There’s this really big piece missing when we try to adopt a healthy lifestyle. And it perhaps isn’t just one piece, or always the same piece, and sometimes maybe it isn’t missing, but rather is mixed up and the wrong piece is in the wrong place. It’s the idea that eating healthy is expensive, hard on the budget and not something you can sustain if you are on a lower income, a budget-conscious student, or a mum raising kids. It’s the idea that it’s hard to do with just a basic pantry that’s not filled with all kinds of fancy ingredients, 17 different vegetables and every fruit you could imagine.
And I get how it’s happened: we see these pictures on Instagram, or social media of health conscious people who have this beautiful, pristine rainbow fridges, or fruit bowls piled high with fresh, juicy produce, and we think to ourselves “I don’t have that.” “That’s not what my fridge looks like.” Well guess what: neither does mine. Partly because I definitely have little pieces of kale leaves, beetroot stains and dribbles of tomato juice across the (once) pristine shelves, but also because I don’t have that plethora of ingredients and variety of food.
Maybe sometimes, when there is lots on sale, or there is lots in season, but most of the time, there is a more minimalist selection. But that’s totally okay. Because what I have is still healthy, still fills me up, and still gets completely used and not wasted.
Eating healthy does not have to be expensive or fancy or involve lots of ingredients. It does not have to take heaps of time or put you over budget every single week. In fact, eating healthy is sustainable. It’s sustainable for you in terms of your time, it’s sustainable for the earth, it’s sustainable for your budget, and it’s sustainable for your healthy lifestyle. Let’s talk sustainable eating:
Budget: The notion that eating healthy is expensive and not within your means is a common myth that has circled social media 3 times over, and then been perpetuated by pictures of pristine veggie packed fridges in your Instagram stream. The name of the game is making choices: making choices of what you can have this week, and then maybe not next week because it isn’t on sale any more, or what you can only have every once in a while as a treat. Set a weekly budget, and then shop the foods that are in season, on sale and basic – fancy, exotic fruits and vegetables are more expensive. Here’s what else you can do for budget friendly healthy eating:
- Don’t be turned off by blemished fruits/vegetables or ones that are reduced because they have bruises or are older – all are still perfectly okay, and are perfect for a cheaper option.
- As long as it won’t go to waste, buying in larger quantities is better – things like apples, carrots, pumpkin etc. that will last for a while is perfect to buy in bulk
- Add flavour with herbs and spices! Buying sauces, marinades and condiments is expensive and not near as healthy as natural herbs and spices!
- Ditch the meat and choose plant-based protein. Things like chickpeas, lentils and kidney beans are much cheaper than meat and part of a much more sustainable lifestyle for you healthwise. If you don’t want to go fully vegetarian, 1-2 days a week, swap your meat for beans instead!
- Boost your food with greens – whether you add it to a stir fry or to your smoothie, buying a bag of spinach for the week is well worth the $4-$5 it will cost you. Not only does it add heaps of nutrients to your daily intake, but also adds fiber to your diet so that you can feel fuller for longer.
Leftovers: Whether you intentionally create leftovers and make meals in larger quantities to have some for lunch the next day or freeze for dinner, learning how to use leftovers is a great way to create a sustainable diet. If you are often stuck with a random little bit of several different things in your fridge, here are some ideas for how to use them:
- Leftover sauces make great fillings for wraps or toppings for open face sandwiches – add some greens and other fresh vegetables and you can get another meal out of it!
- Legumes, like chickpeas, lentils and black beans can be easily turned into dips and sauces using your blender. Choose your flavour, add a few extra ingredients and blend away!
- Use your pureed soup to coat pasta and veggies for a creamy pasta dish – simply cook your pasta and veggies as regular, reduce the soup until it thickens and then combine the two!
- Soup is a great way to make use of little bits and pieces of vegetables left in the fridge. If you make a pureed soup, you can hide anything inside!
- There’s plenty more in this list here for you to check out as well!
Reducing waste: Let’s all get over this fear of blemishes, bruises, spots and bumps on fruits and vegetables. They happen naturally; they show the food is authentic and unmodified. Apples that don’t brown are showing up on the market because we don’t like it when our apples get brown, and yet to do this, they have to be heavily modified from their original, natural method of growth. And it is not good – for us or for mother nature. The good news though, is that if you care less about any blemishes or aesthetically less than pleasing touches on fresh produce, you’ll likely get it at a pretty good price! Many small scale farmers happily sell “seconds” of products for a discounted rate, and even the grocery stores are starting to put these products on their shelves for less than the blemish free, full price counterpart.
But even more than this, even more than simply being aware of what you buy, be aware of what you don’t use that you already bought! Sustainable healthy eating is discouraging when you feel like all that comes of it is food waste and that it in fact ends up feeling not sustainable at all. Be aware. Be cautious of what you buy, what you use, what you need and what you end up throwing out every single week. Plan your meals if you need to, or simply plan meals according to what you have, not what you need to buy. Less waste is more sustainable for you, your lifestyle and the earth.