As the economic crisis thickens, many of our healthy resolutions fall by the wayside. We pick up an organic apple, only to say “Too expensive!” and put it back. The problem with this attitude is that if you are scrimping on nutrition to save a buck now, your body will eventually begin to show signs of weakness and disease later. Read on to find 6 simple and dynamic belt-tightening ways to eat better and spend less.
1. Reuse takeout food
One way to cut costs and be healthy is to make all of your own meals at home. However, this is not always possible in our busy lives. Here’s how you can go out for food and make it last: box up half of your food before you even begin eating. When you order an entrée, box up half of it before you start eating—or ask the waiter to do this before the food is brought to you. That way you won’t try to finish the whole plate and you benefit by: 1) avoiding the heartburn and lethargy that comes from overeating; 2) cutting your costs in half; 3) cutting your caloric intake in half, great news for your waistline.
What do you do with the takeout food so that you’ll actually eat it for your next meal? If you ordered pasta or stir-fry, simply sauté a few vegetables and add it to the leftovers. Yesterday’s takeout meal has just been brought back to life. Leftover Mexican? Warm up a few whole wheat tortillas, fill them with the leftovers, sprinkle with fresh lime and enjoy! Whatever the meal, think of ways to enliven the flavor and add in nutrition at the same time.
2. Smart tips for eating out
If you want to avoid having takeout food in the first place, stick with salads, soups, and appetizers when you go out. In the United States, the entrées on a menu are almost always too big for one person. If you are eating out with a close friend or relative, offer to split the entrée order with him or her. Each of you can pick an appetizer for yourselves in addition. You’ll save money and your waistline at the same time.
3. Don’t buy more than you can eat
Don’t buy in bulk foods that don’t keep. It turns out that American households waste about fourteen percent of whatever food they buy. That waste ends up directly in the landfill and eats directly into your wallet. The less you throw out, the more you save. Avoid wasting food by coming up with menus and plan your grocery list accordingly. Also, know what is in your pantry or refrigerator and use it before it expires. Consider what you could freeze for later. If you frequently store foods by freezing them, you may want to purchase a vacuum sealer so you can avoid the problem of freezer burn. Label things with the date they were frozen and when to take them out. Make sure any food you freeze—whether vegetables, fruit, nuts, meats—are fresh and unspoiled before you freeze them. You’ll want to freeze everything in meal-sized portions, as it will be tough to separate once frozen. Freezing food can be a good way to waste less food and save more money.
4. Recycle as you cook
Learn to recycle as you cook to get the most out of the food you purchase. Here are some ideas to get you started:
• Always save cooking water. If you cooked your kale in water, that cooking water can be used as vegetable broth the next time you make rice, adding flavor and nutrients.
• Save veggie scraps as you cook. Consider that those beet tops, carrot tops, onion trimmings, and other scraps could be made into a healthy, delicious broth and stored for later use.
• Buy a whole chicken instead of pieces and learn to cut up the chicken yourself. Any process that happens to your food you have to pay for. The more that you do yourself, the less you are paying for the convenience. When you skip the store-bought trimmed chicken breasts, you now have a whole chicken with leftover bones that could become soup or a delicious broth to have on hand the next time you need chicken stock. You can freeze chicken stock in ice-cube trays and throw it in for added flavor with veggies, grains—anything!
• Make big batches of soups and sauces—such as pesto or tomato sauce—and freeze in one-meal portions for later use. This is great for those times when you have a huge stash of produce that is one day away from wilting and ending up in the garbage. And these versatile soups and sauces can be used in a different recipe rotation for every meal.
5. Eat less meat
Stop thinking of meat as the centerpiece of your meal. This is not only better for your budget, it is also better for your health. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t eat meat at all, but it need not be in the large portions that we have come to expect and it doesn’t have to show up in every meal. Try eating meat only three or four days a week, in 4- to 5-ounce portions—approximately the size of a deck of cards. Choose free-range, grass-fed, and hormone- and antibiotic-free meat, which is healthier for both you and the environment. Also, eggs are perfect protein; keep a few hardboiled eggs on hand at all times. Rely more on grains and beans, combined with delicious veggies to fill out your meal.
6. Practice the three-quarters rule
We all need food to live, but there is no reason to supersize your portions. In fact, research shows that eating more food equals less years; overeating stresses the body and increases its load of toxins—wear and tear that will negatively affect your health in the long run. When I researched the long-life habits of centenarians around the world, I found that they largely followed the “three-quarters rule” which means that they stopped eating once they were three-quarters full. Eating less keeps your metabolism in a more natural state, lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol and boosts HDL (good) cholesterol, keeps diabetes in check, regulates blood pressure, and optimizes cell division. When you restrict your food intake but pay attention to nutrition, your body becomes more efficient and less burdened by the work of eliminating toxins. As a side effect, you may find that you reach a healthy weight. And of course, your grocery bills will be less. So, take a hint from the centenarians and listen when your stomach tells you have eaten to the three-quarters mark.
I hope you find the ways to eat well on a budget! I invite you to visit often and share your own personal health and longevity tips with me.
May you live long, live strong, and live happy!
Dr. Maoshing Ni is a bestselling author and practices acupuncture, nutrition and Chinese medicine at the Tao of Wellness in Santa Monica, a seven-doctor group that he co-founded 25 years ago. He is also the co-founder and Chancellor of Yo San University in Venice/Marina del Rey. You can visit him at www.taoofwellness.com or call 310.917.2200.