Strive for a plant-based diet
There are several categories of plant-based diets that might fit your personal preferences. Ovo-lacto vegetarians eat eggs and dairy products while avoiding meat, poultry, and seafood. Lacto vegetarians consume dairy products but subtract eggs and seafood from the list of options. Vegans do not eat any animal products, maintaining a diet of vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Flexitarians avoid meat most of the time.
Remember that protein is available in nuts, seeds, legumes (peas, beans, and lentils), grains, soy products, dairy products, and eggs. The beauty of a vegetarian diet is that combinations of foods form a “complete protein,” providing all of the amino acids (building blocks of proteins) that are essential to human health. Examples of these combinations are grains with legumes (a bean burrito) and with nuts or seeds (peanut butter on whole-wheat bread). Beans are available in many varieties and are one of the cheapest, most nutritious foods you can choose. Tasty burgers, salads, side dishes, and even desserts can incorporate beans. Adding kale or turnip greens to bean dishes is an economical and healthful way to liven them up. Another good vegetarian staple is cabbage, which outlasts most other vegetables in the refrigerator, is high in vitamins, and can be served either raw or cooked in a variety of dishes.
Have snacks available
Low-calorie snacks can be affordable and fit well into a diabetes meal plan. Snack ideas include air-popped popcorn, fruits in season, sliced vegetables, whole-wheat pretzels, and low-fat cheese and yogurt. Even desserts can be made more healthful by adding pumpkin or squash puree to puddings or to cake recipes or mixes in place of some of the oil or shortening.
Grow your own food
Home gardening is an enjoyable way to obtain healthy foods. If you don’t have much experience or outdoor space, try container gardening. Do some research into what grows well in your area, then choose a few easy-to-grow vegetables and herbs. Small pots of herbs can even be grown in a sunny window. You will be impressed by both the fresh flavors and the joy that gardening can bring.
Allow for the unexpected
Have almost-ready foods available in the freezer or pantry for days when you have no time to prepare a regular meal. Many healthful and delicious foods can be prepared quickly; for example, you can cook up a frozen turkey burger and serve it with fresh lettuce and tomatoes. In situations where you cannot prepare food at home, remember that it is usually cheaper to buy prepared deli foods for a meal than to eat out at a restaurant.
For a few more tips on eating healthy at a low cost, click here.
The messy nature of life means that no matter how perfectly you plan your meals or your savings, events beyond your control will occasionally force you to go over your budget or eat a less-than-perfectly-healthy meal. When this happens, remember that it’s your overall pattern that really matters, and don’t be hard on yourself or give up on your meal plan. There will be difficulties along the way, but the financial and health benefits of working to eat well on a budget will make your efforts worthwhile. Just think how great it will feel to see the numbers go down on your blood glucose meter, and up on your bank statement.