Money Saving Tip: Fast Healthy Meals

Ingredients to Have on Hand for Fast Healthy Meals.

The need for fast healthy meals is real. If you ask most people why they eat out multiple times a week, they will usually say that they need food that is fast, cheap, convenient or just doesn’t take any effort because they’re too tired to cook. I get it! We all have those days at least every now and then. While planning for busy days ahead of time is ideal, it’s simply not always possible. That’s why it’s so important to have the ingredients for fast healthy meals on hand so that you can pull something together right in your own kitchen quicker and more cheaply than you can go through the drive-thru. 

Photo of taco fixings in bowls and two tacos on a plate as an example of fast, healthy meals

Basic Convenience Ingredients

Here’s a look at some of what I call “basic convenience ingredients” that I always try to keep around. Having these items on standby makes fast healthy meals a snap.

Please Note: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made through some of the links included in this post. You can read my disclosure policy here.

  • Amy’s Organic Refried Black Beans – (affiliate link) After having tried many different brands of refried black beans, I firmly believe that these are the best canned version out there. 
  • Tortillas – I highly recommend Mission Foods Carb Balance Tortillas (Flour, Whole Wheat or Spinach Herb)
  • Frozen vegetables – Especially corn, peas and green beans
  • Fresh vegetables – Red peppers, spinach, kale, broccoli, mushrooms, onions, carrots, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and sweet potatoes (bake ahead of time and keep for when needed in the refrigerator)
  • Salad mix – Spring mix is my favorite
  • Salsa
  • Beans – Canned or pre-made and frozen (black, garbanzo and dark red kidney beans are my staples)
  • Quinoa – Pre-make and keep in the refrigerator
  • Brown rice – Pre-make and keep in the refrigerator
  • Guacamole single serving packs
  • Baked or grilled chicken – Pre-made 
  • Lentil or whole wheat pasta
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Lemon juice
  • Olive oil
  • Walnuts
  • Green and/or kalamata olives

Examples of Fast Healthy Meals 

Here are ideas for some of the fast healthy meals that these basic convenience ingredients can make. 

Pre-Made Bowls (5 minutes) 

  • Pre-made brown rice
  • Black beans
  • Corn 
  • Protein (other than beans) – Baked or grilled chicken, tofu or sirloin steak
  • Salsa
  • Toppings – The sky is the limit! Possibilities include guacamole, sour cream or plain yogurt, shredded cheese and Chipotle Mayo Sauce

Pasta with Vegetables and a Protein (10 minutes) 

  • Lentil or whole wheat pasta
  • Stir-fried vegetables in olive oil – Possibilities include broccoli, mushrooms, red peppers, onions and carrots
  • Protein – Baked or grilled chicken or tofu (cooked with vegetables in olive oil)
  • Lemon juice and olive oil for flavoring
  • Pinch of sea salt

Vegetable and Protein Wrap (5 minutes)

  • Baked or grilled Chicken or tofu (cooked with vegetables in olive oil)
  • Stir-fried vegetables in olive oil – Possibilities include red peppers, mushrooms and wilted spinach
  • Tortilla
  • Green olives (added after everything has been put on tortilla)

Rice and Beans (Less than 5 minutes)

  • Pre-made brown rice
  • Red kidney or black beans

Salad with Protein (5 minutes)

  • Salad mix
  • Cucumber, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms and carrots
  • Baked or grilled chicken, pan-fried tempeh, garbanzo beans (chickpeas) or kidney beans. ***Note, if I’m putting tempeh in a salad, I put it in the Delish Knowledge marinade from The Great Big Vegan Salad before pan-frying it. This can be cooked ahead of time. 
  • Lemon juice and olive oil dressing
  • Other potential toppings include pumpkin seeds, kalamata olives or sunflower seeds

Black Bean and Spinach Quesadilla (5 minutes)

  • Tortillas 
  • Refried black beans
  • Spinach
  • Guacamole to spread on top

Smothered Sweet Potato (5 minutes)

  • Pre-baked sweet potato (re-heated in microwave)
  • Black beans
  • Salsa

Warm Kale and Quinoa Salad (5 minutes)

  • Kale
  • Quinoa
  • Walnuts
  • Lemon juice
  • Olive oil
  • Pinch of salt

Bottom Line on Fast Healthy Meals

These are just a few examples of the healthy convenience ingredients that you can have on hand as well as the fast healthy meals they can make. All of the ingredients except the fresh vegetables and pre-cooked meat and grains can be kept for a while and used when needed. Since Thursday night is usually leftover night in my house, if I have any fresh vegetables, or pre-cooked meat or grains that haven’t been used by that point, we’ll use them then.  

The bottom line is that all of these meals can be made in less than 10 minutes, which is usually faster than you can drive to a fast-food restaurant and go through the drive-thru. On top of that, these healthy options taste delicious and cost much less. 


The Importance of Stretching

Find Out Why, When and Even How You Should Stretch.

For most of us, the importance of stretching is a severely underappreciated concept. That is until the time when we get out of bed multiple days in a row and our joints are stiff and creaky. At that point, you may find yourself pledging that if you can only walk like a normal person that you’ll do yoga and stretch every day and that you’ll never, ever take your muscles and flexibility for granted again. 

The fact is though, that most of us do take our flexibility and range of motion for granted, but we shouldn’t. They are what help us to be safe when we’re moving, to move in the way that we want to and to feel good as we’re doing it. That’s why I went to Jennifer Bunn, PhD who is a Kinesiology Professor and Associate Dean for the College of Health Sciences at Sam Houston State University. In this Q&A, she explains why stretching is so important and should be a part of our daily routine. 

Photo of Robyn Mooring stretching as an example of the importance of stretching

Peppermint Tea & Me: What is stretching? 

Jennifer Bunn: A lot of people think of stretching just with flexibility, but really, it’s taking a joint through its full range of motion. When you do that, you actually end up pulling and elongating on the muscles that are attached within that joint. And that’s where you feel that stretch. 

PTM: Why is stretching important?

Jennifer Bunn, PhD

JB: The importance of stretching can’t be underestimated. If you don’t move and take your joints through their full range of motion, then you will lose that range of motion. Especially as you get older, your muscles will tighten up a little bit more than when you were younger. As that happens, your joints actually reduce how much motion they can have if you don’t stretch those muscles regularly and allow movement through that full range.

It’s also important to talk about balance – both from right to left and making sure that the right side of your back has a similar range of motion as the left side of your back. There’s also balance from front to back or anterior to posterior. We don’t want to find ourselves hunching forward all the time and reducing the range of motion that we have on the front side of the muscles compared to the back. 

PTM: Who should stretch?

JB: That one’s easy. It’s everybody. Everybody needs to move their joints and take their joints through a variety of ranges of motion and preferably through the full range of motion. That’s especially true through COVID where we’ve found ourselves working from home and in front of computers more. People who sit a lot need to stretch. 

PTM: Is there anyone who shouldn’t have a regular stretching routine?

JB: Anyone with degenerative joint disease should consult a medical professional before incorporating stretching into their routine. 

PTM: How often should we stretch?

JB: Daily. Even a couple of times a day. Just to kind of move things around. Even going from sit to stand will actually stretch the front side of the muscles that are in your hip to lengthen them back out after they’ve been shortened for a long time. So, people are probably doing it more frequently than they’re giving themselves credit for. 

PTM: When are the best times to stretch?

JB: If you are doing purposeful stretching and trying to really increase range of motion, you want to try and make sure that your muscles are warm, and your joints have become a little bit looser. When there’s increased temperature in the muscles, they move better. To give an example of this, when people do hot yoga and are able to move in ways that they aren’t usually able to, it’s because really warm muscles can really move. They can go into positions that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to when they’re colder. 

PTM: How long does it take to warm the muscles up and is there anything specific that we should be doing to do that?

JB: Not long. It takes maybe 5 or 10 minutes. You can walk about. You can go on a little baby jog. Whatever it is. Hop on an elliptical. Any of those kinds of things would be good before you really stretch. You can also do a complete workout. Do your workout in full and then stretch at the end. Most of the time at least some of your workout will get you into that range of motion and then you could do your full stretching routine if you wanted to at the end to really kind of push your muscles a little bit further as far as flexibility goes. 

PTM: What are the different forms of stretches?

JB: There are two forms that we typically use with stretching. There’s dynamic and static stretching. Dynamic stretching is when you move the joint through its range of motion. Things I think of for dynamic stretching are when you do like monster kicks where you kick your leg out in front of you and try to touch your fingertips with your toes. Or where you do knee hug walks where you take a step, you bring your knee up to your chest, you hug it, take a step, do the next one, and come up and hug it. So that’s kind of dynamic flexibility. 

Static stretching is when you go into a stretch and you hold it for 10 seconds, 30 seconds, or whatever it is. The goal of that is to try and progress the range of motion even further. 

PTM: What do you consider to be the top areas that people should pay attention to when they stretch?

JB: The ones that I think of, especially now, as we find ourselves in Zoom Rooms constantly, or if your job usually requires a lot of sitting, you want to stretch your hips, your back and probably your neck. The reason I bring up the neck is that whenever we’re on a computer or even on our phones, we end up drawing our heads forward and that creates a misalignment of the spine. The same kind of thing goes if we’re seated a lot over a keyboard or something similar. Everything crunches forward, and we make kind of like this C shape with our head, our back and even our hips moving forward. So, stretching all of those back out is a good idea.

PTM: What should we not do when we’re stretching?

JB: Don’t take a joint or a muscle past a point it doesn’t want to go. Listen to your body. If you’ve got an area of your body that’s saying, “Yes please stretch me,” pay attention to where it says, “Stretch me only to this point.” Do your best to kind of relax as you move. Don’t stretch an area that’s really tightened and fussy with you. If your body starts to talk to you a little bit, or even yell at you, as you’re trying to stretch that area, don’t ignore that. The best thing is to just listen and draw back a little bit and put it back into a place where it’s not going to be so fussy. Then maybe the next time you can try to push it a little further. 

When you’re working on stretching and flexibility, you do want to be able to feel the muscles pull a little bit. It should be that “hurts so good” kind of idea and not an “Oh no, I’ve just pulled something and now I can’t move.” That’s where your body is telling you, stop, reverse, go back and start over. 

Stretching Resources

If you’re now convinced about the importance of stretching, Jennifer has some suggestions for incorporating it into your day in a manageable way. Among those is seated or desk yoga. Here are some sequences that she recommends.

Jennifer also recommends stretches similar to the ones demonstrated at the following resources as being good for overall flexibility:


Seasonal Produce Spotlight: The Health Benefits of Arugula

Nutrition Information, How Much It Costs and How to Eat It.

If you’re a big Mediterranean food eater, then you’re probably very familiar with Arugula. If not, you may have seen it on a menu, in the grocery store or at the farmers’ market and wondered what this leafy green is all about. For those who haven’t had a chance to try it yet, prepare for a taste that’s distinctive and familiar all at the same time. As a vegetable that deserves its time in the spotlight, we’re looking at the health benefits of Arugula, how much it costs and my favorite ways to eat it. 

Photo of arugula lying on a piece of wood as an example of the health benefits of arugula.

What is Arugula?

Arugula is a cruciferous vegetable which is also known as salad or garden rocket1.As a member of the Brassica family, its cousins include cabbage, cauliflower, kale, broccoli, bok choy, and Brussels Sprouts. You can find Arugula in the in the spring and early summer, before it gets too hot, and in the fall, before it gets too cold1. While it has the familiar taste and texture of a leafy green, it also has a very distinctive spicy and peppery taste that gets stronger the more mature the leaves are. If you want a milder taste, be sure and find a supplier that harvests them when they’re young. I know the vendors at my farmers’ market will usually let customers know if a batch is older and will have more of a kick. 

Nutrients in Arugula

In addition to being full of flavor, Arugula is also packed with nutrients. These include high amounts of calcium, Vitamin C, and potassium. 

Graphic showing the nutrition information for Arugula

Health Benefits of Arugula

As with any of the leafy greens and other cruciferous vegetables, Arugula is a low-calorie, low-carb food that is high in health benefits. Among those are the fact that it contains high amounts of folic acid, which can help prevent neural tube defects in newborns1. Arugula and other cruciferous vegetables are also associated with reducing the risk for various types of cancer3. That’s because they have high concentrations of isothiocyanates4. These molecules come from compounds in cruciferous vegetables and, according to Oregon State University’s Linus Pauling Institute, help to get rid of carcinogens from the body5. The fact that Arugula is also high in Vitamin C means that it’s good for immune function as well as being helpful in preventing or delaying the development of cardiovascular and other diseases caused by oxidative stress6.  

How to Buy, Store and Eat Arugula

When buying Arugula, you’ll want to make sure that the leaves are crisp and fresh. You do not want to eat wilted Arugula! Store it by washing and drying the leaves and then putting it between paper towels. Put the paper towels and Arugula in a baggie and seal it shut. The good news is that it doesn’t seem to lose its nutrients during storage7, but as with any greens, it’s better to use it within 3-5 days. 

I have several favorite ways of eating Arugula. They include:

  1. Wrap
  2. Salad
  3. Omelet
  4. Pizza

Basically, if you want to add a bolder taste to any of these, add Arugula. If you want to temper the taste a bit, cook it. Cooked Arugula isn’t quite as strong. 

The Cost of Arugula

The cost of Arugula is about the same as it is for any other greens. I generally pay about $4 for a bag that contains just over three cups. If you want to make it go farther, mix it in with a spring mix to spice up the flavor and add as much nutritional value as possible.

Bottom Line on the Health Benefits of Arugula

The bottom line on the health benefits of Arugula is that this is one leafy green that’s definitely worth experimenting with. The health benefits are numerous, and the taste is anything but bland. 

Have you tried Arugula? If so, let us know in the comments below what your favorite way to eat it is. 


Cooking for Different Diets

Cooking for a Mixed House Without Going Crazy or Broke.

Food allergies and sensitivities, health reasons and personal preference. These are just some of the reasons why different members of a family may be eating different foods. My family has included several different diets for many years now. First, it was my youngest son and his food allergies. Then my husband tried low carb for a while. At the time, I had no idea what that meant or how to cook that way. Then I became primarily healthy plant-based, and my oldest son changed his diet to match his weightlifting. While I will be the first to admit that this has been and continues to be challenging at times, it is doable. You just have to go about it strategically. If you’re trying to cook for a “mixed house” for whatever reason and are getting frustrated, I’m sharing my tips for cooking for different diets without going crazy or broke. 

**Note: As with anything with this site, the word diet is used to refer to the general way that someone eats, not restrictive eating. 

Photo of food staples sitting on the counter that are useful for cooking for different diets and photo of food staples sitting on counter that would be good for a variety of diets

Agree to Eat Together as Much as Possible

If everyone is eating something different, it may be tempting to just let each person do their own thing when it comes to meals. In my book though, eating together as a family is one of the most important things that you can do. If everyone is eating something different, this is especially true. Meals are a shared experience that you can still have even if the food that you’re eating isn’t the same. That’s why making a concerted effort and agreeing to eat together as much as possible is so important. You may not be able to bond over the food that you’re eating, but you can still bond through the time spent together. 

Agree to be Supportive of Each Other

If one person has to eat differently because of health reasons, that’s easier to understand. If someone decides to eat differently for another reason, it can easily become a source of misunderstanding and conflict. This can be especially true as children become teenagers and start to develop their own identity. Assuming that eating differently than the rest of the family is grounded in rational reasoning rather than just being picky, I believe that diet exploration should be encouraged and supported. 

I also think that as adults, we should be continuing to grow and change. If that includes someone changing how they eat and think about food, I believe that should be respected and supported – as long as that person does the same for those who may not have changed how they’re eating. We can’t force others to change, nor should they necessarily need to. We also can’t force people to stay the same. 

Everyone Has to Pitch In

This is a critical concept when it comes to cooking for different diets. No one should feel like a short-order cook unless that’s their paid job and is what they want to do. Otherwise, everyone in the family needs to pitch in to help with meal planning and preparation – especially if they’re going to eat differently than everyone else. When dividing up the responsibilities in the kitchen, I think it’s not only perfectly fine but important to have people doing tasks that may or may not contribute specifically to what they’re going to eat.  Caring about, contributing to and experiencing the food that someone else is going to eat in that way is a vital part of being a family. 

Learn About Each Type of Diet

I mentioned earlier that when my husband decided to try going low carb before I had changed my diet, I didn’t at all understand what he was doing. This was frustrating for both of us. While I had researched everything that I could get my hands on having to do with food allergies to get my son’s health back on track, I didn’t understand that I needed to do the same for the way my husband wanted to eat. That’s why I would get my feelings hurt when he wouldn’t eat some of the food that I had fixed or would look for something different. 

On the other hand, when my oldest son started eating a high protein, no dairy and very little sugar diet, I got him to share with me what he was reading and learning about. That way, I could understand and help him do it in a relatively healthy way. Needless to say, it went much more smoothly. 

Figure Out Staples 

If you figure out which staples are needed and always have those on hand, options will be available to everyone – no matter what their diet. Many staples can also be bought in bulk, which helps to keep prices down.

Determine staples that would work for everyone. Here’s my list along with some additions from Harvard Medical School

  • Beans and other legumes
  • Olive oil and avocado oil
  • Broths or soup stock – such as chicken or vegetable
  • Vegetables – frozen and fresh
  • Herbsspices and other seasonings such as lemon juice
  • Fruit – frozen and fresh
  • Whole grains – oatmeal, brown rice and quinoa 

Determine staples needed for individual diets. In my house this includes the following:

  • Variety of flours – brown and white rice, whole wheat and coconut
  • Variety of starches – tapioca and potato
  • Xanthan gum
  • Variety of pasta – Lentil and other gluten-free and whole grain 
  • Variety of lean meats
  • Nut and seed butters – peanut, almond or sunflower seed butter
  • Tempeh and tofu
  • Plant-based milk alternatives
  • Variety of sweeteners – honey, maple syrup, agave and white and brown sugar
  • Variety of seeds – hemp, flax, pumpkin and sunflower

Meal Planning

If you’re a regular on here, you know that I believe that meal planning is essential to healthy eating. That’s especially true for cooking for different diets. Planning out the week’s meals and other food needed will make sure that all needs and some wants are met. It will also cut down on the frustration factor involved with having to make multiple trips to the store because essential ingredients are missing, or you’re stuck at the last minute trying to figure out what’s for dinner. 

Stick with the Basics

While elaborate, complicated meals are fun to fix every now and then, if you’re cooking for different diets, you’re going to want to stick with the basics for the most part. Keep it simple and use spices, herbs and other seasonings to add flavor. This will keep you from becoming so overwhelmed with fixing one person’s meal that you forget to leave time to fix the rest of what you need. Again, if you keep the staples mentioned above on hand, there should always be plenty of options available to everyone. 

Find Meals with Things in Common

Finding meals with things in common will keep you from having to start from scratch for each individual diet. It’s also crucial for keeping costs under control. If you try to prepare meals that use entirely different ingredients, the price tag will quickly go up. 

Good examples of finding meals with things in common include:

  • Brown rice and vegetables for sides
  • Have a base of pasta and tomato-based sauce and add different types of protein for each person
  • Bowls – Rice, beans and corn provide the base for everyone and then different toppings and sources of protein are added
  • Fajitas – If someone is plant-based and everyone else eats meat, cook up the peppers and onions with seasoning mix and then remove some from the pan. You can then add chicken or steak to the rest for the meat eaters and cook up tofu with some of the seasoning for the person who is plant-based. Brown rice and black beans can round out the meal for everyone. 

Meal Prep

Meal prepping means to prepare individual ingredients or entire meals ahead of time. This is another concept that I think is critical to healthy eating in any case, but it’s especially true for cooking for different diets. When it comes down to cooking on a busy weeknight or after a day of activities, you want things to be as simple and easy as possible. Meal prepping will make that happen because everything will be ready to go, and everyone can just build their own meal. 

There are two strategies that I highly recommend for this. 

  1. Prepare as much as possible (with everyone helping) on the weekend or days off. 
  2. Try to have a set time for meal prepping so that everyone can be involved.

Have Designated Utensils and Bakeware for Food Allergies

This doesn’t mean that you need to go out and buy completely different utensils, dishes or pots and pans for foods being prepared for those with allergies. It does mean though that while you’re cooking, if there are foods being prepared that someone else is allergic to, you should have designated cooking utensils and pots and pans that are only used to prepare the food for that person. 

When it comes to washing the items in a standard home kitchen, the simplest thing to do is to wash everything in the dishwasher so that they can be sterilized. Putting everything into a sink full of hot, soapy water isn’t necessarily safe because unless you wash each item thoroughly before you put it in the sink, the remaining food particles come off and stay in the water. That means that you’re washing dishes for an allergic person in the same water potentially containing remnants of the foods that they’re allergic to. 

Bottom Line on Cooking for Different Diets

While the idea of cooking for people with different diets can seem overwhelming, following these strategies will make it very manageable as well as help to keep costs lower. 

If you have experience with this and have additional suggestions, feel free to leave those in the comments below. 


Money Saving Tip: Declutter Your Home

Find Out How Decluttering Your Home Can Save You Money and Sanity.

If you’re having trouble getting inspired to declutter your home, here’s one potential motivator. Think about all of the money you can save! If nothing else gets you going, maybe that will. When I started decluttering back in the winter, it was because I had had enough. I was done with all the stuff in my surroundings clogging up my physical and mental space. What I didn’t know and have come to quickly find out was how much money I would save as a result. And I’m not even done yet! 

Because living abundantly through being frugal is so important to me, if I’d thought about it in this way earlier, it might have motivated me to do it sooner. If the same is true for you, I hope what I’ve learned will help you.

Photo of Robyn Mooring holding weight found as an example of money saving benefits of declutter your home and photo of cluttered closet

You Can Find What You Need When You Need It

This is no small thing! I’ve kept a tally. I’ve been at this for several months and have easily already saved well over $150 on things I didn’t buy. These were things I thought I needed simply because I couldn’t find what I needed when I needed them because they were hidden under piles of other stuff. 

The dumbbell that I was getting ready to replace because I hadn’t been able to find it? Found! Underneath old pillows in the floor of my closet that I’d hung on to because I thought I might need them some day. In reality, no one would ever sleep on those old, dirty things and they were just keeping me from seeing what I really needed to see. 

The gift bags and tissue paper that I knew I had plenty of somewhere but couldn’t see where they should have been? Found! Underneath the old rolls of wrapping paper that had remnants left on them but wouldn’t have been able to wrap anything. 

The spices I was getting ready to buy AGAIN even though I knew I had bought them fairly recently? Found! Behind jars of other spices that I had duplicates of because I kept replacing them when I couldn’t find what I needed!  

You get the point…

You May Be Able to Sell Things That You’re Not Using

Decluttering your home is different than organizing. Decluttering is getting rid of things that you don’t use or need. Organizing is putting the things that you do have in an order that makes them easier to find and use. If you’re truly decluttering, the things that you’re getting rid of may no longer be useful to you, but they may be useful to someone else. That means that selling them through Craig’s List, Facebook Marketplace or in a good old-fashioned yard sale might be an option. 

If You Have a Clutter-Free Outlook, You Probably Won’t Be Buying as Much

While decluttering doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll become a minimalist, you will probably figure out fairly quickly that less can be more. As you declutter your home, I feel certain that you will start looking more critically at the things that you’re considering bringing into the house in the first place. That doesn’t mean that you won’t ever buy something again just because you want it, but it will become more of the exception than the rule. For this, your wallet will thank you! 

Decluttering Your Kitchen May Encourage You to Cook at Home More

If opening your pantry or a kitchen cabinet door makes you feel so queasy from the mess that you immediately call for take-out, it’s time to declutter. Getting rid of that mess can make cooking enjoyable again and something that you may want to do more often. Not only is this better for your bank account, but it will be better for your health as well.

Decluttering May Prevent You from Having to Buy a Bigger Home

Talk about a money saver! This sounds pretty extreme, but it is a possibility. In fact, I would strongly suggest the next time that you get dissatisfied with the space that you have in your current home, that you clean out a closet. If your satisfaction level doesn’t start going up, then begin taking it room by room. After you’ve decluttered pretty much your entire house, if you still feel like you need more space, it might be time to start looking. My prediction is that you may realize that you don’t need more space, you just need less stuff.

You May Find Money and/or Gift Cards That You Forgot About

The idea of finding money and/or gift cards may seem random, but I’m here to say that it can happen. I recently found money in old purses that I thought I couldn’t part with for one reason or another, and I found gift cards tucked away in drawers. I can’t promise it will happen every time, but certainly if the clutter has been building up, your chances are pretty good.  

Decluttering Can Prevent Costly Mistakes in Other Areas of Your Life

Decluttering is just that powerful! Have you ever left the house so frazzled in the morning that you ended up making a big mistake at work? Or has living in a cluttered house ever worn on you so much mentally that you treated other members of your family badly?  All of those mistakes can come with a steep price. Strained relationships, lost confidence in you at work, and poor mental health overall are serious and very real possible consequences of not learning to declutter. Again, I speak from experience here. It is amazing how much lighter and more together you can feel not having to wade through a bunch of needless stuff just to get to the dryer or to get to your shoes. 

Bottom Line on Decluttering Your Home

The fairly simple but often seemingly overwhelming act of decluttering your home won’t automatically make you a millionaire. But, it may very well make you feel like you’ve hit the jackpot. As we’ve seen here, decluttering can help you save money in quite a few ways, but most importantly it will allow you to simply make more space in your life for what truly matters. 


The Benefits of Hobbies

My Journey to Find a Hobby.

Do you have a hobby? If so, is it music, food or gardening-oriented? Or would you rather be running or doing some type of art or craft? If you do have a hobby, I’m jealous. I don’t truly have one, and I need one. I can’t even say that kids, work or the general demands of life got me sidetracked from doing the things that I used to love. Other than reading, I’ve never really had a hobby. I’ve dabbled in different things – violin, stamp collecting, calligraphy, etc. but I’ve never truly found anything that I could just get lost in. Now though, it’s time for me to find a hobby, and maybe the same is true for you. If so, we’re going to look at the benefits of hobbies and some possible ways of finding one. 

Photo of unfinished Christmas cross stitch as an example of the benefits of hobbies

What is a Hobby?

Before we do any of that, we have to first get clear on what a hobby is and what it isn’t. First off, hobbies and interests aren’t the same thing. Job site Indeed’s editorial team helps us to clarify this distinction. The writers of this article say that “A hobby is an activity you may complete in your free time that brings you pleasure1.” It’s an ongoing experience that you can regularly commit to outside of work hours. 

They say an interest, on the other hand, “is a desire or need to learn more about a specific subject1.” You can have a work-related interest and interests can even become hobbies, but the defining difference is that hobbies should take place in your free time. According to Indeed, “If you’re making an income or participating in the activity during work hours, it’s usually considered an interest rather than a hobby1.” 

Benefits of Hobbies

The scientifically proven benefits of hobbies are numerous. For one thing, they make us healthier. One study found that participants had more positive and less negative mood, more interest, less stress and lower heart rate when engaging in leisure than when they weren’t2. Another study found that leisure activities are associated with lower blood pressure, total cortisol, waist circumference and body mass index. They’re also linked to the perception that participants had of themselves as being in better health3

Another benefit is that hobbies may make you better at your job. A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology shows that creative activity outside of work helped participants to better recover from a demanding work environment, which reduced burn-out and overall stress levels. In addition, it found that being creative outside of work was also associated with more creativity on the job4

And finally, hobbies allow us to break away from our everyday experiences without feeling like we should be “on task,” doing something productive or that we have to be the best at whatever we’re doing. Kettering Global says that “Engaging in a hobby can be a mental escape, help us hone a skill, or just provide an opportunity to socialize with others5.” In other words, they allow us to simply have fun, challenge ourselves in new or different ways without having to worry about the end result, or just give us a common interest to share with others. 

Photo of Robyn Mooring planting plants in pots as an example of the benefits of hobbies

Why I Need a Hobby (And Why You May Need One Too)

Where I usually run into problems when it comes to hobbies is that I have many interests, but as someone who is naturally “a worker,” I tend to turn everything I do into work or a project. Engaging with my interests then begins to feel like an obligation and there goes my ability to turn my brain off and relax. As a result, I feel like I’m always “on” or that there’s something else that I should be doing. If this is true for you as well, we both need a hobby. 

Photo of Robyn Mooring holding up fish on the end of fishing pole

How I’m Going to Find a Hobby

So how do we go about finding a hobby? How do we find something that we enjoy doing or are passionate about if we have no idea of what that is? Clearly, I’m not an expert on this, but I know it involves being willing to try something new. 

A Lesson Guide that I found online on the Importance of Hobbies from the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Research & Extension has some useful tips6. Here are just a few of them:

  • Take it back to your childhood. Think back to what you loved doing as a kid. 
  • Try a couple of ideas on for size. Explore a craft, sports or book store and see what captures your attention.
  • Find something that will make you forget about your day. If it feels like it’s going to be stressful instead of exciting to learn, then it’s probably not for you. 
  • Notice what you love to buy as guilty pleasures. That item might be pointing you toward your hobby.  
  • Think of the last thing that made you forget to eat. This should be outside of just simply a hectic day at work of course. What did you become so absorbed in that you completely lost track of time and didn’t think about eating? Somewhere in that activity may be your hobby. 

In addition to following these tips, I’m also going to use HobbyHelp’s list of 105 possible hobbies to give me ideas. While there are some on there that I can immediately cross off because they simply don’t sound appealing to me at all, there are others that might just be contenders. 

Bottom Line on the Benefits of Hobbies

If you’re thinking that all of this sounds like too much work and that something that you’re passionate about should just automatically find you, I would encourage you to think again. Finding a hobby shouldn’t become another source of stress in your life, but there’s a difference between work and exerting some effort toward something. As I think we’ve seen here, there are many benefits to finding a hobby, and I’m looking forward to discovering what mine is. 

Lean on Your Community

Do you have a hobby? If so, let us know what it is in the comments to give us all some ideas. If you don’t have a hobby but some of what’s been said here inspires you, let us know what you figure out as well. 

Sources

  1. Indeed. 5 Key Differences Between Hobbies and Interests. https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/difference-between-hobbies-and-interests
  2. Zawadzki, M.J., Smyth, J.M. & Costigan, H.J. Real-Time Associations Between Engaging in Leisure and Daily Health and Well-Being. ann. behav. med. 49, 605–615 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12160-015-9694-3
  3. Pressman SD, Matthews KA, Cohen S, et al. Association of enjoyable leisure activities with psychological and physical well-being. Psychosom Med. 2009;71(7):725-732. doi:10.1097/PSY.0b013e3181ad7978. https://bpspsychub.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/joop.12064
  4. Eschleman, Kevin J., Madsen, Jamie, Alarcon, Gene, & Barelka, Alex. Benefiting From Creative Activity: The Positive Relationship Between Creative Activity, Recovery Experiences, and Performance-Related Outcomes. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology. April 2014.https://bpspsychub.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/joop.12064
  5. Kettering Global. Why Hobbies are Important? https://online.kettering.edu/news/2019/04/15/why-hobbies-are-important
  6. University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Research & Extension. Importance of Hobbies Lesson Guide.https://www.uaex.edu/life-skills-wellness/extension-homemakers/Hobbies_LessonGuide.pdf


Seasonal Produce Spotlight: The Health Benefits of Pea Shoots

Nutrition Information, How Much They Cost and How to Eat Them.

I remember the first time that I had pea shoots. My youngest son’s pre-school class had gone on a field trip to an organic farm, and I was a chaperone. As part of our tour, they cut pea shoots that were growing and handed them out for us to try. I was not a big “greens” fan at that point, so I wasn’t crazy excited to eat anything with stems and leaves. Since I was trying to be a good sport for my son and his friends, I ate them and tried to not make a face. The second I tasted them though, I knew that I didn’t need to act like they were good because they really were good. In fact, they were delicious! If you haven’t tried pea shoots, I’m here to tell you why this vegetable may just become a regular on your springtime menu as well as why they’re so good for you, how much they cost and how to eat them. 

Photo of pea shoots in a bowl

What Are Pea Shoots?

Pea shoots are essentially baby garden pea plants. Since peas are vining plants, pea shoots are the leaves, stems and in some varieties tendrils from the tops of the very young plants. While the peas themselves take 65-80 days before they’re ready to harvest1, pea shoots can be eaten within 2-4 weekswhen they’re several inches tall. Because peas do best in mild to cool weather, pea shoots are available in spring, early summer in some places, and fall. If you’re wondering if they taste more like a pea or more like a green, the answer is both. They actually have a very sweet pea flavor, with a similar texture of leafy greens. 

The texture of pea shoots is one of the reasons why I like them so much. While they’re full of healthy nutrients like leafy greens, the fact that you eat the tender stems makes the texture similar but slightly different. This offers some variety for someone who eats a lot of greens! 

Nutrients in Pea Shoots

From a nutritional standpoint, pea shoots may be baby plants, but they pack an adult-sized punch. They’re high in water, low in fat, low in carbohydrates, and a good source of fiber. They also have high amounts of Vitamins C, E and A and potassium3

Image showing nutrition facts for pea shoots

Health Benefits of Pea Shoots

Because of its high nutritional profile, pea shoots offer many health benefits. The high levels of Vitamin C and E act as antioxidants and help the immune system to work properly6,7. Vitamin A is important for vision, immune function, reproduction and cellular communication8. And your body needs potassium for proper kidney and heart function as well as for optimal muscle and nerve health9

In addition, pea shoots have a high carotenoid profile3. These act as antioxidants that protect cells and help to block the early stages of cancer. 

How to Buy, Store and Eat Pea Shoots

Pea shoots are abundant at farmers’ markets in the spring, early summer and fall. While they will come already bagged up, be sure and check to make sure that they look fresh and not wilted. 

To store them, wrap them in a paper towel and leave them in an open plastic bag. You don’t want to wash pea shoots until you’re ready to use them. When you do wash them, do it gently under cold water. I like to put mine in a colander and just gently toss them around under the running water. 

You’ll also probably want to trim off any extra-long stems that don’t have leaves. While the stems are very tender, it’s the combination of the leaves and the stems that make these so tasty. 

The nice thing about pea shoots is that they are delicious raw, or you can cook them in a skillet like you would with a stir-fry. If you’re cooking them, you’ll want to do it for a very short time, just before you’re planning to serve the dish. My favorite ways to eat pea shoots are mixed in with salads, on sandwiches or in an omelet. 

Cost of Pea Shoots

The important thing to remember is that a cup of pea shoots goes a long way in any recipe. While you can certainly make an entire salad or side dish out of them, they are usually used to complement or add to something else that you’re serving. I generally pay about $4 for a bag that contains just over three cups. That’s about $1.30 per cup. A cup is definitely a good size serving for however I’m using them. 

Lean on Your Community

Have you tried pea shoots? If so, let us know in the comments how you like to fix them. 

Sources

  1. NC Cooperative Extension Chatham County Center. Plant Peas, Please.https://chatham.ces.ncsu.edu/2017/02/plant-peas-please/
  2. New Entry Sustainable Farming Project. Tufts University Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. https://nesfp.org/world-peas-food-hub/world-peas-csa/produce-recipes/pea-shoots
  3. J. Santos, M. Herrero, J.A. Mendiola, M.T. Oliva-Teles, E. Ibáñez, C. Delerue-Matos, M.B.P.P. Oliveira. April 2014. Food Research International. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0963996914000799?casa_token=pbsqBC0jOy4AAAAA:nnA1mHt5TbqQxo03aH0sc1LBFjH6nfTBl5WgBnSX85C6h_mSbq6YVJMhZBIVbIlhFlKz5Is0
  4. U.S. Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/506159/nutrients
  5. Cronometer. https://cronometer.com
  6. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin C. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-Consumer/
  7. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin E. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminE-Consumer/
  8. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin A. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-HealthProfessional/
  9. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Potassium. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Potassium-Consumer/
  10. U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Dark Green Leafy Vegetables. https://www.ars.usda.gov/plains-area/gfnd/gfhnrc/docs/news-2013/dark-green-leafy-vegetables/


Learn How to Enjoy Cooking

12 Tips for Finding Joy in the Kitchen Instead of Just Another Chore.

I have a confession to make. I don’t always love cooking. Sometimes, it just simply feels like a chore. You probably know the times I’m talking about. It’s when we’re rushed, exhausted from the day or just plain uninspired. And that’s for those of us who actually enjoy cooking. I know that for many of you, cooking is just not your thing. The fact of the matter though is that in order to be healthy, we have to spend time in the kitchen. And who wants to spend that much time doing something that we don’t enjoy? That’s why I’m sharing my tips for finding joy in the kitchen instead of just another chore. Following one or more of these helps me to find my spark even when I’m least inspired, and I hope they’ll do the same for you. 

Photo of teenage boys in kitchen messing around while husband cooks and photo of flowers in a vase on kitchen island.

Make the Kitchen a Gathering Place

This is one of my favorite tips for learning how to enjoy cooking. When we remodeled our kitchen a few years ago, the most important addition for me was a small island with seating. I wanted our kitchen to be a gathering place for friends and family. 

Even when we didn’t have the island, I’ve always had some type of seating in the kitchen. I got this from visiting my grandmother. She was a fabulous cook and whichever kid that woke up first (usually me) got the grandkid-anointed special seat at her counter. There were seats for the others as they trickled in, but this particular one was closest to Mee-Maw as she cooked. It’s where I always wanted to be. This is where we would chat and catch up as she whisked, chopped and baked. While I am not nearly the cook that my grandmother was, if my kitchen is a fraction of how welcoming hers was, I will consider my home a success. Yes, having people talking while you’re cooking may be a bit chaotic, but in my book, that’s what makes cooking fun and memorable. 

Get the Entire Family Involved

Making cooking a family affair makes it feel less like a burden and more like quality time together. The key is figuring out what everyone enjoys or is good at and dividing up the jobs accordingly. Yes, if you have kids, depending on their ages, you may have some complaints (hello fellow teenager parents!!). But, if you just set it as an expectation, the grumbling should stop fairly quickly. Who knows, they may even start to take pride in helping to prepare healthy meals for themselves, even if they don’t admit it. 

Get Organized

If you don’t enjoy cooking because your food, spices and dishes are too cluttered or opening a drawer or door makes you feel nauseous instead of inspired, it’s time to get organized. Trust me, this can make a huge difference! While having a large kitchen with a specifically designed place for everything would be nice, it isn’t a necessity. Just figure out how to make the most efficient use of the room that you do have with the supplies that you already have on hand or that you can buy at low cost. If you need help in figuring out how to do that, I strongly recommend getting in touch with Jenna at The Arranged Abode, Azure at Composed or Megan at A Pop of Yellow.

Turn Up the Music! 

If you’re not trying to talk with someone and especially if you’re cooking alone, turn up the music! You can definitely tell what kind of mood I’m in just by listening to my “cooking music.” Some days it’s jazz, others it’s country, still others it’s folk or R&B. If I really need to get inspired, it’s classic 80s rock. Trust me, Def Leppard, Journey, Bon Jovi and U2 pair well with chopping or grating. 

Photo of hand holding glass of white wine while cooking and photo of two women cooking with one of the women pouring a glass of wine.

Drink a Glass of Wine

While alcohol certainly doesn’t have to be involved for you to enjoy cooking, sipping on a glass of wine as you go along can definitely help to make it a more relaxing experience. In fact, I’d much rather have my Pinot Grigio while I cook than with my meal. This is especially true if I’m trying a new or more complex recipe, and I just need to loosen up about it. 

Have All of the Ingredients That You’ll Need on Hand

There is nothing more frustrating than getting halfway through a recipe and realizing that you’re missing a crucial ingredient. Because we’re trying to avoid combining the words frustrating and cooking, making sure that you have all of the ingredients that you’ll need before you start or better yet, as you do your weekly shopping trip, will help to make your time in the kitchen much more enjoyable. This is where meal planning comes in handy. In most cases, I strongly believe that planning a meal, shopping for ingredients and cooking a meal should be completely different things. Unless you’re making an event out of the entire process, you’re going to be exhausted and run out of steam if you try to do it all for every meal. 

Set Out All Ingredients Before You Start Cooking

This is a good idea for a couple of reasons. If you set out all of the ingredients that you’ll need for a dish or meal ahead of time, you’ll know from the start that you have everything that you’ll need. It also lets you get into the flow of cooking without having to stop and start to run to the pantry to get something. There’s a reason why watching those cooking shows can be so relaxing. They make cooking look so easy and seamless because everything is sitting out and ready for them.

Meal Prep on the Weekends or Days Off

Along the lines of trying not to do everything at the same time, I strongly recommend prepping for your meals on the weekends or days off. This gets the more tedious part out of the way at a point when you’re hopefully not as rushed or tired. If you’re not familiar with the concept, meal prepping means to cut up any vegetables that you might need, get any seasoning mixes or sauces made or even batch cook one or two meals to have ready for the week. 

Photo of loaf of homemade whole wheat bread beside bread knife on cutting board

Look at Cooking as a Creative Process

Think of cooking as a creative process with your kitchen as your studio. This is especially true for those of us more left brain thinkers. I remember the first time I made homemade bread. I went into it not expecting much, but I was truly astounded when I was able to take a few simple ingredients and create with my own hands something that looked and tasted so “artistic.”

Assign Each Person in the Family a Night to Cook

Assigning each person in the family a night to cook helps to take the pressure off you. By doing that, it makes the time that you do spend in the kitchen much more enjoyable. It also ensures that each member of the family gets the same valuable opportunity to learn to cook for themselves and for others. 

Clean Up as You Go 

I know many people who say that they don’t like to cook because they can’t stand the cleanup. I get that completely. As someone who used to sit through entire meals dreading the cleanup, I learned that if I clean up as I cook instead of saving everything until the meal is over, it doesn’t seem like such an overwhelming chore. In fact, it doesn’t feel like a chore at all. 

There’s usually some down time while you’re waiting on things to cook, bake or boil, especially if you’ve cut up veggies and other ingredients ahead of time. Use that time to put ingredients away, rinse off the dishes and put them in the dishwasher or go ahead and clean that pot that you just used. It quickly becomes second nature, and I can promise that sitting down to eat knowing there’s not much of a mess to clean up at the end is well worth it. 

Eat Dinner Together

If you’re a regular here, you know that I am an advocate for making eating dinner together a priority. Besides giving us time to reconnect, it also helps to make the entire process of preparing a meal much more enjoyable. Part of the fun of cooking is getting to see the people that you love and care about enjoy what you’ve made.

Lean on Your Community to Learn to Enjoy Cooking

I fully believe that cooking and taking control of what we put in our bodies is essential for good health, as is the mental benefit of enjoying it as we go along. If you have other things that you do to help you enjoy cooking, I’d love for you to share them in the comments below. The more that we can learn from each other, the better off we’ll all be. 


What is Healthy Food?

Find Out What to Look for in Healthy Food

If you’re confused about what healthy food is, you’re certainly not alone. I used to think that just because I “cooked” at home I was eating healthy. In reality, that was far from true. Nearly everything that I “cooked” came in a box or can and included a long list of artificial ingredients. Then came learning to eat local. A big step in the right direction, but I was still consuming way too many sweeteners – much of which were local and natural; local dairy products; and yes, even locally milled flour. I was getting closer, but my body definitely let me know that I wasn’t quite there yet. So, what is healthy food and how do you really know that what you’re eating falls into that category? Here are the criteria I’ve found that helped me restore my health and keeps me feeling my best. 

Photo of vegetables and grains being prepared and photo of vegetable and pasta dish as examples of healthy food.
Top Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel from Pixels; Bottom Photo by Trang Doan from Pixels

Healthy Food Makes You Feel Good

Healthy food makes you feel good while you’re eating it and most importantly, after you eat it. Here are three important questions I try to ask myself when thinking about the food I eat.

1. Will it make me feel good physically after I eat it? 

There are plenty of foods that I enjoy immensely while I’m eating them but then afterward feel heavy, weighted down or bloated. Whether this is because the food is full of unnatural ingredients, is too heavy in sugar or fat or simply doesn’t “agree” with me, it doesn’t truly matter. If a food doesn’t make me feel physically good while I’m eating it, an hour after I eat it, or three hours after I eat it, it’s not healthy for me. 

2. Does it give me long(ish) lasting energy?

Yes, my beloved bag of Skittles gives me a short blast of energy, but then I quickly crash, leaving me more sluggish than I was before. Healthy food gives me energy that powers my mind and my body for at least three to four hours. If I do need a pick-me-up, I try to choose snacks that give me energy in the moment but also contain nutrients that will fuel me until my next meal. 

3. Do I feel good about where it came from and how it was made, raised or grown? 

When I go through times of not being able to make it to the farmers market as regularly or I haven’t planned well and just have to buy whatever is available, I really feel the difference mentally. I love talking to the people who raise or grow my food. I love knowing that I’m trying to do the least harm possible to the environment, the animals that feed the rest of my family, and those who work hard to produce what we eat. And I love knowing that the food we eat isn’t heavily sprayed with chemicals that could harm us. This is all part of the mental aspect of eating, but it helps to define what is healthy food for me and whether it makes me feel good. 

Photo of peppers, tomatoes and other vegetables showing what is healthy food.
Photo by Adonyi Gábor from Pexels

Healthy Food is Whole Food 

Whole foods are foods that would generally be recognizable in their natural state. They include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs, legumes, whole grains, poultry, seafood, lean meats1 and unrefined oils that have been minimally processed.

You’ll notice that whole grains as opposed to refined grains are part of this equation. What’s the difference? Whole grains either come in their whole form or are ground into flour while keeping all parts of the seed. This includes the bran, germ and endosperm, which are full of important nutrients2. On the other hand, Mayo Clinic says that refined grains “are milled to have had the germ and bran removed, which gives them a finer texture and extends their shelf life.”

The tradeoff is that this process also removes many of the nutrients. In many cases, those grains are then enriched, which means that some of the nutrients that were lost are put back inbut not the all-important fiber3. For me, keeping it as close to the way nature made it in the first place with whole grains feels the healthiest, and the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 agrees. In fact, its recommendation is that at least half of the grains that we eat are whole grains1

Healthy Food Comes in a Variety of Colors

When trying to figure out what is healthy food, one of the best clues is to look at its color. You may have heard the saying, “Eat the rainbow,” and this is what is meant by that. As a whole, healthy food comes in a variety of vibrant natural colors. According to Rush University Medical Center, fruits and vegetables get their color from phytochemicals and micronutrients which means that they are full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants4

Photo of shrimp, vegetable and pasta dish showing what is healthy food.
Photo by Anthony Leong from Pixels

Healthy Food Includes a Balanced Proportion of Macronutrients

Macronutrients are what many of us think of when we think of the nutrients in our food, and for good reason. They give us energy and make up the majority of what we eat. Carbohydrates, proteins and fats are all macronutrients.

Carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates, found in foods such as white sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, increase blood glucose levels rapidly. Complex carbohydrates, found in foods high in starch and fiber such as beans and whole grains, increase blood glucose levels more slowly and for a longer time5. We want mostly complex carbs. 

Protein

Protein is important because we need it for tissue maintenance, replacement, function and growth5. It can be found in lean meats, poultry, eggs, seafood; beans, peas, and lentils; and nuts, seeds, and soy products1. These are all healthy foods. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight6. So, for a woman weighing 135 pounds who doesn’t exercise much, the minimum amount of protein needed each day is 49 grams. Again, this is the minimum amount needed. 

Fats

Our bodies need fats for tissue growth and hormone production5, but the type of fat that you eat is important. Saturated fat is most commonly found in animal fats. Except for palm and coconut oils, fats from plants have high levels of monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats5. We want more of those than saturated fat. The estimated average requirement for adults is 20-35% of total calories from fat7. That is about 47 grams to 82 grams of fat per day if you eat 1,800 calories a day. 

What does a balance of macronutrients look like?

According to the USDA’s MyPlate graphic, most of your meal or half of your plate should be made up of vegetables and fruits, with more vegetables than anything. The other half of your plate should be made up of grains and protein with more emphasis on the grains8

What is Healthy Food Can Depend on Portion Size

Of course, any food can be made unhealthy if too much of it is eaten. That’s where regulating your portion size comes in. When thinking about how to divide up your plate with the different types of food, it makes a big difference if we’re talking about filling up the center of a regular dinner plate as opposed to a platter. 

According to the National Institutes of Health, a portion is the amount of food that we choose to eat for a meal or snack9. In other words, the size of our portion is completely within our control. Given how much our portion sizes have increased over the past two decades, thinking about reducing them isn’t unhealthy food restriction. It’s getting back to amounts that let healthy foods be healthy. 

If you want to learn more about what exactly portions are and how reducing them can be good for your health and your wallet, be sure to read this post

Bottom Line on Figuring Out What is Healthy Food

So, what is healthy food? The bottom line is that while there are general guidelines to follow, it’s also very individual. I’ve laid out here the way to think about it that has helped me. Does this mean that I think through every one of these things every time I eat? No. I don’t usually have to at this point. Once these criteria became engrained in my approach to food in general, I didn’t need to put that much thought into it. I automatically know which foods make me feel my best and which ones don’t. 

Does that mean that I always follow that and never eat something that I know isn’t the healthiest or won’t make me feel good? No. But I always have these guidelines in the back of my mind, and I always return to them if I’ve gotten off track for too long. I hope they are helpful for you as well and would love to hear in the comments if you have any other criteria that you consider in deciding what healthy food looks like for you. 

Sources

  1. USDA. Dietary Guidelines for Americans – 2020-2025. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2021-03/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans-2020-2025.pdf
  2. Mayo Clinic. Whole Grains: Hearty Options for a Healthy Diet.  https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/whole-grains/art-20047826
  3. USDA. What are Refined Grains? https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/What-are-refined-grains
  4. Rush University Medical Center. Eat a Colorful Diet. https://www.rush.edu/news/eat-colorful-diet
  5. Merck Manual. Overview of Nutrition. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/nutritional-disorders/nutrition-general-considerations/overview-of-nutrition?qt=&sc=&alt=
  6. Harvard Medical School. How Much Protein Do You Need Every Day? https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-much-protein-do-you-need-every-day-201506188096
  7. USDA. Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Estimated Average Requirements.https://www.nal.usda.gov/sites/default/files/fnic_uploads/recommended_intakes_individuals.pdf
  8. USDA. MyPlate. https://www.myplate.gov
  9. National Institutes of Health National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Serving Sizes and Portions.https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/wecan/eat-right/distortion.htm.


How to Eat Healthy on a Budget

15 Tips for Keeping Costs Low and Nutritional Value High.

When it comes to eating healthy on a budget, let’s get one thing straight from the beginning. It’s not about clipping coupons. Yes, there is some of that, but in general, that isn’t the key to success when it comes to eating healthy in a way that fits your budget. If you’re truly serious about wanting to eat healthier but you need or want to keep costs low, it is possible, but you may have to rethink not only what you eat, but how you eat. As someone who has always kept my family’s food budget low, even with different dietary needs; has been caught by many of the “low-cost” food traps out there; and has managed to figure out how to keep costs low and nutritional value high, I’m happy to share these tips with you.  

photos of Robyn Mooring cooking and of a homemade steak bowl as an example of how to cook healthy on a budget

My Family’s Food Budget

First, in the spirit of transparency, I want to share what my family’s food budget is with you. Overall, we currently keep our food expenses to the USDA’s Low-Cost monthly food budget of $456 for my husband and I and about $300 a month for my 15-year-old still growing, eat everything in the house son. His cost is between the Low- and Moderate-Cost budgets. 

That’s a total food budget of $756 a month for my husband and I to eat healthy, nutritious food and for my son to eat like a growing, athletic, ravenous teenager with somewhat healthy eating habits. A family of four with very young children should cost about the same on the Low-Cost budget and about $125 more a month with slightly older children. (But not teenage boys. They are different beasts altogether.)

Now, onto my tips for how we do this…

Photos of fruits and vegetables and of a receipt lying on top of a bag of groceries as examples of eating healthy on a budget.

Develop a Budget and Stick with It

First and foremost, you need to know what your food budget is for the month. 

How to do this

  1. Do this as part of developing a general budget that takes into account all other fixed and discretionary expenses.
  2. To get a good idea of what to expect your food budget to realistically be, you can use the Official USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels for 2021 as a guide. 
  3. Consider your food budget as an exercise in abundance, not lack. It’s a tool that allows you to take control of your health and your finances, do the things that you want to do and make sure that the way you’re spending your money aligns with your values.
  4. Look at your food budget as both an adjective and a verb. While budget as an adjective means inexpensive, budget as a verb means that you’re allowing for a specific amount of money to go toward something. This is a big difference in meaning, and I look at budgeting for food as a combination of the two. 

Change Your Mindset

Unless you have unlimited funds to put toward your food, there is going to be a trade-off. Eating healthy on a budget is going to require some time, effort and planning.

How to do this

  1. Decide that putting your food dollars toward healthy options is a priority. 
  2. Recognize that pre-prepared and ultra-processed food is going to be the exception rather than the rule. Your grocery cart and bags are going to be filled with healthy ingredients, not the snacks or meals that you’re going to eat in their final form.

Cook at Home 

One of the easiest ways to eat healthy on a budget is to cook at home the majority of the time. The pandemic forced this on many people, but the pull of the convenience of eating out can easily creep back into our routines. Cooking at home gives you more control over the food that you eat, and it simply costs less. 

How to do this

  1. Don’t eat out more than once a week. ***This is being liberal. I strongly recommend no more than twice a month.
  2. Cook from whole foods as much as possible. While ultra-processed food is often cheaper than whole foods, the effects that it has on our health carry a heavy price both for the short- and long-term. In many cases, you also get more servings and uses from starting with whole foods than you do with ultra-processed food. This ends up costing less in the long run. 
  3. Batch cook. Make most of your meals for the week in one or two cooking sessions. 
  4. Make homemade snacks. Rather than spend $7-$10 a week or more on chips, snack cakes and other packaged snacks, use that money or less to make homemade granola or protein bars or any of the other snack ideas here.
  5. Make ingredients such as seasoning mixessauces and soups from scratch. 
  6. Make cooking a family affair. Get the entire family involved, and it becomes more of a fun activity than a chore.
  7. Find 2-3 healthy recipe websites that reliably offer plenty of options that fit your family’s needs. Check out my suggestions for getting started here

Plan Meals

Meal planning is one of the critical first steps to getting your health and food budget under control. I go into much more detail on why and how you should do this as well as great tools to help you along the way, but here are some quick tips to get you started. 

How to do this

  1. Plan your meals for the entire week or even the month. 
  2. Do this with your calendar so that you know which nights will be busier and on which nights you’ll have more time. 
  3. Include breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and drinks. 
  4. Plan your meals around the sales being offered at your grocery store. Most stores offer a weekly online sales circular, as well as some type of benefits program with special discounts for people who sign up. Use the deals on meat, produce and canned or frozen vegetables to plan your meals. 

Plan for How to Use Leftover Ingredients

Planning for how to use leftover ingredients goes hand in hand with planning your meals.

How to do this

  1. If you know that you’re cooking a dish that only uses half of a can of diced tomatoes, be sure and plan to fix another recipe that uses the other half. Or double your recipe and freeze it for another week.
  2. Mapping out what you’re eating for the entire week allows you to know where leftover ingredients can be used for another dish. 
Photo of a woman's hand typing in a grocery list on her phone while standing in front of the refrigerator as an example of how to eat healthy on a budget.

Make a Shopping List

Making a shopping list will keep you focused in the store or at the farmers’ market. It will keep you from buying things that you don’t need as well as make sure that you get everything that you do. Let’s face it, when it comes time to cook, it’s much easier to get motivated to do it if you know that you have everything you need on hand as opposed to having to go to the store first.

How to do this

  1. Once you’ve planned your meals, make sure that you have every ingredient that you’ll need. If you don’t, add them to your shopping list. 
  2. Do one larger shopping trip a month where you stock up on staples based on a list of the standard items that you use. Feel free to access my free Food Inventory and Shopping List template here.
  3. Have a general idea of the price of each item before you shop. You can keep a record of it in your shopping list so that it’s always there for you to reference. Knowing the prices gives you an idea of how much the entire trip will cost ahead of time. If you see that it’s going over your budget, you can make adjustments before you even enter the store. 

Buy in Bulk

Items that are good for buying in bulk when you’re eating healthy on a budget include the following. 

  • Whole grains (oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa)
  • Legumes
  • Frozen vegetables
  • Healthy flours
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

Know What to Buy Organic

While it’s good to buy organic as much as possible, it may not always make the most sense financially. That’s why it’s important to know which produce is and isn’t the most heavily sprayed with chemicals. 

How to do this

  1. The Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen List helps to take the guess work out of trying to figure what’s worth the extra cost of organic. If it’s on the list, buy organic.  
  2. On the flip side, the Clean 15 List lets you know which conventionally grown produce is probably okay to eat.

Reduce the Amount of Meat That You Eat

If you eat meat, chances are that you could and should reduce the amount that you eat. This is both for financial reasons and for your health. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends eating 3.5 to 4 ounces of meat, poultry and eggs a day. That is not for every meal. That is a day. Or you can look at it as 26 ounces a week for a 2,000 calorie a day healthy eating pattern. Whichever way you look at it, you could probably do with a lot less meat, which in turn, will benefit your bank account. If you need suggestions for how to prepare more plant-based meals, I offer a look at what I consider to be the best vegan recipe blogs and websites here.

How to do this

  1. If you currently eat meat 2-3 meals a day, cut back to one. 
  2. If you currently eat meat every day, have 3 days a week that are meatless. 
  3. Eat more legumes.
  4. Eat high-protein pasta made from legumes such as lentil, edamame and mung bean. 
  5. Use the money that you save to buy meat that has been sustainably and humanely raised. 

Eat with the Seasons

Whether you buy your food from the farmers’ market or the grocery store, eating what’s in season is going to be the least expensive way to buy fresh produce. If you want to go more in-depth on why this is so important and how to do it, be sure and read my post on eating seasonally

How to do this

  1. Look at the sales ads for your grocery store. The foods that are in season will usually be on sale or at least will be cheaper than other produce. 
  2. Go to the farmers’ market. Everything there is in season. It’s also important to learn which of the vendors grow their items conventionally and which are only organic. Again, not everything has to be organic. 

Keep it Simple

Our taste buds have become so accustomed to artificial and intense flavors that it’s easy to think of a simply prepared meat, vegetable and whole grain meal as being bland. It’s not though! You don’t have to use a bunch of exotic ingredients or artificial flavors to make a meal taste delicious. Keep it simple – the way nature intended it, and your taste buds will adjust. 

How to do this

  1. Learn to use spices to flavor your food. 
  2. Learn to grow and use herbs to flavor your food. 

Buy Frozen

The term “frozen food” takes on a whole new meaning when we’re talking about eating healthy on a budget. In this sense, you’re going to bypass the frozen “TV dinners” and head straight for the good stuff.  

How to do this

  1. Buy frozen produce. While buying fresh produce seems like it would be far superior to frozen, there’s probably not as much difference in the nutritional value as you may think. Dietician Kim Barrier says that fresh fruits and vegetables start losing some of their nutrients once picked, so the longer they’re in transport to the grocery and/or sit in the produce section the more they lose. “Frozen fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, are picked at peak season and immediately processed, which locks in the nutrients.”  In addition to being less expensive, frozen produce can also be more accessible than fresh. 
  2. Buy meat that’s already frozen. This is also often cheaper than buying fresh. 
Photo of leftover food in a container, ready to be frozen.

Freeze Leftovers and Use Them

Wasted food is wasted money.  Freezing leftovers is by far one of the easiest ways to eat healthy on a budget. 

How to do this

  1. Freeze leftovers in individual portion sizes so that you only thaw what you need. 
  2. Have one week a month where you eat frozen leftovers at least once or twice. This will keep your freezer cleaned out and give you one or two “free” meals at the same time. 

Buy Generic or Store Brand

If you’re eating healthier, you’re automatically eliminating most ultra-processed foods. That means that what you’re buying from a store is primarily whole foods. In these cases, you’re usually not going to notice a taste difference if you buy generic or a store brand. 

How to do this

  1. Look for whether the store offers organic options for store brand items where that’s needed. 
  2. Test store brand items out in small quantities before stocking up on them to make sure that you’re satisfied with the taste and quality. 

Use Coupons

See how far down the list this is when it comes to eating healthy on a budget? That’s because, for the most part, coupons are for ultra-processed food. 

How to do this

  1. Eliminating all ultra-processed food can be difficult. For those few items that you do buy in this category, keep an eye out for coupons.
  2. Use coupons to buy quality household products made with healthier ingredients and materials. 

Bottom Line on Eating Healthy on a Budget

While you may not be able to incorporate all of these tips, implementing even a few of them will go a long way toward making eating healthy on a budget a possibility. The suggestions here were intended to give a quick and easy high-level glimpse at how to do each of these things. For many of them, I go into more depth and detail in other posts. Be sure and check those out by clicking on the associated links included throughout this post.