6 Simple Ways to Make Healthy Eating Easier
One of the most difficult things about a healthy lifestyle is making healthy eating fit into our schedule and budget. It is so much easier to microwave a package of prepared food or go out and grab Jack in the Box, then to plan for and cook an actual meal with real food!
Over the years, I’ve learned a few tips that help me a lot with being consistent in healthy eating. These are having a plan, having a very specific food budget, knowing where and how to find the best prices for groceries, preparing ahead of time, grocery shopping on a regular basis, and knowing how to eat as healthy as possible when eating out.
1. The Plan
Having a plan is probably the most important part of healthy eating, because without it, there usually is no healthy eating!
Without a plan, we don’t know what’s for dinner and are tempted to go for the quickest and easiest option. Without a plan, we don’t know how much we are willing or able to spend on food, and usually end up spending too much. Without a plan, we don’t know what our goals are or how to reach them. Without a plan, we don’t know how to still eat healthy when eating out, or how often we actually can afford to eat out.
So, start by making a plan! Decide what your goals are. Do you or your family members have special dietary needs? Plan for that. Do you want to cook dinner each night and have leftovers for lunches, or do you prefer to batch cook ahead of time? Add that to your plan. How much time do you have for cooking? Where will you get your recipes? How often will you repeat recipes? Put it all in the plan!
The easiest way for me to plan is to sit down with a pen and paper and just start writing as things come to mind. Then I go through all these notes and organize them in an order that makes sense to me. Keep this plan with you for working through the next five steps!
2. The Budget
Once you have your plan, it’s time to tackle the budget! This is super important, because eating real food can be a whole lot more expensive than otherwise. It can be easy to get discouraged if we don’t know exactly how much we can spend on food, and know how to stick to that number.
So, take your plan that we just talked about, and decide realistically how much you can afford to spend to make that plan reality. In a bit we’ll talk about ways to shop in order to save money, but for now just decide what you are willing and able to spend on this part of your life!
I actually have a super specific budget in which I give myself a specific amount I can spend on each main food item. For example, I allow x amount of dollars for meat, x amount for milk, x amount for fresh produce, etc.
You will also need to add a sub-budget amount for the various random items that will always come up! (Things like spices and other items that you won’t be buying on a regular basis).
It is important to be realistic about how much you will actually need to budget - again, healthy food can be really expensive! But, at the same time, keep in mind that shopping smart will enable you to stretch money a whole lot thinner than you’d ever think possible!
So write this all down in very specific terms before moving on to the next step!
3. The Price
Here is the fun part! It has taken me a while (like, two years!), but I have been able to learn where to find different food items in order to get the best prices. This just takes a lot of work and time on your part, but again, is so worth it!
I have three different grocery stores that I shop on a regular basis. I get my bulk items once a month at one store (Costco, Sam’s Club, and Thrive Market are a few examples of places you can get items in bulk for less money. Keep in mind though, that you have to look specifically for the healthy options!). Some examples of foods you can get in bulk are frozen berries and vegetables, butter, coconut oil, vinegars, and frozen meats like salmon and chicken.
I go to a local ranch once a month for our supply of beef. And I pick up our milk every week from a local dairy. Also once a week, I buy fresh produce and other perishable items I will need for that week.
The key is figuring out how to make it all work for you. Add this to your plan! I make a specific shopping list for each store I will be visiting. That way, I know exactly what I need to get when I’m there.
Also, keep looking for deals! Look for sales at each store and check farmer’s markets for better prices on local food. Stock up on items when they are on sale!
4. The Shopping
Like I mentioned earlier, I shop for bulk items once a month, and then do a smaller weekly shopping trip.
You will need to make a grocery list ahead of time in order to save time at the store, as well as insure that you will leave with everything that you need, and nothing you don’t! It is too easy to spend extra money if you don’t have a list and know that you will stick to it!
It helps a lot to have a specific day and time that you always do your grocery shopping. This way it is way more likely to happen then if you just wait til you have time! It is a good idea to add this information to your plan! I go grocery shopping on Fridays. It is just part of my day each week, and I always know that it will happen. This also helps me to avoid in-between trips to the grocery store.
While at the store, start at one end and work your way through the aisles, working off of your list. I may be a little over-organized, but I have found that writing my list in order according to aisles (for example, I put all the fresh produce together on my list; all the canned items together; etc.) saves a lot of time, because I only make one trip through the store and don’t have to go back for anything!
5. The Prep
This is so helpful! Once or twice a week, set aside a little time to prepare anything you can for the week’s meals. Chop veggies and put them in glass containers in the fridge. Cook up ground beef and divide into batches.
My husband and I eat a lot of homemade fermented veggies, so part of my weekly prep is chopping up the veggies and putting them in the jars with the brine. They usually sit for around five days, so I try to stay a week ahead on this one.
You can also gather recipes and put them in order for the week, or organize them in a file on your phone or computer if they are digital.
6. The Eating Out
Oh boy! This is the hardest thing for me! It is so hard to eat healthy when I’m not at home! It is also super hard to stay within the budget when we eat out!
Here are a couple hacks that my husband and I have started using to help in this area.
We don’t eat out that often - maybe once or twice a month - so we try not to stress too much about it all being perfectly healthy! But we still want it to be… well, close to healthy, anyway!
I try to look for menu options that are real food at least (avoid fried foods and condiments, because they are generally loaded with really bad oils).
You can ask for olive oil on your salads instead of dressing. Usually getting a meat entree with vegetable sides is a better option than pasta and bread.
Some restaurants are more conscious of what’s put into the food, so it’s always a good idea to look for that kind of place! Obviously, fast food is not a good choice!
When it comes to budget, it is a great idea to have a specific category for eating out. We found that when we tried to cover meals out with our regular grocery budget, we’d always end up going over budget that month. So, we have started an entirely separate category specifically for meals that we eat out!
The key is to have a very specific, but realistic plan, and to stick to it! It can be tricky, but it is totally possible! Keep playing with it until you can make it work for you. Because, it does work! And it makes healthy eating so much easier, more affordable, and more fun!