How to Eat Healthy on a Budget
Healthy eating is just as important in our senior years as at any other stage of life - it might even be more important. As we age, we are not as active and are less likely to burn excess calories. Also, our aging bodies don’t absorb essential nutrients as efficiently as before.
A healthy diet is necessary for maintaining a healthy weight and to keep both our body and our mind functioning optimally. It reduces the risk of disease, as it maintains the immune system, and helps to prevent chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and dementia.
This article discusses how to eat healthy on a budget and then addresses the myth that a nutritious diet is expensive.
Health and Changes in Dietary Patterns
As a senior, when you think back of the food you ate as a child, you will agree that over the past few decades eating patterns have changed drastically.
There has been a steady growth in consumption of ready meals, processed foods, fast foods, fizzy drinks, and sugary or fatty snacks. The reasons include availability, convenience, and a more rushed lifestyle. These changes have contributed to the concerning increase in obesity and the resultant epidemic of chronic diseases.
Studies are being published almost weekly showing that changing to a healthy diet can slow age-related physical and mental decline and it can increase life expectancy. Remember, it’s never too late to start. Furthermore, adopting healthier eating habits has been shown to reverse chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, even in seniors.
What is Healthy Eating?
We are not talking about dieting in order to lose weight; we’re talking about adopting eating habits that will help you to stay healthy. Although, if you are overweight, you will probably shed pounds naturally once you change to a healthy diet.
The diets currently recommended by various organizations and experts can be very confusing. However, when you break it down, they all follow the same basic principles:
- Reduce sugar consumption: Excess sugar is the real enemy driving the epidemic of chronic disease. This includes starchy foods which are converted to sugar as soon as they enter the body.
- Eat plenty of nutrient-rich foods: This includes vegetables, fruit, nuts, and whole grains. These foods should cover half your plate.
- Eat adequate amounts of protein: For protein requirements, eat more fish, chicken, eggs, and legumes rather than red and processed meats.
- Use healthy fats: These are things such as olive oil and coconut oil. Reduce your consumption of saturated and trans-fats.
- Choose natural foods: Highly processed and fast foods generally contain fewer nutrients and more hidden sugar, unhealthy fats, and preservatives.
Eating Healthy on a Budget
Many people believe that healthy eating is expensive, but it all depends on what you choose to eat and how you buy it. As you change to healthier eating using the following guidelines, you might even find that you are able to reduce your monthly grocery bill.
You need to develop new ways of eating. Eating out frequently, consuming fast foods, ready meals, and junk foods are not only expensive but also mostly unhealthy. Commit to eating different, healthier foods. Healthy eating becomes expensive when you try and replace the “bad” foods you have become used to eating every day, like bread, cake, crisps, sweets, and biscuits, with the sugar replacement and reduced calorie alternatives available in grocery stores.
Also, learn to enjoy cooking from scratch with whole foods like your mother used to do when you were growing up. Healthy eating does not mean bland, tasteless food – type any ingredients into the web today and you can find thousands of versatile and delicious recipes.
Another factor is portioning. Meal portions have become larger than necessary and we have been raised to eat everything on our plates. You can save by reducing portions (especially meat) to what you need.
The best way to reduce sugar intake is to find healthy snacks that you enjoy: nuts, fruit, and plain salted popcorn are good examples. Let fizzy drinks, sweets, cakes, biscuits, rich desserts, and crisps become treats for holidays and other special occasions again.
Saving While Shopping for Groceries
Plan your meals in advance and make a shopping list to buy just what you need. This will prevent waste and help you to avoid impulse buys. Question the items you’ve been putting into your shopping basket out of long-standing habit and become aware of their real cost. This includes not only snack foods, but also items like pre-prepared sauces and salad dressings, which you can make yourself.
Getting fresh food is another thing to keep in mind. Buy fresh, single-ingredient foods as much as possible (those which by law don’t require a label with a list of ingredients). The more processed food is, the more expensive it becomes. Furthermore, almost all factory processed foods contain sugar and unhealthy preservatives. To go in hand with this, start your shopping around the perimeter of the grocery store where the fresh, whole foods are.
Keep your eyes open for special offers or bulk buying bargains on grocery items. You can save a lot by stocking up on non-perishable staple foods which you use regularly when they are on sale or by buying them in bulk. This includes items like rice, lentils, oats, peanut butter, nuts, and dried fruit.
Consider buying the cheaper store brands, often placed on the higher or lower shelves. Store brands are often produced by the same manufacturer as the well-known brands.
Saving on Fruits and Vegetables
Buying vegetables and fruit that are in season can help your wallet. They are less expensive, and you might even get bargains if you buy in bulk. You can share with friends or even bottle or freeze what you can’t use in a week or two. Likewise, when a vegetable is out of season and expensive, consider buying the frozen variety, which is just as healthy.
Fruits and vegetables are often fresher, tastier and less expensive if you buy them directly from the farmer at farmer’s markets or from street vendors. Or, try your hand at growing your own vegetables. Even just herbs grown in containers can add tremendous flavor and variety to the meals you prepare.
Saving on Protein
Meat and fish are the most expensive part of our diet. Consider replacing meat with less expensive sources of protein for a few meals a week. These include eggs, cheese, and pulses, such as lentils and dried beans.
You can cut costs by buying cheaper cuts of meat and cooking casseroles, stews, soups and stir-fries. This not only stretches meat usage but is also a way of adding more vegetables to your diet. You can also save on meat by buying in bulk and then dividing it up in meal size portions and freezing it.
A Healthy Diet on a Budget
The above guidelines show that with a few lifestyle changes, clever shopping hacks, and a bit of thought, you will be able to eat a healthy, balanced diet even on a tight budget.
Adopting healthy eating habits, combined with regular exercise, will keep you healthy and active for longer and it will save you money on medical bills in the future.