Given the current pandemic and related economic stressors, many of us are trying to maintain healthy habits while watching our expenses. One of the areas where we can support our immune system is through our food choices. We all have to eat, and eat several times a day, and selecting foods that support our health and our planet — while also saving money — is now a priority for many.
People are going meatless for many reasons
About a quarter of the US is now vegetarian, especially people ages 25 to 34. A survey from 2017 studied US attitudes toward animal farming, and found that 54% of Americans were trying to purchase less meat, dairy, and eggs, and buying more plant-based foods. A plant-based diet has been linked with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and overall mortality. Studies have also shown an improved mood with a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
In additional to health reasons for eating less meat, many people are embracing a plant-based diet with fewer meats, or even starting with one meatless day per week, in order to save money. Meat is becoming expensive, and even scarce, as some supermarkets are setting limits on the number of packages of beef or poultry a person can purchase per shopping trip. Also, more people are at home, and with schools and summer camps being canceled there are more meals to make each day within a tighter food budget. Additionally, many people have reduced incomes and may be using food pantries, or may need to be very limited in their grocery shopping choices.
Focus on wholesome ingredients, even with a limited food budget
Our food choices truly do make a difference to our physical and mental health, and with a little planning, we can make good foods go further. While many processed carbs are cheap, you can get much more nutrient-dense food without spending much more. One example: a large family-sized bag of potato chips costs about the same price as a bag of dried beans, or several cans of beans. A box of sugary, processed breakfast cereal may last less than a week compared to a large box of fiber-filled oatmeal, which is not only a healthier choice, but one that will last longer and be more filling.
Shopping to stock a mostly plant-based pantry and fridge
Setting up or adjusting your panty and fridge to include more plant-based options can help your budget and your health. Your focus should be on whole foods such as fresh (or frozen) vegetables and fruit, protein sources that include legumes (lentils, peas, and beans), whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
Long-lasting pantry staples include a variety of beans, chickpeas, spinach, coconut milk, tomatoes, olives, and corn. Some nondairy nut milks are shelf-stable, and can be great options for many recipes. Other shelf-stable options include whole-grain pastas (look for the Whole Grains Council stamp on the box),