People often ask me how I turned my health around while working 50-plus hours per week, and being on government aid. (Yes, it's possible to be that broke and work that much.) Here are the things that worked for me, and could work for you, too!
1. Find foods you love, and find ways to work them into everything.
I love onions. I like them raw, grilled, in soup, with mushrooms, on sandwiches, in salads. If I have onions around I can make a meal I'll enjoy. Some of my friends' favorites are mushrooms, avocados, salsa, Sriracha, and canned refried beans.
2. Discover old family recipes.
I'm Polish, but I don’t like most of the traditional fare. When it comes to sauerkraut, pirogies and Polish sausage, I say no thank you. After convincing my dad to make some lifestyle changes, he found some old family recipes that he'd never used before. We found delicious, split pea and barley soup, mushroom soup, and few ways to use squash. I love these! This is a great way to learn about your history, and it gives you a reason to hang out with your grandma.
3. Stop using supplements, or make your own.
This was a big one for me. They're pricey, only a few of them are good for you, and some are downright dangerous. If you need a boost, read labels and make your own. Energy boost? Beets, arugula, and a high-quality green tea or yerba mate. Test boost? Fenugreek powder! Recovery shake? Cacao and maca powder. If you like the powdered form, use the money you save to buy a dehydrator, powder your own foods. It's nice know what you put into your body. This is a fun experiment: can I do more handstand pushups after powdered kale, or powdered mint? Find out what works for you, and maybe you can make your own supplement, get rich and give me 5%.
4. Starch wisely.
The best ones may cost a little more than white rice and pasta, but they pay dividends in flavor, nutrition, and satisfaction. Starchy veggies are cheap and filling, but it helps to know what has the best bang for your buck. Sweet potato, carrots, peas, corn, squash, quinoa, teff, millet, beans and lentils are my favorites. A good rule of thumb is to go for vibrant colors. But what if I don’t know how to use them?
5. Soup everything.
Seriously, from curry to French onion, to faux chicken noodle, soups are easy to make, great tasting, good for you, and they turn water and veggies into a filling meal. This is where discovering other cultures pays the most dividends. Instead of chili with football, picture a lentil dal, or red curry for a game-day feast. Need to add flavor in a pinch? Ginger root, jalapenos, lemon grass, basil, cilantro, and parsley can be added to any soup to change the entire taste.
6. Buy frozen fruits.
I prefer fresh, but frozen is often cheaper and lasts longer. Plus, if I'm just going to turn it into a smoothie, it's a no-brainier.
7. Have a pot luck.
I'm social. I like to have people over, but I am also in debt. Bars and restaurants are nice, but I'd rather bring the party to me, and cut the cost in the process. A weekly themed meal with friends is a great way to do this, share recipes, and most importantly, have a good time.
8. Snack smart.
If you're not hungry enough to eat one whole piece (not a watermelon, but think apple, orange, two kiwis) of fruit, then don’t eat. If you need a snack, know places where you can pick up a banana on the fly. While a personal bag of chips may be cheaper, it will do nothing good for you. Love the crunchy snacks? Try dried veggies are fruits; they're good for travel and are still way better than most packaged snacks.
BONUS NON-FOOD IDEAS
9. Invest in a bike.
It's fun and healthy, plus it cuts gas consumption and road rage.
10. Cancel your gym membership.
Only if you can work out away from the gym. Use that money for the bike, or some minimal home gym equipment. You'd be amazed at the results that can be achieved with almost nothing but your body.
11. Walk more.
You can check out museums, art galleries, parks, or places to move on foot, cheaply or free while doing your mind and body some good.
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