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We’ve all been there. It’s Sunday and you’re sitting on the couch while the next episode of whatever series you’re binging on this week loads on Netflix. The fog in your mind momentarily clears and you survey the surrounding carnage from the weekend: at least two pizza boxes (large, because otherwise what’s the point), an empty bag from McDonald’s, several empty fifths, and countless empty beer cans and bottles.
Shit. You mentally estimate how much time you’re going to have to spend in the gym to make up for yet another unhealthy weekend (or how much time you would have to spend if you actually went). On top of that, your diet during the week isn’t much better because healthy food tends to be more expensive and food chains like Chipotle exist.
So it seems you’re stuck eating like crap. But don’t give up hope. Here are several ways you can start eating healthier without breaking the budget.
1. Take Advantage of Your Local Farmers Market
This is easily the most important piece of advice in this article. While there is a decent amount of research out there showing that farmers’ markets are more expensive, it simply isn’t true if you’re not going for the booths that are selling organic small-batch craft salsas (sorry, food hipsters). I’ll get to some foods to avoid in a minute.
If you’re the type of person who enjoys generic vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, peppers, etc., then I would strongly suggest checking out your local markets. For example, you know how orange, red, and yellow peppers are the more expensive (and better tasting) cousins of green peppers? They’re usually all lumped into the same price at farmers’ markets. This past weekend I bought about eight pounds of vegetables (including a head of broccoli that I had to fight to fit in my fridge) for around fourteen dollars.
The same amount of vegetables would have cost me around thirty or forty dollars at a grocery store. In complete fairness, I am slightly spoiled in Detroit with our massive Eastern Market, but there are similar markets in other big cities and metropolitan areas.
Like I said before, this tip is not true for all foods. Some foods to avoid at local farmers markets are eggs, meat, any processed food (salsa, jerky, etc.), and the worst offender, those insanely expensive “cleansing” juices. At around twenty dollars for about 16 ounces, the only thing they’ll cleanse is your bank account. Invest in a NutriBullet and make your own at home.
Farmers markets are also great for buying in bulk. This past weekend, I came across a booth selling a large twenty pound box of tomatoes for five dollars. I was tempted to take a box or two home, but then I realized that most of them would go bad before I even touched them, which brings me to my next point.
2. Start Small
So let’s say you find your local farmers market and you spot some amazing deals. You imagine how full your fridge is going to look and start thinking of ways to humblebrag to your friends about how you bought a week’s worth of groceries for less than they spend at Starbucks every week.
Stop right there.
It’s easy to go to the store and stock up on ten boxes of mac and cheese because it has a long shelf life along with many other processed foods. But fruits and vegetables spoil incredibly fast. The first time I overbought, I ended up with brown, slimy mush at the back of my fridge that I was convinced was a few days away from becoming sentient.
My best advice is this: learn how to shop for fruits and vegetables, specifically how to spot how far they are from spoiling. Also, every fridge has its own colder points. If you put celery up on the top shelf closest to the freezer, it could end up mushy and barely edible because of the water that freezes and ruins the stalks. On the same note, it could be perfect for vegetables such as spinach and kale which have a lower water content and tend to spoil a little faster than other vegetables. Finally, learn how to properly store specific fruits and vegetables.
Food waste is a huge problem in the United States. Make sure your food isn’t spoiling and it’ll save you money.
3. Buy Meat Frozen
By now you’re probably thinking, “Okay, Zach, but where’s the protein? Gotta get those gains.” And as a red-blooded meat-loving American, I’m right there with you. However, it’s not incredibly difficult to plow through an entire ten dollar package of chicken breasts in a day (especially if you are going to the gym regularly). Meat can easily account for a large portion of your food budget. But it doesn’t have to.
First, let’s address red meat. As someone who likes his steak basically still mooing it hurts to say this, but you should try to limit your red meat intake to a few times per week. This is not only good for monetary reasons, but health reasons as well.
As far as chicken and seafood goes: buy frozen. Fresh and frozen both have similar nutritional values, but the frozen version costs a fraction of the price. It will also probably last longer as you’ll be less tempted to gorge yourself on fresh chicken breasts out of fear of them spoiling.
4. Limit Alcohol
Studies show that – lol who am I kidding? Just stick to bottom shelf, avoid sugar-laden mixers, and pregame the bars..
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