Each season, I hear from contestants and viewers that they're struggling with the added cost of eating healthy. I decided this is the perfect time to share ideas on how to eat healthy without breaking your food budget. Incorporating a few of these tips into your weekly routine can really save you some dough-re-mi.
Buy in Bulk
Bulk items are usually cheaper. That's because there's no expensive packaging included. Those savings are passed directly on to you. You also have the freedom to choose how much or how little to buy each time. Best buys include whole grains, dried beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, and cereals. Some health food stores sell spices in bulk as well.
Out-of-season fruits and vegetables are sometimes imported, expensive, and often tasteless. Plan menus and choose recipes around what's currently in season. You'll enjoy better flavor and lower prices, especially at this time of year.
Local grocers carry plenty of regional produce.
Grow Your Own
Slash your spending even further by supplementing your produce purchases with homegrown items. If you don't have space for a garden, you can at least grow your own herbs. Plant your favorites in small pots near the kitchen. Take a snip or two as needed.
Make It from Scratch
Yes, it takes more time, but preparing a dish at home rather than picking up a premade version can save up to 50% or more. It also ensures that your dish is healthier because you dictate the amount of oil or salt it contains. Best of all, this guarantees no hidden preservatives.
Shop the Outer Aisles
In most markets, you'll find the healthiest ingredients on the perimeter of the store. Fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins including fish and chicken, and fat free and low-fat dairy products. The inner aisles contain most of the processed food, including soda, candy, chips and snack foods. Aside from the fact that they contain empty calories, they also take a big (and unnecessary) bite from your budget.
Load Up with Legumes
Beans and legumes offer myriads of health benefits as diverse as their varieties. Black beans, garbanzos, pintos - they're all excellent sources of fiber. They're also rich in folic acid, calcium, iron, potassium, zinc and antioxidants. The complex carbohydrates they contain provide steady energy that lasts well beyond mealtime. A stellar source of protein, legumes may be the biggest money saver of all as they cost a fraction of the price of most animal proteins.
The downside of eating beans is occasional digestive problems, especially if we don't eat them regularly. As complex carbohydrates, beans contain a variety of complex sugars such as stachyose and raffinose. These sugars require special enzymes to break them down. If the enzymes are absent in the digestive tract, the sugars begin to ferment, creating gas and intestinal distress.
When preparing dried beans, it helps to soak the beans overnight. This initiates the process of dissolving the complex sugars, and thus minimizes their uncomfortable side effects. Before cooking the beans, they should be drained, rinsed and covered with fresh water. Supplemental enzymes that ease digestive problems are available on the market, and they can be taken just before eating your first bite of beans. Most of these enzymes cannot be added to the beans as they are cooking because the high heat inactivates them.
Lentils are my favorite legume. They've been considered a poor man's provision for over 8,000 years. Some of the world's greatest religions follow a vegetarian diet, and lentils are a great substitute for meat. One-half cup serving of cooked lentils contains 8 grams of dietary fiber and a whopping 9 grams of protein. Lentils are also one of the richest natural sources of folate. There is also evidence that lentils in the diet may contribute to improved control of blood sugar, cholesterol and triglycerides due to their high fiber content.
One of the oldest foods known, lentils are used extensively in most parts of the world. They do not require pre-soaking, and they cook quickly. Here is one of my all-time favorite ways to enjoy lentils:
STOVETOP BARBECUED LENTILS
Quick and easy, this barbecue favorite is absolutely addictive. A great make-ahead dish for a potluck or a picnic, it's loaded with fiber.
Yield: 2 quarts; 8 (1/2 cup) servings
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped red onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon mustard powder
2 cups fat-free chicken or vegetable broth
3/4 cup tomato sauce
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons agave nectar or dark honey
1-1/2 cups brown lentils, rinsed
salt and pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and saute until softened and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and spices and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Do not brown garlic.
Add broth, tomato sauce, vinegar, mustard, agave nectar and lentils. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until lentils are tender but intact (about 30 minutes). Lentil cooking times vary. If necessary, add an additional 1/4 cup water and simmer for 5 minutes longer if lentils are not tender. Season with salt and pepper.
LENTIL FACTOID: Lentils are very high in folic acid. One cup of cooked lentils provides 90% of the daily recommended intake for adults.
Nutrient Analysis (per 1/2 cup serving):
Protein: 11 grams
Carbs: 28 grams
Total Fat: 1 gram
Saturated Fat: 0 grams
Poly Fat: 0 grams
Mono Fat: 0 grams
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Fiber: 8 grams
Sodium: 54 milligrams
Chef Cheryl Forberg RD is a James Beard award-winning chef and the nutritionist for NBC's The Biggest Loser. For more cooking tips and nutrition information visit her web site at www.cherylforberg.com or follow her on Twitter @CherylForbergRD and www.facebook.com/cherylforbergrd