How Healthy Portion Sizes Save You Money

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Eating healthy portion sizes can be tough. 

Many of us overeat. This habit, however, is a hazard to your health as well as your budget.

If you make a nice home-cooked meal of 5 servings and eat 3 servings instead of just 1, you’re likely overeating and overspending on groceries.

In America, we are often encouraged to overeat by advertising and marketing. “Bigger is better,” they say. “Why buy the small soda when you can get a large for 25 cents more?” they push. This mentality is becoming more widespread in nations across the world.

The fact is, bigger isn’t always better. Those extra cents and dollars add up. Whether its your health or your wallet, the cost will add up.

Of course, we all have specific dietary needs. Talk to your medical provider about healthy dietary habits and portion sizes that are most appropriate for you.

Here are a few tips for controlling your portion sizes:

  • Order small sizes and portions of food at restaurants, especially fast food restaurants. A small hamburger is just as tasty as a giant one. 
  • If the food only comes in one size, consider how much of it is really one serving. Bagels and muffins in America, for example, have increased in size over the years. Many of them are often 2 or 3 servings! Eat your fill and save the other half for later.
  • If you go out to eat, box up half of your meal to eat for lunch the next day. Leftovers make great lunches.  
  • Try measuring out a few items of your favorite foods: you may be surprised at what an actual tablespoon of peanut butter or a serving of chips really looks like.
  • Check out this portion sizing chart from Culture Connoisseur to see if your idea of a portion measures up
  • Recognize when you feel satisfied, rather than feeling “stuffed.” Many people think being “full” means eating to the point of discomfort. Your belly shouldn’t hurt because you have eaten so much.
  • Remember that controlling your portions doesn’t mean limiting the pleasure of eating: food is a pleasure. Try eating small portions of lots of foods. Have a piece of dark chocolate rather than a whole bar, a slice of cheese rather than half the block, or 1 glass of wine rather than half the bottle. You’ll save yourself some money and be able to enjoy the food or drink the next day.

Leave your thoughts on healthy portion sizes below.

The Sale Trap: When Sale Items Cost You Money

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There’s nothing better than seeing a favorite grocery item on sale.

Shopping for sale items is a smart way to save money. Many of us, however, fall prey to what I like to call The Sale Trap.

The Sale Trap is when a person begins overspending because they are buying too many sale items that they don’t need.

“But it’s on sale! It’s a good deal!”

Whoa, now. It may be a great deal, but if you don’t need it, it’s not a great deal for you.

Buying items on sale only saves money if you are buying the items you actually need.

Here are a few tips for smart shopping:

  • Make a shopping list
  • Look for sales and coupons on those items
  • Buy only those items
  • Avoid tempting “low-price” pitches for items you don’t need

The next time you see a “great deal,” remind yourself of whether or not you need that item. Check yourself or you’re gonna wreck yourself. And your bank account.

Happy shopping.

Spice Up Your Life! A Basic Guide to Herbs and Spices

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Is your food bland? When eating on a budget, it can be easy to fall into a rut of the “same old, same old.”

If this is true for you, consider adding more spices and herbs to your meals. While a collection of spices takes time to build, in part due to the cost, I have compiled a list of my favorites to get you started. You won’t be sorry.

  • Basil: sweet yet peppery and a staple of French and Italian Cuisine. Add it to soups, poultry, fish, sauces, tomatoes, potatoes, and dressings. Get it fresh or dried.
  • Black Pepper: a staple in many American kitchens, black pepper adds a great kick to a dish without a lot of heat or intense spiciness.
  • Oregano: common in French, Italian, and Greek dishes, oregano has a strong flavor that goes great with tomato-based dishes, as well as cheese, eggplant, poultry, seafood, eggs, bread, casseroles, pasta, and salad. Get it fresh or dried.
  • Rosemary: Like oregano and basil, rosemary is commonly used in French and Italian food, and has a sweet flavor. Use it in meat mariandes, on poultry, seafood, and in soups and dressings. Get it fresh or dried.
  • Parsley: this herb is a staple of French cuisine, commonly paired with garlic, and goes great on eggs, poultry, seafood, in soups, casseroles, and on cheese, eggs, and potatoes. Get it fresh or dried.
  • Cilantro: cilantro is used throughout the world to add a fresh flavor to eggs, soup, sauces, poultry, fish, potatoes, tomatoes, and seafood. It goes great with lemon or lime. Get it fresh.
  • Chili Peppers: available in many varieties, including cayenne, chili peppers add a kick to any meat, poultry, seafood, soups, hearty stew, or bean dishes. Try different varieties out if you enjoy spicy food.
  • Dill: dill weed is a mellow yet bright seasoning that is great with seafood, poultry, and light, creamy sauces.
  • Cinnamon: a warm, sweet spice that can be added to desserts, beverages, stews, apples, onions, carrots, sweet potatoes, and spinach, among other things.
  • Cardamom: cardamom can be added to both sweet or savory dishes depending on the variety you choose. It is commonly used in the Mediterranean.
  • Cumin: this spice is used all around the world and is great with seafood, poultry, long-simmering dishes, stews, lentils, tomatoes, and dressings.
  • Coriander Powder: a warm, sweet spice, coriander can be used in sweet and savory dishes, including meat, poultry, seafood, and desserts.
  • Curry Powder: a mix of spices that often includes coriander, turmeric, cumin, red pepper, and fenugreek). Curry powder differs from the general term “curry” often used to characterize a variety of dishes from around the world.
  • Bay Leaves: bay leaves are savory and potent. They add flavor to meat marinades, poultry, stews, soups, and sauces. You will only need to add one or two to a dish.
  • Old Bay Seasoning: Ok, I admit it. I grew up in the Southeastern United States, where Old Bay is loved and commonly used on seafood dishes and in seafood sauces. It also goes nicely on corn and potatoes. It is a mixture of mustard, paprika, celery salt, bay leaf, black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, mace, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, and ginger.
  • Garlic: this strong, savory seasoning adds flavor to most any egg, poultry, meat, seafood, stew, soup, sauce or dressing.
  • Onion: they are the best. Why? I dedicated a whole blog post to them here to explain why.
  • Ginger: sweet, and spicy. Ginger can be added to desserts, beverages, sweet breads, soups, stews, rice, poultry, meat, sauces, and other things. It is dirt cheap, too. Find it in the produce section.
  • Mint: if you’re not familiar with mint, well, there’s just no hope for you. (I kid.) Mint is sweet, fresh, and adds a great kick to beverages, desserts, and many savory dishes.
  • Nutmeg: like cinnamon, nutmeg is a warm, sweet spice used in beverages, desserts, as well as meat dishes, stews, and sauces.
  • Mustard Seed: add a tangy flavor to salads, stews, poultry, and Mediterranean and Indian dishes using mustard seed.
  • Tarragon: a favorite of French cooks, tarragon is great with meat, poultry, and eggs.

So there you have it! Take your boring food and turn it into something delicious with these and other herbs and spices. I suggest building your collection up over time.

In addition to my list, I am providing a few resources that give awesome explanations for uses of different spices and herbs.

I tried to find a few sources that organized everything by geography, but I was obviously unable to provide a fair and broad offering of such content seeing as there are so many different cuisines throughout the world. If you don’t see your favorite spices or cuisine, tell us about it in the comments.

The Ultimate List of Cheap, Portable, and Mostly-Healthy Snacks

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Everyone likes a good snack. Unfortunately, many snack foods are unhealthy, over-processed and overpriced.

If you’re looking for healthy, cheap snacks that you can toss in your lunchbox, purse, or backpack, look no further.

Here is the Ultimate List of Cheap, Portable, and Mostly-Healthy Snacks:

  • Cheese
  • Yogurt (watch out for brands with high sugar content)
  • Carrots 
  • Green beans
  • Cucumbers
  • Zucchini slices
  • Squash slices
  • Celery
  • Apple
  • Melon
  • Banana
  • Berries
  • Oranges
  • Raisins
  • Applesauce
  • Sugar-snap peas
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Olives
  • Pickles
  • Bean salad
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • A small salad
  • A small sandwich
  • A small croissant
  • Tortilla
  • Dark chocolate chips
  • Cereal (store-brand; go for the less sugary kinds)
  • Granola (homemade)
  • Graham crackers
  • Nuts
  • Popcorn
  • Pita bread
  • Wasabi peas
  • Pretzels
  • Crackers
  • Peanut butter
  • Oatmeal
  • Whole-wheat bread
  • Pasta salad
  • Slices of deli meat
  • Water with lemon or lime
  • Coffee
  • Tea

Do you have a favorite cheap, portable, and healthy snack? Leave your suggestion in the comments below.

How to Boil an Egg

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Many people can’t boil an egg.

It’s a shame, because eggs are rather cheap, nutritious, tasty, and can be added to a number of dishes.

I’m here to help with easy instructions for the perfect hard-boiled egg.

  1. Take out a saucepan.
  2. Put the eggs in the saucepan in a single layer. Don’t stack the eggs.
  3. Cover the eggs in at least 2 inches of cold water.
  4. Turn the burner to high and bring the water to a boil.
  5. Once the water is boiling, remove the pan from the burner.
  6. Cover the pan.
  7. Let the eggs sit for 12 minutes.
  8. While the eggs sit, fill up a bowl with cold water.
  9. Once the 12 minutes have passed, move each egg into the bowl of cold water. Note: If you are making a large batch of eggs, you may want to cut one of them open to make sure they are done. If they need a few minutes more, keep them covered until you feel they are ready. Then, put them in the cold water.
  10. Once the eggs have cooled, remove them from the water and store in a covered container. Or eat all of them at once like a hungry mongoose.

Congratulations. You have mastered a basic culinary skill most people totally screw up.

Inexpensive Pre- and Post-Workout Snacks for Athletes

ImageWhen you’re living on a budget, it can be a challenge to eat well, let alone eat well to fuel your body for a workout.

There are a lot of fitness food products out there, some more expensive than others.

Here’s a basic list of inexpensive pre-and post-workout snacks:

Note: I am not a medical professional. Always consult a medical professional regarding your fitness and dietary needs.

PRE-WORKOUT SNACKS (be sure to give yourself enough time to digest, and save the heartier snacks for the intense workouts):

    • Water with lemon or lime
    • Oranges (in season, on sale)
    • Applesauce (no-added sugar)
    • A small iced-coffee with a splash of milk (make it at home or work)
    • A handful of pretzels and a small spoonful of peanut butter
    • A slice of toast with a dab of peanut butter
    • Half of a small turkey sandwich, or a few slices of deli meat

POST-WORKOUT SNACKS (choose a snack that is proportionate to the intensity of your workout. If you are feeling ill during or after a workout, consult a medical professional.)

  • Water with lemon or lime
  • A handful of pretzels and a spoonful of peanut butter
  • Simple fruit smoothie
  • A small peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • A handful of salted nuts
  • A small glass of chocolate milk
  • Cereal and milk (just don’t ruin your appetite for dinner)

Superfoods at Super-Amazing Prices

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“Superfoods” are foods packed with nutrition.

You may be surprised to learn that many superfoods are available at super-amazing prices.

Here’s a list of superfoods you can find at great prices (depending on where you choose to shop, of course):

  • Apples (in season)
  • Asparagus (look for sales or frozen)
  • Avocados (in season)
  • Bananas (slice and freeze for a great treat)
  • Beans (get dried for super cheap)
  • Beets (get them in season and roast with a bit of olive oil)
  • Bell peppers (look for sales)
  • Berries (in season or frozen)
  • Blueberries (try frozen if they are out of season)
  • Broccoli (try frozen if out of season)
  • Brussels Sprouts (find the right recipe and they’re amazing)
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Dark chocolate chips (pop them in the freezer)
  • Eggs
  • Fish (look for sales on frozen or fresh)
  • Garlic
  • Grapes
  • Kale (get bunches for a great price in season)
  • Lemon, Lime (add either to water, drinks, and dishes)
  • Mangoes (in season and on sale)
  • Mushrooms
  • Nuts (unsalted, look for sales)
  • Oats (plain)
  • Olive oil
  • Oranges (if in season)
  • Peaches (in season and on sale)
  • Pumpkin (canned or fresh in season)
  • Rice – brown rice, in particular
  • Salmon (look for canned/packaged, frozen, or fresh on sale)
  • Spinach (look for frozen if fresh is pricey)
  • Sweet potatoes (look for sales)
  • Swiss chard (cheap, especially in season)
  • Tea (green or black)
  • Tomatoes (get canned if not in season)
  • Turkey (the whole, unprocessed kind comes surprisingly cheap!)
  • Walnuts (look for sales)
  • Watermelon (in season)
  • Winter squash (in season)
  • Yogurt (look for sales)

Note: this isn’t a single shopping list. If you’re eating on a budget, it is best to choose your favorites from this list and look for them when in season or on sale. If you try to buy the whole list, you may end up waaaay over budget and with a lot of produce spoiling before you can get to it.

What are some of your favorite superfoods?

Recipe: Easy-Does-It Rice and Beans with Veggies

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This dish can be wrapped up in a tortilla, or eaten plain over rice.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 white onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp of olive oil (estimate: pour gently counting for 1 second)
  • 1 can of black beans, un-rinsed
  • 1 handful of mushrooms, peppers, or half a can of diced tomatoes, depending on what you like
  • 1/2 packet of taco seasoning, or whatever other seasoning you like
  • 1 cup of rice
  • 1 package of tortillas (optional)
  • A few pinches of salt
  • A few pinches of pepper (optional)
  • Shredded cheese (optional)
  • Salsa (optional)
  1. Combine 1 cup of rice and 2 cups of water in a pot. Add a small slice of butter if you like. Cook according to the directions on the bag/box of rice (this usually includes bringing it all to a boil, covering with a lid, setting it on simmer for 20 minutes, and then keeping it covered off the burner for 5 minutes. But it depends on the type of rice you bought, so read up and plan accordingly.)
  2. In a separate pan, turn the heat up to medium-high. Add your olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the onions and garlic. Stir them around until the onions glisten.
  3. Add a pinch of salt.
  4. Add pepper if you like pepper.
  5. If you want mushrooms, now is a good time to add them. Let them cook for a bit until they get soft.
  6. Stir in the can of beans, un-rinsed.
  7. Add your peppers/tomatoes if you want them. Make sure you drain them if they come in a can. The dish won’t need more liquid.
  8. Add your taco/other seasoning and stir it all around.
  9. Set it on simmer until your rice is ready.
  10. You can serve the bean mixture over the rice, or combine it with the rice and wrap it up in a tortilla.
  11. Add cheese and/or salsa if you like.

If you’re feeling ambitious, serve all of this with a side of steamed veggies or salad.

You’re ready to eat.

Learning to Love Your Food Routine

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One of the biggest challenges of eating on a budget is that you face a bit of routine, depending on how tight your budget is.

Now, eating on a budget doesn’t have to be gruelingly boring. Even the most mundane ingredients can transform into the most delicious home-cooked meals.

More on that later, though.

When you’re on a budget, one of the simplest ways to ensure that you aren’t going to spend too much money is to have a routine.

For some people, this means eating oatmeal and a half a banana every single morning for breakfast.

For others, it means only going out to eat twice a month.

For you, it might mean only eating meat once or twice a week, as opposed to every single day.

A routine is has to be something that you determine, otherwise, you’ll fall off the bandwagon and the next thing you know, you’ve splurged and are over-budget.

Here are a few tips for creating your Food Routine:

  • Recognize what you love about food. Embrace those things and include them in your routine.
  • Learn to spice up the mundane. Having oatmeal every day for breakfast can get boring, so I change up the ingredients. Do some research on how you can change things up.
  • Don’t pay for your vices, be they Oreos, ice cream, cases of soda or beer, or, I don’t know, huge amounts of zucchini that rot in your fridge before you eat them. By recognizing your vices and avoiding them, you can avoid a routine that may be hard on your health and your wallet.
  • Appreciate what a time-saver a routine is. You save time when you wake up and know exactly what you are going to eat for breakfast and/or lunch. Instead of staring at your refrigerator or pantry for hours like a moron, you’ll be able to get on with your day.
  • Don’t let other people deter you. Some people in the office or at school may pick up on the fact that you eat a peanut butter sandwich every single day for lunch. “Martin, are you really going to eat another one of those things? Come out with us and get a terrible $9 turkey wrap.” What do they care? All you need to say is “I love PB&Js” and they will go away. And drown their jealousy, confusion, and sorrow by spending $12 on a soggy plate of Thai noodles.

What does my Food Routine look like? I love easy but hearty breakfasts (oatmeal all the way, baby), simple packed lunches (sandwich + crunchy item + vegetable. Or leftovers), and cooking dinner with my significant other. I’ve never been a big meat-eater, so I only eat it a couple of times a week. I have one or two go-to snacks, rather than a pantry-full: pretzels and pickles, for example. I reserve beer and wine for special nights in or out with friends, rather than having a drink every night.

What is your Food Routine?