Eat Like a Star…On a Budget

On Friday, Jonathan Toews did his best convince the world he’s not a robot, and of course, failed dramatically.

A lot of people ignore the fact that what they eat can have an impact on their bodies. Eating the right food not only helps you get lean, but it changes how you think, act, feel and perform in all aspects of your life. This morning is a great example of the balance of whole foods I try to find with most meals. Today I have a small salad with mixed greens, a couple eggs, sauerkraut, nuts, seeds and goji berries. Alongside, a small bowl of gluten free chia coconut oatmeal with wild berries, a scoop of Walnut Almond Cashew butter from @Onnit and a nice big cup of @Onnit coffee with their MCT oil. Now I'm ready to overcome whatever obstacle the day decides to throw my way. #whatmakesyoubetter #totalhumanoptimization

A post shared by Jonathan Toews (@jonathantoews) on

He also revealed that he, like most athletes, have zero concept of how real people stay healthy. After all, most of us don’t make $10.5 million a year, and budgeting is a concern of ours.

While it’s obvious that this was a sponsored post, one enterprising hockey fan added up how much it would cost to make Toews’ ideal breakfast.

That said, eating healthy is important. Food fuels us, and while I always scoff at fads like “paleo” or diets like “Atkins” there are some pretty easy ways to up your nutrition, cut empty calories, and not have to pay $17 for fancy nut butter.

Of course, diets and budgets are extremely personal, so make sure you’re following a plan that is best for your situation.

Still, here are a few tips and strategies that have helped me eat healthier without breaking the bank. Most of these are extremely common sense, so you may have heard them before, but I hope this is helpful to a few people.

You are going to have to cook – a lot

Cooking for yourself means you’ll be spending less money eating out (yay!) and that you’ll be better able to control what goes into your body (double yay!). Restaurants often use way more butter, cream, oil, salt and sugar than you will at home, and none of those things are particularly good for you.

Pre-made meals, even ones like Lean Cuisine, can be better about total calories, but typically also include high servings of sodium, which can lead to high blood pressure, whompwhomp.

That said, many people don’t even know where to start if they’ve been living off of take out and pre-made meals.

FIRST STEPS

  • DO invest in a good chef’s knife. You don’t need a top of the line set, but something with some good weight to it, that you can hone at home and take to get sharpened when necessary
  • DO get yourself a large wooden cutting board. It’s always easier to cook when you have more space to work. I got one at ikea for like $10. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on a fancy one.
    • Note: Also make sure you have a plastic cutting board for raw meat. You don’t want to cut raw meat & veg on the same surface.
  • DO take a basic knife skills class – or if you’re really needing to save money – look up some tutorials on youtube. When you feel like you know what you’re doing with a knife, the kitchen is way less intimidating.
  • DO make sure you have basic spices on hand. Salt, pepper, garlic powder, cumin, chili powder, oregano, basil just to name a few. Typically, these will last a long time, as you don’t use much at once, they’re 100% worth the monetary investment. Check out this list of pantry staples to make your life easier.

PLAN AHEAD

  • Make a meal plan. Do you have time to cook just twice this week? Or three times?
    • Are you the kind of person who can eat the same thing for lunch every day? If so, look for recipes that make huge quantities. If not, look for recipes that make 2-4 servings.
    • Look for inspiration in cook books, blogs, and god love it, Pinterest.
      • Note: a lot of the “30 minute meals” or “crockpot” meals can contain pre-prepared ingredients really high in sodium, so be aware of that.
    • Try to make at least one meal vegetarian
      • Meat is hella expensive compared to veggies
      • Do make sure it has protein in it – that’s what keeps you full, longer
      • You can also sneak extra vegetables in other recipes, too, like adding spinach to lasagna, for example.
    • Be prepared to try anything…twice
      • If you don’t like a vegetable, it may just have been how it was prepared.
        • I hated spinach until I had it raw – my parents always served it cooked
        • Your taste buds DO change as you get older
      • Choose recipes that already have flavor profiles you like
        • Not big on a lemon-parmesan roasted cauliflower you tried? Maybe go with a curry roasted one instead!
    • Avoid recipes that call for a super rare or expensive ingredient, especially if it’s just a small amount
  • You absolutely must make a grocery list – no exceptions
    • I like to set mine up in columns – one for meals, one for everyday stuff like fruit, toilet paper, etc. example list
    • Clip coupons or scan adverts for produce on sale
      • Most grocery stores send flyers to your house even if you don’t get the paper, some even put them online
    • Try to buy produce as it’s in-season because it’s cheapest when it doesn’t have to be transported from far away
    • You can also find some great deals at the farmer’s market. Yes, really
      • While there will be $10 tubs of locally made goat butter or whatever, often in-season produce is very affordable, and sometimes local bakeries will have breads for reasonable prices

HOW TO SHOP

  • Stick to your damn list.
    • It’s ok to add things you forgot (never forget the coffee), but you’ll never save money if you throw every tasty-looking thing in the cart
    • The old adage of “don’t go grocery shopping when hungry” is a pretty good one, too
  • DON’T fall victim to marketing
    • “100-calorie snack packs” are a huge waste of money
    • Lots of things advertise themselves as “low in transfats” etc. This is all bullshit. If it comes in a box, it’s probably not healthy.
    • Just because it’s organic doesn’t mean it’s healthy — see: Organic Kraft Dinner
  • Canned goods are good pantry staples
    • Make sure you’re buying “no salt added” versions of beans and tomatoes
    • Try not to buy canned vegetables – they typically contain lots of salt and just aren’t tasty so you’ll never want to eat them.
    • Stock up when you find good coupons – they last for a long time
  • Frozen vegetables are good too!
    • Avoid any that come in “sauce”, though. That’s just extra fat & salt
    • “Steam in bag” stuff is a particular favorite
    • Also lasts for several months so buy extra when on sale
    • Don’t forget about frozen fruit! Smoothies are the shit.
  • Whole grains really are better for you
    • Brown rice & whole grain pasta typically cost a little more ($0.20-$1.00) then their less healthy counterparts, but is worth the extra money
    • Ditch white bread all together, but beware – lots of mass produced whole grain bread has lots of sugar in it
  • When in doubt, read the nutrition facts! You will be surprised by the amount of salt & sugar in processed foods.
    • Serving sizes are also probably lower than you think
    • Always, always, always buy low-sodium versions if you can.
  • Know your own food consumption habits
    • Try to eliminate food waste – that’s wasted money
      • For example: I only like under-ripe bananas. If I buy more than 2-3 at a time, I never eat them before they get spots and then I have to either make banana bread (not healthy!) or toss them (waste of money)
      • Milk comes in lots of sizes – downsize if you don’t drink a lot
        • Unsweetened Almond/Soy/Coconut milks often have longer expiration dates and fewer calories than regular milk. Plus, manufacturers often put out coupons to make them similarly priced.
      • My grocery store’s bakery section sells “half loaves” of bread, which are perfect for me. Yes, it’s the same price, but it’s higher quality and I get through it before it goes bad
      • Don’t buy foods you won’t eat. Kale is a great deal at $0.99 a bunch, but if you hate kale, it doesn’t matter how healthy it is
    • Buy in bulk when possible
      • Note: things with shorter expiration dates may not be good to buy in bulk, even if they are cheaper per oz. If you spend $5.00 on 10 oz and only use 5 oz before it goes bad, it’s still more expensive than buying 5 oz for $3.00
        • Note 2: You can use menu planning as a way to get around this! Buying sour cream for fajitas? Also make a yogurt+sour cream veggie dip that week.
    • Meat buying tips:
      • With beef, think less “steak” ($$$) and more “stew” ($) – tougher cuts of meat are cheaper, but can be just as tasty when prepared correctly
        • Lean ground beef is also pretty expensive, and frankly, just not that tasty. Ground turkey is honestly the same, and even more flavorless. Branch out!
      • Learn to break down a chicken
        • Stores charge a premium for “boneless & skinless”. With a good knife, it’s easy to break down the packages of “whole chicken cut up” which is usually far cheaper per pound.
        • Bonus 1: Then you get several different cuts of meat to make dishes with
        • Bonus 2: put the bones in a big freezer bag and save until the bag is completely full. Then use them to make your own chicken stock, which is far tastier and has less sodium. Frozen stock lasts for several months.
      • Pork is actually a red meat, like beef, regardless of what advertising says. However, it’s usually much cheaper than beef, so can be a good way to break up the monotony of chicken dishes.
  • Generic is your friend. Most people already know this, but let me say it again. House-brand milk, butter, etc. is just as good as the name-brand stuff, sometimes better
  • Go low-fat when it makes sense
    • Butter should be butter, olive oil should be olive oil, but most dairy products can taste just fine with low-fat versions
      • This includes: Milk (1% or skim), sour cream, greek yogurt (0%)
      • A list of good low-fat cheeses: cottage (2%), ricotta, shredded mozzarella (for pizzas), string cheese, feta
  • Splurge when it makes sense
    • Know which foods you really should pay for organics (hint: leafy greens) and which you really don’t have to (hint: they generally have peels)
      • Regardless, always, always wash produce before consuming it
    • Buy good parmesan cheese in the block, toss the can. It’s way tastier, lasts a long time (hard cheeses generally do), and you’ll end up using less because it actually has a flavor
    • Greek yogurt is vastly superior to regular yogurt — much higher protein. Try your store’s generic version instead of springing for Chobani or Fage
    • This means calorically, too. Turkey bacon does have fewer calories than pork bacon, but it’s got a weird flavor, texture, and is super processed. And it’s basically the same price. Just buy the real bacon.
  • Stop buying:
    • Boxed cereal. Most of it is high in sugar for very small servings. Yes, even the “healthy” kinds. Try something more filling like oatmeal, yogurt, or a smoothie for breakfast.
    • Soda, even diet soda. I guarantee you need to drink more water.
    • Cookies. Any cookie worth eating is worth making yourself.
    • Juice. It’s mostly sugar. You know what else has vitamin C? An orange.
    • Nuts. While they ARE actually full of “good fats” they’re expensive, if you’re just snacking on them, and pretty high in calories. One serving of almonds (~20 nuts) is ~170 calories.
      • If you’re not worried about calorie intake, feel free to disregard this one
  • You’re not going to be perfect, so shop for contingency plans
    • Frozen meals are better than ordering pizza if you’re exhausted. Most run 250-300 calories a serving.
    • You will crave sweets – and no, an apple isn’t gonna cut it. Check your store’s frozen section for individual serving ice creams. I can get a single serving of gelato for $0.99, 170 calories, and I’m guaranteed not to eat a whole pint at once.
    • Snacking on veggies is great, but half the time you’re already hungry and annoyed and don’t want to chop them. Prep extra sliced peppers, cucumber slices, or broccoli florets when you’re already cooking, and store them for when you want them. Usually they’ll last 2-3 days in the fridge.
    • Most people don’t need to stuff their faces full of protein like some commercials make you believe, but protein bars – ones low in sugar – can be good “emergency” food.
      • I like to keep one in my purse when I know I’m going to be running errands for a long time or especially when I’m travelling. Buy a box at the store and they’re cheaper than buying individually.
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