Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Healthy Eating on the Cheap

Ok, so I've officially been humbled. Moving took pretty much every penny I had, between getting into a place, renting a truck, etc etc. I was left with $100 to my name, and an indefinate period of time before receiving payment of any kind for work, consultations or what have you. So, I began to ask myself how can I make $100 last indefinately and feed two people?

Though I'm truly gung-ho about eating meat and veggies for good health, my pocketbook just can't swing it at the moment. Sure, I could buy antibiotic and hormone ridden ground beef at the supermarket, but no way could I afford decent, healthy meat, grass fed, organic etc. Plus it's hot. Ground beef just isn't where it is as for the hot weather, for me anyway, I'd prefer a shrimp salad or salmon filet.

I've never been rich, but I've always had the means to spend a decent amount of money on GOOD quality food. Suddenly I've been thrust into the world of scraping the crumbs off the counter top. I have a much greater understanding and sympathy for those people who though they would like to eat as healthy as their nutritionist tells them too, can barely afford it. So now I'm learning via direct experience how to manage to eat reasonably well on a very small budget, and let me tell you, it is VERY enlightening.

What I'm about to suggest is based on my recent experience shopping at the grocery store, and not just your average market, this was a Whole Paycheck Market. This also doesn't include any supplementation of your foodstuffs from wild sources ( either hunted meat or foraged plants), or from dumpster diving (which believe it or not, can be an excellent way to supplement the diet- there are some goldmine dumpsters out there!), or receiving free food from friends or at social gatherings.

Would you believe me if I told you that it is possible to feed two people for 5 days on 20$? Yes, it is! I did it!

I bought the following at a whole foods for something like $18 dollars:

1/2 lb green lentils, org
1/2 lb mung beans, org
2 dozen eggs, cage free
1 can garbonzo beans, org ( a splurge)
1 can tuna, store brand
1 large can wild salmon, store brand (the 16 oz was on sale for the same price as an 8 oz)
1 bunch organic swiss chard
1 zuchinni
1 org cucumber
1 onion

We've also taken to keeping our meals to two per day. Breakfast and supper. Granted, our meals are smaller than they used to be as well. But we are not hungry, and we haven't broken the bank, yet.

Breakfast is eggs, prepared anyway you like, and greens
Supper has been beans, boiled eggs, salmon or tuna salad ( with homemade mayo made with a an egg and some olive oil we brought with us from Colorado), and cucumber salad or greens.

We have also been fortunate to have prepaid a month in a raw milk coop before we left colorado, so we're recieving half a gallon of raw, grass fed, pure milk per week....which is an incredible boon to our diet. Turned into yogurt, this can go well with breakfast, or turned into a dressing for cucumbers or canned fish.

Here's the secrets.
This means nothing in a box, premade, or frozen (perferably, but some frozen veggies are cheap). We skipped the 5$ jar of mayo and made our own. The less processing the food has undergone makes it that much cheaper. Raw beans and grains, whole eggs, and fresh vegetables and fruits.

Beans are a source of protein and cheaper than meat. I know, I much prefer animal protein to carb rich beans and grains. But, in this situation, making the most of your money is key. Focus on beans, rather than grains, which are denser in protein and vitamins and fiber.

Learn to cook your beans from scratch , instead of buying cans. Cans of beans can be cheap, but not as cheap as bulk raw beans. A crockpot is a good option for cooking beans, and some beans cook faster than others. Lentils are suprisingly fast cooking, especially if you soak them beforehand. They only take 20-30 min to cook.

Eggs are your best friends. Eggs are an incredible storehouse of nutrition, protein, healthy fats. I know the DHA enriched, organic, cage free eggs are like 5$ a pop. I settled for cage free, rather than organic. Not perfect, but still a good food! And those eggs are usually under 3 dollars a dozen. We're eating eggs at both of our meals daily, so a dozen only lasts a couple of days. We boiled half our eggs, and eat them cold with meals, turned into egg salad. Raw eggs can be scrambled, fried, poached, or turned into mayonnaise.

Canned fish is fabulous. If you LIKE canned fish, tuna, salmon, sardines, oysters etc, you have an excellent source of protein, complete with healthy fats like Omega 3's, and dense calories. I know there are only so many ways to fix canned fish...salad, fish cakes, out of the can, baked into casseroles...but if you like canned fish. EAT IT. It's good for you, filling, and cheap!

Being on the cheap isn't the time for avocados, artichokes and asparagus friends. Sorry, delicious and nutritious they are, but cheap they are not. Favor the basics, and pick items that are on sale. Leafy greens like chard, kale, collards and such are usually fairly cheap and have dense nutrition, including minerals like calcium, magnesium and iron. They can easily be chopped up and stirred into foods, or sauteed and salted, or even eating raw dressed with oil as a salad. Pretty much any veggie with color to it is going to be good for you in some fashion or another. Skip the potatoes and corn, which are really just carbohydrate bombs, and pick out some nice looking specimens that are on sale.

Here's the key to making simple cheap foods interesting. Use spices, and change up your flavors daily. Try cumin, coriander, mustard and turmeric for an indian flare, or cumin and oregano and chile powder for a mexican tinge. Rosemary and thyme for an Italian splash. A splash of lemon juice or vinegar ( if that is something you keep in your pantry like we do. Again, this is something we brought with us from our last home.) can really jazz up a plate of beans and greens. And don't forget the salt. Unsalted beans are blah...salt is cheap if you don't have it in your spice cabinet, If you can get sea salt you'll get added mineral nutrition as well. If you don't already have a spice cabinet well stocked, you can buy small quantities of spices from the bulk section of most health food stores. Don't bother with the expensive glass jars of spices.

If you're on the cheap there is some degree of restriction that should be incorporated. I'm not asking you to starve, or even to skip meals, but you can time your meals creatively. If I eat at 10am and 4 or 5 pm, I can manage on two meals a day without feeling deprived or excessively hungry. I have had a few afternoons of a rumbling belly, but sometimes it's healthy to know what it feels like to be hungry, and then dinner tastes all that much more delicious.

Also, slow down. If you eat slowly, as your mother always said, you will feel fuller on less food. Shoveling it down isn't good for digestion, and you might be inclined to eat more than you really need to to feel satisfied. I've found it immensely refreshing to feel hungry for a meal, then eat a meal smaller than I would normally, slowly, and feel completely satisfied at the end of it, but not full, overfull, and lethargic.
Hey, if you need more motivation for eating a bit less, don't forget that science has found that caloric restriction can increase your life span, as long as the calories you do eat are nutritious, and not Twinkies and diet soda.

So that's what I've learned this week in a nutshell on how to make 20$ go a long way at the market, and still eat reasonably well. I wouldn't want to eat this way for the rest of my life, and don't plan to, but for a few weeks while we're getting back on our feet, and making money again, this will do quite nicely. And if you don't shop at the Whole Paycheck, you can probably stretch your dollars even further.


Emily said...

Thanks for sharing your recipe - it sounds delicious and healthy! We're having a salmon recipe contest and will be mailing the winner 15 lbs. of wild salmon. If you're interested in entering your recipe, please do so at

Wendy said...

Thanks for the great post. Its wonderful to eat whole foods and to have the time to prepare them.

I used to live off of a bag of potatoes for a week in college. What camp are you in as far as the value of potatoes?

I know some say 'no-no' as its a starch, but I still think its great for Vitamin B... its one of the foods I continue to integrate although the herbal masses tend to shy away from them.

Wishing you expedient prosperity!


Shamana Flora said...

well it really depends on who you are and your personal health. for someone with insulin resistance and weight problems, probably not a good choice. I find them to be a slightly bit better than bread.

plantainpatch said...

Thank you for the tips. I got some canned wild salmon at whole foods and made patties out of them. Even the fish hater in the family liked them and it was so affordable!

The Plant Whisperer said...

Darcey - GREAT post! Thanks! I could see an entire blog just on this topic. XO

"The mother of us all, the oldest of us all, Hard, splendid as rock, Let the beauty you love, be what you do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth"~ Rumi ~