… or Your Whole Life in the Kitchen
Never eat processed foods. Cut sugar. Eat clean. Buy organic. Cook from scratch. Drink more water. Ack! Who has time for that? Not to mention the budget?
I hope to convince you that you do. With a little bit of planning and prep work, you can eat like the Health Queen (or King) for less than $200 per person monthly and less than an hour per day in the kitchen. The best part is that this eating well plan will ensure you never have to diet again.
Why You Should Care
“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” – Dr. Ann Wigmore, founder of the Natural Health Institute
More and more research is showing that our diet may be the most significant factor in disease prevention. Good nutrition ensures our body functions properly, helps regulate mood and sustains our energy. Eating well helps maintain a healthy weight, improves your complexion, and increases your confidence and overall quality of life. Good nutrition is the fountain of youth.
A Healthy Diet Defined
There are close to 175,000 diet books on Amazon. Everyone has a different opinion about what constitutes a healthy diet. Today I’ll share mine.
First, my credentials. I’m not a doctor and I don’t have a degree in nutritional science. Our diet is based on our own research and experimentation. Neither Jer nor I have any health problems. We don’t take any medications. We rarely get sick and have piles of energy. We’re the same size (if not smaller) that we were in high school. Just yesterday, someone told Jer, “you look younger than when you were young.”
The first rule to a healthy diet is one that is easy to maintain. One of my biggest complaints about the Extreme Biggest Diet shows is that the diet and exercise are not sustainable. A recent study of 14 Biggest Loser contestants over six years, revealed that only one didn’t regain weight. Diet and fitness are lifestyle choices you must be willing to commit to for the rest of your life, or they won’t work.
I believe that the majority of what we eat should be whole food. Our food should resemble how it comes from the earth. We should be eating apples, not Apple Jacks. Our rule for processed foods is that if the label includes any ingredient we don’t have in our kitchen, we don’t buy it.
While reading that label, watch out for added sugar. The World Health Organization recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day. I did some research and found that a “healthy” lunch of small salad with bottled dressing, a low-calorie frozen meal, and a flavored yogurt has double the daily recommendation.
Michael Pollan does a great job explaining this point of view with one sentence. “Eat anything you want, just cook it yourself.”
Eating on a Budget
There is a misconception that eating healthy is expensive. Let’s look at one of the most common convenience foods, frozen pizza. Our local grocery chain has frozen pizza on sale for 3.33. If you eat half that frozen pizza, your meal cost you 1.67.
Based on that same advertisement, you could prepare a chicken breast, baked potato with sour cream, fresh broccoli, and an orange for 1.35. 32 cents seems like pocket change, but multiply that by three meals a day over one year and you have an extra $350 in your pocket, per person.
The Environment Working Group has a great guide for eating well on a budget.
Here are my favorite tips.
- Eat in season.
- Grow what you can.
- Shop farmers markets.
- Cut back on animal products.
- Buy meat directly from local farmers. Check if your meat market offers bundles.
- Check out the bulk section of your grocery store.
- Shop based on your store’s weekly advertisement and stock up on deals.
- Compare price per pound.
- Buy in larger quantities, for example, a five-pound bag of potatoes versus single potatoes.
- Shop the frozen section for fruit, vegetables, and meat.
- Shop membership clubs like Costco, especially for organics.
- Take advantage of private label stores such as Aldi and Trader Joes.
- Plan your weekly menu, then create a shopping list and stick to it.
- Cook from scratch.
Mind Your Time
Not having time to cook is the most common excuse I hear for not eating well. I agree that cooking and food prep takes time, but perhaps the answer lies in our perception of how we’re using our time.
According to the USHFC, the average American eats out more than five times per week. Whether you’re cruising through the drive through or sitting down in a restaurant, dining out takes time. In the case of fast food, you have to drive to and from the restaurant, wait in line, order and then wait for your food. If I were to go to my closest fast food restaurant right now, it would take me at least 30 minutes. When Jer and I go out for dinner, the whole process takes more than two hours. If we did two nights in a restaurant and three nights of fast food, we would spend close to six hours on the process. I’m certain I could prepare healthy meals at home in the same amount of time.
We eat almost all of our meals out of our own kitchen. On the weekends, we spend a bit more time on prep work and big meals. But on weekdays, I try not to spend more than one hour in the kitchen.
The most important thing you can do to make this happen is to have a plan. I plan one big meal per day based on what I have, what’s fresh, on sale, and in season. Based on that plan, I prepare a shopping list and the rest is easy.
More great tips to save time in the kitchen
- Use your slow cooker. The internet is full of awesome whole food recipes that can be prepped in a jiffy and slow cook while you’re at work.
- Batch cook and freeze. I did this a lot when I had a real job. I would prepare huge stock pots of soups, stews, and chili, and freeze the leftovers so that we always had real food on hand.
- Do prep work on the weekend. Spend a few hours making sure everything you need is ready to go before the week begins. We often prep Jer’s lunches for the week on Sunday evening.
- Learn a handful of quick meals for busy evenings. Salads are awesome quick meals. I also like to make frittatas and baked sweet potatoes with black beans or chicken.
Check out my favorite sites for quick, inexpensive and healthy meals.
- The Lemon Bowl – You must try the Slow Cooker Chicken Curry, you could easily cut the chicken to make it vegan.
- Budget Bytes – Try Banh Mi Bowls with extra veggies on your next picnic.
- 100 Days of Real Food – Bring the Slow Cooker Baked Beans to your next potluck.
- Slender Kitchen – Try Jer’s favorite Slow Cooker Cochinita Pibil.
- Gimme Some Oven – I’m obsessed with the Greek Yogurt Caesar Dressing over garden fresh kale.
That’s a lot of information, but I assure you, it’s easy to do if you start small. What I share today is a culmination of more than five years of small changes. Remember that part about sustainability?
Set a goal to make one of these changes next week and a year from now you’ll be the healthy living queen (or king). It’s not about being perfect all of the time. It’s about making better choices day by day. These small choices will compound and ensure good health for years to come.
What tips do you have for clean eating on a budget?
How do you save time in the kitchen?
Share in the comments below.