We all know that processed and fast food isn't the healthiest, but sometimes we grab what's easy and cheap. If you're on a budget and think eating healthy just isn't an option right now, consider this your reminder: You can make good food choices anywhere—from your local chain restaurant to a gas station convenience store. Here are some pointers to help you shop and order smarter without spending more money.
Buy Frozen Produce.
"Frozen vegetables are inexpensive and easy to prepare. In fact, some studies suggest frozen vegetables may be even more nutrient dense than their fresh counterparts, which can lose nutrients during shipping and storage," says nutritionist Katie Cavuto, M.S., R.D.
Grass-fed organic hormone-free meat sounds great—until you look at the price tag. A less expensive way to get quality protein? Go vegetarian. "Animal proteins are often one of the most expensive items on your shopping list. Instead, stock up on less-expensive, nutrient dense plant proteins like beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds," says Cavuto. Brown rice and beans can be a filling, yummy dinner, for example.
Skip the Fads.
Maca, goji, acai...the latest fad superfood may be healthy, but it's also likely to be expensive. "Sure, the tantalizing back story may be appealing, but traditional produce items like wild blueberries, oranges and peppers pack an equally noteworthy nutritional punch," says Cavuto. Stock up at a big box store or a delivery service like FreshDirect where you can save on in-season produce.
Forget Individual Servings.
"Purchase the large tub of Greek yogurt rather than individual containers—you’ll get more bang for your buck," says Cavuto.
Drink More Water.
"Don’t waste your money on fruit juices, soda or other packaged beverages which contribute excess sugar and calories to our diet," says Cavuto. "Instead, brew some tea or add some citrus slices to make plain water more enjoyable." You'll spend less and be healthier.
Always Opt for Real Foods.
Making whole wheat pasta with a store-bought low-sodium marinara sauce takes all of ten minutes, and it's a super-affordable dinner. Even in the middle of nowhere, you don't have to grab a candy bar or package of chips. "Most convenience stores have Greek yogurt, low-fat cheese sticks, hummus, bananas, and almonds," Cavuto says.
Finally, if you're dining out, remember that you can healthify most meals by asking for the dressing or sauce on the side, ordering your entree grilled, steamed, or baked (not fried), and paying attention to nutrition facts, which many national chains now put on the menu. Meeting your friends for pizza? Fill up with a giant salad (including filling veggies like peppers, mushrooms, and artichoke hearts) dressed with balsamic vinegar and a tiny dash of olive oil. Then, stick to just one slice of pizza for a little indulgence without making it your entire meal.