AUBURN, Ala. — There is a common misconception in American society that you can eat cheap or you can eat healthy, but not both. In reality, this is not true. Healthy cooking on a budget is not impossible, it just takes planning, self-control and research.
“That’s just been ingrained in our minds that eating healthy is expensive. So many people think it’s cheaper to make a hamburger than make a healthy sandwich,” said Karen Softley, regional nutrition agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.
“We actually have a program that we do called, Eat Healthy, Be Active,” said Softley, “One of the sessions is based on eating healthy on a budget and a lot of things we go into is buying foods when they’re in season such as fruits and vegetables.”
Vegetables that are in season are more likely to be less expensive due to the larger supply. Some vegetables that can be found year-round at a reasonable price include tomatoes, green beans and corn, among others. “You can’t go wrong with vegetables,” said Softley, “A lot of people base their meals on the meat, which is going to be more expensive. You should base it on the vegetables.”
Cooking and buying in bulk can help too. Items such as lasagna or chili, as well as soups and stews, can be kept in the freezer and thawed when needed. This way, one trip to the grocery store and one night of cooking can lead to multiple meals. This is more cost effective than cooking a new meal each night and having to buy different ingredients.
As far as coupons are concerned, it is best to use them wisely. “If you’re going to use coupons, make sure it’s on something that you actually use,” said Softley. Many stores today will match discounts on coupons from other stores, which can save a lot of money in the long run. There are several mobile applications that can help consumers find these deals.
With a healthy and cost effective meal plan in place, the next thing to look for is snacking. The best snacks should contain a balance of items from different food groups, such as trail mix and smoothies.
“Trail mix is wonderful,” said Softley. “You can get your peanuts, which have a lot of protein. You can get raisins, which contain some important vitamins and nutrients. Then, you can also throw in some type of cereal and get some fiber, whether it’s Cheerios or some type of oat-based cereal.”
Smoothies also can provide variety and nutrition without a high cost.
One last tip for those trying to eat healthy while on a budget is to be mindful of portion control. “Always keep in mind that no matter how healthy you’re eating, you still have to keep your portion size in mind. Even though those things are healthy they still have calories,” said Softley.
Be mindful of portion sizes, buy and cook in bulk and stick to vegetables that are in season. These are the keys to cooking on a budget.
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