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Tips for Cooking Healthy Meals on a Budget

Tips for Cooking Healthy Meals on a Budget

Holistic Health Counselor Jackie Topol knows a thing or two about cooking healthy on a budget, she’s been doing it her whole life! Relish in her realistic and helpful tips for making sure you eat well, no matter what kinda wallet you are packing.


Plan ahead: Before you go to the supermarket, make a detailed list of all the items you need. You’ll spend less money and time in the grocery store, and steer clear from impulse buys that are generally filled with calories or sugar.

Keep your pantry well stocked: Didn’t have time to make it to the grocery store this week? By keeping healthy products in your home you’ll find it easy to whip up a nutritious meal in minutes. See my pantry list (below) for some examples!

Buy in bulk when you can: Purchasing dry goods like nuts and grains from the bulk bins at health food stores will save you lots of money and you’ll get the exact amount of food you want. Just remember: keep all nuts and seeds in your fridge or freezer to prevent the fat in them from going bad.

Don’t be a brand snob: Many store brands are just as good as the brand item. (Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods 365 are great examples) Don’t believe me? Try the store brand one time and see if you notice a difference – you probably won’t!

Eat with the seasons: You’ll save lots of money by eating fruits and vegetables that are in season. For example, cherries in the summer are a steal at $2.99/lb but jump to $5.99/lb just a few months later. Try to become familiar with what’s in season in your region and also visit your farmer’s market to get fresh, local produce. Their prices are often times better than what you would find in your grocery store and the quality is much better too. Not sure where the closest farmers market is? Review:

Invest in several good quality items: Buy a few expensive ingredients but use them sparingly! Some examples are: extra virgin olive oil, soy sauce, and dark chocolate. The more expensive versions of these products are worth it because they pack much more flavor in (so you’ll use/eat less) and they are generally processed better too.

Be aware of your hang-ups in the kitchen: Hate waiting for rice to cook? Don’t like the tedious work of chopping all those veggies for that stir-fry? Then take shortcuts to make sure you do make that healthy meal. Buy already made brown rice from your local Chinese takeout or pre-chopped veggies (for example sliced mushrooms are no more expensive than whole).

Use fresh herbs & spices: This tactic helps you boost flavor without calories. Many recipes call for fancy oils but often times what’s best for our health and our wallet are some fresh herbs or spices. (Dried herbs are okay too!) My favorites are fresh rosemary, thyme, and basil; and for dried herbs & spices I like: oregano, cumin, curry powder, cayenne, tumeric, cinnamon and za’taar.

Food Safety: Ever thought about food safety? Simply washing the veggies may not be enough to keep up with food hygiene. If you have children or you work as a nanny, then hygiene while preparing or handling food must be quite an important aspect to follow. You can check out Food safety level 2 and similar food safety courses designed for food handlers like you. Most of them are budget-friendly courses and thus won’t cost you much.

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Cook once, eat twice: Instead of halving your recipes, make the full recipe. You’ll thank yourself later when you’ve come home from a long day of work and have a homemade meal waiting for you. All you need to do is stick it in the oven/microwave and reheat! Don’t think you’ll finish all those leftovers before they go bad? Stick a portion of your leftovers in the freezer so that it’s ready for you for another time.

Waste not: Lots of dishes can be made with less than presentable foods. Add wilted greens to soups or stews, stash overripe bananas in the freezer so you can make a smoothie or banana bread later, or stick slices of stale bread into the food processor to make homemade bread crumbs or dice them up and toast them to make croutons.

Host a potluck party: Tired of your own cooking? Invite some friends over for a healthy potluck! You’ll be able to spend quality time with friends and swap recipe ideas too! (You can even have recipe cards ready so people can jot down how they made their dish.) To make things more interesting, try to center your potluck around a theme or have an Iron Chef competition to see who can make the best dish with a specific ingredient.


Foods to keep in your pantry:

  • Good quality olive oil
  • Toasted sesame oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Canned diced tomatoes
  • Vegetable stock
  • Canned beans (chickpeas and cannellini are my faves!)
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Whole wheat couscous (cooks in 5 min!)
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Any boxed soups by Imagine (my fave is butternut squash)
  • Raw nuts and seeds
  • Peanut butter
  • Almond butter
  • Good quality jam (get one that lists fruit before sugar)
  • Dried fruit
  • Oatmeal
  • Agave nectar
  • Whole wheat pastry flour (when baking, substitute half of required white flour w/ whole wheat pastry flour to get more whole grains into your meal)
  • Foods for your freezer:
  • Frozen butternut squash
  • Frozen corn
  • Frozen peas
  • Leftover frozen brown rice
  • Frozen berries
  • Frozen stir-fry veggies
  • Frozen veggie burgers

Jackie Topol is a Holistic Health Counselor who received her training through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Currently, she is getting her Masters in Nutrition at NYU and is a Registered Dietician canditate. Jackie is also a Culinary Instructor and Nutrition Educator in the New York area where she teaches kids and adults about healthy eating and cooking. She has also helped numerous people transition to a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle. With the belief that foods can heal, Jackie uses an integrative approach in her practice by incorporating both holistic healing modalities with western medicine and dietary guidelines. To find out more, please visit her website at: