But I still have to eat. I don't exactly have high nutritional standards (I've eaten a room temperature can of store-brand soup three days a week for the past four months), but I can't eat ramen noodles too often or I want to poke my eyes out. Yeah, they're cheap, but they taste cheap, they're devoid of all nutrition, and eating them more than once a week makes you feel like a poverty case. I'm also not an athelete, nor do I work out much, so I don't have the caloric or protein requirements that some people do.
So, inspired by a post from a friend and an MSN Money article I found via Lifehacker, I'm going to share some of my tips on how to save at least a little bit of money and still eat at least decently.
- Don't go to McDonald's. I know the Golden Arches beckon, but you're going to end up paying $7 for 1,000 Calories of unhealthiness.
- Spend a lot of time at other people's houses. Eventually they'll feel obligated to feed you. ;)
- Date someone who works for a restaurant. Sometimes there are leftovers or messed up orders than just need a good home. Like a to-go box and then your belly.
- If you're always running late in the morning, don't hit the drive-thru and drop $5, keep a box of Slim-Fast handy and slam one on the way to work. For only having about 200 Calories, they do a decent job of fending off the hunger until you have time to regroup.
- Buy bananas. They're cheap, nutritious, they've got a built-in handle, and the thick skin means organic is a waste of money.
- Make coffee at home. I use a Clever Dripper almost every day. Yes, it takes a few minutes, but so does driving to a coffee shop, parking, waiting in line, ordering, paying, waiting again, and then getting back on the road. I even bought a whole bunch of the paper coffee cups and lids that coffee shops use and take that instead of a mug that I'll probably loose. Not exactly "eco," but at least it feels like a coffee shop experience.
Also, if you're watching your weight, black coffee or tea is basically devoid of calories, while a Grande Mocha has at least 200.
- Get off your high horse and shop at Wal-Mart for at least some things. Yes, they're a gigantic corporation, but they employ a lot of people and pay their taxes, just like everyone else. (Plus, they're basically free of union influence, if that matters to you.) Their massive size enables them to get screamin' deals on some common items, but don't just assume they're cheapest on everything - Safeway and King Soopers are sometimes better, just check the ads.
Food "staples," like oatmeal, yogurt, eggs, etc are generally cheaper at Wally World, and non-food necessities, like TP, dishwasher detergent, etc, can trim a few bucks you can spend on better food.
- Figure out what you can eat a lot of or what you can eat often and try to find the raw materials in bulk. My favorite items are pasta, oatmeal, eggs, peanut butter, and pretty much anything involving broccoli. Not really anything that you can get in bulk, but the big can of store brand oatmeal is always less per ounce than the smaller packages.
- Buy things that keep while they're on sale and stash them in the cupboard / pantry / stack in the corner. Remember about what's there, and supplement them with the fresh or perishable stuff when you're looking for that night's dinner at the store.
- Your freezer is your friend. A big hunk of cheese isn't that much more than a little one, but it'll spoil if you just leave it in the fridge. Cut it up and freeze the part you're not going to eat right away. Also, frozen veggies are usually a better deal then fresh, and their texture and nutrients are better than canned.
- All that being said, just buying the cheapest crap you can find isn't really going to help your body or mind. You should also figure out what you need to or are willing to spend a little extra money on to feel better. I noticed that when I buy cheap bread, I need to eat a lot more of it to feel satiated; so I've started buying the redorkulously expensive Ezekiel bread that's in the freezer section, because it actually has some food value and fills me up.
Of course, I don't follow all of these tips all of the time. I get lazy and buy a frozen pizza sometimes, and I still go out to eat, and out for good coffee, but keeping this stuff in mind does help save a bit here and there.
Now here are a couple of my fave cheap meals...
- Oatmeal. I have a hard time getting bored with the humble oat. It's just so versatile. For breakfast I often do hot oatmeal with brown sugar and some combination of peanut butter, fruit (bananas or blueberries are the best), bacon bits (the real kind, not the weird little crunchy ones, and yes, I said bacon), raisins, walnuts, etc. Water or milk, 4:30 on half power in the microwave.
For a cold breakfast, half a cup of dry, rolled oats with a little tub of yogurt it the shizz.
For a savory switch, make oatmeal and stir an egg, some soy sauce, and salt and pepper into it. It may need to be re-nuked a bit to cook the egg all the way, but it's pretty tasty. Bacon is also a good addition, as always.
- Grilled cheese. You can't go wrong here. Bread, cheese, condiment of your choice, butter on the outside (or in the pan, if you prefer), and BAM, lunch. Or dinner. I like to make mine with a little piece of lunch meat and mustard inside, then fry an egg over-easy and put it on top. The egg, meat, and mustard kind of simulate a fancy French sandwich that I can't pronounce. Pesto is a nice touch, if you've got some handy, but there are infinite possibilities here.
- Crazy-ass peanut butter broccoli noodle concoction. I can't find the actual recipe, but here's the basics: Japanese noodles (buckwheat, maybe?), broccoli, cooked chicken or tuna (canned is good) or raw or cooked shrimp, peanut butter, soy sauce, cider vinegar, something spicy. Cook the noodles in boiling water and when almost done, add the broccoli and shrimp, if you're using it, and cook or warm through. Meanwhile, mix the peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, and spicy stuff in a small bowl (gently microwaving or heating on the stove helps combine everything). Drain the noodles and add chicken or tuna if you want that way, then stir in the peanut sauce. There ya go, nutritious and delicious. Adjust seasonings to taste, of course.
I hope this gives you some good ideas, but you know your body best, so don't deprive it of anything it needs. Hopefully cheap food can be fun and healthy, too! Got anything to add? I'd love to hear it.