The Quarantine Times 12 – How to Eat Healthy and Cheaply During This Quarantine

              Its week…I lost count…of the Great Quarantine of 2020. And many people are worrying about food. As restaurants and bars close their doors to dining in customers, they remain being able to provide pick up for customers. If you didn’t do a lot of cooking before this quarantine, you may be a little more motivated to now. I want to share my thoughts on how you can eat healthy on a budget. I cook almost every meal on a normal day. I cook in bulk, meaning more than one meals worth. I also am very careful about what I eat. These three things are the recipe to eating healthy and cheaply during this quarantine.

              If you are new to cooking and decided to give it a shot during this quarantine, you are not alone. There are thousands (maybe even millions) across the country that are in the same boat as you. Restaurants are closing down and the only way to eat is to order out or go to the grocery store and make your meals yourself. The first option, as I hope you know by now, in general is way more expensive in the long haul than the second option. Ordering out is one of the most costly things people do. All these meals add up and people don’t recognize how much of their income is devoted towards eating out. The things we don’t really notice that adds up is the overpriced appetizers, tips, and a couple cocktails. As a result, the first part of how to eat healthy and cheaply during this quarantine is to go to the grocery store and cook for yourself. This alone tackles a major piece of problem. Buying the food yourself will alone transform your idea of saving. You will understand how much cheaper food is when you make it yourself. So step one is to go to the grocery store.

              Once we understand step one, it’s time to look at the second half of this equation, the healthy part. I like to have high quality meat or fish for my meals with usually two sides of veggies. Again, I am careful about what I put in my body. Cheap and/or fatty meat won’t help you become healthier. It may also lead you into some health problems down the road if you eat too much of it. For that reason, keep your meat high quality and sourced properly. It’s a bonus if its grass fed, but that can be expensive depending on where you get your groceries from. Every now and then feel free to go crazy on something you haven’t had in a while that you know isn’t great for you. A good rule of thumb is to be discipline during the week, and on the weekends splurge and get it out of your system. You may be thinking, frozen dinners are very cheap. Yes, you’re right. They are cheap. But, that is not fulfilling the healthy side of the equation that we’re figuring out. As much as prepackaged or frozen meals gloat about how healthy they are, they simply are not. They are filled with preservatives, sugars, fillers, and the packaging is questionable, especially if it requires you to heat up the meal in plastic dish. Stay away from pre-packaged meals. Remember, you are already saving a good amount of money by simply grocery shopping instead of eating out. You can be reasonable with what you want to put in your body. Broccoli, green beans, Brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes, peppers, and onions are the main vegetables I have to come up with my side dishes. This doesn’t include salads which I don’t eat often because my meals have plenty of vegetables in itself. But feel free to use salad as a side dish. Try and stay away from too much dressing. I like to stick to green leafy vegetables in a salad such as spinach, kale, and a little bit of iceberg lettuce for a little crunch. Just keep in mind, iceberg lettuce has hardly any nutritional value. It’s only there to give the salad some crunch and texture. I eat a lot of sweet potatoes and I’ll usually eat one a day. A baked sweet potato is one of the easiest, most delicious, and healthiest side dishes out there. It takes hardly no cooking experience to wrap them in tin foil and put them in the oven for an hour on high temp. Actually, most vegetables are this easy to cook. You can make them fancy if you want to, but simply roasting in the oven is much easier and less cleanup. There’s also a good chance it’s better for you than sautéing with a bunch of sauces or dressing. Whatever the vegetable is, add a tiny amount of extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper to season. Then spread them on an oven sheet with parchment paper and stick them in the over at high temp. Be sure to check every 5-10 minutes because you don’t want to over cook them and because different veggies take longer to cook than others. Meat and veggies. That’s your new diet. Pasta is not good for you. Bread is not good for you. Diary is not good for you. Save these foods for the weekend. The meat and veggies diet is the best in terms of consistent energy levels throughout the day as well as staying lean.

              Here are 3 cost levels of meals that you can easily make yourself and won’t break your bank. Each of these meals is nearly half as cheap (and better in my opinion) as it would be in a restaurant. Feel free to add any seasonings as you’d like. Stay away from heavy sauces and always remember salt and pepper.

  1. $
    1. Grilled or oven roasted chicken breast. Season with light olive oil and salt and pepper. Old bay or Mrs. Dash to season are also nice options.
    1. Oven roasted or sautéed veggie mix of cut green beans, peppers, and onions. Light olive oil with salt and pepper. Garlic powder can also be nice to add with this.
  2. $$
    1. Oven baked salmon. Season with salt, pepper, and garlic. Add small amount of butter on top before putting in oven. ~20-25 minutes on a high temp.
    1. Oven baked sweet potato. Wrap in tin foil and put in oven for ~1 hour on high temp. Once done cooking, cut open and finish with just pepper when it comes out.
    1. Oven roasted broccoli. Light olive oil with salt and pepper. Garlic powder can also be nice with this.
  3. $$$
    1. Filet Mignon. Grilling is the preferred method, but a method called “reverse seer” also works. This entails using a cast iron pan to bake the steak in the oven at high temp for about ~10-15 minutes (depending on how you like your steak) then searing the meat on the stove top to put a light even char on the outside. This should be seasoned with light olive oil and salt and pepper. The steak should be as close to room temperature as possible before cooking. Do not be afraid to add a good amount of salt. Also feel free to add your own rub or steak seasoning before cooking.
    1. Oven roasted Brussel sprouts or broccoli. Light olive oil with salt and pepper. Garlic powder is also nice with this.
    1. Oven baked sweet potato. Wrap in tin foil and put in oven for ~1 hour on high temp. Once done cooking, cut open and finish with just pepper when it comes out.

$ – cheap, $$ – reasonable, $$$ – expensive

              There you go, three very easy meals that just take a short time to make with minimum effort. I mostly stick to the $ and $$ types of meals, but every now and then you have to reward yourself and throw in a $$$ type of meal. Keep in mind, all these options are almost 50% cheaper than the same meal in a restaurant. Stay healthy and keep your wallets full. Enjoy!

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