I asked the experts how to eat healthy on a budget. Here’s what they told me. – Vox.com


In London, I had a roommate whom I’d call an extreme budget eater. Dining in a restaurant was a rare event. He never drank coffee out of the house. He rarely ate meat. He’d make quarterly trips to bulk shops to stock up on frozen, canned, and other nonperishable goods like rice and lentils. But his food wasn’t at all bland. He constantly experimented with new recipes, based on cookbooks borrowed from the library. Chicken biryani, French onion soup, saag paneer, Vietnamese noodles — he turned our tiny blue kitchen into a culinary lab.
Looking back, I realize we can learn a lot from Stephen. It’s no secret that income and time can be barriers to buying and preparing healthy foods. But if you can find the time, far and away the most effective way to eat healthier on a budget is to simply cook at home.
Despite the popular perception, processed food will usually cost more than food you cook yourself. Restaurants are a money gouge. The downsides to cooking are time and convenience (it takes forethought and preparation to cook), but there’s a real upside: People typically consume about 20 to 40 percent fewer calories when they eat in.

With some planning, there are things you can do to make cooking at home much easier and more cost-effective. With some practice, you might even start to love the food you make.

So if you’re keen on being healthy on a budget, you have to be prepared to prioritize making things yourself. I talked to food and nutrition experts, and here’s what they told me about making healthy, delicious food that’s still fairly cheap:
Before you start cooking more, there are a few basics you need on hand: oil, vinegar, salt, pepper (and any other spices you like), onions, and garlic.

I’d also add to stock up on cans of tomatoes, tuna, and garbanzos (or other beans), pasta, rice, lentils, potatoes, frozen fruits and vegetables, and coffee and/or tea. If you have these things in your house, you can make very quick and healthy dishes without going to a grocery store all the time. (There are lots of lists of pantry essentials on the internet, like this one.)

(Javier Zarracina/Vox)

(Javier Zarracina/Vox)
Adam Drewnowski, a nutritional epidemiologist who has measured the nutrient density per dollar of food, noted that some healthy foods come really cheap.

When he ranked different foods on a pure calorie per dollar basis, he found that fats, sugar, grains, potatoes, and beans were more “cost-effective” than meat, fish, and fresh produce. Milk products and eggs usually fall somewhere in the middle. Of course, beans, grains, some fats, milk, and eggs are all very healthy.
“Grains, sugars, and fats are cheap sources of calories,” Drewnowski reasoned. “But nutrient-rich foods (like dairy, beans, and eggs) are inexpensive sources of key nutrients.”

bacon jb

(Bon Appetit/Shutterstock)
You can get plenty of protein from non-meat sources — beans, legumes, tofu, eggs. They’re also cheaper than meat and fish.

If you do buy meat, look for tougher cuts (like beef brisket or skirt), said Dorito Effect author Mark Schatzker: “They take longer to cook than middle cuts, but that investment of time yields incredible flavor and texture possibilities.”
For the essentials, like those listed in point 1, it’s often much cheaper to buy larger quantities upfront — a big bag of rice, a couple of liters of oil — than to continually stock smaller portions.
This will save you time and money. Make a big pot of soup or tomato sauce on the weekend and eat it throughout the week. When you cook a meal one night, make a little extra for lunch or dinner the next day. Freeze meals for the future. Always try to get the most for your cooking time.

Michael Pollan, the author of the Omnivore’s Dilemma, said, “Last weekend we made a very large batch of vegetarian chili. Whenever we are out late or working late and don’t want to reach for the pizza order or Chinese food delivery, we can go to the chili in our freezer.”

frozen fruit vegetables jb

(Leonid Shcheglov/Shtuterstock)
“Frozen raspberries and wild blueberries are as good as or better than the fresh stuff flown in from lord knows where during colder months, and way cheaper,” said Schatzker. The research on this question also suggests fresh and frozen have pretty similar nutritional profiles.
Now that you have the essentials in your kitchen, you can make your own salad dressing very quickly and much more cheaply. All it takes is mixing up some olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Add garlic or other spices if you like. You can store it in the fridge for a week or so.
Brewing your own cup in the morning costs a few cents. Buying it in a store costs several dollars every day.
The reason restaurant food is so tasty is because it’s loaded with salt. But it’s unlikely that you’ll ever use as much at home as cooks use in restaurants. So don’t worry about this too much — season to your taste. If it means you’ll feel more satisfied and actually enjoy eating at home, that’ll go a long way for health.

Schatzker also advised using onions and other plants from the same family, like garlic, leeks, scallions, and shallots, for flavor. “They are an incredible bargain when you consider how much flavor they bring to dishes.” Hot peppers are very cheap and can add a nice kick, too, he suggested.
Water is free! Sugary drinks offer little or no nutritional advantage but will definitely fatten your waistline and shrink your wallet. Stop buying them.
I’m not suggesting you eat rotten food, obviously. But Americans waste tons of perfectly edible food based on things that can be considered food snobbery — throwing away bruised fruits or foods that haven’t actually gone bad. There are many foods you can eat past the expiration date, which is often a conservative estimate. So think before you throw next time.

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