Proper nutrition doesn't have to be expensive. However, making the right choices to eat healthy on a budget is sometimes easier said than done. Putting the right meals on the table may not always require a hefty financial investment, but healthy dieting does require more time to prepare food and better planning to map out meals. Cooking from scratch and starting a garden are two of the simplest ways to improve the overall health of your household's diet. While the allure of inexpensive fast food may be difficult to resist -- especially for busy parents who balance their children with work -- taking steps to ensure a healthy diet can prevent most urges to need fast food.
Listed below are five things almost all homeowners can do to consume healthier diets without spending more money on groceries.
Grow Your Own Culinary Herbs
Even if all you've got is a couple of feet on an apartment patio or a sunny windowsill, you can still grow enough culinary herbs to meet the needs of your home kitchen. Fresh herbs are full of various vitamins, and they also enhance the flavor of food to the extent where you won't find it necessary to add a salt to the contents of your plate. If you've got a little more room, you can add some small vegetables such as cherry tomatoes to your herb garden.
Join a Gleaners' Organization
Many modern communities have gleaners' organization where members can help harvest excess crops in exchange for a percentage of the food. Most gleaners' clubs are associated with area food banks and provide a portion of what they've gleaned to these organizations. Most foods that are available to gleaners are locally grown produce items such as apples,, peaches, corn, and other fruits and vegetables. Seasonal fruits and vegetables often overwhelm home cooks with their abundance, so consider canning or freezing them for later use. Vacuum sealing provides an excellent way to keep frozen items in good condition.
Learn to Cook From Scratch
Most processed foods are unhealthy as well as expensive. Cooking from scratch provides an excellent way to keep food costs reasonable while putting healthy fare on the family table. If you have little culinary experience, start small by preparing simple dishes. Cooking classes or online tutorials can be helpful in teaching you the basics. Even if you come home tired from a demanding job at the end of the day, there are plenty of meals that can be put together quickly from scratch that aren't much more complicated than their processed counterparts.
Those who cook from scratch also wind up being more engaged and invested in what they're feeding their families.
Learn to Shop Wisely
Eating well on a budget isn't necessarily about chasing sales and clipping coupons. Although these activities can save grocery shoppers money, they sometimes take up more time than the monetary value of the savings is worth. Also, if you're driving across town to save a dollar on a loaf of bread, you need to consider whether the fuel costs involved negate any savings.
Most grocery stores have a certain day of each week where they pull produce that has been in the bins for a certain amount of time or simply doesn't have an appealing appearance. There is nothing wrong with these items, however, so ask the produce manager at your local supermarket if the store has a policy in place to sell these to interested consumers at reduced prices. Many stores have policies of this nature, but it isn't something they usually advertise -- you have to ask.
Eat More Beans and Grains
Beans and grains provide a healthy, inexpensive way to bulk up meals and make both meat and vegetables stretch farther. You can also save money by buying them in bulk, but be sure to invest in sturdy containers with airtight lids for the purpose of keeping out pests as well as humidity.
Budgeting for healthy eating does not mean sacrificing quality or making painful menu choices. After a couple of weeks, you'll look and feel better as a result of the change in lifestyle, and you'll have more money in your pocket, and eating healthy meals while keeping an eye on costs will become second nature.