How to Eat Right When the Budget's Tight
As a parting gift for my first summer as a “real” working person living on her own, my mom took me on a grocery shopping trip to stock up on as much food as possible (on her dime) before I was left to fend for myself. I bought an abundance of all-natural, organic foods in the grocery store. I thought I’d done well looking at sale prices, but the three-digit figure revealed at the checkout counter suggested otherwise. And I had only bought enough for the first two or three weeks! Laden with grocery bags, I began to panic. What was I going to do all summer without the friendly staff of the 5C dining halls preparing me delicious and healthy meals three times a day? Or without my mom to take me on epic shopping sprees? There was no way I could spend that much on my personal summer budget. But a summer of Ramen and Cup O’ Noodles? I could afford these quick fixes, but that's not the way to stay nourished and fit.
I needed a plan. With a little creativity and some easy tricks, I discovered that it's deliciously possible to get healthy food without blowing an entire week's paycheck. Try one of these tips, or try them all-- I hope they'll serve you well this summer.
Fruits and veggies are by far the most expensive part of any healthy eating plan. Produce is not only costly, but also tends to have a short shelf-life. Instead of paying full price at the supermarket, find a farmer’s market or farm stand nearby. Without all the extra steps in getting the food from the field to your belly, locally bought produce prices tend to be more wallet-friendly. Plus, you are supporting local farmers, a habit that's good for the environment and better for your health (none of the pesticides or chemical ripening that occurs in larger produce companies).
I've become regular at a particular farm stand this summer, and after a few weeks the farmers have warmly offered me deals on their goods. Some farmers even feature a “scratch and dent” section of their stand which has fruits and veggies that are bruised or “unattractive in form” (their own phrase) that they will give away for free! My personal philosophy is to disregard appearance: these are just as healthy and taste just as good.
Coffee can be a huge financial drain, especially if you enjoy lattes as much as I do. At first, I considered going on a latte fast for the summer, but quickly realized there was no reason to deprive myself of my morning treat. Instead of going to a café where the average coffee drink is over $3, I invested in a hand-held milk foamer to make lattes at home. These tiny tools are fun to use, inexpensive ($2.99 from Ikea), and are surprisingly effective.
For a fabulous homemade latte, just heat ¼ cup of milk in the microwave, add any sweetener or flavoring directly to the milk (flavored syrups are cheap from the grocery store, and one bottle will last you all summer), and then use the foamer to whip the milk until it attains the desired frothiness. Then, simply pour coffee, chai tea, or hot cocoa into the foamed milk for a decadent drink. In fact, I've come to like my at-home lattes better than any I can buy in a coffee shop...and my wallet does too.
Single-serving meals (think Hot Pockets and frozen personal pizzas) are often less healthy and, in the long run, more expensive than home-cooked meals. The problem is, most recipes made from scratch make too many servings for one person to eat before the food spoils. But if you're working in an internship or job, chances are there are other college-student aged people working within striking distance of your kitchen. If you boil up a bag of wild rice or pasta, and someone down the road or in your apartment building makes some roasted vegetables, and someone else brings baked chicken or a a protein of your choice, you’ve got a delicious feast... and great company to dine with.
Get a Green Thumb and Save Some Green
Herbs make all foods taste better and can brighten up any dish—whether you’re cooking up a burger or just tossing together a salad. And they’re good for you too. But herbs can get expensive if you buy them fresh (the healthiest and best-tasting way to eat them). Instead of buying a two-dollar bunch of parsley at the grocery store and using it up in a week, go to a nursery and purchase a two-dollar parsley plant instead. Basil is perfect with tomatoes and mozzarella, parsley adds crisp freshness to almost any dish, and rosemary is delicious with roasted meats, fish, and veggies.
The seedlings are usually full enough that you can use a few leaves right away, before planting them in a window box, pot, or small garden to have fresh herbs all summer long. Never grown anything before? Don’t worry: herbs are easy to grow, require almost no room, and can be grown indoors or out, as long as they are watered consistently and placed in a sunny spot. Give it a try! Summer is all about trying new things.