20 Ways to Eat Healthy On a Budget

You don't have to live in California to buy high-quality, low-cost vegetarian organic food.

I received a note recently from a reader named Cynthia K., who lives part time in the San Francisco Bay Area and part time in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She pointed out that living in Northern California makes it easy to find a wide variety of healthy organic and vegetarian foods (San Francisco is a stone's throw from the most agriculturally productive valley anywhere). According to Cynthia, finding such fare in a city like Pittsburgh, however, is not as easy and if you can find it, it's more expensive and not as good as quality.

It's generally true that in every country around the world, the availability, variety and price of health food will vary from one region to the next. However, everyone everywhere can apply resourcefulness, knowledge and energy to take full advantage of what's available, and economize at the same time.

No matter where you live, health is more about your priorities and less about external circumstances.

It’s perfectly possible to live a healthy lifestyle in Pittsburgh and within a budget.

Here are my 20 tips for eating healthy on a budget anywhere:

1. Eat home cooked meals. Restaurant food is usually far more expensive, unhealthy and even more time consuming than making your own food at home. Read my article on homemade meal planning.

2. Keep a food shopping list. And stick to buying only what’s on the list. Don't shop hungry or impulsively.

3. Plan your weekly meals. Do your homework and create several weekly menus that will eliminate the guesswork when you're busy and tired on weeknights. Find ways to use a particular bean or grain such as quinoa in salads, soups, side dishes, casseroles and stir-sautés throughout the week.

4. Shop at your local Farmer’s Market. Buy local organic produce that is in peak season; it's the cheapest. More often than not, cheaper than buying conventionally grown produce sold at grocery stores. Don't do as most people do and just buy one or two things. Bring a giant bag and do as much of your weekly produce shopping as you can there.Amira Elgan
5. Eat seasonally. Change your favorite recipes to reflect what’s in season. Let seasonal availability strongly influence meal choices. Eat fruit and vegetables that are as abundant and as local possible for the lowest prices and most flavor. Produce currently being harvested in the U.S. is generally cheaper than something that’s currently not in season and must be imported from another country.

6. Shop through a Food Coop or Buying Club. Find out if there is one on you area or if you can start one. Buying from a natural food distributor as a group can save money. You can buy things by the case and share it with others in the group who are interested. Note prices, however, some things might be more expensive than buying them at the health food store.

7. Learn about local resources. Look into CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). It's a great way to get baskets of seasonal produce at a reasonable cost and support a local farm.

8. Look for specials at your local health food store. Stock up on weekly sale items, especially items that can be stored.

9. Buy in bulk. Purchasing foods -- including dried fruit, beans, grains, nuts and seeds -- from the bin sections at health food stores saves money because they've not been pre-packaged. And you can buy as little or as much as you like. These are re-stocked constantly so they are fresher.

10. Cook in bulk. Whether you're cooking for yourself or the whole family, cook in large quantities to have leftovers take for lunch to work or school, create other meals by adding or mixing with other ingredients and freezing for a later time.

11. Buy private label organic products. Whole foods, for instance, sells its own brand of organic foods called 365, which are often as inexpensive as their conventional counterparts including organic peanut butter, organic maple syrup and frozen fruit and vegetables.

12. Buy by special order
. Most health food stores will special order items for you at the customer desk. You can purchase items you use regularly such as a case of organic soy milk. Some will even give you a discount of 5 to 10 percent when you order a full case.

13. Download organic coupons. Many organic food companies offer downloadable coupons on their Web sites such as Stonyfield Farm. They offer coupons for their dairy and soy products and are redeemable at many stores including Whole Foods Markets.

14. Check my "Resources" page.
And check regularly (as I updated it often) for ideas, sites, and organizations that can help you eat healthy food on a budget.

15. Avoid processed food. Whether it comes from animals or plants, fresh unprocessed foods are better for you and cheaper. For example, soy processed foods such as soy sausages and other fake soy meats are unhealthful and cost too much in comparison to tofu. Stick to whole foods that are unadulterated. Limit your intake of soy foods to edamame, tempeh, tofu and soy milk only.

16. Update your cooking methods. Cook wisely to reduce your gas and electricity bills and your carbon footprint. In the winter, turn down your thermostat and let your oven cook your food and help heat your house. Think of several things to make in the oven at once such as roasted vegetables and baked tofu as the same time. In the summer, avoid baking and give your stove a break; eat more salads and raw foods.

17. Make everything from scratch. Instead of buying pre-cooked food as ingredients, such as packaged baked tofu, canned beans and septic cartons of vegetable broth -- make your own baked tofu, cook you own dry beans and make your own vegetable broth from scratch. You'll spend just a fraction of what you'd pay otherwise.

18. Shop at price-busting warehouses. Another option, when on a tight budget, is to venture into discount warehouses and stores such as Costco and Target. They increasingly carry more organic items including dairy and whole soy products as well as frozen fruits and vegetables. Read labels carefully, however, for source and ingredients.

19. Give up dairy. Or at least cut back. You can save a lot of money by not having to pay the high prices of conventional and organic milk and dairy products. You can drink moderate amounts of oat, almond, soy milk instead but stay away from fake (soy or rice) cheeses.

20. Buy by mail. Resources like the LocalHarvest Store offers a huge selection of organic foods and other products that can be delivered anywhere. Look for specials and free shipping. Check NetGrocer.com's "Natural & Organic" section -- and even Amazon.com (search for keywords "vegetarian" and "organic").

The reason so many people find healthy expensive and home cooking difficult is because our industrialized food system has alienated us from food, what it is, where it comes, how to plan for, store and prepare it -- what's good about it.

The industrialized fake-foods universe is like a treadmill: It's very hard to move only one foot off. And, like a treadmill, it will get you nowhere. The best thing is to jump off with both feet and walk in the real world.

It's true that eating healthy can take more time overall than just eating whatever's easiest. It's simply a matter of priorities. Many of the people who believe they don't have time to eat right and exercise waste hours per day watching reality TV shows and engaging in other passive, escapist entertainment. Often people do this because they're exhausted at the end of the day. And they're often exhausted because they're unhealthy.

Consider making your health a top priority and then take action accordingly. Think about what your general habits are, what a typical day and a typical week is like for you. How do you spend your time? When do you go to bed and get up? How much time do you spend watching TV, surfing the Internet, going to restaurants to eat or drive to pick up a meal? Here's one columnist's advice (he happens to be my husband) for gaining five extra hours per day.

You might surprise yourself with how much time you could have saved. You might realize that shopping and cooking, with some planning, can save you time as well as money while substantially increase not only your quality of your life but also boost your energy. A healthy diet will help you thrive in every way giving you energy to develop more self-motivation.

* * *

NOTE: In the last issue of Vegetarian Organic Life, I invited all readers to participate in my 21-Day Vegetarian Challenge in honor of Vegetarian Awareness Month. The response was overwhelming! I was thrilled to have so many rise to challenge -- both vegetarian and vegan challengers alike. In fact, because of the amazing response, I had to start a second program just last week. I am so impressed with everyone who stepped up to change their lives.

Another bonus is that one challenger named is Adam McKechnie, who lives in a tiny town in Nova Scotia, launched a new blog called Adventures with Keck to chronicle the daily experience of meeting the challenge. Adam’s account of going vegetarian is really fun and interesting, and I urge you to check in on Adam from time to time and see how his challenge is going!


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If You Look At Life Correctly

"If you look at life correctly,
you will see the greens and the beautiful sky
You will see the sun and its gaze upon us.

That is what you will see, if you look at life correctly

If you look at life correctly
you will see the black and yellow of bees
You will see the glitter of rocks

Everything is beautiful If you look at life correctly

If you listen to life correctly
you will hear the chirping of birds each like a note on a piano

You will hear the splashing of fish each like a chord from a bass"

- John C., age 9 (Illinois)

Your Wholesome Life

This newsletter and blog are free, but I make my living providing one-on-one holistic health counseling, either in person or by phone.

I invite you to contact me and let me help you make the changes you've always wanted to make, one step at a time. The first one-hour consultation is absolutely free.

When it comes to overall health and happiness, it’s all connected: your food, your relationships, your lifestyle and you career. Let me help you find your solution.


Why Healthy Food is the Least Expensive

The conventional wisdom that healthy food is more expensive than "conventional" food (adulterated, mass-produced, junk and industrial food) is a myth. Don’t believe it.

On the societal level, unhealthy food is far more expensive than healthy food.

Hidden costs come in the form of pollution and harm to the environment caused by artificial fertilizers and contaminated water systems from conventional agriculture and animal factory farms.

If you haven’t already, I recommend that you read Michael Pollan’s book, the Omnivore’s Dilemma. Although I have some issues with the book, I believe Pollan has made some important contributions in raising the public’s awareness about our food chain, factory farming and how corn is in everything we eat and drink. Even the animals raised for meat are fed corn, with 80 percent of corn produced in the U.S. ending up as livestock feed. The rest is added to soda, burgers, chicken nuggets, chips, white breads, candy and all junk food in fast food restaurants and processed foods in grocery stores.

Many don’t realize the importance of the U.S. Farm Bill, which is a nasty form of corporate welfare responsible for providing tax-funded subsidies to giant conventional agribusiness corporations. The government takes billions of dollars from you and me in the form of taxes, and uses that money to artificially lower the price of industrialized or conventional food -- much of it supporting low prices for the junk food that causes our many epidemics of cancer, obesity and diabetes. This transfer of wealth from the public to the junk food giants makes us lose sight of the fact that we are not paying the true dollar cost at the store. For junk food, we pay for part of it at the store or restaurant, and the rest we pay at tax time.

There are hidden costs not obvious to the general public or the uninformed consumer. If you’d like to learn more about the cost of real whole foods versus the cost of conventionally produced foods that are subsidized by the Farm Bill, I strongly recommend you read an insightful article written by Pollan for the New York times on this subject. This article is incredibly eye-opening, and will change forever the way you look at our food supply.

We are paying a very heavy price for unhealthy food -- and will pay even more over time.

Healthy food is cheaper on the personal level, too.

If you define "food" based only on one metric of nutrition -- calories -- then it's possible to argue that junk food or unhealthy food is cheaper than healthy food. Yes, if you want to maximize calories per dollar, junk food is the way to go. But why use calories as the metric? Are you really trying to maximize your calories?

What about vitamins and minerals per dollar? Antioxidants per dollar? Fiber content per dollar? Phytonutrients per dollar? Using these more desirable metrics, healthy, organic, vegetarian food is the cheapest food you can buy.

It’s vital to accept that food is central to health and overall well being. Being healthy without eating healthy is just crazy talk. The negative effects of unhealthy foods may be minor in the short term, but the cumulative effects are devastating.

People eat junk food to save money. But what's the cost of chronic fatigue? Obesity? Heart disease? Cancer? Early retirement? Early death?

You will pay far more in the long run for unhealthy food than you will for good food.

We seem disconnected from the reality of what real food is. Burgers, deep fried chicken, hot dogs, deli meats, fries, chips, soda, donuts, white bread, white pasta, white flours or any other of thousands of processed foods filling the shelters at grocery stores looks like food, but is really a global science project. Such "food" is cheap because it is garbage. It provides little or no nutritional value and it’s usually loaded with sugar, bad fats, preservatives, artificial flavors, artificial colors, GMO’s, pesticides and more, all of which are seriously detrimental to our health.

Healthy food is inexpensive when you consider the hidden cost of adulterated conventionally grown food. Seitan, for example, is typically sold in 8 oz packages for $3.49 or so per package. One pound comes to $7 making it the single most expensive vegetarian protein available. But higher-quality lean meats and other animal proteins are also expensive and often cost more than $7.00 per pound.

The total cost of the seitan meal I featured in a previous issue, for instance, would cost roughly $15 to make but would also provide six generous serving or eight smaller ones. One meal made with one of the most expensive vegetarian proteins comes to $2.50. That’s not expensive. Going to McDonald’s costs you more at the cash register -- plus more at tax time and more at the doctor's office.

Organic tofu is also a great vegetarian source of protein and is significantly cheaper than any type of meat at only about $1.50 to $2 per pound. You can’t beat that -- lots of nutrition for little money.

Soybeans are subsidized by the government but only the ones mainly used to feed animals raised for human consumption. Organic (not genetically modified) tofu is not subsidized.

Tempeh is also very inexpensive. All vegetarian unprepared protein sources made from whole food sources are far cheaper than animal protein.

Some of my recipes also call for quinoa, which is about $1.50 per pound at Trader Joe’s. One pound will give you about 16 servings, that’s less than .09 cents per serving! Other recipes call for beans; again, depending on the type of beans, the price per pound varies between 0.70 cents to $1.79 per pound.

Nutrition education and meal planning are essential in making healthy food choices as well as fiscally responsible ones. As consumers we have to keep abreast of how our food system really works to have clear understanding of not only the role food plays in our lives but also the role we play in our own health.
Is healthy food expensive? It doesn't have to be. And, in the final analysis, is really the least expensive food you can buy.

Stay motivated - Read health-related research news, events and commentary every day. Check out Amira's Vegetarian Organic Blog.

Quinoa: The Mother of All Grains

Quinoa (KEEN-wa), my favorite grain and possibly the most nutritious on Earth, is an ancient Incan food from the Andes in South America. This wonder grain was considered sacred by the Incas, who referred to it as “chisaya mama,” which means “the mother of all grains.” I agree. It’s certainly revered in my kitchen and often reigns on my dinner table.

This super grain contains complete protein, providing a good balance of amino acids including lysine, methionine and cystine. Quinoa provides more calcium, magnesium and potassium than most other grains. It’s also high in fiber and rich in iron and vitamins B. Quinoa is a great addition to a healthy diet and is super easy to make. No need to complement it with beans but you can to boost protein content for body building.

Quinoa provides complete protein meal all by itself -- a perfect gift from Mother Nature. It has no gluten, it’s easy to digest and makes an excellent substitute for other grains -- especially rice. Any meal that includes rice can be made better, faster, cheaper and more nutritious by substituting Quinoa.

Quinoa should be staple food of every kitchen and should be part of healthy eating plan. I’ve written about it before. But I just can’t stress enough about how delicious, nutritious, simple and quick to make it is. Everyone can benefit from eating this amazing grain -- even diabetics. Need I say more?

A quarter of a cup of Quinoa has 160 calories, 2.5 grams of fat (20 calories from fat and 0 grams of saturated fat), 5 mg of sodium, 29g carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 0g sugars, 6g protein. Most health food stores carry Quinoa in individual packages or in bulk. I buy it through my food coop buying club in bulk (5 or 25 pound bags).

You can eat Quinoa as hot cereal, in salads, in soups or on its own. To cook, rinse 1 cup of Quinoa thoroughly or pre-soak in a bowl with water for 15 minutes then rinse and drain. Add to 2 cups of water or vegetable stock in a small pot or pan. Cook over medium heat until it begins boiling, reduce heat to low, cover with lid and simmer for 15 minutes or until most of the water has been absorbed. Add seasoning if desired and fluff with fork (not spoon).

Dieticians of Canada

(Because so many people and organizations that should know better are dispensing bad, dangerous and confusing advice about food and nutrition, I've decided to launch a new award to expose them. I call it the "Golden Twinkie Award" because, like Twinkies, such bad information is presented as good when it's bad, food when it's not food, is full of fluff and, unfortunately, seems to last forever.)

For bad advice on what to have in your pantry, my first-ever Golden Twinkie Award goes to the Dieticians of Canada. Although their slogan is, “Promoting Health through Food and Nutrition,” their "Great Food Fast Pantry List" recommends ingredients that you should throw away, not stock up on. Here's just a small sample:

Biscuit baking mix
Canned clams
White flour
Canned fruit packed in light syrup
Canned evaporated milk
Skim powdered milk
Non-organic strawberries
White pasta
White rice
Flour tortillas

Shame on you, Dieticians of Canada, for ignoring fifty years of nutritional research and using your authority and credibility to advocate toxic, unhealthy foods.



Ejotes Deliciosos
(Vegan) Serves 6

Click on the picture for a closer look!

Ejotes is Spanish for "string beans." This recipe is wonderfully tasty and can be made swiftly. It was inspired by a dish my mother used to make when I was little. I’ve skipped the eggs that were part of the original recipe, but kept all the other ingredients. It’s a great side dish but also great by itself. Serve it with quinoa to make it a super nutritious whole meal. Green beans are a good source of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, folate, potassium and fiber, which make them a great addition to a healthy diet.

Cook’s Tidbits:
Chill leftovers to last up to a week in the fridge. Can also be served with brown rice or combined with sautéed tofu for additional meals.

Preparation time: 5 minutes Cooking time: 15 minutes
Get ingredients ready (use organic ingredients when possible)
1 tablespoon safflower oil
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small white or yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 fresh garlic cloves, crushed or finely minced
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and deribbed and cut into strips
4 medium fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 pounds fresh green beans, ends snapped or trimmed, cut in half crosswise
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon fresh oregano (or ½ teaspoon dried)
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt to taste

Heat oil in a large pan over low heat. Stir in onions and garlic lightly sautéing for 3 minutes over low to medium heat. Add red bell peppers and tomatoes, sautéing for 2 more minutes stirring frequently. Add green beans, paprika, oregano, basil and thyme mixing well. Cover with lid and let it cook for 10 minutes or until tender over low heat. Add black pepper and salt to taste stirring well. Remove from heat and serve.

Cook’s Tip: Fresh green beans should have a vivid color and firm texture. They should a crisp snap when broken in half.



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