Last updated in November 2020
Eating real food on a budget can be a challenge. Advertising and the wealth of information available make deciding which foods you should eat, where to buy them from and whether to cook your own meals difficult.
When you do not have much money, it can be tempting to eat cheap junk food and become convinced that a healthy diet is unobtainable for you. But, in fact, most healthy foods are cheap and having less money does not have to be an obstacle.
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Eating real food on a budget
First of all, when your budget is limited and you want to eat healthy, you have to choose the right foods. In particular, you want to make sure you cover all essential nutrients. These include:
Water comes from your tap at a very low cost. If you dislike the taste or are concerned about contamination and pollutants, you can buy a water filter. Filtered water will taste as good as store-bought bottled water, plus you do not have to carry heavy bottles.
For all of these nutrients, there are affordable and healthy options available:
|Protein||Beans, eggs, fish|
|Carbohydrates||Bread, grains, pasta, rice|
|Fats||Dark chocolate, fish, oils, seeds|
|Minerals||Fish, nuts, vegetables|
Note that while the mentioned foods are highly nutritious, you should also explore other foods. Variety is important as different foods contain different nutrients of a group.
Fresh food generally has more nutrients than food that has been stored for a while. Thus, you want to buy food locally when you can as the food has been transported for a shorter time period. Good opportunities to buy fresh foods are farmer’s markets, as well as independent bakeries and butchers.
If you live in a rural area, these shops will often be cheap whereas if you live in a city, you may find them too expensive. Discounter supermarkets are still a viable alternative. The food may be slightly less fresh, but it will still be nutritious enough to cover your needs.
When going shopping, you can follow some simple tips and tricks to keep your cost down.
Avoiding food waste is crucial for eating real food on a budget. The best way to do so is to know where to store your food. Important storage places include:
- Shelves and cupboards
In general, foods that you plan to eat within a few days should be placed in the fridge. Foods that you intend to keep for longer should be kept in the freezer. Freezing food is a good idea to store food and preserve nutrients when you are buying in bulk. Though you have to keep in mind that not all foods can be frozen.
Dry food that cannot tolerate moisture should be stored in your cupboard or on a shelf. Most foods do not like warmth and sunshine so a cool, dark and dry place is the optimal storage space. As mentioned before, food is most nutritious when it is fresh so you should avoid prolonged storage periods.
The way you process food also influences its nutrient content. Surprisingly, raw food is not always the most nutritious. Some foods, such as kale, can be digested more easily when cooked. Still, you should avoid cooking food for longer than necessary to preserve its nutrients.
To save money and time, meal prepping may be a good idea. With this, you spend one day a week preparing meals for the rest of the week. This allows you to buy ingredients in bulk and save time on your busier days.
Eating real food on a budget summary
Eating real food on a budget is easier than you may have been led to believe. When money is tight, selecting the right foods is crucial. In particular, you want foods that are rich in nutrients, cheap and easy to store and process.
Ideally, you source these foods locally, but discount supermarkets are a viable alternative. Storage time should be kept to a minimum and you should ensure to store your food items at the optimal place. When cooking, meal prepping is a good way to save time and money but any food item should not be cooked for longer than necessary.
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