There’s a notion out there that in order to eat healthfully, you have to be rich. And it’s not surprising that this notion exists. We’re marketed to all the time about super foods – how adding this powder to a smoothie will make you healthy and adding this supplement will make you strong. In fact, there are many grocery stores that have aisles and aisles packed with all these foods with fancy labels touting the numerous health benefits of their products. While we’re not disputing that there are a lot of healthy products out there, we think it’s important to remember that you do not need these products to be healthy. A lot of the nutrients found in these products can easily be found in a wide variety of whole foods. And incorporating these foods into your diet doesn’t have to break the bank. Below are a few things to keep in mind when trying to incorporate healthful meals into your diet and keeping food expenses low.

Avoid Eating Out

Restaurant meals tend to be much more expensive than when you make the same one at home. It make sense: these meals are prepared for you and served to you. Not only are you paying for the food, but you’re paying for the employees, the rent or mortgage for the property, the tips, etc. In addition to the cost, meals prepared at restaurants also tend to be pretty unhealthy. They tend to be higher in calories, fat, and salt because it should be flavorful, and making good tasting meals like this tends to be easy. But flavor doesn’t have to come from fat and salt – by preparing your own meals, you can see exactly what goes into your food and more likely than not, you will still be able to get great tasting meals without the unhealthful parts. When you do eat out, you can also ask for specific things to make the food more healthful: asking for the dressing or sauce on the side so you can put only as much as you want on it, looking for meals with whole grains, and asking for brown rice instead of white rice are just some options. For some great meal ideas, check out these dishes to cook for someone special.

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Focus on Whole Foods

Whole foods are foods in their purest form. Think of produce, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. All of these are minimally processed foods that are packed with the vitamins and minerals our body craves. One important thing to remember is to stop focusing on single nutrients. These foods are packed with a lot of different nutrients, so if your diet includes a wide-variety of whole foods, you will more likely than not be fine in getting all your nutrients.

A lot of people talk about how expensive produce is, particularly organic variety. While it’s important to buy organics, it’s not always feasible for everyone. To save money, we recommend buying organic foods for the dirty dozen, that is, those that are most heavily sprayed with pesticides. But aside from organics, we understand that produce can be expensive, particularly in areas of cold climate. To combat this to some degree, buy only foods you know you will eat. Also, if you need to be choosy and only opt for some organic produce, go with the dirty dozen list. Also, don’t let anything go bad if you can avoid it. For some awesome meal ideas, check out these recipes.

Buy in Bulk

One way to avoid the high costs of whole foods is to buy your non-produce items in bulk. Go to a bulk food store or the bulk section of the grocery store. Since these items are usually not name brand items and don’t have associated packing costs, they tend to be a great deal. You can usually find items such as nuts, seeds, oats, rice, popcorn, pasta, baking goods, and sometimes items such as teas, coffees, spices, and dried fruit.

Make The Basics From Scratch

This goes along with the “buy in bulk” tip. Instead of buying canned beans, frozen packets of rice that you can pop in the microwave, or prepared meals, make your food from scratch. Beans are extremely cheap when sold in dry form and cooking them up can be done while working on other things around the house. The exact same goes for rice. And these things can be cooked up in bulk, put into small bags, and thrown in the freezer. Then when you want them, you can just reheat them in the microwave or on the stovetop.

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Prepare Simple Recipes

When deciding what to make, consider how complex a recipe is and what type of ingredients are required for the recipe. Focus on ingredients that are less expensive, such as beans, rice, corn, leafy greens, and potatoes. Every so often you can splurge and throw in something more expensive, like avocados, fruit, fresh herbs, or more exotic foods. But making sure to focus on simple ingredients is an easy way to keep your food costs down.

It’s hard to deny that eating healthfully is a privilege, particularly in food deserts. Not everyone has access to organic foods, bulk food stores, or even has the time to think about cooking a meal. But making a small effort to incorporate some of these tips will really make a difference in your health and budget.

Image source: Trishhhh/Flickr

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