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How to Eat Healthy on a Budget – WTOP

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Many people want to eat healthy foods, but when it comes to doing it, the cost can be a deterrent. Of Americans in fair or poor health, 30% say they often choose less healthy options because of the cost, according to the International Food Information Council.

But don’t get discouraged. Here are some ways you can eat healthy on a budget:

— Think about food as fuel.

— Reduce food waste.

— Stop buying junk food and treats.

— Educate yourself on healthy eating.

— Shop smart at the grocery store.

— Learn to cook.

— Research restaurant menus and healthy options.

— Set realistic goals.

Read on for more information about the cheapest ways to eat healthy.

[Read: Restaurants Where Kids Eat Free in 2019.]

Think About Food as Fuel

Your body requires a certain number of calories to function properly. While that number varies from person to person and can change depending on your health goals, you should have an idea of how much fuel you need to put in your body to get through the day. You can find calculators online that can give you a recommended number of calories for your size, but if you don’t feel like counting calories or tracking meals, try listening to your body.

Think of your stomach like the gas tank of your car. You wouldn’t pour more gasoline into it than your tank can hold. By eating when you are hungry, and not when you’re stressed or bored, you can stop overeating and overspending.

Reduce Food Waste

Do you frequently discard unused food items? Is your fridge routinely empty? Part of developing financial health along with nutritional health requires examining how much food you need, how much you have been consuming and how much you purchase and don’t use.

If you realize you waste a lot of food, ask yourself why. Maybe you’re grocery shopping while hungry, filling the cart with more food than you need. Or perhaps you have trouble finding the time or motivation to cook. Reviewing your habits can help you identify why you’re overspending on groceries or tossing unused items. Once you identify the root cause of the issue, you can come up with ways to tackle it. Buying food items you don’t need? Make a list and stick to it. No time to cook? Start prepping your meals ahead of time to speed up the process.

[See: 50 Ways to Improve Your Finances in 2019.]

Stop Buying Junk Food and Treats

Even if your goal isn’t to lose weight, cutting back on how much food you buy can help you lead a healthier lifestyle and save money. Start by cutting back on meal extras that you know aren’t healthy, such as desserts or alcohol.

And while part of a healthy lifestyle may include or even require snacking, make sure you snack with purpose. Rather than reaching for an open bag of chips, pack a measured portion, so you’re not tempted to overdo it. When you shop for groceries, have some items in mind for healthy snacks instead of perusing shelves of processed, empty calories. Veggies such as carrots and celery make for nutritious snacks, along with nuts and fruits. Healthy versions of chips are also available, but they tend to run on the pricier side. Try substituting them for healthier options like pretzels or crackers. If you’re feeling ambitious, make your own chips at home in the oven.

Plan to have a healthy snack or two with you for those hunger gaps throughout the day. That way, you won’t be tempted to spend money on a calorie-packed treat.

Educate Yourself on Healthy Eating

With the internet, accurate health information is readily available to the masses, but it’s often buried among false information. While fad diets certainly predate the web, the misleading or outright false testimonies of their magic continue to wreak havoc on unsuspecting consumers. Before you design a healthy lifestyle for yourself, make sure you base it on facts.

Should you decide to try a regimented diet, make sure you’ve researched the benefits, risks and effectiveness. While it can be tempting to jump into a flashy plan with miraculous promises, doing so may cause more harm than it’s worth, especially if the diet or regimen requires a hefty investment in membership fees or meal costs.

Shop Smart at the Grocery Store

A huge factor in making better eating and money choices is where and how you shop for groceries. From picking the right grocery stores to taking advantage of loyalty programs, it is possible to shop for healthy foods when you’re on a budget. If you have them, review past receipts to help you evaluate your shopping patterns and identify areas where you can take advantage of smart shopping strategies.

[See: 10 Ways to Save More in 2019.]

Learn to Cook

Home-cooked meals are often cheaper and more nutritious than takeout or frozen dinners. For those who don’t know their way around a kitchen, however, whipping up a quick dinner may feel like more trouble than it’s worth. But picking up even a few basic skills can transform the dishes you cook at home. You don’t need to shell out for expensive cooking classes. Surf the web for free or low-cost community classes or free YouTube videos.

Once you get the basics under control, try adjusting some of the meals you already cook to make them healthier. For instance, you can try baking your favorite foods instead of frying them, or substitute healthier ingredients, such as cauliflower, for unhealthy ones, such as potatoes.

Get creative. Even if you don’t have a ton of variety in recipes at first, cutting out the preservatives, artificial ingredients and other additives from processed foods can help start you on the right path.

Research Restaurant Menus and Healthy Options

Eating at restaurants can tempt you to overspend and overeat. Try to limit how much you eat out, but when you do head to a restaurant, check out the menu before you go. Many restaurants now include entire menu sections dedicated to health-conscious diners. While you can bet on finding a basic salad almost anywhere, it’s helpful to find meals you’ll actually be excited about, even if it’s not the cheeseburger you crave.

Planning ahead can also help you avoid busting your budget as well as your gut. Because you’ll know exactly what you’re going to order ahead of time, you won’t be tempted by costly add-ons like alcoholic beverages, appetizers and dessert. Keep portion control in mind, too. American restaurants notoriously serve more food than is recommended for a meal. Consider sharing a meal with a friend or saving a portion for later.

Set Realistic Goals

You may or may not have a specific reason for wanting to eat healthier. Regardless, it can be helpful to set up goals for yourself to help stay motivated. If you are trying to kick a sugar habit, for example, start tracking the number of sugary treats you indulge in each day. Then, set weekly limits that you progressively lower until you feel like you’ve created better eating habits.

Just be realistic. If you set a goal that’s too difficult to meet, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Keep your priorities in check, too. If you want to eat an entirely organic diet, you’ll need to understand how it impacts your budget. While keeping your body healthy should be a top priority, you don’t want to get into debt in the process.

Remember: A healthy lifestyle looks different for everyone. Make a plan that works for you.

More from U.S. News

8 Big Budgeting Blunders — and How to Fix Them

9 Secrets to Save Money on a Shoestring Budget

12 Useless Fees Draining Your Budget

How to Eat Healthy on a Budget originally appeared on usnews.com

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