Living a healthy lifestyle often starts with fueling our bodies well. Unfortunately, it can be challenging to plan balanced meals on a budget. In our own community, we frequently hear that it’s overwhelming to navigate all the information available to us regarding nutrition–and it’s even more difficult to act on that information when funds are limited. We’ve rounded up some of our top tips for planning wholesome meals that won’t break the bank.
What Exactly Is a Balanced Meal?
To start, let’s outline what we define as a balanced, healthy meal rooted in nutrition. We recommend that each meal contains carbohydrates, protein, a source of fat, and some kind of vegetable or fruit. With these four basic components, your body will get all the nutrients you need. In some cases, it might not be possible to incorporate each of these elements in every single meal–and that’s okay. Striving for balance, not perfection, is what we encourage our patients and friends to do when it comes to planning meals.
Now, onto our tips!
Tip 1: Shop What’s in Season
Fresh produce isn’t always cheap, but if you shop what’s in season, you can cut down on your grocery bill. As an added bonus, seasonal produce is typically fresher and tastier. Here’s a breakdown of when different types of fruits and veggies are in season:
- Green beans
- Winter squash
- Brussels Sprouts
There are lots of other fruits and vegetables in season on a monthly basis. You can purchase all kinds of seasonal produce from local farmers markets and country stores.
Tip 2: Keep Shelf-Stable Staples on Hand
We always love incorporating fresh ingredients when possible, but lots of dried and canned goods are packed with nutrition. Beans can be purchased dried or canned and are rich in fiber and protein. Rice is usually about a dollar per pound. Combining the two with some frozen vegetables and olive oil is a delicious, easy, and affordable meal option. Of course, you can also mix and match other stored goods. Other shelf-stable staples we recommend include:
- Canned tuna
- Canned vegetables like corn, peas, and green beans
- Peanut butter
Tip 3: Take Advantage of Available Freezer Space
A lot of recipes can be made in bulk and freeze beautifully! If you’ve already got enough ingredients on hand to make a double batch of something like healthy turkey chili or veggie-packed soup, do it. Those kinds of meals are usually low maintenance and only involve one pot. They’re ideal to stock up on and freeze. We especially love this tip because it reduces waste and will really stretch your dollars.
Tip 4: Shop Sales
Typically, most grocery stores will put their weekly ads up online! By taking a quick peek at what’s on sale, you can save a chunk of money. If you are able to, you can even stock up on staples or freeze-able items we mentioned above. Also keep in mind that some local stores are more affordable than others. For example: Walmart, Aldi, and Kroger tend to be more affordable grocery stores than Fresh Market or Target.
Tip 5: Lean into Community Support
Eating healthy on a budget isn’t easy, but we’re here to help. We partner with a variety of organizations in Lynchburg that can assist with providing healthy meal options. One of our favorites is FreshRX. Community members can attend a nutrition class and receive fresh produce to take home once the event is over. Local food pantries can also be a great resource!
We also want our community members to know it’s never embarrassing or shameful to ask for help. If you have any questions about how you can plan healthy, affordable meals, our on-staff providers would love to help!