Plant-based on a budget

by Amy Renee
Plant-based on a budget

…but I can’t afford to eat healthy

I’ve heard this excuse way too many times. It probably comes second only to, “but I don’t have time.” And it’s true, organic produce can be expensive, but there are ways to save money while avoiding fast food and microwave meals.

First of all YOU DON’T HAVE TO BUY EVERYTHING ORGANIC! Yes, in a perfect world all of our food would be grown without awful pesticides and the genetic material of crops would not be messed with. Unfortunately this is the world we live in today. Although I ALWAYS recommend avoiding genetically modified foods (a.k.a. genetically modified organisms) at all costs, there are some plant foods that you can purchase conventional without any major impact to your health.

Some important things to consider about organic and genetically modified (GMO) foods:

  • When buying fresh produce always try to buy local. Farmer’s markets are great because they have the freshest, in-season produce and it is usually cheaper than what you find in super markets. When it comes to produce, fresher is healthier since micronutrients are lost through oxidation after harvesting. They taste better too since they don’t have to be shipped long distances to your local grocer.
  • Think about the “dirty dozen” and the “clean fifteen” when choosing what to spend extra money on for organic. Some fruits and vegetables with thick, inedible skins (grapefruit for example) are fine as conventional unless you are planning to use the zest – in that case I would recommend organic. See my lists for the dirty dozen and the clean fifteen in my blog post on my one-day juice cleanse. Spend more money on fruits and veggies found on the dirty dozen list since these have the most pesticides on them. The clean fifteen list contains produce that has fewer residues on them. You can save money by purchasing conventional produce that are on the clean fifteen list and washing them well.
  • No matter what Monsanto says, GMOs are NOT okay!!! The most common genetically modified crops are corn, soy, canola, cotton, milk, zucchini and yellow squash, papaya, sugar beets (made into sugar), and aspartame (which you should avoid anyway). ALWAYS check the ingredients list for these. If the label doesn’t specifically note, “non-GMO” or “USDA certified organic” on the product and it contains one of these ingredients DON’T BUY IT!
  • When looking for GMO ingredients consider all kinds of the plant – for example, don’t just look for soy but everything that soy is made of such as soybean oil, soy lecithin, soy or soybean flour, edamame, etc.

so…does every fruit and vegetable I buy have to be fresh?

Great question and the answer is no!

So then the question becomes: FROZEN OR CANNED?

I rarely recommend canned fruits or vegetables. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, so once in a blue moon you might see a recipe of mine call for canned something or other. Pumpkin for example. Canned, or better yet boxed (if you can find it) pure pumpkin (not the pie mix) is a great option for using in place of some of the oils or butters in baking. Pumpkin is also delicious and adds fiber to hot breakfast cereals.

With the exception of pumpkin and a few other things you should avoid canned fruits and vegetables as much as possible. Canned fruits are usually preserved in sugar syrup and even if the label says, “preserved in 100% natural juice” there’s still much more sugar than you would get in the fresh (or frozen) fruit and since it’s in liquid form and free of any fiber the sugar reaches the blood stream much faster. Canned vegetables are a bad choice as well since they generally have very little if any of their nutritional value left and are preserved in extra additives that you definitely want to avoid if possible.

Surprisingly, frozen produce is extremely healthful! Frozen fruits and vegetables are flash frozen at the peak of freshness, naturally preserving all of their “goodness” without the need of chemicals.

A lot of people don’t like frozen produce because they think it gets soggy, but you just need to learn the best ways to cook it. Here are some of my favorite frozen fruits and veggies and how I use them:

  • Berries: These are one of my all time favorite snacks! I just microwave about a cup of berries for about 30 seconds (or let them sit out for about 5 minutes) and add about 1/2 cup of unsweetened vanilla almond milk. Yum! They are also great mixed into hot cereals, pancake batter, muffin batter, smoothies, and more!
  • Broccoli/cauliflower/carrot mix: I love to keep a stash of this mix in the freezer for a convenient meal. They are so delicious when added to just about anything from a variety of stews or simply stir fried in a stainless steel pan with just a touch of veggie stock (in place of oil) and non-GMO, reduced sodium tamari or soy sauce and black pepper. If I make the stir fry and I have non-GMO frozen edamame on hand (another favorite), I’ll through some of those in and grate some fresh garlic and ginger on top. Finish with a squeeze of lime juice and through on top of some brown rice or quinoa and voila! Delicious!
  • Edamame: Of course it has to be non-GMO and I always look for the podded ones (unless you’re specifically buying it to eat out of the pods). I LOVE this for adding protein to simple salads, or if I have some mushrooms and onion on hand that need to get used up, simply stir fry them all up (throw the frozen edamame in last) and add some fresh ground pepper and garlic (either powder or fresh grated) and roll up in a tortilla or pita bread or just throw on some greens. Yum!
  • Brussels sprouts: So simple and delicious! I just microwave about 6 to 8 sprouts (depending on size) in a small bowl for about a minute, just until soft enough to chop. Then I chop them up and saute along with whatever other veggies I have on hand that need to get used up. I usually always have shredded carrots on hand, so chances are this is what gets sauteed with my sprouts. You can season these with pretty much anything! Garlic powder, salt and pepper, cumin, chili powder, cayenne, or go another way and try garlic with turmeric and black pepper. You could even use spice blends. Just make sure your spice blends are low in sodium and don’t have MSG (monosodium glutamate)!

Cost Efficient, Nutrient-Dense Plant Foods 

There are several foods you can buy at a low cost that are delicious and easy to prepare. You can cook these ahead of time and have them in the fridge ready to go for quick prep meals or take and go meals. Examples of these include a variety of grains, lentils, pseudograins, seeds and more:

  • Rice: brown, jasmine (brown, white), wild, etc.
  • Quinoa
  • Millet
  • Split peas: yellow, green, chickpeas
  • Lentils: red, brown, green

Sometimes you can even find precooked grains that you can easily reheat when you are in a pinch. Just be sure to check the ingredients on the nutrition facts panel to ensure no added salt, oils (especially GMOs), or other unhealthy additives are added. Trader Joe’s has a good brown rice that is great for those nights when you are in a rush but still want to prepare a healthy meal for your family. It’s also super convenient to bring to work. Just heat the pouch in the microwave, add to a bowl and mix in some veggies and maybe some avocado and hummus. Now that’s what I call a simple, quick, yet DELICIOUS bowl of yum!

So there you have it. Those are my tips for staying healthy and plant-based on a tight budget. I hope this helps.

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