Last updated on December 4th, 2022 at 02:41 pm
How to eat healthy when you’re broke. Let me paraphrase that if you’re more sophisticated, I meant – how to eat clean on a budget…That’s what I want to talk about today, I’ll share some healthy eating tips and also some cheap healthy meal ideas that you can make when money is tight.
I’m no stranger to living and eating healthy on a budget. Money and more importantly – well-paid jobs didn’t grow on trees for a large portion of my life. Still, back then, I was way healthier than I am today when I have a more stable income and resources. Therefore, I know for a fact there’s actually a pretty simple way to eat clean on a budget and live a healthy lifestyle, even when you’re struggling financially.
Always Look On The Bright Side
Sometimes I believe mo’ money, mo’ health problems. In my opinion, it’s because money makes us seek comfort. Money and work can also make us believe we don’t have time for simple things like walking or cooking a meal. More money can actually make us more stressed, less resourceful, less creative and more scattered.
Do you realize, what’s one of the one thing making us the majority of us sick at this point in time? When everything is largely available?
It’s overconsumption. Too much food, too much alcohol, too much media, too much content, too much time indoors, too many clothes, too much comfort, TOO much…Yet somehow to most of us, too much is still not enough. And it never will be. We all seem to be addicted to something when we let self control slide a bit.
Now I’m not going to turn this into a “I’m poor and I love it”, because I’m not delusional or stupid. However, I believe in being optimistic and looking on the bright side of life. Because I know being optimistic is actually good for your immune system and can help you live longer.
Eating Clean Can Be Expensive, But You Can Make It Work
Have you watched a movie that came out a few years ago with Salma Hayek, where her character went into the store and wanted to buy a zucchini? Well, one zucchini basically cost 4-times more money than a huge bag of candy or chips. She then had a whole rant about how the more chemicals they put into the food the cheaper it gets. And that zucchini that comes out of the ground is basically more expensive than gold.
This is exactly how I’ve been feeling about the food industry for years. In fact, for the last, probably 20 years. And it’s sad and honestly, it’s pretty disgusting. It’s disgusting that food that doesn’t provide any nutritional value and can actually harm you is way more accessible than food that can feed your body and provide it with everything it needs to function and heal itself.
However, the reality is that eating clean might be more expensive than it needs to be, but it’s worth it anyway. When you know how to do it, when you focus on what’s actually important for your body when it comes to nutrition, you can save money not only on groceries but also for example on medicine and supplements.
How To Eat Clean On A Budget
Eating better can add years to your life, improve the quality of your life and even help you make more money, because you will be healthy, alive, and capable of working for many more years.
To eat clean, focus on the foods that are simple, whole and reduce the unnecessary, processed foods from your diet, even when they’re labeled healthy.
1. Eat produce that is in season.
When you’re wanting to eat clean on a budget, don’t make the mistake of cutting out the vegetables and investing that money into powders or superfoods or whatnot. The main thing your body needs on a regular basis is vegetables. I know from all the info we’re getting, protein seems to be more important than air…but protein is everywhere, even in many green vegetables.
We need around eight cups of fruit and vegetables daily, because they have the vitamins, the minerals, the antioxidants, the healing molecules that your body requires. So get whatever is in season, on sale and looks healthy. Make sure to wash it really well too.
2. Invest in chia, flaxseed, or flaxseed oil.
You can buy these foods in bulk and this is an investment worth making, especially when you want to stay healthy while living on a budget. And I’ll explain why.
Everything else that we eat – grains, chicken, legumes, nuts, other seeds are all rich in omega-6 fatty acids. Now, omega-6 fatty acids are not bad for you, until you eat too many of them. You need a balance, a balance of omega-3’s and omega-6’s. They need to be 1:1. By eating a regular diet, that balance is nonexistent and omega-6s overpower your body, leading to chronic inflammation.
So, you need to add in the foods that have predominantly omega-3’s in them. That’s chia seeds and flaxseed. So, don’t skip them. Keep flax in a cool and dark place, add it to your smoothies and or ground into salads. Do not toast!
3. Buy Non-Perishable Foods In Bulk
When it comes to eating clean on a budget, this can help you save you some money on food. Lentils, beans, chickpeas, rice, quinoa, flaxseed – you can buy all of these foods dry and in bulk.
It’s much cheaper than buying a little bit every time and you also don’t produce as much plastic waste. Which is a real problem that probably won’t get solved with paper straws.
Make sure to store the dried foods in airtight containers, I like to upcycle glass jars and use them for that. Not only are you going to save money, you’ll also reduce your consumption of unhealthy things like BPA’s and sulfites that can be found in most canned food.
4. Snack Better
Apples, bananas, some nuts can all make a cheaper, more nutritious snack than what you’d usually buy from a snack box in the office. I used to always buy snickers when I worked at an office, but a banana is so much better and actually cheaper.
5. Cook more.
This is pretty self-explanatory, but when you’re on a budget, you need to start cooking in order to eat clean. Why? Because you can make your own healthy food for much cheaper than if you’d pay someone else to make it for you.
More than that, you can use the ingredients you actually like. So make your own food, it shouldn’t take you too long, about 30 minutes a day is more than enough.
6. Meal Prep.
I am not the biggest fan of meal prep food, but having some cooked food for the week helps to simplify your life and save money on food. It helps you to make better choices, even when you’re hungry and don’t have much time.
Imagine you have to go to work, but have no time to pack a sandwich. Well, you’ll have to buy something that is not that good and not in your budget either. Now, if you make these Mediterranean bowls ahead, you won’t need to buy anything and will be eating something delicious.
7. Utilize leftovers.
Using leftovers to create new healthy meals is a great way to eat clean on a budget, because you’re saving time, money and reducing food waste.
I’ve got an entire blog post about using leftovers. I usually get very bored when eating the same thing, so I always like to transform old meals into new ones. Mainly by adding garlic, herbs and spices.
8. Freeze and Preserve Food
Freezing food is a great way to save money, food waste and eat healthy when you’re living on a budget.
For example, if you bought a huge head of cauliflower and know you won’t be eating all of it within the week, break some of it up into florets, wash, dry completely and freeze in Ziploc bags. Next time you want to eat cauliflower, guess what – you’ve got some in your freezer.
The same goes for other bigger vegetables like butternut squash, pumpkin or broccoli. You can even freeze spinach, kale, cabbage, tomatoes or peppers. They won’t have the same texture as fresh vegetables, but nutritionally not much will change.
Another good way to preserve food is to dry it. Drying is especially good for fresh herbs like mint, parsley or basil, but can also work for leafy greens like nettle. You can choose to air dry these foods or to dry them in the oven at a lower temperature for a few hours.
9. Practice Intermittent Fasting
Speaking of eating clean on a budget, have you ever tried intermittent fasting? I know, it sounds a bit like dark comedy, but embrace not spending money on food and commit to intermittent fasting. It’s actually THE one thing that can promote longevity, reduce inflammation and heal your gut.
And you don’t need to spend anything on it. All you need to do is change your eating schedule a bit. Instead of eating from early morning until late in the evening, you eat within a smaller time period – 6-8 hours during that day. This will prevent acid reflux, improve insulin resistance and enhance cellular repair.
Rather than getting a snack or an unhealthy breakfast like muffins or doughnuts (that’s what I used to do for a long time), just tell yourself you’re going to practice intermittent fasting and stay away from those foods.
10. Start A Herb Garden
I am pretty new to gardening, as I just started a few months ago, but it’s really changing my perspective on what is healthy and what’s not. In just 2-3 months I’ve already grown some dill, parsley, cilantro, green onions, a little bunch of spinach and surprisingly: radishes. Had no idea they grow so fast and furious!
I started most of these plants from seeds (onions from bulbs) and I want to do more when spring is here. It’s now my new thing.
And with this experience, I learned, that I could’ve been doing some sort of gardening all of these years when I was living in an apartment. There’s nothing wrong with growing herbs or even leafy greens in pots on your balcony. No need for a house with a garden. In fact, you won’t get any cats, moles, raccoons or mice eating your produce.
The seeds are pretty cheap, you buy some soil and you can even make your own compost using leaves and kitchen scraps. It’s the best thing ever and since we’ve been so far removed from this natural process, I now find it pretty miraculous.
The food is more nutritious, because you’ll eat it right after harvest, it will be organic, because you don’t need to spray it with anything, you’re more independent and it’s so rewarding. I’m not claiming you can feed an entire family with a few bunches of parsley and some spinach. But it can definitely supplement your diet and help you eat clean when you’re on a budget.
Tools Worth Investing Into
The two things I’d invest in are:
- Immersion blender. Now, you probably already have a blender at home, almost everybody does at this point. If you don’t – get an immersion blender, they’re cheaper and do a great job when you want to prepare smoothies, soups, and sauces.
- Pressure Cooker. Because it saves you time and money for electricity.
Cheap Healthy Foods To Buy When On A Budget
Here I will just list out some of the best cheap foods to help you eat healthy on a budget.
The best way to eat healthy is to eat what is in season. That’s the time when the plant will have the most nutrients! When a food you want to eat is not in season, it’s best to choose frozen.
In general, the following fruits and vegetables are pretty affordable and very rich in nutrients. No disrespect to cucumbers, I love them, but they won’t provide that much nutritional value to your diet. When making your grocery list, focus on vegetables that are rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. These should make the bulk of your diet. So here it goes:
- spinach (can also use frozen in smoothies)
- kale (can also use frozen in smoothies)
- sweet potatoes or potatoes
- frozen peas
- frozen berries
- frozen green beans (when out of season)
Add these pantry foods to your diet to provide protein, fiber, omega-3’s and flavor. These will make the second biggest part of your diet.
- dried lentils
- dried chickpeas
- dried beans
- raw flaxseed
- chia seeds
- dried mint
- tomato paste
- olive oil
These should be enjoyed in moderation. A few times a week.
- chicken thighs
- canned fish
If you can afford it, enjoying some fresh or frozen fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines or tuna at maximum twice a week. These omega-3-rich foods can benefit your health too and are a better choice than chicken or canned fish.
Remember That Health is True Wealth
When my sister and I were little growing up in the 90s in Bulgaria, our country went through hyperinflation. Within a day the 3000 leva (around 1500$ back then) that my grandpa saved for years and years became 30 (15$). They were just scratching the last zeros away like it was nothing. It was such a slap in the face of all the regular people. The ones who had jobs and worked every single day to feed their families.
As much stress and devastation as this caused for all of the young families living in Bulgaria during that time, I can tell you now that we all made it through.
I remember this story like it was yesterday. Probably because we talked about it around a month ago with my dad. I was worried about where things are going and how expensive everything is getting and if I’m honest I’m still worried.
However, I remembered something that life has shown me time and time again through my experience and the experience of others around me:
Money comes and money goes. What stays is what truly matters. The sun, the sky, the stars, nature and the people around us…
Money might not grow on trees, but you can always make it. As long as you’re healthy and alive you’ll always get opportunities to make more money. As long as you’re disciplined and willing to do your best work, you will always find a way to be financially successful in life. So really keep this in mind and try not to worry about money too much.
The only things you can’t get back in life are time and energy. Not money. And, btw. the way to have more time and more energy is to live a healthier, more peaceful, and joyful life. THIS should be our focus.
What is essential to live and enjoy life in this world?
A healthy functioning body and mind. You will figure out the rest. Don’t forget: health is actually true wealth.
So invest into healthy food and learning how to eat clean even when you’re living on a budget, because it will allow you to pull through anything.
Cheap Clean Healthy Meals To Eat On A Budget
These are just a few healthy meals that can help you start eating healthy on a budget. Sub ingredients for whatever is available to you and make these your own. I recommend having at least one smoothie and a salad a day, even if it’s a side dish salad.
- Green Smoothie With Kiwi And Apples
- Anti-Inflammatory Cauliflower Chicken Soup
- Tuna and Chickpea Meal Prep Bowls
- Easy Cabbage Tofu Stir-Fry
- The Best Green Smoothie
- Spicy Mediterranean Lunch Bowls
- Chicken Egg Roll In A Bowl
- Spicy Chicken and Chickpeas
- The Best Easy Lentil Soup
- Spicy Chickpea Patties
I hope find these tips on how to eat clean on a budget helpful and encouraging! If you have any questions or requests, let me know!