The current economy is making life tough for everybody. I don’t know a single person that’s not struggling in one way or another right now. So it makes sense for us all to make cut backs where we can. But the good news is there’s no need for you to abandon your diet. There are many ways to make healthy, low-calorie choices on a budget.
How to Shop
The current cost of food on all levels has risen by about 5% in the last year. But there are some clever ways to overcome this rise. Here are my top tips for healthy food shopping when you want to count your calories and your pennies.
* Buy whole foods. When you buy processed or pre-prepared food, you are paying for the time that’s gone into it. For example, a whole lettuce costs less than a bag of salad. Roasting your own joint of meat costs far less per-pound than sliced meat from the deli. The same applies across the board.
* Cook your own meals. Home cooking is much cheaper than eating out or buying ready meals. It’s also much better for you and gives you total control over your calorie intake.
* Buy in bulk. Make good use of your freezer! Buying large bags of frozen fruit and veg can save you money over buying fresh. Use the same strategy to buy meats in bulk, particularly when they are on offer.
* Buy in season. Buying fruit and veg that is in season always costs less.
* Try meals that contain beans and rice. Both are extremely budget friendly, especially when you buy them in bulk. They are very nutritious and add fibre and texture to any meal. They can also by served as a healthy, low calorie meal on their own and are tremendously filling.
*Keep an eye on the sales. Don’t stick to one supermarket . . . go where the sales are! There are deals on at most stores. Then of course there’s the rise of the budget stores, which can literally half your weekly shopping bill!
How to Stretch your Money and Count the Calories
A study was done recently in the USA, where a nutritionist called Donna Weihofen did some comparison shopping to find out which foods offered the best in terms of calorie counting and budget. Interestingly, her results were similar to the budget diet recommendations of the USDA.
“Of course the lowest-cost proteins are dried beans and eggs,” says Weihofen. “Then the next step up is canned beans, milk, and whole chicken. And the next step up was chicken thigh, then chicken breast, then deli chicken. Chicken is really a bargain, but the deli chicken was out of sight compared to the rotisserie chicken.”
Weihofen recommends making use of the opportunities a whole chicken gives. Use leftover meat in a chili, stew, or soup producing another meal. And you can use the bones to make stock.
Weihofen also found that whole baking potatoes is cost-saving, as is buying frozen vegetables. “Frozen red peppers are cheaper than buying the fresh peppers, for example. If you just weigh that stuff out, you’ll see what the difference is,” she says. Another trick for cost saving is to think in terms of versatility and multiple meals, especially if using bulk ingredients: A bean chili today can become the filling for a wrap or taco tomorrow.
How to Put Together Low-Cost Meals
If your diet plan is specific and you want to stick to it then you might be wondering how all of this can work for you. All you need to do is apply what you’ve learnt about portion sizes and calorie counting to low cost foods. Here are some ideas for how to adhere to your specific diet plans.
Low-fat diet. Chicken and bean chili with a baked potato and lots of frozen veggies followed with a seasonal fruit for dessert makes a tasty low-fat meal.
Low-calorie diet. One cup of mixed bean chili with a cup of cooked frozen veggies served over one-half cup of rice provides a filling meal at only 450 calories.
Low-carb diet. For a low-carb meal, serve baked chicken (from your whole chicken) and mixed frozen vegetables, or a crust-less quiche made with budget-friendly eggs.
How to Stick to an Exercise Plan
Of course no diet really works on its own. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that if you really want to shed those pounds you will have to exercise as well. I recently joined a boot camp in Milton Keynes and I’ve found it the best, most motivational form of exercise I’ve ever tried. I don’t really enjoy exercise, so usually I find it hard to stick to, but it’s impossible not to stick to boot camp! They also help me to stick to my diet to. It’s no more expensive than joining the gym and for me far more beneficial. Of course, if your budget is really tight there are plenty of forms of exercise you can do completely for free . . . but for me I’d just never keep it up, so for me personally boot camp is worth paying out for. I just tell myself I’m paying for it out of all the money I save on food!
Trying to stick to a diet and a budget at the same time requires you to be creative. It can seem like hard work when some of the best low calorie foods, like berries and fish, are expensive. But if you shop smart and are willing to experiment, then it’s not only doable, but can be a lot of fun as well.