Renter’s Fundamentals: Eating Well on the Cheap
Turns out, you can’t learn everything you need to know from Cookie Monster.
Eating well isn’t difficult — but eating well without blowing a load of money can be. To help our renters with their budgets and their well-being, we’ve put a few clutch tips together for keeping your budget tight while also keeping your health up. Check them out.
The Obvious: Cut Expensive Junk Food
Just in case we have to actually say it: there’s a lot of expensive junk food in the world. If you’re a regular consumer of prepackaged food, foods composed primarily of sugar, flour, or white rice, or premade bulk-style foods like your grocer’s deli burritos or corn dogs…stop. You can save money and make it through your day with less exhaustion in one step. (If it’s not self-evident, this includes eating out except on significant special occasions.)
The Tradeoff: Time vs. Money
The question then becomes, if you’re not getting your prepackaged or premade foods, how are you going to get your food efficiently? The answer is simple: you either spend the money to get legit food (which kinds of defies the point of ‘eating well on the cheap’), or you spend the time to make it. Of course, everyone wants to believe that their days are too busy to take time with something as banal as food…but there’s a lot to be gained by investing in some smart time into food preparation.
The Key: Planning Ahead
In order to be able to prepare intelligently, you have to start by knowing what you’re going to eat ahead of time. The lowest-thought-content version of this plan is the diet-on-repeat, which basically involves eating the same thing week after week. You have to put the effort to build a great meal plan just once, and then repeat it six days a week (and party on Sundays). Alternately, you can put in the effort each week or two, and plan a week or two into the future.
Plan every meal (except Sunday’s), and keep a fully-stocked supply of inexpensive, healthy snacks in reserve for between-meal cravings. Then on Sunday, go nuts — even order out if you like — but spend a part of the afternoon prepping everything you need for the rest of the week. Chop the veggies, brown the meat, cook entire meals if you can refrigerate them and reheat them when needed.
The Rules: Healthy Cheap Foods
- There is a short list of very simple rules that you can follow to eat cheap, healthy foods.
Eat at least 3 different colors of vegetable every day (and 6 different every week). Even three different colors of inexpensive bell pepper totally count!
- You can buy inexpensive non-organic produce safely if you either wash it or peel it.
- Most forms of special label (i.e. cage-free, grass-fed, no hormones) aren’t worth the additional price.
- Organic is good, but inexpensive and enough is better than organic and not enough. Exception: wild-caught fish is better than farmed fish even at 50% higher cost. Exception to the exception: unless it’s canned, then there’s no real difference.
- Most meals can be made with a cut of meat that is a grade or two lower than recommended if you marinate the meat first — which you can do because you’re planning ahead.
- Supposedly-bad things you can safely completely ignore when it comes to food, because recent science has disproven the scares: cholesterol, saturated fat, unsaturated fat, red meat, mercury in fish (unless all you eat is whale or shark!).
- Supposedly-bad things that turned out to actually be bad: unfermented soy products (estrogen), high fructose corn syrup (diabetes and obesity), monosodium glutamate (excitotoxins, especially bad for people with ADHD), trans fats (so many reasons), and the big one, carbs (turns into fat and sticks to your butt…and arteries.)
Optimize your prices within those rules, and with planning and preparation as your aides, you can be eating well, feeling better every waking minute of your life, and ekeing a few extra dollars out of your budget at the same time. Win/win!