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How to Eat Healthy On a Small Budget

Written: 11/06/2007

Being a medical student is not one of the most rewarding works. Most of the time the budget is tight and it is very difficult to make ends meet.

If you are like me and your financial situation is not one of the most favorable ones, here are a few tips on how to be vigilant on your nutrition if you want to stay healthy on a low budget:

  1. Optimize your shopping

    • Make a list prior to shopping. While shopping, stick to the list and do not be tempted to buy more than necessary. The list should contain only the necessary foods that you will be eating and which are to the limit of your budget. Do not write a long list of wants when you have very little money.

  2. Be on the watch for promotions and sales. Some promotions are very interesting but beware of the expiration dates on the foods you buy because most of the times, it is the foods which are nearly expired which are for sale.

  3. Compare the prices by kilograms and not by units. Most people (I was like this at one point) always look at the prices by unit. You must never take notice of these prices but look at the small printed price on the package of the foods which are usually price per kilogram (or ounce in the US)

  4. Never buy food on an empty stomach. You will be tempted to buy more.

  5. Always buy in a few quantities. Some people are tempted to buy more than they can possibly eat during sales and when the foods have reached their expiration dates, you have no other alternatives than to throw them away.

  6. Buy generic. Generic foods are usually just as good as the originals and more essentially, they are cheaper!

  7. Never shop in a hurry. I know time is limited for everybody but always take your time to compare prices per kilogram when you buy your food.

  8. Shop at your local market: Most of the times, your local market is a cheaper alternative to your supermarket. One trick I usually do is to shop just before the market closes because this is where you can get the best bargains from the seller who is in a hurry to go home.

  9. Always shop alone. I always shop alone so that I always stick to my shopping list and avoid the temptation to buy foods the other person will buy if I were accompanied by someone.

  10. Choice and preparation of food

    • Always cook your food: Prior to being a student in a foreign country, I never knew how to cook. When I started studying in France, I always ate in a restaurant. After two months, I started noticing that eating outside was draining my tight budget. So I learned how to cook for myself and I can certify that cooking for me has become a passion. I managed to cut my budget by 5 times by eating only at home. If you were like me and had no notion of cooking before, the following site will teach you the basics of cooking: Cooking 101. It is one of the most comprehensive sites on cooking I've found and it teaches you everything from how to boil water (Yes there is a science involved behind boiling water!) to how to rescue a cooking disaster. Also one of the most important reasons people give for not cooking at home besides laziness and not knowing how to cook, is time constraint. When I started cooking, I usually took two to three hours to cook. But I stuck to it. I usually cooked when I had some free time in the afternoon and during weekend. Now the maximum amount it takes me to cook a healthy meal is 30 to 45 minutes. So give it a try and you will find yourself starting to enjoy it.

  11. Eating healthy means having all the nutrients in correct proportions in your plate. So for each nutrient, there are always cheaper alternatives to the expensive ones. As an example, for protein, you can always eat eggs which are cheaper than meat or for calcium, milk is cheaper than cheese.

  12. If you tend to eat the same food, the one you bought during a sale, vary the dishes by using spices to give the dishes flavor and color.

  13. Never throw away leftover food from a dinner. You can keep it in hermetic boxes and use it for breakfast or brunch the next day.

  14. If you are really unable to spare time for cooking, it is better to cook in large quantities at once and to keep the excess food in the fridge for your next meal.

  15. Fruits and Vegetables

    • Opt for the fruits and vegetables which are in season; cheaper, they are also more delicious to eat. Kiwi, Carrot, leek, cabbage, citrus fruits in winter, strawberries during spring, peach, melon, tomato, sweet pepper, zucchini in summer, pear and grape in autumn, apples and bananas all year long.

  16. Markets provide cheaper and fresher fruits and vegetables than large supermarkets

  17. To avoid losing fruits and vegetables which are too ripe or have been slightly damaged, better make jams, salads or soups from them.

  18. Frozen fruits and vegetables can sometimes be nutritious as well as cheap. In addition, they are easy to prepare. Tinned foods are also at times better alternative.

  19. Meat, Fish, Eggs

    • The prices of meats and fish vary depending on their nature, locations of sale and the season of sale. Compare prices and verify that the meat which was cheap last week is still cheap this week before buying it.

  20. Chickens, eggs and milk are nutritious and cheap foods. They can easily replace meat in your meals, which are usually more expensive.

  21. In a dish, meat, fish or eggs are components of this dish and not the dominant one. Eat fish regularly: at least twice per week. Frozen fish are very affordable. Limit fish like fish fingers which use a cooking mode which are a bit "oily".

  22. Meat, fish and eggs can be replaced by vegetables like pulses, lentils and beans. So it is not essential to eat meat, fish and eggs everyday. It is sometimes best to go vegetarian one or two days per week.

  23. Other components of a dish

    • Pasta and rice are very cheap and allow you to create dish which are nutritious and make you feel full.

  24. Potatoes do not serve to make chips only but can be cooked in various ways: boiled potatoes, baked potatoes combined with a salad. Potatoes are very cheap.

  25. Many people buy dried vegetables. They are cheap and contain a lot of fibers but they do not replace fresh vegetables. Instead of buying a lot of dried vegetables, better buy fewer fresh ones.

  26. Do not forget bread which is very nutritious and easily affordable to everyone. Choose the ones which are whole wheat instead of the white ones.

  27. Drinks

    Drinks are very important to consider when planning your food budget. The only essential drink which you must consider and which is the "cheapest" is water. If you are like me and cannot afford to buy a lot of bottled water, buy a simple water filter. (I use a Brita filter which does the job very well.) Alcoholic drinks are very expensive and not very nutritious. Soda drinks also must be avoided but if you cannot resist one or two cokes from time to time, then better buy the light ones.

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