Eating Healthy on a Budget: It’s Easy!

| Graceful Health

By Elizabeth Harrison, Grace Cottage Community Health Team Health Coach

Quite often, when I counsel my clients about nutrition, I find they have the mistaken idea that healthy food is more expensive. They believe they can’t afford to eat healthy. This just isn’t so.

The “Healthy Cooking on a Tight Budget” workshops that I have presenting along with two colleagues from the West Townshend Country Store is helping to dispel the myth that healthy food is high cost, and I would like to share here some of those insights we are presenting.

The first workshop, held in June, focused on soups. If you think about it, soup is one of the easiest ways to stretch a tight food budget.

Soup can be made out of any ingredients you have on hand, so it can save money by reducing wasted food that might otherwise be forgotten in the fridge and then end up being thrown away.

Speaking of food waste, what do you do with the ends when you cut up carrots, celery, onions and other vegetables? Do you throw them away? Next time, pop them into a pot of water, bring them to a boil, and simmer them for half an hour or so. You’ll have free and healthy broth that can be the start of your next soup. You can store this in the fridge for up to a week, or freeze it for use later.

You can also save money by growing your own vegetables. It doesn’t cost much to buy a package of vegetable seeds, and with a little bit of space at home, or at a community garden, and a little bit of effort, you can grow enough vegetables to make soup for months to come. Use some of it now, and put the extras in the freezer (blanch them first).

Add some leftover chicken, red meat, fish, or a can or two of low-cost beans, and a few vegetables (include some densely nutritious leafy greens), and you can feed a family for very little money, maybe a dollar or two per person. Much cheaper than “fast food,” and much healthier. Here’s a version of one of the soup recipes prepared during the June “Healthy Cooking” workshop:

  • Start with 8 cups of broth made from simmering vegetable ends, as described above. (You can also use an equal amount of canned vegetable broth.)
  • Chop up a variety of vegetables (onions, carrots, celery, parsnips, kale, turnip greens, tomatoes – whatever you have) and add them to the broth.
  • Add spices and herbs, for example, parsley, cilantro, garlic, a touch of salt, pepper, and whatever else you like.
  • Add a large can of beans (white, red, or black, your choice).
  • Simmer for half an hour or longer, and serve! Add some bread and it’s a meal. Quick, easy and healthy! And easily varied to whatever you have on hand.

I also have a go-to dinner that is extremely easy to make and inexpensive. I call it “Dinner in 20 Minutes.” It can also have endless variations. This will serve 2-4 people, but you can always add more of each ingredient for a bigger group. It goes like this:

  • Put a package of frozen vegetables in a pot, place a piece of chicken for each person on top, and add a moderate amount of oil and seasonings (I like to use Italian dressing).
  • Put on the lid, and cook on low heat for 20 minutes.
  • Cook some rice or quinoa on the side.
  • While you are doing laundry, checking your email, talking with your spouse and/or your kids, or taking a short walk, dinner is cooking, with little effort from you. You can also bake this in the oven, but if you do so, allow more time.

Eating real food is actually cheaper, as well as healthier than “junk,” and with a little preparation, it can be faster to create a real meal than to go out for “fast food.” For example, in half an hour once a week, you can chop many vegetables ahead of time, to make daily preparation easier. You can also bake a whole chicken or a pan full of pieces, and have the meat to use for a variety of meals throughout the week.

Remember, it’s not a matter of money. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive. It does require a new way of thinking. I hope the information presented here will help you to make that shift.

For more ideas, you are welcome to join us for the upcoming “Healthy Cooking” series workshops to be held at the West Townshend Country Store on August 9, September 13, and October 11. Each class costs $5 and includes instruction, taste-testing, and take-home samples. Call 365-3766 to sign up (RSVP required). Information about quick and easy meals and food preservation will be provided.

Bio: Elizabeth Harrison is a board certified clinical nutritionist. She earned her B.S. in Psychology from Western College for Women (now Miami University of Ohio). Her board certification is through the International & American Associations of Clinical Nutritionists. As a member of the Grace Cottage Community Health Team, Harrison provides resources and skills to develop healthy habits, and runs monthly support groups. The services of the Grace Cottage Community Health Team are free for all Grace Cottage patients.