(And although Kraft may be eliminating the radioactive-orange coloring from its Mac ‘n’ Cheese, it’s still not going to do you any favors.) Thing is, you can eat like a king in good times and in bad, stretching your paycheck while reducing your waistline. Just follow these guidelines in terms of filling your kitchen with smart sources of protein, metabolism-boosting good fats and belly-blasting lunches and snacks.
Stock Up on Cheap Health Foods and Cook at Home
Now’s the time to forage through the produce section. Bananas are ideal for snacking or pre-workout energy, and they’re high in fiber, which aids weight loss. Spinach contains antioxidants and a compound called thylakoids, which a Swedish study found curbs food cravings by up to 95% and increases weight loss by 43%. Don’t pass up the frozen section: Veggies on ice contain the same amount of nutrition. Peanut butter’s high fiber and good fats will keep you full for cents per serving. For more suggestions, check out these 9 Super-Cheap Health Foods.
Swap Meat for Plant Protein
While grass-fed beef and wild salmon are good sources of belly-filling protein, you can get fat-burning benefits at a fraction of the price. Plant-based proteins such as legumes—lentils, chickpeas, peas and beans—have been shown to speed up weight loss. One Spanish study found that four servings a week whittled subjects’ waistlines, and another study published in the journal Obesity found that eating 160 grams of legumes led people to feel 31% fuller.
Swap Boxed Cereal for Oats
Aside from generally being sky-high in sugar and basement-low in protein, breakfast cereals are pricey. A 12-ounce box can run upwards of $6 for a dozen servings. By contrast, there are 30 servings in a two-pound container of Old Fashioned Quaker Oats (the silo-shaped package, not the instant packets), which rings in at under $4. Oats are high in soluble fiber and anti-inflammatory compounds, which increase satiety and have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Sprinkle a serving with cinnamon (one of the best fat-burning spices) or top it with fruit.
Know Where to Invest
It’s not about lowering your grocery bill at any cost. Just spend wisely. A bottle of olive oil should be first on your list, for salad dressings and cooking oil; its heart-healthy benefits can be had for pennies a serving. Avocado and coconut oils can be used for stir-fries and are unsung weight-loss superstars: A Penn State study found that people who ate three tablespoons of avocado oil daily lost 2% of their body fat in one month; coconut oil’s medium-chain triglycerides speed up metabolism. Almonds have also been proven to torch fat and support lean muscle, thanks to their rich stores of the amino acid L-arginine. For more ideas, check out these Fatty Foods That Make You Skinny.
Pack These Creative Salads for Lunch
Because the first thing you did when your cash flow dried up was start brown-bagging it, yeah? We asked 11 diet experts what they eat for their midday meal, and most of them shared homemade salad recipes high in colorful veggies for fiber, certain proteins for energy and healthy-fat dressings. If you stock up on a range of healthy components—including underdogs like chard and watercress, which are superfoods healthier than kale—you won’t get bored. And if you fear the mid-week wilt, measure out portions and pop half of them in the freezer, cycling them into the refrigerator the day before they’re needed. Incorporating last night’s leftovers will stretch your dollar even further.
Cut Out Booze
That $10 bottle of Pinot Grigio has 112 calories a glass and will only give you the munchies. Plus, it’s pure sugar, which the body digests before anything else. If you usually drink a couple bottles a week and cease that ASAP, you’ll save $80 and 4,800 calories a month, or enough to lose about a pound and a half before you even hit the gym.
Watch Your Portions
You may be overeating the good stuff. The American Dietetic Association recommends that a serving size of protein should be about the size of a deck of cards. By this measure, some chicken breasts, salmon and steak that you pick up from the freezer case can sometimes contain two to three 3-ounce servings. You don’t need a scale; just eye the proportions, and fill the rest of your plate with whole grains and veggies.