Healthy food was an essential part of my childhood. It wasn’t because we were trying to eat healthy…we just grew most of what we ate. As soon as it was safe from frost, all of our families planted gardens. We spent the spring, summer and fall preserving what we grew, both animal and vegetable. I didn’t realize how well we ate until we moved into a city and gardening was limited.
That doesn’t mean we stopped our healthy diet. It did mean we had to buy it, which can be expensive if you don’t know what to do. I also learned (the hard way) that some of the foods I grew up with can be turned into tasteless mush when made in a factory like setting. Here are some of the things I do to serve healthy meals without breaking the bank.
Whole Grains: If you have time, make it at home…it really is cheaper. That doesn’t mean it has to be expensive. Read the ingredient label of the various whole grain breads. If whole grain isn’t the first ingredient, put it back and try again. The bread may have a variety of grains, so calculate whether it is higher than any regular flour that might be added.
Rice is easier; many rice products come as brown rice. That means that the bran is still on it. Oats aren’t as easy. Quick oats doesn’t have the health benefits of something along the lines as steel cut oats. The fiber section of the nutrition label will let you know which to buy.
None of these have to be from a major brand. Some of the best whole grain products I’ve purchased have been store brand…and cheaper.
Chicken Breast:: You may run into some expense difficulties here if you don’t have the time to repackage something yourself and/or a place to freeze it. Usually I wait until there is a sale, and then I buy in bulk. Bone-in chicken breast is often the least expensive lean protein in the meat department. I save the bones and skin for making stock and freeze what I don’t need immediately. Ninety-nine cents a pound is a great value when you consider boneless is usually around three dollars…plus, I get the stock from the bones.
Beans: This could go in the lean protein section, but it deserves to be treated by itself. Canned beans are not all that expensive in money, but they are in other ways. If you read the sodium content of some brands, you may well wince. If you have to use them, you should drain and rinse them prior to eating them.
Personally, I prefer dried beans. They are far less expensive in both money and healthy content. If you have a pressure cooker, you can even get them done fairly quickly. It takes about an hour to cook them, even if they haven’t been soaked. You can also start seasoning them from the beginning. I usually add onions, tomatoes, garlic and chili powder in them.
Crushed Tomatoes: After considerable time reading nutrition labels, I finally found a product that is thick enough for use in a hurry and still have little to no sodium…canned crushed tomatoes. Like beans, you may need to check the labels to be sure those in your area are like the ones in mine.
The reason this is on here is that many cuisines have tomatoes as a base ingredient. Canned products are faster than homemade…if they are healthy. If they aren’t healthy, I do make it myself. Most tomato and pasta sauces are heavy on the sodium. Using the crushed canned tomatoes is a time saver and a healthy choice.
Olive Oil: Yes, olive oil is expensive, so it isn’t exactly on a dime. However, it is a healthy fat and some dishes require a little fat to come out right. Your body also needs you to eat fats in order to process some vitamins. Of the choices in a normal supermarket, olive oil is usually the best.
There are a lot of other tricks to eating a healthy diet on a dime. In a way, it’s kind of fun to look for them. Schedule a little extra time for the grocery run and see what you can find that is affordable in your area. It’s a win/win situation.