How Young Adults Can Maintain a Healthy Diet on a Budget
Alex Hauspurg is a New York City-based Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.
Whether your young adult is on a student budget, paying back student loans, or just wanting to live comfortably within their means, healthy eating is often sacrificed when money’s tight. Healthy food can be expensive but it’s definitely possible for young adults to eat healthy without breaking the bank. Here’s how*:
Find out what's in season, search recipes/buy accordingly.
Produce can cost twice as much if it’s not in season.
Buy whole foods.
Pre-cut, pre-washed fruits and vegetables are easy but you pay extra for convenience and these items spoil faster than when bought whole. Buying the food in its original form (ex. whole head of lettuce, carrots that need to be peeled) requires a little more effort to turn into a meal, but the savings can be huge.
Don’t forget canned and frozen.
Canned and frozen foods are often cheaper than fresh and are good to have on hand for quick, easy meal additions.
Canned fruit: Choose fruit canned in 100% fruit juice.
Canned vegetables and legumes: Rinse and drain before use to remove excess sodium.
Canned fish: Choose fish packed in water and buy “light” canned tuna for less mercury.
Frozen items: Check labels and choose products with no added salt, sugar, or sauce. Frozen fruits and vegetables are great to have on hand to add to any meal.
Frozen fish can be on the pricier side, but is still a good option health-wise if your budget allows. Use smaller portions of the fish and bulk up the meal with plant protein to stretch your dollar further.
Food is frozen at peak freshness, making the nutritional content of fresh vs. frozen foods nearly equal and offering easy, affordable, nutritious options.
Whole grains are full of vitamins and minerals and are good sources of fiber, which can help with weight management, regulating digestion, and more. Brown rice, 100% whole wheat/whole grain bread and pasta, and old-fashioned oats offer the best bang for your buck. For extra savings, buy plain versions and add your own seasoning to spice it up.
Sidestep pricey proteins
Pulses are part of the legume family and include lentils, peas, beans, and chickpeas. They are high in protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, low in fat, cheaper than meat, and come in varying shelf-stable forms (dried forms are even cheaper than canned!). Pulses are an affordable, convenient, nutritious protein source that’s beneficial to your wallet, waistline, and the environment. Try this Spiced Lentil Burgers recipe and get pumped for pulses. Want something cozier? Try this recipe.
Eggs have gotten an undeserved bad rap, but they are an inexpensive, versatile, high-quality protein source. They are full of vitamins and minerals can be used for any meal - not just breakfast. A hard-boiled egg even makes an easy, filling snack.
Nut butters are easy, versatile, (usually) inexpensive, and a great source of protein and healthy fat.
Add to oatmeal, fruit, sandwiches, smoothies, but stick to two level tablespoons or less to avoid excess calories. Whenever possible, choose brands with the nut as the only ingredient to avoid added sugar (Tip: “low-fat” and “reduced-fat” often means sugar is added. Check the label!).
Dairy is another great protein source (if you’re not lactose intolerant) filled with vitamins and minerals. Choose the large container (of yogurt, cottage cheese, etc.) instead of individual packs (you pay extra for convenience!) and portion it out yourself. Take it to-go in mason jars or empty jars laying around (ex. peanut butter). Choose low-fat dairy options to control fat and calories (a little fat helps you feel satiated, though).
There’s an app for that.
There are apps that can search for coupons at nearby stores, compare prices, help you meal plan, create a grocery list, and more.
Use these to help you plan your supermarket trip and save you money when you get there.
Healthy eating can seem pricey and daunting, but a little planning can go a long way. By using the above guidelines, looking for recipes with overlapping ingredients, repurposing leftovers, and using apps, you can eat healthfully without breaking the bank.
*These guidelines are generalized for healthy populations. If you have a specific health condition, consult a Registered Dietitian or your doctor for nutrition advice for specific to your needs.