When in money-saving mode, it can seem like your whole life gets stuck in a rut. You do the same things every night, wear the same things without the chance to go shopping, and eat the same things day after day in the name of frugality, and that’s smart and responsible. However, it’s also boring as hell. If you’ve tried saving money at one time or another, I’m sure you can relate.
I noticed that what I used to do as a vegetarian was I would try to live off of simple carbohydrates. Peanut butter sandwich for breakfast, rice and beans for lunch, chips and salsa for a snack—these are all cheap and easy meals using mostly non-perishable foods, and it’s no wonder that I turned to them time and time again. But this kind of a diet isn’t sustainable in the long run. It doesn’t offer our bodies enough nutrition, no matter how kind it may be to our wallets.
So what’s to be done? If you can’t afford much, how can you feed your body what it needs?
1. Determine what produce is in season. This probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard this tip, but it bears repeating, because this is actually incredibly hard to do. We as a society are not set up to do this in the modern age, because in our stores the seasons don’t exist. It’s difficult to know which items are actually in season unless you use a database or this handy Fruits and Vegetables – When are They in Season? Guide, but the rule of thumb is this: if your store is selling produce at rock bottom, at cents per pound, chances are good that’s because the item is in its peak growing season. Those with lots of space at home or with an extra freezer can benefit from buying produce at its lowest price and preserving some for the off-season, when the price can double (or more), but even if this isn’t an option in your household, you can still carry out your weekly shopping by grabbing whatever’s in season. Eating seasonally should still provide you with most of your vitamin and mineral needs (daily vitamin supplements may also be beneficial for you—ask your physician).
Look at your grocery store’s weekly sales flyer and determine which produce items you want, what the price per pound will be, and how much you plan to purchase of each type.
2. Now that you know what fruits and vegetables you’ll choose, search for recipes that combine the in season produce with whole grains. You aren’t doing your budget any favors by simply showing up at the store and grabbing things off the shelves with no plan as to how you’ll combine them to make a meal. Before you even head to the store, take the list of produce you compiled from your market’s sales flyer and search for recipes. Sites like Allrecipes allow you to search by ingredient type, but you may find searching a vegetarian/vegan site yields more results you can use. Both Vegetarian Times and VegWeb have been fantastic resources for me, and additionally, I love that Beth at Budget Bytes has a whole list of vegetarian and vegan recipes, which include her signature cost-per-serving analysis.
You’ll want to pinpoint recipes which are made with whole grains rather than simple carbs for the heart benefits of whole grain, and to reduce glucose spikes caused by super-refined carbs (the body processes these as sugar).
3. Buy your whole grains from the bulk bins, and make sure you know if there are any discounts available. In addition to a great markdown schedule on grains, my local store offers an everyday discount of 10% off any grain you buy a pound of or more out of the bulk bins. In the case of expensive grains like quinoa, combining a sale with that 10% can mean big savings—but even if I need to buy before the next sales cycle comes around, I still get a discount.
4. Make your own snacks. The cheap warehouse club granola bars I bought for years are basically devoid of any nutrition, but they filled my stomach between meals. Problem was, the feeling of fullness came from the sugar the bars were chockful of rather than any fiber, protein, or other things my body was actually craving. By making your own snacks, you get to control what goes in, customizing each snack to fit your own health needs. The other great thing for your budget is this: by choosing an inexpensive recipe, you can get many servings of a homemade snack for much less than a prepackaged one. Add in the benefit of reducing waste from packaged snacks, and it’s hard to see any reason not to give it a whirl.
For example, you could make a batch of these budget-friendly double peanut butter protein raw bites, and, if you think they needed an extra punch of plant-based protein to help you feel full, you could incorporate this homemade protein powder as well. There’s so much more for your body to benefit from in a recipe like this than from a bargain granola bar.
By incorporating these 4 simple changes into my diet I’ve been able to refine what I eat while ensuring that I’m getting more nutrition. I switched from eating mostly shelf-stable carbs to now eating a diverse and healthful diet that is seasonal as well as affordable!
Have any suggestions of your own on how to eat nutritiously and inexpensively? Share your tips in the comments section below!
Abby Woody is the editor of HumaniTribe.com and an avid drinker of single-origin coffee and small-batch gin. She loves hiking muddy trails with her dog Brida and getting her passport tattooed at customs. She enjoys writing about self-acceptance and finding peace within.
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