Sunday, October 23, 2011

Staying healthy while living on less

So many people I know are without jobs now or are facing financial constraints.  I have never before had more than one friend who was job hunting.  Often enough those friends were new grads or very recent retirees.  Today, it's about half of all the people I know.  Our economy is really changing radically.  Also, at this particular time of the year, as we begin to look ahead to cold weather, and shorter daylight hours, it's easy to start to "hibernate."  You start to get outdoors less, or you begin moving less; you are around fewer real vibrant fresh fruits and vegetables.  Less exercise and more processed foods, it can lead to a holiday weight gain even before the holidays actually begin.  It's on my mind too, lately, since I had life (okay, actually, three lives!) intervene and throw my own regular routine off track.  Fortunately, I have great family and friends who are there to remind me to get back on the rails, again!

I thought I might toss out a couple of ideas for ways to contribute to your own health while not spending a ton of money.

Make a meal plan.  I've tried shopping ad hoc and shopping with a plan in mind.  Shopping with a plan definitely helps me avoid marketting temptations and keeps my cart healthier as well as lower in cost.  I have also experimented with planning meals in minute detail (that is, planning each breakfast, each lunch, and each dinner) and planning over a period of a month or a week.  What works best for me right now, is to plan meals, generally including lunches and dinners, but not try to be too rigid about "meatloaf on Monday, then fish on Tuesday" and such.  I make a list of the menus I can make with what I will have in the house, including the groceries that I just bought as well as the staples that I have on hand.  Then when it's time to prepare a meal, I look at my list of menus, and choose what I feel like making.  Maybe I am more a lover of variety and choice than you, but this keeps me from getting crazy about moving meals around.  When we find that we have a family outing, which nixes one of my home-prepared meals, nobody feels bad.  Also, my family can look on the list and see what the options are.

Use coupons.  We take the Sunday paper, and some weeks the content of the paper is more intriguing than others.  Some weeks, though, the coupons pay for the subscription for the rest of the month!  I'm careful about what I use for coupons, and I am not at all an "extreme couponer."  I've never tried to come away with an entirely free grocery cart.  But even though I am not a brand loyalist or maniac about couponing, I find it does save me money.  If you have more time free than you have money, this is particularly something you could give a try.

Learn to cook from scratch.  It took me some time, but once I figured out how to cook a pot of beans well from dry beans, and how to marry up spices and flavors well, I found that making home-cooked meals was a lot less costly than frozen dinners, much healthier than eating out, and it could be an outlet for some creativity, too.  I go through phases, and right now, am not baking bread at home, for example, but as the days cool, I'll do that, and homebaked desserts are the absolute best.  As far as I'm concerned, really, it takes a very, very fine restaurant to match what you can do at home, in terms of flavors, and nourishment.  I'm all for honoring special occasions, and dining out, but, most of the time, I'd prefer to dine in and put the savings toward some other form of treats!

Buy in bulk if you use lots only.  It's so easy to shop madly in warehouse stores and big box stores.  Be prudent about what you go to buy in such places.  Here is where a list is of most value.  If you go in and get what you know you need and will use before it goes bad (or can store), then you are probably saving money on these purchases.  Around the holidays, beware that retailers definitely push "gift items" and other features, so steel yourself to resist them.  Why not make some meaningful gifts for your friends and family instead of grabbing something packaged with a ribbon bow?

Choose fruit for snacks and desserts.  Apples are amazing for your health, and other fruits that are seasonable and inexpensive are truly delicious when they are fresh!  You can even dress them up if you want to bake or poach the fruit, add honey and nuts or an oat or crumb crust, or bake them into pies.  Think about portable fruit too -- both apples and grapes are eat-on-the-run types of fruit, nectarines can travel if you remember a napkin too. 

These days there is talk about food deserts, where there are no very good-for-you options for grocery shopping.  Some of these deserts are in our midst in Prince George's County.  Keep a careful eye on what you buy, and what is stocked where, in your market or grocery store.  Often the healthier foods are not at eye level, or are not so easy to find in all stores as the highly processed products.  Try and eat more "real" foods - things that you know were picked or pulled off a tree or out of the soil, things from around the outer perimeter of most grocery stores.

Here's to our health!  Do these ideas work for you?  Add your own ideas in the Comments.

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