Enjoy these 5 major benefits of cooking healthy on a budget
- 3 Minutes Read
Cooking healthy on a budget can bring significant benefits. Learn how planning budget-friendly healthy meals pays off by reducing stress, developing cooking skills, supporting weight loss and more.
Healthy cooking on a budget comes with challenges, yet with planning and a few savvy strategies, you can eat well without straining your finances or waistband. Even if you are not in a financial pinch (though saving money is always a bonus), there are numerous benefits to planning budget-friendly healthy meals.
Imagine the end of last-minute "what's for dinner?" worries and frantic trips to the store. Planning your meals for the week, shopping with a grocery list, and doing weekend meal prep will earn you well-deserved peace of mind and less stress.
Budget-friendly recipes tend to use kitchen staples and fewer ingredients, meaning cooking is simplified. Less time shopping for obscure ingredients and cooking fussy recipes and means time for a quick walk or other stress-busting activity!
Typically, the more convenient a food is (e.g., frozen entrees, pre-cut veggies), the more it will cost. You will save money by doing more of the prep and cooking yourself. While some shortcuts may be worth the extra cost to you, you will find value in developing cooking skills. For example, learning basic knife skills can change your whole approach to cooking.
You will get more creative and confident with your cooking by substituting ingredients based on what you have on hand. Cauliflower can stand in for broccoli, and canned beans can replace some or all of the meat in a recipe. You may actually find you like some of your substitutions better! You will also be focusing on less expensive in-season produce, which is always more flavorful and appealing.
Many aspects of cooking healthy on a budget go hand in hand with weight loss strategies. Planning, portioning, limiting processed foods, using less meat, and eating more beans and whole grains can support your weight loss goals. Stocking up on frozen veggies-which are just as nutritious as fresh-saves money and leaves no excuse for a meal without veggies. You may find yourself eating more soup as a budget-friendly healthy meal, as well as a filling and lower-calorie option.
Over one-third of US food dollars are spent on restaurant or take-out meals. Limiting restaurant meals will keep both your calorie and food budgets in check. When you do eat out, save the leftovers as a bonus meal, stretching your food dollar and cutting the calories in half.
Cooking healthy on a budget means you strive for the best nutrition "bang for the buck" and don't fall for gimmicks. There is a perception that more expensive foods are healthier, but a check of the Nutrition Facts label proves this isn't always true. Premium organic toaster pastries have the same poor nutrition profile as the lower-cost version.
Ironically, nutrient-poor foods are often a cheap source of calories. A food bargain is not a deal if it lacks nutrition value. Look past misleading labeling ("natural", for example, has no legal definition) for foods that provide good sources of protein, vitamins, and minerals.
A staggering 30-40% of the US food supply goes to waste. Food waste and expensive packaging mean money lost and harm to our environment. Fortunately, many budget cooking strategies reduce food waste and excess packaging.
Shopping with (and sticking to) a list reduces impulse buys and resulting food waste. When you are cooking healthy on a budget, you make sure leftovers are used within days or stored in the freezer, not thrown in the trash. Thrifty cooks make use of food scraps typically thrown away: vegetable peelings for soup bases, breadcrumbs from stale bread, etc.
By keeping a close inventory of what is in the fridge, pantry, and freezer, you can plan meals based on what you have. You will find fewer expired "surprises" in the fridge that have to be thrown out.
Buying food in bulk and avoiding processed food means less packaging. For example, a large tub of oatmeal will be less expensive (and healthier) than prepackaged envelopes of sweetened instant oatmeal. You can repackage your food in smaller, reusable containers to help with portion control.
Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day is a free downloadable cookbook by Leann Brown.
Cooking Matters is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families make healthy and affordable meals.
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