We have all heard that eating foods cooked from home are healthier for us. However, it can be easy to grab that quick “pre-made” boxed meal at the store or run through the drive-thru and order off the dollar menu. Often we try to justify doing this because we think it is cheaper and maybe not so bad for our bodies. Many people believe it is more expensive to eat healthy foods. Hopefully I can help shed some light on how you can eat healthier without breaking the bank to do it.
First, let’s discuss what a healthy food is and what it is not. Simply stated, healthy foods give the body the nutrients you need, like protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Eating foods that have a lot of nutrients in them are called “nutrient-dense foods.” Nutrient-dense foods include vegetables, fruit, meats, beans, nuts, and whole grains. These foods have not been highly processed or refined, leaving their nutrients in tact. They are typically lower in calories and many are high in fiber, which help you fill up with less calories.
On the other hand, there are many foods that have a lot of calories. These often do not give the body a lot of nutrients and takes a lot more of these food to fill you up. These are processed foods sold in the grocery stores or restaurants. Processed foods have nutrients and fiber removed, as well as have additives like preservatives, salt, sugar, and trans fats. These foods contribute to over eating, weight gain, inflammation, heart disease, and diabetes.
Next, we will look at how to properly determine the cost of food and what is a good deal. Often times we think a “good deal” means getting a lot of food for our money. Although you can get a high calorie meal for little money off the dollar menu, are you getting a nutritious meal for your money? Probably not. Also, many of those high calorie foods don’t keep us feeling full for very long, which can lead to overeating. Instead of looking at price/calorie for a good deal, try to think of price/nutrient as a better deal for your health.
So let’s look at an example comparison of meals. For about $7.00, you can you order a meal at KFC that includes 2 piece white meat original recipe chicken, 1 biscuit, coleslaw and mashed potatoes with gravy. This meal will give you:
- 1110 calories
- 3500 mg sodium
- 87 g carbohydrates
- 80 g protein
For about $7.00, you can buy 1 lb chicken, 1 lb brown rice, 1 lbs broccoli, 1 lb carrots, and 1 gallon of 1% milk. Remember, this $7.00 will feed not only you, but your entire family with left overs to go toward other meals. One meal created from these ingredients could be: 3 oz chicken, 1/2 cup carrots, 1/2 cup broccoli, and 1/2 cup brown rice. For this meal, you will get:
- 303 calories
- 125 mg sodium
- 34 g carbohydrates
- 33 g protein
The KFC meal only feeds one person, but provides an entire day’s worth of calories. And the sodium! We should only get 2300 mg of sodium for an entire day, while KFC’s one meal provides 3500 mg of sodium!
As you can see, you get more food, more nutrients, and lots of fiber with less calories and sodium for the same amount of money buying whole foods instead of take-out. And that is not even taking into account the many ways to get your grocery bill down. Here are some tips to save money at the store:
- Buy in season
- Clip coupons or use coupon websites (coupons.com)
- Check sale ads
- Use shopper club cards
- Buy whole instead of pre-cut foods
- Buy cheaper cuts of meat, they are just as healthy, taste delicious, and often work well in the crock pot
- Compare prices and don’t be afraid to buy store brands, they are usually the same quality
Cooking at home doesn’t have to be very time consuming either. Choosing faster cooking foods that are not highly processed can be a healthy time saver. Avoid or limit foods that have been canned, flavored, or are in a box. They might be quick, but they can come with higher sodium, fat and preservatives. Whole foods are healthy, nutritious and many are quick to cook. Choose whole foods such as these most of the time:
- Thin-cut chicken
- Ground meats
- Frozen vegetables
- Frozen brown rice
With a little planning and preparation, you can have a meal on the table in about the same time and effort it takes to travel to a restaurant, wait in line to order, pay for your food, wait for your food to be ready, and then drive back home.
I challenge you to start cooking at home more. It really can save you money, calories, and time.