We’ve all been there. You’re in the 10-items-or-less checkout line at the grocery store. The clerk rings up your purchases and announces the total. As you load your meager foodstuffs into the car, you must grapple with grim reality. You’ve just spent $16 for a box of cereal, three protein bars and a bag of carrots.
But this disturbing scene need not be repeated. Contrary to what many people believe, you don’t have to break the bank to buy healthy, nutritious food. You just need to plan ahead a bit, become a savvy consumer and understand some basics about nutrition.
Of course, the food we eat is not the only factor that contributes to our health and wellness. Our sleeping habits and stress level also affect how we feel, both physically and mentally. This guide shows you how to save money while eating well and living fully. It also includes some special tips for three groups of people who often find it hard to find the time to eat well and get enough sleep: College students, parents and children.
Low Stress + Good Sleep + Balanced Diet = The Recipe for Healthy Living
Have you ever noticed yourself making less than desirable food choices the day after a poor night’s sleep?
Lots of stress > Little sleep > Poor sustenance
Poor food choices will then put further stress on the body, perpetuating the cycle
With the right recipe of low stress, good sleep and balanced sustenance, you can set yourself up for success.
According to The National Wellness Institute, wellness is the “conscious, self directed and evolving process of achieving full potential.” With all the microdecisions that come with saving money to eat and live well, it’s important to keep this bigger-picture intention in mind.
Stress plays a huge role in our overall wellbeing and often affects our appetite and behaviors around food, according to a Harvard Medical School publication. We all confront stressful circumstances on a day to day basis, whether at work, at school or at home. Perhaps you occasionally skip meals or neglect getting eight hours’ sleep. Yet all of these micro-decisions place stress on the body, causing cravings for fat, sugar and salt as well as overeating. Some stress is a natural and healthy, but too much can compromise our health. One in four Americans report their stress level being at least an eight out of 10 or higher, according to a survey by the American Psychological Association.
Sleep plays a critical role in managing stress, mood and energy levels, which all affect our ability to make healthy choices throughout the day. Sleep also affects our cognitive function, motor skills and immune health. Without adequate sleep we are essentially depriving ourselves of the opportunity to feel and perform our very best. Many studies have connected sleep deprivation with increased appetite and junk food cravings. In a neurological study conducted by UC Berkeley Professor Matthew Brown, for instance, research showed that high calorie foods became more appealing after a poor night’s sleep, and the brain’s ability to make appropriate food choices was compromised.
The final key player in maintaining our health is sustenance, a.k.a. food and water. The food we eat contains macronutrients (protein, fat and carbs) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), which enable the body to produce energy and generate cells, among other things. Not only is a well-balanced diet essential to maintaining a healthy weight, but it will also improve energy levels, strengthen the immune system and improve mental well-being and concentration.
“How do you define healthy eating? If you think you have to drink an $8 green juice every day then yes, healthy eating will be expensive. On the other hand, if you focus on eating decent number of fruits and vegetables and a variety of other foods that come from whole sources (rice, beans, oats, quinoa etc.) then healthy eating on a budget is absolutely possible.”Leanne Brown
Test your Nutrition Awareness
Eating healthy means spending a lot of money.
Not necessarily – according to the USDA’s My Plate, about ¾ of our plates should be filled with fruits, vegetables and grains. Luckily for us, these are among some of the least expensive foods there are. With a little bit of knowledge and practice we can learn to navigate the grocery store and create healthy, delicious balanced meals that don’t break the bank.
It’s more important for adults to eat healthy than it is for kids.
Kids absorb the habits of their environments, with eating as with anything else. And kids can absolutely develop a palate for healthy foods, especially when started let a young age.
Canned fruit and vegetables are bad for you.
When free of added salt and sugars (read the label to find out), studies show that canned fruit and vegetables retain just as many if not more nutrients than fresh produce.
Frozen fruits and vegetables are less healthy than non-frozen.
Much like canned produce, frozen fruits and vegetables are a perfectly healthy and economical alternative to fresh. Again, make sure to check the label for added ingredients.
Moderate consumption of alcohol is up to three drinks a day for an adult man or women.
The USDA considers moderate alcohol consumption to be 1 drink per day for women and up to two for men. There is no reason however to start drinking alcohol if you don’t already. If you do choose to have a drink, remember to factor it into your daily sugar and calorie intake.
Women need more iron than men.
Premenopausal women need more iron than men due to the iron lost in their menstrual cycle, and after menopause women require the same amount as men. The recommended daily allowance for iron is 8mg a day for men and 18mg a day for premenopausal women.
Whole grains—like brown rice, whole wheat flour, oats and barley—represent an important daily food group and are recognized as such by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Incorporating whole grains into your diet can help to improve digestion and energy levels, and keep you full for longer after your meals.
Fat-free or low-fat yogurt is better for your overall health than 2 percent or whole milk yogurt.
Contrary to popular belief, fat does not make you fat. While higher in calories, an increasing number of studies are showing that full fat products may help with weight management and satiety. In one study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care, Swedish researchers linked consumption of dairy fat with a lower risk of obesity.
Our cultural norms and our greater and more immediate communities all have an effect on our food and beverage choices.
The USDA’s socio-ecological model shows us that our decisions regarding food and exercise are made in the context of our environment, in addition to our individual characteristics and qualities. When it comes to getting healthier, we are all in it together!
Select “True” or “False”: correct answers will appear in green and incorrect answers in red.
How to Live Healthy as a College Student
The term “healthy” isn’t always associated with the image of college life. That said, there are many convenient ways to implement healthy habits into your busy schedule without foregoing the fun college experience.
Getting some exercise between classes and studying is a great way to stay focused and energetic during your college years. If you’re just starting out, begin by setting a realistic and attainable goal such as 15 to 30 minutes of walking a day.
Meditation has been called “mental hygiene” for its practical impact on managing stress. Start your practice at 5 minutes a day, and it will be there for you when you need it later in life.
Be Kind to Yourself
College life is demanding, and you can’t be perfectly healthy all the time. Stressing about your health will only make matters worse. Give yourself a pat on the back for the healthy choices you do make, however small, and keep on going!
Over 80 guided meditations and a solo timer for the independently-minded. Available for iOS and Android.
($4.99 on Itunes)
Barre3 brings the workout to wherever you are. Access 10, 30, 40 or 60 minute workouts at your own convenience.
Don’t Bring your Worries to Bed
Keep a journal next to your bed and spend a few minutes writing out your thoughts each night before you go to sleep.
Create a Comfortable Sleeping Environment
Keep your homework at your desk and avoid being on your laptop in bed, especially within a half hour of falling asleep. If you’re living in a dorm an eye mask and earplugs will definitely come in handy for drowning out noise and light.
Avoid Caffeine in the Afternoon
Perhaps a tall order, but consuming caffeine late in the day can greatly hinder your quality of sleep. If you must have a pick me up, reach for green tea instead.
Focus on What You Should Eat, Not What You Shouldn’t
Let’s face it, pizza at 2am hits the spot, but maybe you don’t feel too great about it the next morning. Rather than quitting cold turkey, fill up on fresh, whole foods throughout the day and then see if you still want that late night pizza.
Make Sure to Eat Enough Throughout the Day
It’s tempting to skip meals while rushing between classes, but food is absolutely essential for maintaining your focus, energy levels and immune function during school.
Don’t put the extra stress of a diet mentality on yourself when you’re already swamped with schoolwork.
Hacks to Eat Strategically on a Meal Plan
Find the Salad (or two) That Actually Works for You
and stick with it. Check out this article from My Fitness Pal for some simple salad building strategies.
Make Your Own Salad Dressing
The simplest salad dressing can be the most delicious, and the healthiest. Sprinkle some olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper over your next salad, or experiment with other ingredients like mustard and fresh herbs if you’re feeling creative.
Don’t Stock Your Dorm Room with Junk Food
If you’re trying to eat healthy, there’s just no way you could will yourself to avoid those chips and cookies when the snack monster hits at 10pm.
But Do Keep Food in Your Dorm Room
Peanut butter is easy to store and delicious for dipping apple slices or carrot sticks. Whole grain crackers, nuts, oatmeal packets and hummus are also great options.
Start at the Salad Bar
Fill half plate with veggies: That way, you are balancing out any less healthy options you decide to go with next.
Have Dining Hall Go-To’s
…For when the hot entree is not on point. Scope out the healthy staples, like turkey slices or cottage cheese. There’s nothing wrong with repetition in your diet, as long as you switch it up from time to time.
Come with Tupperware
Aluminum foil or plastic sandwich bags work, too. If your meal plan allows, pack raw veggies like carrots and cucumber slices from the salad bar, along with other durable foods like bananas, apples, nuts, peanut butter and whole grain cereal.
Find a Friend
Chances are someone in your circle of friends is also trying to eat healthier. Try going to meals together and swapping tips and inspiration.
Fill Up on Whole Foods
It doesn’t have to be complicated. If a majority of your diet consists of real, whole foods, chances are you won’t be having hunger pangs that can inspire inopportune food binges.
Establish a Routine
Try to prioritize your meals and go to the dining hall as often as possible. At first it might be difficult, but eventually your healthy habits will become second nature to you.
Tips for Off-Campus Students
Protein bars may seem like a convenient option, but they are often processed and packed with hidden sugars. Opt to throw an apple and nuts in your bag for a less expensive and more nutritionally dense snack option.
Without the option to choose water in the dining hall at every meal, you’ll have to provide your own alternative. Carry around a reusable water bottle that you can refill at a water fountain between classes. Add lemon, lime or other fruit before you leave the house to add flavor.
A Day in the Life
You’ve resolved to eat healthier and live better. Maybe you’ve even written a few of these tips down. But let’s run through a typical day’s timeline: strategize how you can implement these suggestions every step of the way.
Rise and shine! Class starts at 9am. On second thought, I think I’ll hit snooze a few more times.
Shower, dress and prep for classes in just enough time to run out the door. “No time for breakfast today.”
Done with class and I’m starving! I’ll just grab a bagel with cream cheese to eat on the way to the library. But first, a large coffee with cream and sugar.
Time to go to class…I’m gonna need an energy drink to get me through this one.
Meet up with friends after two more classes. “I’m STARVING. Let’s get pizza!”
I still have a couple hours of work on this ten page paper I have due tomorrow. I think I’ll get a soda and Cheetos from the vending machine as a reward.
Bedtime. Fall asleep after looking at social media for an hour.
Healthy Lifestyle Tips for Families
Balancing home and work life is undoubtedly a challenge, even more so if you have children. Perhaps you have limited time alone with your partner, and hardly ever get a moment to yourself. While prioritizing you and your family’s health may seem like an added chore, you may find that it actually makes life easier and more enjoyable.
It’s no secret that exercise effectively helps us manage our stress, in addition to improving mood and focus. The hard part is finding the time. Start by carving as little as 10 minutes out of your day, and work your way up to 30. There’s no need to leave each and every workout drenched in sweat, just simply get your body moving.
Make time for yourself and for your relationships
Set a goal to spend time alone each week, and then again for a special activity with your partner or a close friend. Put it in your calendar if you need to.
A great deal of research has shown that meditation actually helps to lower our stress to healthy and manageable levels, all the while improving other aspects of our mental health. Meditation can be done anywhere at any time, and there are plenty of resources, including websites, classes and phone apps to help you do it. A really accessible means of finding guided meditations is through YouTube.
App users can check in with their physical and mental state and choose a meditation that serves them in the moment. Available for iOS and Andriod.
Adults are said to need around seven to eight hours of sleep per night in order to maintain a healthy body and mind. If you find that you have not been getting adequate sleep it might be time to adjust your routine. Here are some tips to help you improve your quality of sleep.
Dim the Lights and Limit Screen Time Before Bed.
Research has demonstrated that the artificial light from your computer, tablet or smartphone may lower your melatonin levels, a hormone that plays a role in how well we sleep. Also, the last thing you need to see before you close your eyes is another urgent work email, bill reminder or picture of your ex.
Create a Bedtime Ritual.
This can include anything from a hot bath to a cup of hot herbal tea. Choose one to three relaxing activities to repeat each night in order to tell your body it’s time for bed.
Limit Caffeine from Coffee, Tea and Sodas in the Afternoon.
If you feel you absolutely can’t live without that afternoon pick me up, try consuming half of your usual caffeinated beverage of choice and pair it with a nutritious snack.
Healthy eating has nothing to do with deprivation and expensive Whole Foods visits. It’s about preparation, savvy shopping and enjoying delicious home cooked food.
10 Hacks to Shop Strategically
Get ready for your own personal supermarket sweep: here are our top suggestions to save your wallet and your waistline.
Don’t shop on an empty stomach! We want to avoid impulse purchases for the sake of our health and our wallet.
…And check it twice. Before you go to the store, check online for what’s in season and what’s on sale. If you’re feeling ambitious, download GroceryPal and/or do some research online to compare prices. Strike nutrition-free calories from your shopping list (think: soda). Americans spend $71 billion a year on soda, with the average American drinking about 44 gallons yearly. Eliminating a can of soda a day – and reducing your risk of obesity and accompanying diseases – could save you about $219 every year.
The first of the USDA’s “3 P’s” (plan, purchase and prepare), planning is critical. Remember that two-thirds of your meal plates are supposed to be covered with fruits and vegetables. And guess what: A family of four can reach the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables by spending a mere $8.75 a day, according to the USDA. Click on the link above for a sample shopping list.
Imagine your grocery store and try to mentally organize by aisle. Leanne Brown says, “My general rule of thumb is the age-old shop the perimeter of the grocery store. This is where the whole foods are. Start in the produce section, and compare your selections to the frozen and canned options. Then make your way to the meat, fish, cheese and dairy sections. Finally, wander down the aisle that has bags of beans and grains.”
Retailers pay for prime, eye-level shelf space so the deals are usually not right in your line of vision.
Mid-way through your shopping, assess your cart to see what unnecessary pricey or unhealthy items snuck in there. You’re more likely to put them back before arriving at checkout. And read the labels on packaged food to look for hidden sugar. The more than 60 kinds of sugar in packaged ingredients include: barley malt, agave nectar, cane juice, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, maltodextrin, maltol, muscavado, palm sugar, refiner’s syrup, saccharose, sweet sorghum, turbinado sugar, and treacle. If a package food lists some sort of sugar among the first three ingredients, it’s more of a dessert than a healthy food.
Cases are stacked from the back, so grab the one with the furthest expiration date.
Out-of-season fruit can cost you up to three times more “Not only are fruits and veggies very inexpensive when they’re in season, says Leanne Brown, but they are also delicious and satisfying, which makes you feel like you’re getting more value from them.”
“Pancake mix,” says Leanne, “can only make pancakes. Buy the ingredients to make pancakes, however, and you can make bread, muffins, crepes – you can eat something different every day. The same goes for beans, grains or even a loaf of bread. It’s like a blank canvas.” Stock your pantry with inexpensive but hearty foods such as dried and canned beans, rice, quinoa, canned tomatoes, tuna and salmon, lentils, whole-grain pasta and nut butters. Added to vegetables, these ingredients can form the basis of a quick meal.
Look especially for rice, oats, and other grains which, Leanne points out, are inexpensive and very versatile.
Hacks to Eating Right at Home
Drink Water Throughout the Day and Before Meals.
If you don’t like the flavor, try adding fresh lemon, lime or orange slices.
Choose a Time and a Place to Plan out Your Meals.
Going to the grocery store prepared will make a world of difference and weekly shopping will ensure that your fruits and vegetables are always fresh and delicious.
Opt to Bake, Grill, Roast or Poach your Food Instead of Frying.
Stir-frying is also an incredibly convenient, versatile and healthy option.
Cook in Bulk to Have Leftovers.
Throw those leftovers in the freezer. This will not only save you time later on, but will also help you eat healthy food on those nights when you just don’t feel like cooking.
Use Smaller Plates for Portion Control.
Research has repeatedly shown that smaller plates lead us to eat smaller portions, but who wants to throw out what they already known? Instead, use regular plates for serving.
Your mother may have been right when she said it was the most important meal of the day.
Pack Your Snacks the Night Before.
Never leave the house unprepared. Carry around healthy snacks like fruit, nuts, seeds, whole grain crackers and veggie sticks in order to avoid spending money on expensive processed foods that are bad for your health.
Develop a Routine.
Everything is difficult at first. Be patient and trust that you will find your groove.
“Give yourself a chance to like healthy foods, and eventually you will. Just as long as you are eating a little more of what you want that’s a win.”Leanne Brown
Find a Trudging Buddy.
Having a support system makes a world of difference. It could be your roommate, spouse or partner, or even an online forum.
Take the Thumbscrews Off.
A healthy lifestyle is all about enjoying delicious food and should not feel the least bit restrictive. You don’t have to give up everything you love, just enjoy the less healthy foods in moderation.
“It’s so important to celebrate the little things. We are motivated by results that are enjoyable – that’s true in life and with food. Sometimes cooking a delicious meal is the only good thing we do in a day. It makes us happier and better able to take on stressful things like school, work, chasing our kids around or whatever.”Leanne Brown
Tips for Parents
Make time for your meal and snack preparation, too. Find 10-15 minutes a day to throw some things together for the following day. If you’re a morning person, give yourself that extra 20 minutes to have breakfast before the whole house is awake, or at least prepare something to take with you.
A Day in the Life
Figuring out how to balance parenting, working and wellness is overwhelming just to think about, so that’s why we broke it down—how to make healthy choices one moment at a time.
Make coffee and look at work email or social media. “I know I should eat breakfast…But now I don’t have time. Have to wake the kids up for school.”
Arrive at work. Have another cup of coffee and a breakfast bar. Work straight through the morning.
Lunch time – Grab a premade sandwich and chips at the market next door. “Craving something sweet, but I’m trying to be good so I will just have another cup of coffee instead.”
Crashing. So tired, and would kill for a sweet treat. “My coworker brought in donuts and I know I shouldn’t, but I just have to have one. Besides, it’ll be rude if I don’t!”
“I didn’t have time to stop at the store after work and the kids are hungry, so I guess it’s pasta again. I’ll eat a plate really quickly before I start on the dishes.”
In bed, watching favorite show. “I should go to sleep, but maybe just one more episode.”
This social network is useful for gaining inspiration in many areas, including nutrition. Just search the terms you are interested in a.k.a. “healthy meals for 7 days” and peruse the boards.
This online forum offers open discussion of and mutual support around eating right.
Can’t afford a trainer or a nutritionist? No problem. This Department of Agriculture website creates personalized physical fitness and nutrition plans.
This Department of Agriculture website offers interactive tools that allow you to build meals using the five food groups. This site is packed with helpful nutritional guidance.
This app helps you find deals at discount stores and supermarkets in your area. Available for iOS 8.0 or later.
Expert Q&A: Robyn Coale
Robyn Coale completed her dietetic internship at the University of Virginia after graduating from Indiana University with a degree in Applied Health and a minor in Public Health. Following her internship, she began working as a Registered Dietitian and Director of Nutrition for Revolution Health Center in Charlottesville, Virginia where she practiced holistic and alternative nutrition. Robyn’s desire to reach a larger audience led to the establishment of a private nutrition practice, Nutshell Nutrition, where she works primarily with women recovering from eating disorders and reproductive issues.
What is the value (if any) to calorie counting?
Calorie counting can be valuable if you are learning to eat enough. If you’ve been stressed out, restricting your food or over exercising your appetite hormone ghrelin can become suppressed and you will no longer be able to rely on your hunger cues to tell you when to eat. In that way, calorie counting can work as a bridge to eating adequately. When it comes to weight loss, however, calorie counting can become detrimental. When we eat based on an objective measure we end up ignoring our hunger cues and the body in turn slows its metabolism, so in the long run calorie counting might even lead to weight gain. I’m more about focusing on nutrients as opposed to calories. When we eat more whole, nutrient dense foods we essentially end up eating less calories anyway.
What exercise recommendations would you have for someone who has a lot of obligations like kids, work, etc.?
I think that walking is SO underrated for people who are just getting into exercise. A great way to start is to just build lots of walking into your day. From there, exercise totally depends on what’s going on in your life. Exercise is a good stressor, but if we have a lot of negative stress in our life it can become harmful and lead to weight gain. I think people tend not to look at the big picture when it comes to their health. Ask yourself, “what’s going on in my life?” If it’s stressful, you want exercises that you can sing through, i.e. ones that do not get your heart rate high enough to put stress on the body.
What are your recommendations for people concerned about slow metabolism – are there ways to jumpstart or speed up metabolism?
Metabolism is essentially all about hormones. If you never get hungry – that’s a red flag. If it’s hard to maintain weight or you’re gaining weight without having changed your lifestyle, those are also red flags. The first thing that I walk clients through when working to repair metabolism is to identify the sources of stress in their lives, and eliminate as many as possible. Start by looking at your sleep, stress management, exercise (too much can be detrimental), and making sure you’re eating enough. You need both adequate calories AND adequate nutrients in order to avoid nutritional stress.
What are some of your simplest recipes that don’t require a lot of prep or kitchen space?
One of my favorite dinners ever is kale and mushrooms sautéed in coconut oil, a baked sweet potato and 2 eggs. It’s so easy and satisfying, and you can even make the potato in the toaster oven or microwave. Another favorite is a frozen veggie burger with a baked potato or frozen green beans. It takes 15 minutes to make, and you can do it all in one pan.
Can I still eat dessert?
I love dessert, but that’s not to say I think we should eat a cupcake every day. Most of my sweets come in healthier forms like a banana, dark chocolate and peanut butter, or a healthy muffin that I could also eat for breakfast. I totally believe in enjoying dessert every once in a while, as long as we aren’t relying on it. You shouldn’t need dessert, and if you do you might either be addicted to sugar or haven’t eaten enough that day and are craving sugar for fast energy.