In this episode of the Feel Good Effect Podcast, we’re talking about essential habits, mindsets, and routines to simplify eating healthy food on a budget. We talk about how to find long-term, sustainable wellness no matter what your life and budget look like.
6 Essential Habits, Mindset & Routines for Healthy Food on a Budget
Individual vs. policy level change
Many of these tips are about what you can do at an individual level to shift your mindset, change your routines, and change your habits.
But I want to acknowledge that there are many systems in place that make healthy food really difficult.
You might live in a place that makes it harder to access the same “healthy” food stores that are available in bigger cities, or you may have just lost your job as a result of the pandemic, and there are so many other factors that play into food accessibility.
At a policy level, there are some challenges to healthy eating and no amount of change at an individual level is going to change that.
We need to do a lot of work around making healthy food accessible.
In this episode, we are talking more about things you can do as an individual to make this process of healthy eating more affordable and more sustainable.
6 mindset-routine-habit combinations
1 | Go on a decision diet.
A decision diet is not at all related to restricting food; this is about limiting or reducing the number of decisions that you make.
There is a ton of research about decision fatigue, which describes this process of how the more decisions we make, the less willpower and energy we have.
There are hundreds of food-related decisions that most of us make in a day, and this fatigue disproportionally affects those on a tight budget.
A decision diet limits the number of decisions we make ahead of time.
In regard to healthy food on a budget, a decision diet is a meal map.
2 | Meal mapping + the essential six.
Meal mapping helps us to not wander around the grocery store or get things we don’t need and might later throw out.
We can also be more flexible about what we buy with a meal map, versus a meal plan that is a little more rigid.
Meal mapping is choosing a meal type for each day of the week instead of writing out a different recipe for each day, saving you decisions and money.
Once you have the meal types, you use the essential six to complete your meal.
The essential six are the building blocks of any meal (protein, grains + bases, veggies, cooked veggies, toppings + extras, sauces).
Then, meal mapping = a meal-type + a combination of the essential six.
This system provides enough structure to eliminate food waste but enough flexibility to account for what might be in season or on sale in a given week.
Tip: if you have freezer space, stock up on protein when it’s on sale in individually packed portions depending on your family size (e.g. three individually wrapped 1lb packages).
When you go grocery shopping, keep in mind (1) what type of meal am I mapping for each day of the week, (2) what essential six am I thinking about, and (3) what essential six are on sale to stock up on?
Be sure to grab the free guide to help your meal mapping process.
3 | Buy foods in their most whole form + buy in bulk.
Bulk is often the best price, even things like seeds, nuts, and grains.
And, the more whole and less processed a food is, oftentimes, the less expensive it is.
This is great for anyone trying to eat more whole food while on a budget.
However, it does often require more work that you may or may not have time for.
4 | Choose plants over meat.
I never prescribe one diet for everybody, but I do recommend eating as many plants as possible.
Swapping out one or more meat-based meals for plant-based meals is one great way to save money.
This can be tough if you’re cooking for resistant eaters, but showing them the cost differences of a meal with meat versus a plant-based meal substitute may resonate with them.
A compromise may be to reduce the amount of meat, which research shows is healthier anyway, bulking it out with veggies or beans.
If you are a family or individual who eats eggs, that is another protein source to consider.
5 | Get jazzy with sauces.
Sauces will allow you to add variety and flavor while avoiding boredom.
Even a bowl of beans and rice can be really delicious if you add a sauce or two.
Making sauces and condiments yourself instead of buying them is an easy way to save money.
6 | Find your essentials.
Eating on a budget doesn’t have to feel like you’re deprived.
Eating healthy doesn’t have to mean spending hundreds of dollars on elixirs, adaptogens, and matcha powders.
Ask yourself: What are my essential healthy foods? What splurge is worth it to me?
You don’t need all of those extras to be eating healthy.
Focus on what your essentials are.
Gentle is the new perfect.
Healthy eating is not about perfection. You do not have to do it all right, you do not have to do it all perfectly.
Aim for two out of three; a little bit at a time over time adds up to big change.
Allow yourself to be where you are and build a pantry and fridge of healthy foods that are inexpensive and own that.
Let it be beautiful and let it be yours.
Q & A
Recommended veggie side dishes?
How to make veggies more interesting for snacking?
Add dips and sauces!
Basically, blending something up with herbs, acid, and salt, and dipping veggies is always a good idea.
Ideas for kid-friendly, meat-free meals?
Favorite tip for helping produce last longer?
Know which order to use produce in, eating things that won’t last as long first.
Not washing it right away and storing produce in a cool, dry place will help things last longer, too.
Ideas for kid snacks on a budget?
Processed kids’ food and individually-portioned anything is so expensive.
As a working mama, I definitely understand the convenience factor, but you pay a huge markup for it.
Some things we do are homemade popcorn, cut apples, cut carrots with homemade hummus, homemade trail mix from bulk peanuts and raisins, muffins, and when seasonal, berries or fruit are always an option.
How to not blow your budget when your kids are eating all of your food?
With a family of three, I cannot speak to this as much, but I will say that bulk is always a good idea.
Depending on how old your kids are, you could turn this into a learning opportunity about budgeting, bringing them to the grocery store with you, and talking about how much things cost versus another option.
Tips for freezing stuff to prolong groceries?
You can freeze a lot of things (most breads, roasted or steamed veggies, overripe bananas, cooked rice, cooked pasta…). There are very few things that can’t be frozen, it’s just usually cooking, roasting, or baking to get the texture ideal for freezing first.
Tips for eating organic on a budget?
Check out the Dirty Dozen, which lays out the most pesticide-sprayed produce, and start there.
Another option is to look at frozen organic veggies.
- Lemon garlic sauce
- Homemade ranch
- Southwest lime sauce
- Sweet & sour cabbage
- Creamy cabbage slaw
- Spring quinoa salad
- Sweet pea pesto
- Creamy pumpkin hummus
- White bean dip
EWG’s Dirty Dozen (a guide to pesticides in produce)