Staying Healthy While Staying In: Cooking on a Healthy Budget
Wellness is not just how you feel, it’s how you coexist with the world in challenging times. In the face of adversity, it can be easy to slip away from your healthy habits, but these are the times when it’s even more important than ever to have something you can rely on. And, if you’ve been wanting to learn how to cook quick healthy meals, here’s your opportunity!
Why Planning Can Save Your Money, Time, And Your Health
With consistency comes clarity; with clarity comes success.
The better you know about what’s healthy and how to cook it, the easier it is to plan around your food. The more committed to your plan, the less you have to worry about. The less you’re worrying, the clearer your mind and the better you are able to focus on what you really need to do to take you safely through these times.
With the news and social media reminding us every moment that the world we live in isn’t what we had in mind, who doesn’t want a little more clarity these days? Whether you’re newly looking for a job, worried about what the future may bring, or even safe and secure in your house, consistency and clarity are the tried and true methods to gain success, no matter how you define it.
Here are 5 key points to prove the point:
- Planning your meals in advance will absolutely help save $$$
- Sticking to your grocery list will prevent you from splurging on things you just want in the moment
- Understanding what you need and why will help you to stick to your plan
- Cooking at home is actually less expensive than eating out
- Preparing large batches helps you save time and ease the stress of prepping meals three times a day.
Even though I would never suggest cutting back on healthy eating habits, I also understand how challenging this situation might be for you. Instead of throwing your healthy diet out the window - along with your physical and mental health, let’s elaborate on how to maintain your well being while on a budget.
You can use these tips to make your pantry a powerhouse of sustainable clean energy, not a vehicle for bad habits. After all, we’re trying to come out of the pandemic of 2020 stronger, wiser and healthier! Together, I believe we can.
Balancing Calories And Nutrients
When you think about making your dollar go further, dollar-per-calorie probably comes to mind first, right?
One favorite indulgence from the gas station packs a dense 350 calories in a $1 treat. Efficient use of your cash, right?
Let’s be real though: the nutrients that go along with your calories are even more important than the calories. Case-in-point, choose the one-dollar equivalent in vegetables, spices and healthy fats instead, and you’ll be full for longer, with more energy and better blood markers, at a fraction of the calories.
Nutrients like the minerals calcium, zinc, magnesium, and iron and the vitamins like B-complex vitamins, vitamin D, vitamin C, and others are essential for a healthy immune system and energy to get you through the day.
Plus, research shows that too much processed food hurts not just your waistline, but also your immune system and your overall health. Can you really afford to damage your health with cheap food like pastries, pasta, sweetened yogurt, or sausage and bacon in times like these?
But, you might not know how to tread the middle ground to find the best balance of calories, nutrition and budget. That’s where we come in.
What should NOT be on my shopping list?
Not all cheap food is cheap on nutrition. But here’s a list, taken from the highest quality research, of foods that may do more harm to your health than good for your wallet:
- Packaged sausage
- Frozen breakfasts
- Tater tots, hash browns
- Sweetened yogurt
- Deli meat
- Chicken salad
- White bread, bagels
- American cheese
- Packed snack crackers
- Canned food with added sodium or added sugar
- Pre-made frozen meals
- Frozen fried foods
- Pre-prepared steak
- Hot dogs
- Premade hamburger
- Chocolate milk
Any of these look familiar? I know I used to think that some of these are pretty good choices until I learned that these exact foods have been proven to cause weight gain (Hall et al. 2019).
Not just a little extra weight, either. Compared to a healthier diet of unprocessed whole foods, you might expect as much as 3 pounds per month, just by eating these with every meal.
With extra weight comes chronic inflammation, and inflammation leads to worsened immune function (besides so many other conditions). Think of it this way: if your body is in a constant state of low-level inflammation, this becomes the new norm and your immune system dials back it’s responsiveness.
Then if and when you get infected with a cold or the flu, your body can’t fend off the invader as well as it could.
Now, indulging every now and then on the fun foods that give life a little sweetness is probably not going to hurt you. Who doesn’t enjoy a little chocolate every now and then?
But just like your immune system adjusts it’s response after taking hit after hit, so too does your brain and your stomach. The more exceptions you make when you’re stressed or bored, the more your body drives you to make more exceptions. As you can see, it’s a slippery slope!
So where can you spend the least and get the most?
What Are The Most Important Nutrients To Focus On When You’re On A Budget?
Something you might not know is that a typical American diet actually leads to a lot of nutrient deficiencies. These nutrient deficiencies can lead to fatigue, brain fog, trouble losing weight, and they make it easier to get sick and harder to get well afterwards.
Are you somebody who’s suffering from one of these common nutrient deficiencies?
I’ll give you a bit of a hint, more than one third of American’s don’t get enough of one of these nutrients - maybe even fewer get enough of that last one.
That means one in three Americans is putting themselves at risk for poor health when all they’d have to do is try out our meal suggestions at the bottom of this article!
Vitamin C is the front line defense against oxidation, inflammation, and infection and a lot of people do not get enough of it. If you don’t want the sugar content of many of the best sources of vitamin C - kiwi, citrus, strawberries - you can choose bell peppers, or almost any green vegetable instead.
If vitamin C is the front line defense against oxidation and inflammation, Vitamin E brings up the rear. When you sit around too much, get stressed out, smoke, eat junk food, or do any other thing that’s bad for your health, oxidative damage - a cause of inflammation that plays a big role in aging and every chronic disease - gets out of hand. This oxidative damage is too much for Vitamin C to handle, and Vitamin E steps in to clean up the mess. You can find high levels in almonds, sunflower, peanuts, spinach and greens, as well as a number of cold-pressed, virgin plant oils.
This is the single most common nutrient deficiency in America. That’s really bad news because if Vitamin E is the backup against oxidative damage, Vitamin D is the general of the army - it’s a hormone that tells all the cells of your body how to react to inflammation and stress.
It’s pretty hard to find in food, but if you get enough sunshine (but don’t burn!) you might have enough. People most at risk for deficiency include older people, people who spend most of their time inside, people with chronic disease, and people who are overweight or obese. If that sounds like it might be you, keep reading to learn how to eat for optimal vitamin D levels.
Critical for most cell functions, and quite deficient in the soil compared to a few generations ago, magnesium is critical for proteins in your body to function normally. Need to make muscle fibers? You need magnesium. Need to make hormones? You’ll need magnesium. It’s highest in nuts, legumes, and beans, as well as yogurt, salmon and spinach.
Potassium’s most critical role is lowering your blood pressure by working against sodium, but it is a master regulator of cellular function. It comes from a variety of sources, the best is dried fruit, but other great sources include beans and legumes, potatoes with their skin, spinach, salmon, and milk.
Fiber is the most important food for a healthy gut. It helps your bowels move nicely, it keeps you feeling full, and it feeds good gut bacteria - key players in fighting inflammation and infections.
Love does not cost us a thing and it is essential during any challenging time. Remember how important it is to love yourself the right way, the healthy way. We’ll cover how your psychology can have a profound effect on your immune system and your health in an upcoming blog, so stay tuned!
A couple other nutrients that don’t get enough attention are Vitamin A, B Vitamins, zinc and selenium. Even though most - but not all - Americans do get enough of them, there are times when you’ll want a little bit extra - especially to fight infections, ward off inflammation, and boost your metabolism when you’re burning through calories.
Don’t be surprised if you can’t name the symptoms that line up with any of these deficiencies. It’s hard, if not impossible, to pinpoint the side effects of a nutrient deficiency.
But that’s not even the point here. What’s important is that most nutrient insufficiencies go unnoticed and the damage caused can take years to show up. First you feel fatigued, and then out of nowhere your body simply is not strong enough to protect itself from any disease or virus.
With a list that long, it’s best to get as many of them as you can in every food. So what are the cheapest foods that don’t skimp on nutrition?
The Top 5 Healthy Foods on a Budget
Scrap the cheap calories and go for the inexpensive nutrition with this list of versatile and flavorful foods.
1. Spinach, broccoli, beets & greens, or any green and red leafy veggie
Green and red veggies are some of the most nutritious foods out there. Full stop: nothing beats these. High in fiber, low in calories, rich in calcium, iron, potassium, vitamins A, C, and E and some B vitamins, greens are an obvious choice to add to any (or every!) meal. Plus, the specific plant chemicals in red veggies like beets and green veggies like broccoli have unique benefits for your heart and immune system.
2. Fish (tinned or frozen is better than none)
Fish probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think inexpensive. But when you look at the most important nutrients that don’t get enough attention, you’ll see that fish is worth every penny. You don’t have to buy the expensive, fresh-caught, overnighted gourmet fish at the supermarket, though - you can get the same nutrition in canned and frozen fish.
Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids are some of the best immune-boosting, heart-healthy, energizing nutrients in existence, and salmon and sardines are the two greatest sources of them. You’ll also get high quality protein, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, B vitamins and more in every serving. Plus, eat the skin to get even more of the nutrition as well as the health benefits of collagen.
Can’t justify the price? You get most of the nutrition in a high quality fish liver oil supplement. Go for one that’s quality certified and refrigerated so you know you’re getting the best.
3. Bean and legumes
Kidneys, pintos, white and black beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas and, yes, even peanuts, are the unsung heroes of a high-quality, budget-friendly diet. Packed with fiber and providing a balance of slow-burning complex carbs and protein, beans and legumes also provide potassium, B-vitamins,
4. Nuts and seeds
With their superior nutrition profile, almonds take the stage when it comes to balancing price with nutrition. If they seem a little on the expensive side, plenty of other nuts and seeds can fill in the gaps. For example, peanuts, sunflower seeds, and ground flax will get you most of the way there at a fraction of the cost.
5. Dairy or fortified alternative milk
Dairy has gotten to be a heated topic in nutrition. It’s a great source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, plenty of protein, and fortified with vitamin D, but there’s a catch. Not all that many people can digest it very well. Whether it’s an ethical reason, a casein allergy, lactose intolerance, or some other sensitivity, a lot of people don’t drink milk.
To get one step closer to a more digestible dairy, choose hard cheeses or yogurt for a lower dose of lactose and the beneficial bacteria to help your gut’s digestion.
If you want to avoid dairy all-together, try a fortified alternative milk like pea, oat, soy, or almond. These definitely don’t pack the nutritional punch that real dairy does, and they fall on the more expensive side of the spectrum, but they can provide some good nutrition and may be one of few options available to you.
What To Eat To Stay Healthy On A Budget
So let’s put this all together and make some sense of it. What can you make that will keep your body healthy, your mind clear, and your stomach happy with these and some of the other ingredients mentioned?
How about a nut milk smoothie bowl topped with slivered almonds and seeds with Resync Collagen mixed in for a sustained energy boost?
Or if you’re looking for a different breakfast, how about a super awesome, clean and inexpensive meal of oats with nuts and frozen berries? Nab the fresh ones on sale when you can!
For a snack, turn to a handful of almonds, or try a mix of toasted flax, peanuts and sunflower seeds to get almost the same nutrition.
Alternatively, try a tuna salad - hold the mayo and sub in olive oil - with flax crackers for a snack?
What about spending like a peasant and eating like a king with a three-bean salad tossed with fresh diced bell pepper, roasted broccoli, roasted beets, and spinach?
And when your day winds down, how could you resist a peanut-crusted fillet of salmon on a bed of spinach and a dollop of plain yogurt? If your veg, throwing a slab of peanut crusted on the skillet with a drizzle of olive oil and lemon pepper might do the trick.
The key here is to recognize that just because your wallet might be limited, that doesn’t mean your options for healthy food have to be.
Have fun, get creative and add some spices to any of the top five least-expensive most-nutritious foods. Even if you go back for seconds, your waistline, your immune health, and your overall well being will glow from making the best choices.
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We’ll be covering all these topics and more, but that’s just scratching our own itch. What do you want to know?
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While some media is trying to drive revenue through clickbait and fake news, we make sure to back up our claims with hard data and a sensible perspective. We believe that when you have the right information, you’re empowered to make the best decision for yourself. That’s why we break down complex science into practical takeaways you can use today.
Wishing you the best in your health and your safety,
The Resync Team
USDA, Agricultural Research Service, 2019. Usual Nutrient Intake from Food and Beverages, by Gender and Age, What We Eat in America, NHANES 2013-2016 Available http://www.ars.usda.gov/nea/bhnrc/fsrg
Hall, Kevin D., et al. “Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake.” Cell Metabolism, vol. 30, no. 1, Elsevier, July 2019, pp. 67-77.e3. www.cell.com, doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2019.05.008.
Myles, Ian A. “Fast Food Fever: Reviewing the Impacts of the Western Diet on Immunity.” Nutrition Journal, vol. 13, June 2014, p. 61. PubMed Central, doi:10.1186/1475-2891-13-61.