by Stephan M. Greco, GUEST WRITER

No doubt, one of your resolutions for 2020 was to eat healthier! How’s that going for you? Many people think healthy eating means more expensive, but not if you also eat smarter!  Sure, a fridge full of wild caught salmon, organic fruits and vegetables and acai berry juice sounds amazing but many of us need to make our meal plans budget friendly. The grocery store can be a mine field of nutritional challenges, so I’m here to help you optimize your grocery store choices without breaking the bank.

Superfood” is a nontechnical term for health-boosting cuisine that packs an awesome nutritional punch. Here are some sensible substitutions for hyped-but-pricey foods that frequently show up on superfood summaries.

Instead of salmon: Try tuna for some good fats. Canned tuna in oil has 1 gram of saturated fat but also 2.5 grams of unsaturated good fat. Water-packed tuna is low in calories while offering generous amounts of lean protein, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, selenium and vitamin D. In addition, canned tuna counts toward the recommended minimum of two servings per week of fish.

Instead of quinoa: Turn to barley, oats and brown rice. All three of these amazing grains are less expensive and often sold in bulk. I love oats and barley because of their special fiber: beta glucan. It’s good for your heart, and new research shows that it helps you feel full longer, so you’re less likely to overeat.

Instead of fresh berries: look for sales on store-brand frozen berries. Believe it or not, some quick frozen foods like wild blueberries can actually be better than fresh bought. They retain their nutritional value longer, and they are preserved at their peak, not before. Some fresh-sold fruits are picked early to ensure they won’t spoil during the long shipping and storage, but not those that are quick frozen.  If you have a farmers market, see if berries are cheaper in season. Or buy inexpensive bananas for your fruit fix; they are high in potassium, vitamin B6, fiber and vitamin C.

Instead of kale:  Kale’s popularity brings with it a higher price tag. Instead, keep your eye out for any dark-green leafy vegetable that your market has on sale such as mustard greens, collard greens, Swiss chard or turnip greens.

Instead of superfood juices (açai, pomegranate, blueberry, etc.): In all honesty, I’m not a big fan of any store bought juices. You never really know what is in them. Swap out sugar-filled juices (as well as sodas and sports drinks) for water and add some sliced oranges, lemons, cucumbers, watermelon or strawberries to the pitcher for flavor.

Instead of fancy name brand almonds or walnuts: For nuts, shop in bulk and pick a store brand. Also, peanuts can be cheaper, and if they’re unsalted, they are a great nut pick.

Instead of superfood meats (bison, emu, grass-fed beef): Try affordable poultry, such as chicken breasts bought in bulk. Or eat eggs, which are inexpensive yet protein-rich and high in heart- and brain-friendly omega-3 fatty acids. Alternative inexpensive proteins include cottage cheese, organ meats such as liver, cheaper cuts of meat (cooked in a slow cooker to make them fork-tender) and tofu.

Dried beans are also budget-friendly.  With both protein and fiber, dried beans can be added to soups, salads or as a side to almost any dish. My favorite is black beans, which have three times more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty-acids than other legumes. Simmer them in a pot with onion and garlic for extra flavor.

Get your veggies on ice, not in cans. Vegetables are frozen at their peak freshness and retain more nutrients than canned varieties. A bag of frozen mixed vegetables and some lean protein can easily become a stir-fry, served with brown rice for a healthy, low-cost meal.

Become seasoning savvy. Spices can be somewhat expensive, but critical for adding flavor. Some stores allow you to buy spices in bulk, so pick a few and purchase only quarter-ounce quantities and cook with them until they run out. Then shift to a different flavor profile. This will add diversity as well as creativity to your dietary pattern. In addition, rosemary, thyme and basil can be grown in pots on a windowsill.

Cook in a crock.  Lack of time to shop and cook is a huge obstacle to many working people. Slow-cooker meals are a great make-ahead option. They also make less expensive cuts of meat tender and delicious. What’s more, slow cookers themselves are relatively inexpensive starting from $15 for a new, family-sized cooker.

Think outside of the “box.” A loaf of whole grain bread, some peanut butter and bananas can be purchased for about the same as a box of sugary cereal. Serve your kids (and yourself) toast with peanut butter and bananas instead of a bowl of sugar garbage and you’ll have the protein, fiber and potassium you need to stay fueled longer.

Layer your lunch. Add a cup of brown rice to a bowl (good for two servings!), then layer on a variety of fresh or thawed vegetables, and top with protein (poultry strips, nuts, egg, canned fish or beans) for a cheap and easy meal.

Expend oil economically:  Healthful fats (olive oil, flax oil, grass-fed butter) are significantly more expensive than their cheap counterparts. Instead go with canola oil, which has high amounts of unsaturated fat (both mono – and polyunsaturated). But use oil sparingly, and instead of oil consider using beef or chicken broth to sauté food.

Eating healthy is a choice, and it should not have to be an intimidating or difficult one to make! Be sure to check out my website, and my Instagram @grecofit, for more great fitness and nutrition guidance to make 2020 your best year yet!

(Stephan Greco is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Nutrition Specialist who owns and operates Greco Fit in Fort Lauderdale, Fl. You can reach him via his website, through Instagram or at (954) 995.1321

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