The transition to a healthier lifestyle (on the cheap).
I’ve written about it before, but I thought I would share my perspective (and hopefully some helpful advice) on transitioning into a healthier lifestyle (on the cheap). I’ve come into contact with a few people who are keen to make the move towards healthy eating, but are a bit overwhelmed with what it entails. I thought I would put all my ideas in one place.
First things first – this is not a “quick-fix” or a fad diet or whatever – it’s about embracing a lifestyle, and adopting new habits. It’s not an instant process; it took me years to get to a stage where I consider myself nourished by my lifestyle. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to change EVERYTHING at once – slowly but surely wins the race. Also keep in mind that there will be bumps in the road during your journey – no one is perfect – if you really want that greasy burger, then have it. Eat it, enjoy it, don’t beat yourself up over it, and DON’T consider it a failure of any kind. Everything in moderation – it’s all about balance.
It takes a bit of planning to be healthy – accept that you are going to have to invest a bit of time & energy into this journey. As we all know, nothing worth having comes easy, and your health is pretty important, right?
Research. if you are a little timid in the kitchen, start perusing the internet for recipes, get googling for “How To….” instructions, and visit your local library for inspiration. You don’t need to go buy a bookcase full of fancy recipe books (although it would be nice). Start looking around your area for different food purveyors – not just supermarkets (read on below….)
Preparation. Yes, food preparation is a big part of keeping on top of healthy eating. I like to dedicate a few hours to bulk-cooking each week – this means roasting up large trays of veggies, cooking grains/beans, and baking. If you are going to put the effort in to make one batch, you may as well make your life easier and cook a few. Week days lunches, quick dinners and snacks will be stocked up in your fridge or freezer, so you have no excuse not to partake in healthy eating, however busy you are. Elise is an absolute legend at this – she has some fabulous tips & tricks – check out here, here and here for inspiration.
Shop around. Again, this is a time commitment, but well worth the effort. Once you get into a routine with shopping, it becomes easier:
Green Grocers… Obviously a source of fresh produce – I have a great one nearby, and while not organic the produce is good and cheap. I would much rather by LOTS of non-organic produce (and wash accordingly) than a teensy weensy bit of organic – our budget just can’t stretch. If you buy in season, you can’t go wrong.
Asian Grocery Store… A great (cheap) place to stock up on soy sauce, seaweeds, dried mushrooms, rice products, frozen edamame and tofu. Just be aware and read ingredient lists – some products will have a lot of nasty additives. If you aren’t vegan, they are usually excellent in terms of fresh seafood (know your sources), fresh Asian greens, ginger, garlic, and fresh herbs.
Middle Eastern Grocery Store… Dried fruit is usually pretty cheap here – particularly a wide variety of delicious dates. Nuts, cheeses, yoghurt, olives, spices, dried herbs, and canned goods make a trip worth your while.
Indian Grocery Store… Spices, pulses and flours.
Farmer’s Markets… Organic produce, spray-free produce, free range eggs, meats, speciality items. Support local producers, buy in season and enjoy the quality.
Bulk Food Store… Grains, beans, pulses, flours, dried fruit, baking ingredients.
Co op’s… Worth researching in your particular area – these can be a great source of local food, whether it be produce/meat/seafood/dry goods. Great to connect with like minded people in the community too.
Health Food Store… Any other obscure healthy ingredients.
On line Sources…. I’m a huge fan of iherb.com for supplements and speciality health food products. I do try and buy Australian Made as much as I can, but there are a few things like stevia and vegan nutritional supplements that are so much cheaper from this site. Here are a few of my other on line favourites:
Zana Organics (NZ)
Grow your own… Even if you are limited in the space department, think about small pots of herbs/cherry tomatoes and the likes. It’s pretty easy to do, and a rewarding (and delicious) project that can save you money in the long run.
Obviously, I’m an advocate for a plant-based diet, but if it suits YOU, meat and animal products can be part of a healthy diet. Cooking for a hungry husband and toddler, I have discovered a few tricks for including good quality (organic, free range, hormone/additive free) meat, while sticking to the weekly budget.
- Buy a whole chicken instead of buying cut of meat (ie breast/thighs). For just under $10 I can buy a decent-sized free range bird – chuck it in the oven coated with a little olive oil & seasoning and roast away. Once cool enough, I pick off all the “good” meat and store it for Viper and Misty.This gets used in sandwiches, on top of salads, pizza, chicken burgers and any other chicken-type meal you can think of. All of the skin and gristly/slimy/weird looking stuff goes into a tub for Boosty-food (and YES the lonely vegan of the house does this on a weekly basis). I pour off the fat/meat juice into a small jar to use for cooking (frying etc) and the bones get boiled up with a few aromatic veggies (carrot, onion, celery, seasoning) for easy home made chicken stock. There you have it – a little extra work and you get a TON more bang for your buck.
- Portion out your meat correctly – things like steak/mince should only be the size of a playing card. Bulk out these portions with beans/pulses/grains and extra veggies. I always add lentils to a spag bol mix, along with blended up cooked vegetables. Add extra grains such as quinoa/brown rice into your burger patties or your casseroles.
- Don’t knock canned fish – fresh is fabulous, yes, but sustainably caught canned fish is a great source of nutrients and is easy on the wallet. Keep an eye out for sales on fresh fish, and stock up your freezer.
- Don’t knock canned/frozen vegetables – they are always a good back up to have in the pantry, and you may find it is cheaper to buy organic this way.
I’m a huge fan of “poor man’s protein” – beans/pulses. Cheap, easy and filling. Versatile. Don’t be afraid of buying dry too (a LOT cheaper) here is a fabulous guide to cooking/preparing if you are intimidated by said mighty bean(s). Dips, stews, and even desserts await.
Keep meals simple as you build on your cooking/preparation skills – think of it like an equation: Protein + Grain + Veggies + Fat = satisfaction. Snack-wise think fresh/dried fruit, nuts, seeds, yoghurt, smoothies or make your own whole food creations. Avoid processed snack-crap with ingredient lists that read like a bad romance novel – they are expensive and will make you feel like crap.
I suppose the most important (and ironically, the simplest) thing is to eat REAL food. Carnivore, omnivore, fruitarian, vegan – it doesn’t matter – stick to food closest to it’s natural state and you can’t go wrong. Don’t overwhelm yourself with the latest “health-foodie” fad (super foods, crazy ingredients, raw, paleo, yadda yadda yadda) just keep your food simple and real. Easy as that.
To encompass a whole “lifestyle” (not just the food) maybe a little home DIY, and thinking slightly more green may be in order too? It really does save some coin -and takes it a bit easier on old Mother Earth. Movement is a big part of my life too – nothing full on, a little walking, a little (OK, a lot) of yoga and some meditation. For fabulous yoga classes on the cheap, I download from here.
I’m always keen for other opinions – got any advice/tips to add? What components make up YOUR idea of a healthy lifestyle? Is sticking to a budget important to you?