I'm going to go out on a limb here and argue that it can be cheaper and sometimes more convenient to eat healthy than not. It's a choice. If you decide you want to make healthier food choices, you can do it on any budget, within any lifestyle.
Now if you go to the fanciest health food store and buy chia seeds, grass-fed meats, organic produce, nut butter and so-called superfoods, that can definitely add up in price. If you can afford that, then great. But I'm here to show you that even if you are on a tight budget, you can eat healthy without breaking the bank.
Stereotypical junk food is not necessarily cheaper than a healthy diet. A bag of chips will cost more than an apple for a snack. Soda costs more than water and fast food generally costs more than eating at home. That's not even considering the long-term health costs of a poor diet over a lifetime.
The key to a sustainable healthy diet is one that fits your lifestyle and budget. If we strive to make the best choices based on what's available to us at the moment, we'll do great.
SAVE MONEY ON HEALTHY FOODS
LIMIT RESTAURANT MEALS
When someone tells me that they can't afford to eat healthily, the first thing I ask them is how many times a week they eat out at a restaurant because it is almost always cheaper and healthier to prepare your own food at home. If you're spending $8-$10 a day for lunch five days a week, that $40-$50 dollars can be stretched a long way in terms of a healthier lunch. If you're spending up to $100 for your family to have a few meals and drinks at a restaurant, that money can buy a lot of healthier food choices.
It's a trade-off. It's up to you find the balance of what's acceptable for you. How much of your budget goes to eating outside the home, how much to groceries? Based on your goals, priorities, lifestyle, and budget, it's up to you to figure out what works best for your family. No one can tell you that it's not healthy to eat out, or you "shouldn't" eat certain foods, you have to decide based your own priorities. If convenience is sometimes more important than nutrition, it won't make or break your family's health as long as that choice is made with intention and awareness. You don't have to be perfect, just mindful.
CARBS, PROTEINS, AND FATS BUDGET-FRIENDLY CHOICES
You don't need to spend a lot of money in order to make whole food healthy choices. Even if you consider the cheap cost of a fast food burger meal, I'd argue buying a pound of hamburger meat and a pack of whole wheat buns is still less expensive (per meal) and healthier than hitting the drive-through.
Old-fashioned oatmeal, potatoes, sweet potatoes, brown rice, fruit, vegetables (fresh or frozen), and beans are all inexpensive whole-food healthy carbohydrate choices.
Lean meats (fresh or frozen), canned or pouch tuna, beans, cottage cheese, plain Greek Yogurt, and eggs are budget-friendly protein sources.
Eggs, dairy, avocados, olive oil, nuts and fatty fish are some examples affordable healthy fats.
SAVE EVEN MORE
You generally pay more for foods that are pre-packaged for convenience, so you save money if you wash your own lettuce, chop your own celery, portion your own yogurt and cook your own meat. You save a little bit of money if you do the work yourself. Set aside a few minutes for planning, then some time for meal prep to get the most bang for your buck.
MEAL PREP FOR CONVENIENCE
I used to think that people who meal prepped were the type of people who really had their shit together. You know, the ones who clean their baseboards every week and throw hand-made decorated Pinterest-worthy parties. But I was wrong. Meal prepping works best for those of us who don't have it all together. The more frazzled and unorganized, the more effective meal prep will be for you. Meal prep is your insurance for healthy eating.
STOCK UP FOR SUCCESS
Meal prep starts with stocking your pantries with healthy options and leaving the processed foods on the grocery store shelves. Because let's face it, when you're at home, it's always more convenient and easier to eat what you already have in the house. Set yourself up for success by filling up your cabinets, fridge, and freezer with healthy options.
DO THE WORK UPFRONT
Meal prep makes healthy eating convenient because you do all the work in an hour or two once a week instead of starting from scratch every day. If you thought meal prep had to consist of seven days worth of perfectly-prepared (read: boring) Tupperware dishes, then put that idea away. Meal prep is anything you can do in advance to make healthy meals easier during the week.
It might mean cooking two pounds of chicken breast in advance so they can easily be heated up and served on sandwiches, salads or in a stirfry during the week. It can mean to chop veggies to make it easy to throw together a salad or healthy snack. Mason jars are great for pre-prepped salads and overnight oats. Crock Pots can be used to cook large meals with meats and veggies that can be frozen and served later.
How can you make meal prep work for you and/or your family?
I personally think it is easier and more convenient to bring my lunch to work every day, rather than get in my car at lunchtime to drive to pick something up, wait for it, pay for it, then drive back to work. It has become a habit and part of my lifestyle, so it feels effortless to me. If it is not your normal behavior, it may not feel easy at first. Anything new can feel uncomfortable. Accept that making changes to your behaviors can be hard at first and that with consistency it will get easier over time.
That's why I encourage my clients to forget the fad diets and focus on building healthy nutrition habits instead. When healthy behaviors become habits, then they are effortless. It makes making nutritious food choices easy. It takes some discipline, structure, and dedication to build those habits, but once they are ingrained, healthy living becomes a natural part of your life. It's no longer a struggle between "good" and "bad" choices. Learn more in this article I wrote called 10 healthy habits that will change your life. If you need help, at the time of this post, I still have openings in my nutrition habits program. It's a fantastic program powered by Precision Nutrition and has helped thousands of people, but it's not for everyone. Take this quiz to see if you'd be a good fit. Try it for 75% off the first month to see if you like it.
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