Determine the Value for Money
The basis for healthy budget meals is to strike the best possible trade off between the nutritional value of the food and the cost of the food. One good way to do this is to determine the cost per unit of the nutrients contained in the food.
For instance, one large egg provides 6 grams of protein. With eggs costing $2.16 a dozen, a gram of protein from eggs cost 3 cents. A glass of milk provides 8 grams of protein and with milk costing $2.60 per half gallon, a gram of protein from milk costs more than 4 cents. Similarly, cottage cheese priced at $2.50 a pound provides protein at the rate of 5 cents per gram. Making such per unit comparisons allows one to determine the best food monetary and nutritional values. Opt for foods that provide multiple nutrients to further maximize the price paid.
Some of the generally inexpensive yet healthy meal ingredients include plain brown rice, whole-wheat English muffins, tortillas, oatmeal, cereals and other grains. Brown rice for instance has just 4 grams of fat per 100 calories.
Best Shopping Practices
Having identified the best value for money food, the next step in preparing healthy budget meals is finding the required ingredients cheaply.
The best practices when shopping for low cost meals include:
- Buying locally grown seasonal fruits and vegetables. Seasonal products cost less, remain fresh, and taste better. For instance, opt for melon, tomatoes, corn, and peaches in summer, oranges, grapefruits, and apples in winter, strawberries in spring, and pumpkins in autumn. Make sure to identify recipes for such ingredients
- Opting for generic store brands, which remain cheaper than branded products. Both provide the same nutritional value.
- Refraining from purchasing the more expensive add-ons. For instance, avoid high sodium content ready-to-cook meats such as marinated boneless skinless chicken, and instead buy plain chicken to skin or season the meat at home. Similarly, buy block cheese and shred it at home instead of purchasing the more expensive pre-shredded cheese.
- Buying large quantities at once. Product prices vary with packing size. Check for unit price and purchase the least expensive size. Generally, bulk purchases and large packing offer a cheaper price per unit.
- Taking advantage of specials and promotional offers on staples such as broth, soups, pasta, rice, canned vegetables, bread, meat and other products with a long shelf life.
Best Cooking Practices
Cooking at home is both healthier and less expensive than eating out. Restaurant foods are invariably higher in calories, fat, sodium, and sugar. For those with severe time constraints, one good option is to cook on the weekends and freeze foods for later use.
Best cooking tips for healthy budget meals include:
- Using less expensive cuts of meat for casseroles made in a slow-cooker.
- Adding extra vegetables and beans to make the meal healthier and also last longer.
- Using chili and spaghetti with sauce to make foods more filling.
Examples of low cost recipes that remain healthy include pancakes, waffles, French toast, potato cakes, oatmeal, omelettes, and cereal with fruits for breakfast, pasta, chicken sandwiches, salads, vegetable stir-fry, ramen noodles, mashed potatoes, chicken casserole and macaroni with cheese.
Finally, to save on food costs without sacrificing nutrition eat meatless meals at least once a week. Another option is to fast occassionally. Fasting is not depriving the body of food, but actually provides many health benefits.
- Brehm, Bonnie, J. “Healthy Eating on a Budget.” Retrieved from https://www.netwellness.uc.edu/healthtopics/diet/healthyeating.cfm on 15 March 2011.
- UCIrvine. “Healthy Eating on a Budget.” Retrieved from https://apps.adcom.uci.edu/expresso/econtent/Content.do?resource=4130 on 15 March 2011.
- UNP. “Healthy Budget meals.” Retrieved from https://www.unp.me/f150/healthy-budget-meals-136264/ on 15 March 2011.
Image Credit: flickr.com/Arria Belli