Do you ever have one of those weeks where you're broke? I know what you're going to say before you even start, haha. "Every week!" I don't mean one of those weeks where you had to skip your barista made latte in favor of home brewed coffee and made a few meals at home. I mean one of those "forget the bills, don't own a car, no bus fare, can we make one bag of rice last another week" kind of weeks. Oh, man...they seem to happen all too often with tiny children. Join me this week for a dark dive beneath the poverty line and really think about "eating cheap".
When I see people trying to make a dollar go as far as possible, I usually see two things. They either line up for dollar menu fast food items a few times a day, which saves a few dollars, or they run to Walmart and grab a case of ramen, a huge sack of potatoes, and a few giant cans of pinto beans, which saves even a few more dollars. Both of these methods work as far as your finances go, but those aren't the only options. You may need to make sacrifices, but you don't have to throw out your nutrition alongside. Now, some of the things I'm going to suggest aren't going to be my standard fare. But there are a staggering amount of people today trying to make it on food stamps alone and lacking the of knowledge that could take their health to a better level without costing them a fortune in supplements and imported super foods.
Dollar menu items are cheap, and some places even have filling "foods" for less than $1. It's very hard to compete with that, even on a budgeted home cooked meal. If you're stuck with fast food, don't give up hope. Try to find a food item that has undergone the least amount of processing. A perfect example of this is Del Taco's 1/2 pound bean and cheese burrito. Unlike other chain Mexican restaurants who use dry powdered bean base, Del Taco actually slow cooks real, dried beans for their burritos. Special order without cheese and add lettuce, which is free, and you've got a 99 cent burrito that will cause a lot less damage than that questionable double cheeseburger.
People scramble for potatoes in a pinch, which is understandable. They're cheap, filling, and can be added to pretty much anything. If you're stuck with potatoes, don't bake them: boil them. Potatoes are notorious for their Glycemic Index/Load rating, but baking them increases this even further. Save yourself some insulin resistance and boil the potatoes, and to lower the effect on your blood sugar even more, let them cool as much as possible before eating.
Grains? Ok. They're acidifying to the system but as an option here they're not terrible. Avoid glutinous grains, as always, and focus on buying natural and unprocessed versions. That basically leaves you with brown rice. At Walmart you can get a bag of brown rice for $2, which is several family sized servings. White rice? For shame! I can't fathom the understanding behind it. Take a natural food, grind all of the nutrients out of it, and then charge money for it? People will fall for anything these days, haha. Isn't styrafoam cheaper? It's just as nutritious.
Ramen? Okay. I can understand this one IF you're at the very end of your rope. These dried noodle packets provide 400 calories each, and at 5 for 1$ or cheaper, everyone can have a full tummy for the night. What can you do to shave some of the evil off of this processed, sugary demon? Don't use the packet of flavoring! It contains MSG and other chemicals that are downright dangerous, even in small doses such as this one. Throw that packet out, boil the noodles and drizzle some of that olive oil you never use on top. Add garlic and it's...kind of edible! Or, if you like the traditional street stand hot ramen bowl, use soy sauce in the water instead of the packet for broth. If you have veggies on hand you can drain the noodles after boiling and use them in a stir fry, or just make a noodle soup.
Cans of beans might seem cheap, but only because you have no idea what to do with dried beans. You know that canned food is evil, right? The food has been treated with man made chemicals and isn't fit for human consumption, not to mention it's actually more expensive to buy canned beans over dried. Now, I know firsthand how annoying it is to dig through the food stock for something to eat and find a bunch of beans that need to be soaked overnight before cooking. Do the quick soak instead: Fill your pan with water, add the beans, and boil them for two minutes. After the time is up, take the pan off the heat, cover, and leave for as long as possible, but at least a few hours. Or just buy split peas and lentils, which don't require any soaking at all.
If you're going to eat this way, don't make it a habit. But when you're in a corner, you still have options. This is a better way, but it's still not the best. Sometimes, eating right is actually cheaper than all this. For example:
At Trader Joe's, 5 bananas is 95 cents. That's approximately 500 calories for $1.
1 Bean burrito is approximately 400 calories. It is also $1.
What's the difference? Well, one choice is all raw, uncooked and loaded with vitamins, minerals and natural energy that won't give you a sugar rush because it's loaded with fiber. It will also help to heal your digestive system. And the other one is basically the opposite. You can work your way up from here.
A head of romaine right now is 79 cents at my local chain grocer. An avocado is 50 cents (sale!). I happen to have lemon juice and olive in my fridge. An avocado salad is pretty nice compared to a double cheeseburger. Lentils are super easy to sprout and make an awesome topping on a salad or filling of a sandwich. A bag of raw Sunflower seeds is only $1.49, which can be soaked or sprouted just like lentils, and even used to make dressings for insanely cheap. You can try or not, but the options are out there. Not having things can be frustrating, but it can also be blinding, because "having" is simply a state of mind. "Not having" is the same.
More importantly, don't stress. I know, I know, you hear it all the time, but that doesn't make it any less true. Stress is an anti-nutrient. Yep. That's right. So if your diet is lacking, stressing out over it will kill what little you ARE getting. Similarly, what good is it for you to take the best supplement you can afford if the stress you are allowing yourself to feel will blow through all those vitamins and minerals before your body can properly assimilate them? Relax. Stress helps nothing and no one, and hurts you in so many ways, on so many levels. A series of choices led to this situation, and the same actions repeated with have similar consequences. A change in decisions and actions will help, not losing sleep. Take the time to de-stress and try, try again.