by Elexsis Robison, ETC blog contributor

Did you know…a cheeseburger from McDonald’s costs $1.00, while a South-Western salad costs $4.79? In a supermarket, like Walmart, a bag of original potato chips costs $1.84 while a bag of six apples costs $6.24. With inexpensive options, such as these, it’s no wonder people are drawn to unhealthy choices on the Value Menu at McDonald’s. A healthy lifestyle is such an important way to live, yet this economy makes it almost impossible to do so while on a tight budget. Whether you are a family of four trying to buy more vegetables, pay for daycare, and meet your bill deadlines or a 20-something college grad trying to cut down on ramen noodles, eat something of nutritional value, and pay off your college loans, eating on a budget is tough! So, here’s to an article that finally proves healthy really is better (for your wallet and your health) the next time you are considering a bag of potato chips over a bag of apples because of money.

This spring I finished my first year of college. It was hard, eating in a dining hall every day with unlimited pizza and pasta bars made me almost forgot about eating healthy. On a budget of $20 a month for food, gas, books, and other expenses, I fell into the habit of cheap and easy eating, trapped in a cycle of ramen noodles, macaroni and cheese, and pizza. Throughout my academic year, I began compiling tips for living a healthy lifestyle on a budget, so here they are, with ❤ direct from me to you.

Go Frozen!

Buy all the frozen fruits and vegetables that your wallet desires. A lot of people think that frozen foods are not as nutritious as fresh foods, but it’s actually the opposite. Fruit and vegetables are frozen at their peak ripeness, making them your freshest choice, while allowing them to last for months in the freezer. Fresh produce loses its nutritional value after a couple of days and can go bad within a week or two. Frozen vegetables can be added to soup, chili, casseroles, pasta sauces, omelets, stir-fries, and side dishes, while frozen fruit can be used in smoothies or baked recipes. Check out these 17 ways to incorporate frozen vegetables into your meals.  Say goodbye to wasted food!

Shop in season and local.

Local seasonal produce changes throughout the spring, summer, and fall depending on the growing season and the location of the farm. It will usually be showcased in the produce department for a cheaper price due to the high quantity the store must sell. Take advantage of these sales! During the winter, make the most of apples, oranges, and bananas. These are commonly inexpensive and can also be found anytime throughout the year.

Beans.

Beans are packed with protein, making them a great replacement for expensive poultry and meats. You can make beans a main entrée, as well as a side dish or snack. The best part about beans is that you can buy them bagged or canned and the nutritional value is that same. They are also really cheap, like 79¢ cheap!

Whole grains.

All this talk about beans reminded me of my all-time favorite food, whole grains! Whole grains include wheat, brown rice, quinoa, and oatmeal. These foods are probably one of the cheapest food groups on the list and, arguably, one of the most beneficial. Packed with nutrients, including protein, fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals, they have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and some forms of cancer. My advice…buy them bagged at a knock off store like Aldi.

Get your calcium with dairy!

Dairy in your diet can get expensive, I know. However, you don’t have to let it be. Simply get some yogurt, drink 2 glasses of milk a day, and you should be good to go. Also, go Greek with your yogurt. There is less sugar and more protein. Generic milk and yogurt brands are just fine and will still get you the calcium and protein that you need!

Generic brands are the best brands!

I understand that certain foods require certain brands, but if you don’t mind getting knock off brands, do it! Just remember, check the Nutrition Facts Panel to make sure the brand you choose doesn’t contain any hidden ingredients. You can save so much money by buying groceries this way. You can even go cheaper by shopping at discount stores. I love to shop at Aldi to save hundreds of dollars on my grocery bill!

It’s hard to shop healthy when there are so many more tempting foods at seemingly cheaper prices.  I hope these tips can leave a huge impact on your wallet and, most importantly, your health.  One last tip, pay attention to coupons.  Check the Sunday paper for sales ads and coupons for grocery stores near you.   A few cents over many years can sure add up!

Remember, love yourself enough to live a healthy lifestyle, but love your family enough to give them one.   At the end of the day, we are all doing our best.  Don’t give up.  Love yourself.  And #eatthechocolate.

Elexsis is a dietetic student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a passion for nutrition. She was drawn to nutrition simply because her education has given her the ability to help people feel better though the power of food. No harmful chemicals or medicine, just healthy food. She hopes to one day be a Clinical Dietitian in a hospital, eventually becoming a Clinical Nutrition Manager. Through her blogs, Elexsis strives to educate those seeking advice on nutrition and change their lives for the better as nutrition has done for her.

References
mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/whole-grains/art-20047826?pg=2
babble.com/best-recipes/17-dinners-to-make-with-a-bag-of-frozen-vegetables/
fastfoodmenuprices.com/mcdonalds-prices/