Sunday, June 15, 2014

Eat Convenient, Cheap, Healthy and Tasty

Unless you are a vampire, you need to eat food. Everyone does. However, that does not make us entitled to eat whatever food and however much food we desire whether we have the money or not. This is a category that sometimes gets out of control for me. I hope to continue the conversation about this huge budget item beyond this post and we can start more closely aligning our spending with our aspirations together.

Have you ever heard the saying that people wants things fast, high quality and cheap, but you can only pick two? Sometimes it feels similar with nutrition. Most people want their food convenient, cheap, healthy and tasty. This world is diverse so those factors will play out differently for everyone. I’m not going to pretend I have 10 magical foods that score high in all four categories, but rather I am going to explore two paradigms that have some natural tension.  

Buy in Bulk vs. Buy Only What You Need Until Your Next Trip
You should buy in bulk to save money, right? Naturally investing in a bulk amount of food is going to challenge your budget in the near term, but if you eventually use all of it, you save money per item.

But have you also heard that you should stick to your list and buy only what you need for the week (or however long it is before your next planned grocery trip)? I know in my life I spend more on food than I intended because I buy far more food than I am going to eat before I return to the grocery store. I have hundreds of dollars of food sitting in my fridge, freezer and pantry. A good business keeps inventory moving and only stores the minimum amount required for operational efficiency. I want my food storage to stay low and have that money invested elsewhere. (Plus, it is hard not to overeat when there is food everywhere.)

So buy in bulk or buy the bare minimum? I will answer this the way I probably answer everything. It depends. It is all about balance. It makes a lot of sense to buy in bulk and freeze the rest sometimes. Eventually your freezer gets too full. Or maybe you find that you just leave it there for far too long and the buy and freeze process is just stressing you out. Maybe that extra energy could be spent on something that will add more value to you. Also, you know when you are just impulsively wanting 5 different types of cookies at once because you failed to eat before shopping versus purposefully buying chicken in bulk so you don’t have to restock chicken for the next six months. Trust your instincts and be flexible with yourself. You will inevitably make some mistakes, buying some things in bulk that you end up throwing out, or buying miscellaneous items that could have been postponed until your next trip. But that’s okay. You are human. And the best thing about being human is that we are not perfect and don’t have to be.

Eating Healthy vs. Eating Cheap
The question “how to eat healthy while on a budget?” will probably always generate conversation. That is because there is no particular solution. The balance between cheap, convenient, healthy and tasty is constantly at play.

Drinking water is one healthy habit that truly is cheap. Think about all the money you could save by drinking free water rather than buying soda at a restaurant or a vending machine. Even if you buy soda at the grocery store, it’s probably around $0.50 a can, which is clearly more than $0.0. If your water is not free, invest in what you need so that you can drink water for free. My fridge/freezer produces filtered water and ice and my work place provides water and ice as well, so I water is always available for free.

Consider cutting your portions to cut your budget. Overeating is costing you money. With that said, it can be very challenging to stop overeating if you do not learn to nourish your body with those vitamins, protein, complex carbohydrates, fiber and fats it needs.

Success in portion control is often contingent on healthy eating. So we are back to “how to eat healthy while on a budget?” Eating healthy does not need to be more expensive, but to do so you may have to give up some convenience.  Chopping your own fruits and veggies takes time, but it can bring healthy eating into a more affordable price range. Sometimes a healthy or unhealthy food item may have a similar convenience factor. Perhaps the healthy item is actually cheaper. But you are concerned with the taste.

For example, many gas stations now sell apples and bananas for less than a dollar. A candy bar is a little over a dollar. Honestly, the apples and bananas sold at gas stations look gross to me. And I don’t want to eat something that looks unappetizing. However, a higher quality apple from the grocery store, nicely cut with some almond butter spread is appealing to me. But it’s not as if I carry a knife and almond butter around with me to enhance the taste of an apple.

I have found that yes you can eat healthy while on a budget, but especially if you want to maintain taste as well as affordability, you will have to give up some convenience. As different actions such as bringing the various ingredients you need to work with you become habit, being healthy will be less and less inconvenient.

Food prices are going up, so now is a better time than ever to get a grasp on your food costs. Remember to balance out buying bulk versus focusing on your immediate needs. You can eat healthy while on a budget, drinking water and portion control are prime examples, but you may need to give up some convenience and create some new habits to enjoy a healthy, budget-conscious lifestyle.

Now it is time for you to share how you shop. How are you using buying in bulk to save money? Have you found some eating solutions that are convenient, cheap, healthy and tasty? 

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree with what you said about if you want to eat healthy and cheap then you have to give up some convenience. In life, it usually holds true that you have to compromise at some point. Sure, Panera is incredibly convenient and yeah you can find healthy choices there for lunch. But what some people might not stop to consider is the compromise you're making for the price of that salad and the thing you won't be able to afford because of it. I do feel like people can eat healthy while on a budget, but it isn't for those who are unwilling to put some effort into it. The good news is it's totally worth it!