Simple, Frugal & Healthy

Simple, Frugal & Healthy

Post written by Leo Babauta.

There’s a saying about hiring people that goes something like, “Fast, cheap or good. Pick two.” Meaning you can’t get all three.

It turns out, with food, you can get all three. Food can be fast, cheap and good at the same time.

The key is cooking your own food, which is way cheaper and healthier than eating out or buying convenience food (pre-packaged, pre-prepared foods). Yes, that means it’s often more work, so how can it be fast? You can find ways to simplify cooking so that cooking can be quick and painless. Or, if you’d prefer, you can slow down and enjoy the pleasure of cooking simple, tasty and healthy food.

Cooking is Cheaper & Healthier

When you eat at a restaurant or pick up a quick bite to eat at fast food, you are paying for the convenience. If it’s cheap food (like McDonald’s), then you are getting very cheap food, and probably also unhealthy food (which means you’ll pay for it later in medical bills). Usually if you prepared the same food yourself, you can make it more cheaply, and healthier.

Many people eat at home but buy pre-packaged foods, like frozen dinners, frozen pizza, canned soups or chili, and other prepared foods. This is often unhealthier, and very likely more expensive than cooking for yourself.

If you cook for yourself, you can include fresh vegetables, whole foods, real nutrients, without all the extra sugar, salt and fat that are added to packaged and restaurant foods that make things taste good but are unhealthy (and costly).

Cooking for yourself means your ingredients are fresher and healthier. It means you know what’s going into your food. It means you’re not paying for the extra packaging, for the preparation, and for the hidden ingredients.

It’s also a lot of fun once you learn a few simple methods.

Simple Methods

So how can you make cooking simple and easy? A few simple methods help:

  1. Use a few ingredients. Simple meals only need 3-4 ingredients — an example might include a stir-fry with onions, olive oil, veggies and tofu (or some other lean protein).
  2. Learn to steam, bake, saute, stir-fry. These are simple, healthy methods that take little time and effort. Steam some veggies and protein with a few simple spices. Make a quick salad and bake some lean protein with a few spices rubbed on it. Saute some garlic and greens with garlic, and then some protein.
  3. Chopping made easy. A good sharp knife is a good investment. Chopping up some garlic and onions takes seconds. Chopping up some kale or other greens also takes about 10 seconds.
  4. Soups and chili are also easy. Saute some garlic & onions, beans, some veggies, maybe some other protein. For soup, add some veggie broth and water. For chili, add tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. Add some spices, simmer a bit, and you’re done.
  5. Cook in bulk. Cooking large quantities — say a big batch of chili on Sunday — means the rest of the week is much easier. You could even cook 2-3 meals on Sunday and alternate eating them for lunch and dinner throughout the week.

This stuff might seem difficult if you’re not used to it, but if you practice one of the methods for a few days, you’ll get it. A few weeks into it and it will seem like child’s play.

Reducing Costs

There are a few other things you can do to keep your food healthy but also cheap:

  1. Fresh and frozen veggies. I vastly prefer fresh veggies, but sometimes you won’t notice if they’re frozen. If they’re in chili or soups, or in stir-fries, frozen veggies aren’t bad, and they can save some money.
  2. Little or no meat. Meat can cost a lot. If you can reduce the amount you eat — eat some meatless meals, or use meat as a seasoning rather than a main part of the dish, as is done in Asia — you can cut back on how much you spend on food. Beans, for example, have good protein content and are way cheaper. So it tofu, tempeh and seitan. You don’t need to become a vegetarian, but there’s nothing wrong with eating some vegetarian meals.
  3. Avoid convenience food. This has already been mentioned, but there are so many convenience foods that people often forget how many they use — frozen chicken nuggets, canned or dry soups, pre-marinated meat, breakfast bars, pre-packaged pastries, Pop-Tarts, chips, pre-made cookies, frozen veggies with pre-made sauces, frozen lasagna — are all less healthy than cooking for yourself, and more expensive.
  4. Buy in bulk. The bulk bin area of many grocery or health food stores can save you money — bring your own recycled containers! You can also buy some supplies in larger quantities and save money when it makes sense, like toilet paper, rice, pasta or canned goods.
  5. Store brands┬ácan be as good as name brands in some case, and much cheaper, because you’re not paying for the brand. It’s worth trying out, at least.