3. Shop smarter.
Highly processed foods are convenient, but often, they’re neither the most frugal nor the healthiest option. Impulse buying snack foods and pre-prepared meals can run up your grocery bill and set you up to consume lots of empty calories. But impulse buys aren’t inevitable. To minimize temptation:
- Stick to the perimeter.
Think about the layout of your favorite grocery store. Most nutrient-dense foods, from produce to dairy and fresh meats, are arranged in refrigerated cases along the outer edge of the store. By primarily “shopping the perimeter,” you can avoid the processed foods in the center of the store.
- Eat before you shop.
When you’re hungry, you’re more likely to choose high-calorie foods, according to a 2013 Cornell University study. Set yourself up to make good choices by eating a healthy, filling snack before you head to the grocery store.
4. Make healthy substitutions.
The ability to tweak recipes for healthfulness is a major advantage of home cooked meals, so take advantage! Here’s a list of common substitutions to get you started. Note: results may vary, depending on the recipe — but don’t be afraid to experiment!
|Trade this…||…For that!||Good to know|
|All-purpose flour||Whole wheat flour||Whole wheat flour can affect taste, texture, and baking time, especially for more delicate items like pastries. Try substituting 25% of your all-purpose flour with wheat flour to start. If you like the results, you can up the percentage of wheat flour next time you make it! (Whole wheat flour absorbs liquid more readily than all-purpose, so you may need to add a little more liquid to compensate in some recipes.)|
|Corn syrup||Maple syrup, agave, honey, or cane syrup||Different substitutions work best for different purposes. Agave may be a good place to start, since it has the mildest flavor of the substitutes we’ve listed. Note: you’ll want to stick with corn syrup when making candy or caramel to prevent graininess.|
|Mayonnaise||Plain yogurt, sour cream, or mashed avocado||Different substitutions work best for different purposes. Avocado works well as a sandwich spread or in tuna/chicken salad. Plain yogurt is a fine replacement in most recipes, especially dressings and rich dips. Sour cream will work in a pinch, but it has the most noticeable flavor; it may add a tangier taste to your recipe.|
|Milk||Almond milk||Use plain, unsweetened almond milk to minimize differences in taste.|
|Pasta||Spaghetti squash||Baked spaghetti squash has a pasta-like texture.
Learn more about how to prepare at TheKitchn.
|Potatoes||Sweet potatoes||While white potatoes and sweet potatoes both have a place in a healthy diet, sweet potatoes have a lower glycemic index. They’re a great substitution in mashed potatoes or as an accompaniment baked/roasted dishes.|
|Sugar||Stevia||Stevia is plant-based and has zero calories. It’s available in liquid concentrate, powdered extract, and dried leaf form. Because Stevia tastes sweeter than refined sugar, substitution ratios are drastically less than 1:1 and may vary by type.|
|Vegetable oil||Olive oil||When baking, you can also try swapping oil for applesauce. (This may make baked goods more moist, so you may need to add additional flour to compensate.)|
5. Keep a food journal.
Keeping a food journal can help you lose weight and keep your food spending in check. A 2008 study found that adults who kept a food journal 6 days per week lost 2X as much weight as those who journaled 0-1 days per week.
Why do food journals work so well? First, they encourage self-monitoring, which fosters awareness of both healthy and unhealthy eating patterns and helps to target areas for improvement. Second, they emphasize awareness of portion sizes. In America, average portion sizes have increased by somewhere in the neighborhood of 138% since 1970. But many people underestimate how many calories they’re consuming in these supersized portions. Keeping a food journal puts the spotlight not just on what you’re eating, but also how much. (As a fringe benefit, reducing the amount of food you consume can help lower your monthly food bill, too.)
It doesn’t matter whether you journal on paper or in an app. Whichever method you use, focus on recording the basics like food type, portion, and context of the meal to identify where your challenges lie — and how best to tackle them.
6. Get professional help.
Struggling to meet your fitness goals? Seeing an expert may be more affordable than you think. Visits to a dietician or nutritionist may be covered under your health insurance policy under the umbrella of “nutrition counseling” or “nutrition therapy”. Compile a list of questions to ask your insurance provider to find out what type of expenses are covered (and which would be out-of-pocket).