Trying to make good food choices, yet strapped for cash post holidays? A lot of my clients lament that eating healthy puts a big dent in their paycheck, which it can. Eating healthy takes planning, especially on a budget. Follow my tips below for ideas on maximizing both your dollar and your nutrients.
1. Incorporate vegetarian meals into your weekly routine.
Not a veggie lover? When I say vegetarian, I mean plant protein, not necessarily a bowl full of spinach. Legumes (chickpeas, beans, lentils) are one of the cheapest and most nutritious foods out there. If prepared correctly, they can also score high on the taste scale. Check out my vegetarian entrees for some ideas.
2. Create a weekly meal plan and pick one day to do your grocery shopping.
I find planning just 3 meals gets the two of us through 5 days of dinner meals and lunches throughout the week. Once a month, go through your pantry and try and plan your meals around what you already have. Stuck for ideas? Check out one of my previous posts for a spread of weekly meals. This little whiteboard on our pantry door has been helpful for planning (I know, it’s a little over-the-top but has been very helpful in saving us $$$). Using a whiteboard meal plan is also great as the first person home already has a plan to get started on dinner. Unfortunately I’m almost always the first home, but I do enjoy cooking after all 🙂
3. Start bringing your lunch to work.
Many of us forget about the money we spend daily on our lunch or our morning coffee. Even if your lunch is just $5 daily, that amounts to $100/month and $1200/year. Plus, lunch outside of the home tends to struggle on the healthy front. When you’re putting your dinner away from the night before, set some aside in a smaller container for your lunch the next day (and, a great use of leftovers).
Eating Healthy on a Budget
4. Use your freezer.
Do you tend to get to day 3 of leftovers and decide you’re done with it? Put that final serving in a container or freezer bag and have it ready for a late work night when you’d typically stop for take-out. Oh, and use your freezer for grains and nuts. Freezing your bread will stop it from staling and your nuts from going rancid. Toast either when you’re ready to eat them to bring them back to freshness and heighten their flavor.
5. Buy in bulk.
I love the bulk section, especially for my grains and spices. There’s nothing worse that having to spend $10+ to buy the spices for one recipe. Stores such as Whole Foods have a bulk spice section. Next time, when you need that 1/4 tsp of tumeric, you’ll spend twenty cents instead of five dollars. Grains such as rice, oats, quinoa and barley are also nice to buy in bulk because you can buy exactly the amount you need.…
If you haven’t figured it out already, I enjoy having someone else cook for me as much (well, maybe more) than I enjoy cooking for myself. We love to try new restaurants, and there is no shortage of great restaurants here in New Orleans. As most of you already know, eating out can be challenging if you are trying to eat healthy. However, for many, it is often inevitable as part of your job or social life. I wanted to share a few pointers for your next visit to your favorite spot.
1. Watch your portions
- Split an entree with your co-worker or friend
- Have the restaurant pack up half of the entree for your lunch the next day
- Don’t discount the starters- many are actually “meal-sized”
2. Maximize your veggies
- Substitute a salad for french fries
- Ask to double the veggies and pass on the starch
- If you really can’t forgo the french fries, see if the restaurant will do half salad, half fries
3. Minimize creamy dressings and sauces.
- When choosing salads, look for vinaigrettes or try a squeeze of lemon instead of the creamier
- varieties (ranch, blue cheese, caesar, etc.). Ask for dressing on the side.
- Choose tomato-based pasta sauces more often than alfredo
- Try just mustard or ketchup on your burger and skip the mayo
4. Be prepared.
If you can, check the menu ahead of time online. If you are interested in knowing the nutritional information, this is often readily available on the website (most of the time, I prefer not to if eating out is a once a week thing).
Don’t go near buffets. If you’re anything like me, you want to get your money’s worth. You’ll spend more time trying to exercise self control rather than enjoy the company.
Don’t skip an earlier meal or snack to justify your restaurant meal. You will most likely overeat and consume more overall.
5. Customize the cooking method.
Grilled, roasted, baked, poached and steamed are the words you want to look for. Minimize fried options. If you like a dish but don’t like how it’s prepared, ask to have it made a different way.
7. Watch your drink.
The calories from soda/pop can be greater than your starter. Opt for water or a sugar free option.
Minimize alcohol with meals to 1-2 times weekly. Stay away from fruity cocktails and other sugar concoctions.
Most importantly- enjoy yourself. Get the fries if eating out is not a regular event. The more frequently you eat out, the more conscious you have to be.
Snacks are one of the topics most commonly brought up by my patients. I don’t blame them, snacks can be daunting. A large portion of my patients come to see me eating three “100 calorie packs” at a time, thinking they are doing well because they are making a healthy choice. A snack should not be viewed as an added bonus to your lunch (essentially a treat), but a way to fend off the hangries (Doug’s description of me when I get too hungry and therefore irritable) when you return home from work. Quite honestly, I can’t make it from lunch to dinner without a little nutrition in the middle.
One hundred calorie packs are not the answer.
Although they are a great form of portion control, they provide minimal nutrition and do not ward off 5 PM hunger very well. Plus, when you finish more then one, you are just paying more money for packaging rather than for portion control. In my opinion, a good snack has 3 characteristics:
1. Contains at least 2 food groups.
Have you noticed that balance is a theme in my nutrition posts? It really is key. The more balanced your snack is, the more nutrients it contains, and the more likely it is to stay with you for a longer period of time, which transitions nicely into my next point…
2. Includes a source of both fiber and protein.
Fiber and protein (and a little healthy fat here and there) have fantastic staying power. A snack is worthless if it leaves you hungry 1 hour later. Fiber and protein are more satiating, and are much, much slower to increase our blood sugar levels. Think of a steady increase rather than a spike. Starches and simple carbohydrates (in my opinion) should not be eaten without some fiber or protein. Remember, protein doesn’t have to mean protein powder- most often, it means a spread of peanut butter to me.
3. Is low in sugar.
I am really not a fan of sugar- not sugar incorporated into foods (in reasonable amounts), but sugar eaten solo. If you have fruit snacks in your pantry right now, ditch them. They’re candy marketed to make us feel less guilty. Sugar found in foods containing protein makes me feel a little bit better. For example, I never touch the greek yogurts made with artificial sweeteners. I just don’t like how the artificial sweeteners taste in my yogurt. If there is a good bit of protein in the yogurt, I know it will reduce the spike in my blood sugar level. If you can, still try to pick a yogurt with the least amount of sugar.
I recently discovered Siggi’s Yogurt, and am in love. It’s packed with protein and balanced with just enough sweetness to dull the tartness of what your typical plain yogurt would taste like. If you’re into plain yogurt, keep it up! I’m not as good as you! Save yourself an afternoon crash and stay away from the sugar.
Some Ideas to Get You Started:
Edamame beans– OK, I lied, there’s only one food group here, but they’re so good for you. Packed with protein, and fiber, these can be found in individual packages in the freezer section and microwaved on demand.
Greek yogurt with berries OR blended into a quick smoothie– Like I said, love Siggi’s. When choosing a yogurt, look for greek strained blends with the highest protein and lowest sugar. You’ll know it’s thickened by straining (rather than by adding cream), if it’s 0% or 2% milk fat. Don’t be scared of 2%, a little fat is good for you. Plus, often they amp up the sugar in a 0% to make up for lost flavor from the fat. P.S. When I make my smoothies, I just throw frozen berries, yogurt and some milk in the blender. Forget the added juice and the 20 oz purchased smoothie.
Cheese & crackers with salsa- I’ve been eating this since I was a little girl, and quite honestly, it’s pretty nutritious. Portion control is key. Triscuits are my favorite choice because they taste gotriscuits and cheeseod and contain a little more fiber than the other varieties.
Raw veggies & hummus– a little protein, a little fiber, and a serving of vegetables to boot. Don’t need to say much more here.
Apple slices with peanut butter- Remember, a serving of peanut butter is the size of a ping pong ball. You can overdo food that is good for you.
mini muffins with a piece of cheese– Check out my Raspberry Almond Muffins. More healthy muffin recipes coming soon.
1/2 an english muffin with avocado, salt & pepper- Yum.
boiled egg- If you like eggs, this is a quick punch of protein. Like cheese, eggs have gotten a bad rap over the years. One egg is fine.
Skewered capreseSkewered Caprese– a little more labor intensive, but you could make a batch at the start of the week. Skewer mini bocconcini balls with cherry tomatoes and basil leaves. Shake a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil on top. Fancy!
Glass of milk with a mini muffin- People don’t realize that milk is a protein rich snack! Did you know there are 8 grams in 8 oz?
Piece of fruit and a small handful of almonds (1/4 cup)– I’ll be honest, fruit is a good source of fiber, but if I eat fruit alone, my stomach is growling within the hour. Almonds pair nicely to add some longevity to the snack. Watch your portions 🙂…
As you can imagine, it is often difficult to “enjoy” food when your mind quickly generates a nutrition fact label for every meal you sit down to. And I’ll be honest, in the early days of my dietetic training this was a challenge. I was far too focused on the fat content of the food, and couldn’t bring myself to order much more than a salad at a restaurant. For many dietitians out there, being an expert on food can become your own worst enemy. It’s true when I say ALL of us are bombarded with way too many health claims and recommendations on what we SHOULD eat.
Discerning through this information overload and understanding what is truly best for you can be hard. Over the past few years, I think my relationship with food (along with my understanding of nutrition) has grown much stronger. I’d love to share a few “gems” I have discovered along the way:
1) We all need a little fat to survive.
Like I said, I was a little fat phobic in the early days of my education. I would attempt to fill myself with low fat, carbohydrate rich snacks and wonder why I had an insatiable appetite. Only 3o minutes to 1 hour after a meal, I would find myself needing to eat again. Now, I don’t measure the oil that goes into my pan. I enjoy 2% yogurt. I understand that sometimes I want to use cream in a dish instead of evaporated milk. By including an appropriate amount of fat in my diet, I feel my intake has instead decreased overall. Key point: I’m not saying that we should load our diets with fat, but a little incorporated into our meals and snacks is important.
2) Salads at restaurants can often be worse than what you really want to order.
This isn’t a message to go out and order a double cheeseburger with bottomless french fries. What I want to point out is that the portion size offered at a restaurant is often the larger problem. Salads in restaurants are often huge, and loaded with dense ingredients and dressing. My friend Betsy and I have spent numerous “dates” together while our guys had their noses in a textbook. We love to share a dish, and I’ll admit, we do often order fries instead of salad. Key point: Portions matter, as well as the frequency which you eat out. If you eat food outside the home more than once a week, you need to be a little bit more careful.Cobb Salad
3) Just because a food is healthy, it doesn’t mean you eat unlimited quantities of it.
I’m going to use the example of baked chips. Baked chips are lower in calories than their regular counterpart and therefore are considered a better choice. However, eating an entire bag of baked chips is going to negate this principle. If you know you are going to do this, buy the regular variety, and control your portion.
Understand that we all need a treat sometimes, and sometimes the treat needs to be full fat ice cream or (my guilty pleasure) kettle cooked chips. Key point: It’s OK to indulge occasionally. Watch your portion, and don’t feel guilty about doing it.
4) Listen to your body and identify your type of hunger.
This is a great tip I learned from one of my experienced colleagues at a previous position. Ask yourself this, what type of hunger are you feeling? Is it mouth hunger (a craving for the taste of food)? Is it heart hunger (eating because you are depressed or bored; aka emotional eating)? Or, is it stomach hunger (the actual need to eat food because you are truly hungry)? If it’s not stomach hunger, move onto doing something else.
In most cases, we eat when we are bored or crave the taste of food. Key point: Listen to your body. Trust your ability to understand when you need to eat. If you are hungry, feed it.…
Whether it is training for a marathon or trying to increase muscle mass, sports nutrition seems to be a hot topic amongst my friends and family. Below are my answers to some popular questions. I have also included links to recipes for RD-approved recovery snacks, sports drinks and even homemade protein powder.
1. Do I need sports drinks?
Unless you are planning on engaging in vigorous activity for more than an hour, water is the best choice. For activity one hour or longer (think marathon running), sports drinks can provide a source of energy, electrolytes and help replace lost fluid. Look for a sports drink with about 15 grams of carbohydrate per 8 oz. Juice and soda are not appropriate choices as they can lead to intestinal upset and cramping. Look to consume fluids about 1-2 hours before, and every 15-20 minutes during and after exercising.
2. How can I change my diet to build muscle? Do I need to increase my protein intake?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions I get. Simply adding more protein to your diet is not going to build muscle mass. Cutting carbohydrates is also not a great idea, as they provide a source of energy during strength training. This spares protein for use in muscle building and repair. Unintentionally, the average American (or Canadian) diet is high in protein. You may not need to add any additional protein into your diet. Athletes require approximately 0.6-0.8 g protein per pound of body weight. After strength training, aim to eat a snack containing both carbohydrates and protein. It’s also important to spread your protein consumption throughout the day rather than eating a large amount at one time.
3. What about supplements?
Be careful with dietary supplements. Dietary supplements are not regulated the same way as food. The FDA needs to show that a supplement is unsafe before taking it off the market. Check out Informed Choice (www.informed-choice.org) for more details on supplements. In general, I am not a fan of supplements. Most of our needs can be met from food alone.
4. What are some good snack ideas?
The possibilities are endless! Below are some RD-approved recipes and ideas for workout snacks:
Bars, Balls & Bites…