Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Clean Eating That Won't Clean You Out

I preach to people a lot about the importance of shopping around the perimeter of the grocery store and sticking to clean, fresh, natural food. It's absolutely the best way to eat, and I am a die-hard believer that eating clean is the solution to many of the health, obesity, energy, and stress related problems we face in our society.

But I also hear a lot of grumbling about how eating clean is more expensive, and at times that is a legitimate complaint. It's a real problem, and one that I don't have a quick solution for. It is a shame that some of our most malnourished populations, the ones in most desperate need for education about how to prepare and eat healthy foods, are also those that are often experiencing levels of poverty that exclude them from access to those healthy foods. I want to be part of the solution to this problem, but I don't yet know what that is. If you have any ideas, let me know!

Until then, there's hope for those of us who aren't necessarily in poverty but still don't want to find ourselves at the grocery register paying the equivalent of Harvard education just to eat for a week. Read this article that gives three examples of how to eat clean on a budget. Eating healthy can be expensive, but it doesn't have to be if you are willing to apply a little elbow grease and imagination when you head to the market.

Consider these techniques that I frequently use in preparing my own clean meals:

1. Sacrifice variety to an extent. Remember, food is fuel, not a companion. So, while variety can be important in regulating your metabolism, I choose to standardize my breakfast, snacks, and lunch during the week to allow me to buy in bulk.

  • Preparing a cheap egg white casserole large enough for six servings during the week saves time and money

  • Baking a turkey breast on the weekend to chop for salads during the week is a lot cheaper than buying lunchmeat or chicken breasts

  • Buying a large container of Greek yogurt is less expensive than individual cups, just be sure to measure the quantity when spooning out a serving each day for a snack

  • In winter, I'll make a huge pot of vegetable soup and have that for dinner or lunch most days. Its comforting, easy, and incredibly healthy.

For me, standardizing my meals not only saves money and time at the grocery store, it also takes the guesswork out of portion sizes. I have enough to think about in a day, I don't want to also have to think about what to eat.

2. Invest time in food preparation. Yes, chopping and portioning a turkey breast takes time. Spending an hour preparing salads or egg whites or chopping fruit can be a chore. And for busy moms, this seems like just one more thing to do in an already over-scheduled day. Well, get over it. If you want to get healthy and save money, you'll find time to do this, and depending on the age of your children, it can be a fun family activity as well. Personally, I look forward to my time on Sunday afternoon when I can flip on the TV, chat with my son while he plays nearby, and prep all my food for the coming week. It saves loads of time on rushed mornings, as well. You'll be suprised how quickly your kitchen will turn into a mini culinary institute, with a pot of stew on the stove, a loaf of bread in the breadmaker, breakfast scramble in the oven, fruit on the chopping board, and baked turkey waiting to be carved...and your house smells like Thanksgiving every weekend! The hardest part is keeping your family members from nibbling on all your clean eats. I often lose precious turkey to the ninja-like reflexes of my turkey-gobbling husband.

3. Buy seasonal fruits and vegetables. Fruits and veggies are expensive, especially the really nutritious fruits like berries. But by buying produce when it is abundant (and prices are lower) you can enjoy some refreshing variety and avoid paying a premium. When your favorite item is too expensive to buy fresh, consider buying it frozen. I often buy frozen blueberries to mix into my yogurt when fresh are more than I want to pay. They last longer and the unit price is cheaper.

4. Make your own. My breadmaker may be one of the most useful items in my kitchen. Baking a loaf of bread for the week requires 5 minutes of prep time and costs a fraction of the price of lesser-quality store-bought bread. Buying oats, seeds, and dried fruit in bulk to make homemade museli is healthier and cheaper than paying for the marketing of packaged mixes. And while I will never profess to be a gardener, growing your own produce can be rewarding and inexpensive if you have the skill and patience. I'm personally pretty excited about the blooms on my first-ever tomato plant. I doubt my black thumb will ever produce enough food to feed more than the neighborhood squirrels, but it's fun to try!

For my recipes and other clean eating tips, visit the Recipes page of my website.

Eating clean might be expensive, but it doesn't have to be! The hardest part may be deciding how to spend all that money you can save. Hint: get a gym membership. :)

Bon appetit!


Pamela Hernandez said...

Love your list. I like to buy in bulk, especially when things like oats or sweet potatoes are on sale. In addition to a breadmaker, there are various no knead breads that take only 5 minutes and methods for making your own yogurt (you can find the videos on YouTube I think).

Healthy_Heather said...

Thanks for your comment Pamela, I forgot about making yogurt! Although I like mine really thick so it doesn't end up being very cost-effective...although I still do it! :)

Vanessa said...

This is an excellent article Heather! Very helpful. I will be doing the egg white casserole for next week.