The world of health and nutrition can surely be a daunting one. From the overpriced items touting "Fountain of Youth" claims to the less than attractive produce that looks like it's been around longer than you've been alive, what do you do?
How can you set up a vegetarian/vegan food program that gives you the nutrients you need while keeping you from feeling like you're being squeezed by 'lefty & thumbs'?
I most recently took a trip to one of the natural food markets in order to flesh out a challenge I was given to feed a friend on a fixed income of a $150.00 per month food budget. The diet had to be vegan, gluten free, simple to prepare, have variety, require no more than a blender, toaster oven and knives to work with. So I set out on this mission to prove that healthy food doesn't have to be prohibitively expensive.
My first stop was the drawing board.
Planning is everything. If I was to make a success of this challenge I had to get all of the facts and I had to get them fast. Here's what I did...
First, I got organized. Organization was a key factor for me. My approach had to be so clear that when talking to others I could relay it the same way I saw it. I did this by asking myself these three questions:
1. What am I trying to accomplish?
2. What are my options?
3. How should I implement and manage this whole thing?
After I answered my questions I was ready to tackle the stores that were to become the 'challenge labs'. Going from store to store I met with green grocers and bulk food department managers covering about 60 miles in travel that first day. I jotted down the prices of produce, bulk food items and condiments. I interviewed staff and had impromptu conversations with customers to get the goods on pricing, storage, usage, nutritional values, etc. and finally set out to create a menu.
We were able to brainstorm some great and logical strategies, some of which couldn't be used in this particular scenario, but that I will share with you, nonetheless, because it's great information.
Top 10 Tips to Know when Creating an "Eating Healthy on the Cheap" Program:
1. Shop the perimeter of the stores, for the most part [they tend to have the least processed, healthiest and least expensive product / food items].
2. Be teachable - Always consult with your knowledgeable grocery staff [i.e. green grocer/produce manager and bulk food manager or research it online, in the library, in school, etc.] they tend to know how to direct you on food: freshness; storage; and care for maximum use and minimum waste.
3. Be willing to step outside of your comfort zone and try something new. Start with the less expensive items, like your grains and beans [which tend to be a great combination because they create a complete protein when eaten together or within 10 hours of each other] and dress them up.
4. Shop local, shop farms and farmer's markets, produce stands, etc. to get fresh produce at decent to great prices [sometimes you can even negotiate 50% - 90% discounts with the vendors (if it's a slow day, or even giveaways & freebies around clean up time)].
5. Make your own sauces, dressings, dips, marinades, spreads, etc., [it saves money, is fresher, healthier and more versatile].
6. Buy in bulk... If your store doesn't have a bulk section you should still inquire with the store manager, ordering specialist, produce manager, etc. for special order, bulk purchases: grains; beans; pastas & other dry goods you use or will be using on a regular basis.
7. Purchase your perishables frequently in smaller quantities [It keeps the produce fresher, crisper and more nutrient dense. Don't let them spoil on your watch.]
8. Keep a journal by you to take down prices and comparison shop [you'd be surprised at how prices can vary greatly from store, to store, to stand].
9. Create a co-op meal plan. [Get together with a group of friends and swap meals (each contributing their best dishes - made in bulk).]
10. Make enough for leftovers and conversion meals. [Meals that start out one thing and end up another (i.e. red lentils and rice can be converted into red lentil gumbo).]
These are some of the tips and tricks you can use to stretch your dollar, expand your culinary repertoire an make your life easier; and, with enough time behind the wheel of this system you'll be able to definitely Eat Healthy on the Cheap.
Get more timely, interactive vegetarian information by joining my forum and let me know how you Eat Healthy on the Cheap.
As always... It's been great talking with you. Until next time... bye for now.