I’ve realized since losing weight that I need to keep it healthy as much as possible, especially when it comes to cooking my favorite childhood foods. But that’s not always easy when you’re living on a budget.
To get some tried-and-true healthy eating on a budget tips, I went to two of my favorite food bloggers: Eating ridiculously well on a miniscule budget and the voice behind Poor Girl Eats Well, Kimberly Morales, and Always Order Dessert author Alejandra Ramos, a blogger-turned-culinary-and-lifestyle-expert who teaches classes in New York City. They offered some invaluable tips on how to eat your favorite Latino foods, while staying healthy and on a budget.
- Beans are your best bet for bang-for-your-buck healthy food. Both Kimberly and Alejandra are in love with beans. “Packed with protein, good fiber, iron, even calcium, they are nutritional powerhouses at a mere fraction of the price of animal proteins,” says Alejandra. “You can use them in soups, stews, main dishes, tacos, you name it!” adds Kimberly. “And since there are so many varieties out there, you’ll never get bored.” The one thing to watch out for: high sodium in canned beans. Instead, Alejandra advises, “buy the dried kind and soak them overnight; that’s the best way to maximize your dollar.”
- Soup and DIY soft tacos are great cheap, family-friendly meals. Kimberly loves that we can make a killer soup out of the simplest ingredients. “Sopa de platano con papas, sopa de fideos, pozole, menudo…all of these things are made from the most humble and inexpensive ingredients out there—but they taste AMAZING!” Meanwhile, Alejandra recommends soft tacos with inexpensive fish like tilapia or cod, “serve with soft whole wheat or corn tortillas and bowls of toppings like plain yogurt, chopped tomatoes, avocado, fresh cilantro, shredded cabbage and hot sauce, and let your family pick and choose what they’d like.”
- Save money by sticking to buying fresh, whole ingredients. “When you buy whole ingredients you have control over what dishes to use them in, portion size and variety,” says Kimberly. Alejandra seconds that, adding that “things like packaged granola bars and cereals, dressings, frozen meals, pre-chopped fruits and vegetables, etc, charge you a huge premium for the ‘convenience’ factor, but you’re getting much less for your money than if you just buy the original item.” Instead, stick to things like a container of rolled oats or a whole chicken to maximize the dollar.
- Try to get fresh, seasonal produce but it’s OK to buy frozen sometimes. The #1 reason to buy seasonal ingredients? “They’re abundantly available, making the stores or farmers eager to sell them quickly at a lower price,” says Kimberly. That’s when they’re the at their “most delicious”, adds Alejandra, but she makes concessions for a few items: “it’s OK to buy out-of-season or tropical frozen items if your family eats and enjoys them regularly.” Splurge on items that are uniquely in season or would cost too much when fresh here in the US, like passion fruit and guava.
- Easy substitutions can lead to healthier decisions that also cut costs. The first step is skipping or reducing the amount of oil and lard you use and, at the same time “a good $5 to $10 a month can be saved,” Kimberly notes. She also recommends smaller plates because they “mean less room for too much food, not only helping to keep waistlines slim, but wallets a little more full.” Alejandra recommends adding some substitutions, like swapping out half of the beef for coarsely chopped mushrooms in dishes with ground meet, baking or grilling instead of frying and using yogurt instead of sour cream. “It’s much healthier, tastes very similar, and can usually be found in larger tubs at a much lower price (plus you can eat it on its own for quick breakfasts,” she says). Also, try making your own condiments, since Alejandra says “sofrito and recaito take about 2 minutes to make in a blender and you can freeze it for months."