So, last week was the third week in my food budget challenge. I only had $40 left to spend for the two remaining weeks, week 3 and week 4. This challenge has proven much more difficult than my optimism led me to believe week 1 but I have learned some critical lessons, from my costly mistakes to my many successes, which I will definitely take with me to do better in the upcoming months. It takes a while to build consistency with any habit so I am still content in the fact that I am moving in the right direction. I hope that you have used some of the advice that I have shared and I plan to continue to share any tips and tricks that I discover on my own journey towards eating healthy on a budget. This week, I learned:
#1: Be creative with what you already have
My long time impulse for making food is to come up with ideas for what I want to make, figure out what I have already, and then go out and purchase the ingredients I need. Since I wanted to stay within my budget of $40 for two weeks, I resisted this urge. Instead, I took an inventory of all my food and planned a menu for the week of breakfasts, lunch, dinner, and 2 snacks based on the food that I already had. This did not mean that I could not be adventurous with my cooking but that I had to be even more creative by trying to make the new recipes fit the ingredients that I had. For example, I wanted cookies for dessert since we no longer had any store bought desserts. So, I found some almond flour that we had stored away in the back of a cabinet, hidden by the food that we rotate out more often. On the back, there was this delightfully easy vegan chocolate chip cookie recipe. I did not have a lot of the ingredients listed but I got creative by substituting with ingredients that I did have.
Butter Pecan Cookies (Vegan and Gluten Free)
Adapted from Elana’s Pantry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe
2 ½ cups blanched almond flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp Himalayan sea salt
2 tbs. Butter Pecan Maple Syrup (plus extra for cross hatch on top of cookie)
1 tbs. coconut sugar (plus extra for cross hatch on top of cookie)
½ cup canned sweet potato puree (unsweetened)
½ cup coconut oil
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Mix all dry ingredients together
3. If coconut oil is solid, heat coconut oil either on the stove or microwave. I did 15-20 seconds in my microwave. Mix remaining liquid ingredients into the coconut oil.
4. Combine liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients.
5. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Form the dough into 1” diameter balls.
6. Dip a fork into some maple syrup and make cross hatches on the top of the cookies.
7. Sprinkle a tiny bit of coconut sugar on top of the cookies.
8. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes.
These cookies are not super sweet but they are great if you want to feel a little indulgent without feeling guilty. You can always add a little bit more coconut sugar or butter pecan maple syrup if you want it a little sweeter. You may be able to get a similar taste with traditional maple syrup but adding in chopped pecans. They have a great dose of protein from the almond flour and sweet potatoes. You can also freeze the dough. Since I was only sharing this with one other person, I split the dough in half. It thawed really nicely on the counter for a couple hours before I made the second batch.
#2: Do not just look at price when looking for the lowest cost
It is more than just price that must be factored in when considering buying an item. It is important to shop for items that will give you the highest caloric and nutrient bang for your buck.
For example, I had a choice between Luke’s Cheddar Clouds versus Beanitos (bean tortilla chips). Now, both are made from a minimal list of really high quality ingredients but one also acts as a serving of vegetables. If I eat the Luke’s Cheddar Puffs, I also have to eat an additional serving of vegetables. With the Beanitos, I get a delicious snack and a serving of vegetables. They both have the same calorie content and are roughly the same price but the additional price for another vegetable plus the convenience of not having to figure out another vegetable to eat makes the Beanitos a wiser monetary and healthy snack choice.
#3: Counting calories
So, I am going really strong with my trick of breaking up large bulk items into individual bags to save money and calories (plus, it makes it so much easier to have a grab and go snack), but now, I am having the opposite problem. Sometimes now, I find that I am eating too few calories a day. When I was eating out almost daily, I knew that there were a lot of calories in these meals. The nature of eating out generally, even if it is healthy, is that these meals are high in calories. So, as a Vegetarian now eating at home, I find that many of my meals are much lower in calories. It is important for our bodies to function properly that we get enough calories into them. As someone who has dieted, I have found that my best range is 1500-1800 calories per day but a couple of days I did not make it to my minimum. So, I have been employing a technique that I have used in the past in order to meet my daily caloric intake without going over, in addition to meal planning: a food journal. A food journal is a daily diary of the foods you eat and their calorie content. At the end of the day, you total the amount to see if you have hit your target. Many people use this technique for weight loss. It is a great way to maintain your own accountability. In addition to counting calories, I like to use my food journal to keep track of the amount of water I drink throughout the day as well as the number of fruits and vegetables I have consumed because these are the areas that I find that I do not always get enough of throughout the day. You can include anything you want to keep track of in your journal.
Have you ever kept a food journal? Did it help you to meet your goal?
I hope you enjoy reading this week’s blog post and that both my successes and failures have guided you on your journey to getting healthy while trying to maintain a budget. As always, I love to hear from my readers so feel free to leave a comment below.