Eating Healthy on a Budget

Lifestyle Sports | Lifestyle

Meal ideas that are quick and easy so that you can stick to your New Year’s resolution

Eating healthier is a common New Year’s resolution, but it can be difficult to follow through for busy students on a budget. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be something that adds even more stress or cost to the semester. Minimizing processed food and eating out have the benefit of saving money, as well as being healthier. Cooking at home rather than eating meals out also doesn’t have to take up a lot of time or energy. Below is a simple guideline, based around whole and plant-focused foods, for starting to eat healthier at home.

Instagram-worthy weekly meal preps aren’t necessary, but preparing some items ahead of time helps by saving time and making it easier to avoid the temptation to eat out. Start by picking one food from each of these three categories: proteins, grains or starches, and vegetables. Prepare one protein, one grain or starch, and two vegetables each week. Inexpensive fruits such as apples and bananas make convenient snacks. 

Proteins could include tofu, lentils, chickpeas, eggs, or fish or meat (be aware that animal proteins can be significantly more expensive than plant ones.). Grains or starches could include pasta, rice, dried peas, or potatoes. Vegetables could include roasted bell pepper, squash, broccoli and carrots, or lightly cooked leafy greens.

It is easy to mix and match these items and add variety through condiments, sauces or even different preparations. For example, almost any combination of these foods tastes good inside a tortilla. Some healthy basics to keep stocked in the kitchen to enhance flavour and add variety include: olive oil, salt and pepper, salsa, soy sauce, hot sauce, jarred curry paste, red wine vinegar and marinara sauce. 

For example, if chicken, pasta, roasted bell peppers and broccoli were prepped, there are many different meal options. Dinner options include combining chicken, roasted peppers and marinara sauce or making cheater “teriyaki” sauce made by mixing soy sauce and honey with chicken, broccoli and peppers. One lunch option is cold pasta salad with an olive oil-and-red wine vinegar dressing with diced broccoli and chicken. A quick breakfast choice could be an omelette with diced peppers.

This guide isn’t meant to be a substitute for advice from a nutritionist. Nor is it meant to provide a rigid structure that will work for everyone. It is meant to offer ideas of  healthy foods to keep stocked and easy meals to cook at home, without taking up much time or money. It is also meant to encourage some creativity in the kitchen instead of having every meal planned out for the week ahead of time. 

Below is a recipe for daal, a popular Indian and Pakistani lentil dish. There are many different kinds of daal but this recipe is based on the version my mom makes. This recipe includes all three meal prep categories mentioned above. It’s also vegan and gluten-free. 

Daal Recipe

Makes 4–6 servings

1 cup dried green or red lentils, rinsed

2 medium onions

1 medium squash (about 2 cups worth)

2 cloves of garlic

1 piece of ginger, 2 centimetres (cm) in length

1 ½  tablespoon (tbsp) olive oil, divided

Salt and pepper to taste

1 teaspoon (tsp) powdered cumin

½ tsp powdered coriander

¼ tsp powdered turmeric (optional)

¼ tsp powdered cinnamon (optional)

Fresh cilantro (optional)

Heat oven to 180ºC (350ºF). Rinse the lentils and cook according to package directions. Slice the squash into 2-centimetre-thick rounds, remove seeds, slice in half again, and place on a sheet pan. Brush the squash with ½ of a tablespoon of olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and bake until pieces are fork-tender. Roughly mash the squash. Dice the onions into roughly pea-sized pieces. In a frying pan heat ½ tbsp olive oil and sauté the onions until browned. Remove the onions from pan. Finely chop or grate the ginger root. In the same pan heat the remaining ½ tbsp olive oil and briefly cook the spices and ginger. Allow the spice mixture to partially cool. Add 1 cup of water to the spice mixture. In a large container add the lentils, squash, onions, and spice mixture and mix to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Reheat in the microwave throughout the week, adding water to thin as necessary, and optionally garnish with fresh cilantro. Tip: the squash seeds can be saved and roasted in a 180ºC oven with salt for 15 minutes.