Creating a Nutrient Dense Diet on a Budget

So you’ve decided you’d like to take charge of your health and are worried about cost… don’t let that deter you!

I totally get it! When I first started my journey to better health, I too was concerned about cost. You often hear that you must buy everything “organic, free range, BPA free and all natural,” which can get REALLY expensive, REALLY quickly! While all of those benchmarks are great to aspire to, it’s important to note that your “health journey” is called a “journey” for a reason. Your health will not change overnight… it takes time to develop new habits and learn what your body needs to feel your best. With that being said, the “journey” to better health is a marathon and not a race, so you don’t have to break the bank at every mile marker along the way.

You can make significant progress, with small, subtle changes over time.

So before you get overwhelmed and throw out your entire pantry and cookware (and spend thousands of dollars in the process), please read this article to find small tips and tricks to help you meet your health goals in an incremental, gradual and sustainable manner.

This guide will help you to develop a phased and intentional approach to better health on a budget. 

Pantry Clean Out

Making the decision to switch from the Standard American Diet (SAD) to “real food” is a great first step! In doing so, it’s important that you integrate whole foods into your diet. If you are able to discard some items from your pantry that you don’t enjoy, now is the time! It’s important that you “clean out” (less desirable foods) and “restock” (with more nutrient dense foods) in stages. You should use what you have on hand first, and then replenish it with healthier options so that the food doesn’t go to waste (which also helps you to save money!).  

Food Swaps

When you’re on a budget, a great place to start is to cut refined sugars. Processed foods such a cereals, candy, chips, etc. are full of chemicals that our bodies were not designed to digest and can therefore contribute to poor health and well-being. Introducing fresh vegetables, fruits and animal proteins are ideal. To save some money, you can purchase frozen veggies that are cheaper and have a longer lifespan (i.e. they won’t go “bad” as quickly). Another option is to purchase conventional fresh vegetables if you’re not able to afford organic. The key here is the properly wash and rinse your produce to reduce the consumption of pesticides and other potentially toxic chemicals.

A cost-effective idea for protein is to consider cheaper cuts of meat (less desirable meats such as organ meats like the heart and liver). Organ meats are nutrient dense and fortifying for the body! You can also try buying less expensive seafood that may be lower in mercury. Instead of purchasing ahi tuna, cod and halibut, you may consider trying anchovies and sardines as they are low in mercury and can be enjoyed as often as you’d like (whereas more expensive fish like halibut can only be consumed a few times a week because of the high mercury content). Not to mention that sardines and anchovies also make for a great snack!

Switching from processed oils (like canola and vegetable) to coconut and olive oil will help your body to better process fat soluble vitamins and minerals. It will also make your food taste better (which is a great added-bonus!).  

Choosing Quality Foods

The quality of our food is just as important as the food we are actually eating. How foods are grown can impact our health. It’s important to make conscious decisions regarding the quality of the food we ingest, as “we are what we absorb.”

Ingredient Sourcing

It is important to eat fresh, local, seasonal and organic whenever possible to ensure our bodies are absorbing a variety of nutrients. Historically, this has been a seemingly impossible task for those on a budget, however, nowadays there are so many options for sourcing fresh ingredients in a cost-effective manner. There are vegetable service providers such as “Misfits” and “Imperfect Foods” that sell produce that is not considered “shelf-worthy” (because they are not visually appealing). These vegetables are often organic and offered at a lower cost solely because of the cosmetic blemishes.

Another idea is to join a community garden, where you can lease a small plot of land and grow your own food. The beauty here is that you know what’s in the food you are growing! You can also create a small kitchen garden to grow different herbs and spices to flavor your food and give yourself some variety!

Food Preparation

It is important to prepare your foods with the appropriate balance of macronutrients for your own unique set of bio-individual needs. For each meal, it is recommended that you have carbohydrates, fats, and proteins to properly absorb the nutrients in your food. Salt, fat and acid are also great ingredients to include in each of your dishes to add flavor, texture and promote nutrient absorption.

For vegetables, it’s important to wash them to ensure that dirt, chemicals and toxins are removed as these substances can be harmful to the body… therefore, properly washing your foods will aid in the reduction of these toxins. For nuts, seeds and grains, it is important to soak them so that it is easier for your digestive track to break them down. While fibrous foods are very healthy, they can also cause stress on digestion (especially when these important preparation steps are ignored). By simply soaking foods or cutting out fibrous stalks in vegetables, you can reduce bloating and discomfort.

Safe Cookware

Cookware is an integral part of health because it defines our experience in the kitchen. Having a good quality set of utensils helps to ease food preparation and make it more enjoyable. As your cookware starts to age, replace one item at a time with a better-quality option.

Budget Friendly Cookware

Cast iron skillets are as low as $22.99 on amazon and can last for a lifetime. They are great for preparing proteins because unlike Teflon, they do not have chemicals that can end up in the food we make. As Teflon ages, it starts to breakdown and release chemicals with wear and tear. This can be dangerous and detrimental to our health. Stainless steel pots and pans are also great healthy cookware alternatives.

For storage, mason jars are a great option! Not only are they beautiful to look at but also functional. Because they are made of glass, you can easily see what is being stored inside of them. You don’t have to mess around with labels or fumble with packaging to figure out what food is in the container. They are also dishwasher safe and foods can be stored in the refrigerator as well as the freezer (however, it is important that you ensure food is cooled before storing it in mason jars in the freezer so the glass doesn’t shatter). Mason jars can be found on Amazon for as low as a few bucks!

Other small changes you can make are to invest in a quality set of knives. When your knives are sharp, they will be better able to chop loads of fresh vegetables for a lifetime! To save on cost, replace one knife at a time, there’s no need to run out and buy a full set.

I hope you found these tips and tricks helpful! Remember that slow and steady wins the race when transitioning to a healthy lifestyle. With a few incremental changes, you’ll be well on your way to optimal health and well-being in no time and on budget!

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