white flour products. Rice pasta and other gluten-free products also offer a unique alternative to foods traditionally made with white or whole wheat flour.
- Keep a close eye on the calorie, fat, and sodium counts in canned or packaged foods. The organic aisles in the supermarket offer a bounty of foods made with fewer preservatives, and less sodium. Stock up on organic black beans, low-fat refried beans, whole-grain pasta, and other staples when they go on sale. Consider investing in canning equipment, to can your own fruits, vegetables, and fish (i.e. home canning recipes). When you can your own foods, you know exactly what goes into them, and they taste much, much better than canned foods from the grocery store.
- Create a meal plan. Before you shop for healthy, budget-conscious food items listed here, create a meal plan. If you have a specific idea of what you plan to cook, and carry a shopping list at the grocery store, you will spend less money, and stay on track with your healthy eating plan. In addition to creating a meal plan, keep a journal of the foods you eat. The journal helps you monitor your food intake, improve your diet, and stick with healthy foods long-term.
Tips for Making Healthier Restaurant Choices
Before meeting friends or family at a restaurant, have a healthy snack at home. You can stave off cravings, and reduce hunger, by eating an apple or a banana 30 minutes before you leave. This tip also works well during the holiday season, when food-laden parties abound.
You can save money, and stick to your health goals, by following these additional tips when dining out:
- Do Your Homework on Restaurant Options
Most restaurants have their menu readily available online and some even have nutrition charts posted on their websites. You can also call the restaurant, and ask if they have healthy or low-fat meals available.
Depending on the size and popularity of the restaurant, you may find online reviews with healthy meal suggestions. Two great websites to review include Yelp and Urbanspoon. Restaurant and fast food meals often include high amounts of fat, salt, and calories. Even when restaurants reveal calorie counts for meals, USA Today reports that they often underestimate these numbers by as much as 20%.
- Look for a Smaller Portion Section on the Menu
By now, most restaurants know that many people watch what they eat, and have thus added a special section to their menus, which makes finding the right food easier than ever.
For example, T.G.I. Friday’s offers a “Right Portion Right Price” menu for those who want to eat healthy, while also saving money. Richard Snead, president and chief executive officer of Carlson Restaurants Worldwide, parent of T.G.I. Friday’s restaurants, said “This is a category issue stemming from consumer demand. The category needs to listen.”
If the menu doesn’t highlight heart-healthy or low-fat options, order grilled chicken or broiled fish. Avoid fried foods and cream-based salad dressings, sauces, and soups. Your server can provide more details about healthy options on the menu.
You can also ask for a child-sized portion at many restaurants. Some restaurants, including Olive Garden, allow diners to order a lunch portion for dinner. Most restaurants offer oversized portions, so order a lunch-sized portion or a children’s meal to save money and stay on track with your healthy eating plan.
You can also save calories, and a bit of money, by halving the food at a restaurant. Ask for a to-go box, and divide the food into two portions before you begin eating. This ensures that you don’t overindulge, and that you have leftovers for lunch the following day. Decline the server’s offer of a bread basket, and fill up on salad instead.
- Go to Independently Owned Restaurants
Restaurant chains such as Denny’s, Chili’s, and Big Boy serve gigantic portions. You can get reasonably-sized meals at smaller, independently-run restaurants. You also might get a healthier meal, since many smaller restaurants, especially those in bigger cities, source their fresh produce locally whenever they can.
Also, because many of the smaller restaurants use fresh, local produce, the food tastes better. Larger chains often don’t take the time or go through the trouble and expense to source food locally; they use lower-quality ingredients, and rely on salt and fat to improve the taste of the food. Avoid all-you-can-eat restaurants, where healthy food choices are supplanted by foods high in calories, fat, and sodium.
- Practice Moderation
Restaurants serve you more food than you actually need. Try to practice moderation whenever you dine out, and don’t feel pressured to eat everything. Resist bread, soup, and dessert, and eat more salad, instead. Ask your server if a dish can be prepared with oil instead of butter, and substitute a plain baked potato, a dish of fruit, or a salad for French fries.
- Try Mediterranean Restaurants
Mediterranean restaurants are a budget-conscious dieter’s best friend. Hummus, tabbouleh, whole wheat pita bread, Greek salads, and chicken kebabs and rice are heart-healthy standard fare. The food is high in protein, and inexpensive, especially if you order appetizer portions instead of full meals. Always verify calorie counts online or in a restaurant before ordering your meal.
Smart grocery store swaps
You’ve heard the old excuse before: Healthy eating is expensive. I can confidently call my food choices healthy—at least most of the time—but I’m also a cheapskate at heart. Luckily, I manage to eat healthy on a budget, thanks to a few simple swaps—some of which save calories, too!
Smart swap: Frozen berries
Fresh berries are often very expensive, especially when they are out of season. Frozen berries cost much less and they’re just as nutritious for you. Plus, with frozen berries, you don’t have to worry about eating them before they go bad. Throwing away rotten food is like wasting money!
Too pricey: Instant oatmeal
Smart swap: Quick oats
Instant oatmeal is great in a pinch, but buying a huge canister of quick oats is a much more cost-effective option. If you compare unit price on the two items, it’s much more economical to purchase the quick oats. For an on-the-go option, I portion out 1/2 cup of quick oats, put them in a Tupperware container, and add hot water when I get to my destination. Plus instant packets are often packed full of added sugars (and calories!). I prefer to sweeten my bowl with more natural options, like thawed frozen berries.
Smart swap: Kale chips
As a salty snack, homemade kale chips are a great swap to expensive veggie chips. And at less than 50 calories per cup, they’re just a fraction of the calories as the store-bought stuff. While they do require some prep work, kale chips are incredibly easy to make. Just spray washed kale with cooking spray, season with sea salt, and bake at 350° for about 15 minutes. They taste just like potato chips!
Too pricey: Fresh salmon fillet
Smart swap: Canned salmon
We all know we should eat more fish, as it is rich in omega-3s, but buying fresh fish is not always friendly on my wallet. Instead, I swap fresh salmon for canned salmon, which is much less expensive, and I am still able to get those healthy omega-3s in my diet. Plus, salmon salad makes an über-tasty packed lunch.