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How To Eat Healthily On A Budget

by Irene Chooi. |

The title of this article is a question I asked myself repeatedly as a cash-strapped university student years ago. I was living off cheap coffee and instant noodles and my body was not liking it one bit. After a particularly bad breakout, I decided to change the way I ate bit by bit.

It took years to find a formula that works for me and even now I still struggle sometimes with sticking to the tips I’m about to share with you, but it got me eating healthier without breaking the bank.

1. Market day

When I wanted to eat healthily and needed to get ingredients to cook, I used to shop solely at supermarkets like Tesco, Aeon Big and Giant. The produce there is quite affordable and there is a wide range for you to choose from. However, I do not like how many items come prepacked, which means you’re forced to spend extra and get a pack of 5 carrots when perhaps you only needed 2 for the week.

Surprisingly, I also found that fruits can be quite expensive at supermarkets, which put a hurdle in my quest to eat healthy and balanced meals.

Which is why I would highly suggest you go to a market! I believe shopping at the market encourages you to eat healthy because you can get more and fresher item for less money! Every Saturday is a market day for me. Local markets are great for finding bargains because of the competition between stalls and lower rent. There is also a much wider selection of items unless you’re looking for canned goods.

Produce and fruits at markets are also fresh, which equals healthy! Some market stall owners own farms and orchards, which means you don’t have to pay the middleman. Shopping at a market also means you can shop zero waste by bringing your bag, which is a huge plus for me.

2. Shop discount

If you’re on a tight budget but want to eat healthy, shopping at the discount section could be your best move. Don’t be scared of the reject rack - even the one for fruits and vegetables! It is a smart and wallet-friendly way to get more healthy food in your diet for less money. As long as you don’t pick something mouldy and unsafe to eat, you’re good to go. Based on my experience, a lot of the fruits and vegetables thrown into the discount section are imperfect and not bad. That means some knocks and bruises which can be easily cut away. Well worth it if you’ll be paying a fraction of the price.

If it’s at a supermarket, you’ll find the discount section or reject rack on certain days in the produce aisle and another space for canned and packaged goods near the checkout counters. Again, exercise caution when you shop discount, bruises can be cut off, I’ve purchased many delicious mangos for cheap that way. But if you find clear signs of decay, put it back and walk away.

If you’re at the market, hang around until it’s near closing time. That’s when stall owners start slashing prices. I once purchased a bag of bruised mangos for half the price because the seller just wanted to get rid of them. (Yes, I love mangos)

3. Food prep

A great way to maximise your budget is to cut down on food waste and there is no better way of doing that than by planning and preparing your food. If you just stuff everything into the fridge and leave it there for when you want to eat them, two things will happen.

One, you might feel it takes too much effort to peel and cut up that apple after a long day at work so you rip open a bag of chips to snack on because it’s much easier. Goodbye healthy lifestyle.

Two, the apples you thought were too expensive but still bought as a treat will sit at the back of the fridge, forgotten and mouldy. 2 months later, you’ll feel sad when you look at their shrunken form. (This happened to me. I was really sad.)

Appoint one day in your week to buy groceries and prepare your food. On Saturdays, I go to the market in the morning, then spend around 2 hours or less cleaning and portioning my vegetables and meat and cutting up fruits to make easy snacks.

Spending 2 hours on what might be a tedious chore means you don’t have to do any extra work in the following week AND you get to stick to your healthy meals! I’d say that’s 2 hours well spent.

4. Cook

Some people cook next week’s meals on their food prep day, but that doesn’t work for me. So, I make it as easy as possible for me to cook when I want to, and I make it a point to cook as often as possible.

When you cook, you can control exactly what goes into your food, especially the amount of salt and oil. I’m a picky eater and I used to hate onions before I started cooking and realised the amazing flavour this cheap vegetable brings to the table. But if you dislike onions, you can leave it out, chef!

Another item I love to make is Kimchi. This Korean fermented vegetable dish is chock-full of probiotics, extremely versatile, quick to make and can last for months in the fridge!

One thing you will realise when you start cooking for yourself is sometimes, the cost of cooking could be the same as eating out simply because of the price of the ingredients. But if you think about the quality of the ingredients, the much lower amount of salt and oil you’re consuming, and the fact that you can make big batches for cheaper, it’s worth cooking for yourself.

My last tip for eating healthy on a budget is to try everything you can think of and then practice what works for you. For a whole month, I tried preparing all my meals a week in advance and I hated it. I don’t like eating cold food and ended up wasting some of my prepared meals.

Wanting to eat healthily is commendable and having to do it on a budget is pretty smart. It’s not easy, but it’s possible, especially if you start today.

You can learn more about the writer on Instagram.

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