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The Ramen Paradox: Can You Really Save Money and Eat Healthy?

You’ve got two choices: $1 and 2 minutes in the microwave or $25 and 2 hours in the oven. If you’re trying to save money and time, this seems like a no brainer.

In fact, eating on the cheap and easy is exactly what helped me (and many others) survive in college and stretch a dollar. A handful of pasta and a can of marinara sauce fed me for three meals, and a box of cereal and a gallon of milk was enough to last me the week.

Ramen, RedBull and Raisin Bran are the quick-n-easy staples of any college student.

But eating these cheaper, time-saving options actually ended up costing me more in the long run, even after college. And while I wanted to be healthy, I also wanted to continue saving money.

I found myself asking: Is it possible to save money and eat healthy?

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The Hidden Cost of Cheap Food

I graduated college with a lot of debt … and a little bit of extra weight. I was also taking a lot of medication for some health conditions. Physically, I wasn’t at my best – I was about 15 pounds overweight, taking prescription medications to control my health issues, and I knew the food I was eating wasn’t helping.

Back in college, I ate like a typical student. PB&J, Mac and Cheese… sometimes the occasional salad would sneak in there. I bet I saved about $20 a week eating processed or instant foods.

But I was paying for my cheapness after graduation. Between doctor’s appointments, my prescription and feeling generally lousy, I was feeling the side effects of not eating right.

And yet, I continued to eat as cheaply as possible well beyond college graduation. I was convinced that the place to save money in my grocery budget. I continued eating pasta, cereals, and the “discounted” chicken or turkey at the store, avoiding organic meat and anything considered a premium (my cheapness has definitely affected other areas of my life too).

It wasn’t until about two years ago – when I felt the worst I had in years – that I decided to fix my health once and for all and transform my diet. I swore off all processed and instant foods – nothing manufactured that I didn’t make from scratch (save a few restaurant meals here and there).

That was almost two years ago. And I’ve never looked back.

How Eating More Expensive Foods Actually Saved Me Money

So I’ve stopped eating easy and cheap. What’s that done for my health, my time and my money? Not only do I feel incredible, but I’m actually saving tons of money. Sure, I no longer have the luxury of being cheap and finding a quick meal when I need it, but I’ve more than made up for that convenience in the way my life has been transformed.

For me, eating healthier has meant less doctor’s appointments, less medication, less sick days and more energy. It not only saves me from spending money on medicine and healthcare, but it saves my employer and my health insurance company money, too. I’m saving the economy by eating good food!

How I Save Money and Time While Eating Healthy

Initially, I laughed at the idea that it was possible to stick to a grocery budget while eating well. But with a few simple strategies, I’ve been able to keep my expenses low and manage my time:

1. I will always eat organic and grass fed…but I’ll buy in bulk.

Organic and grass-fed meats are damn expensive. But buying wholesale and local means I can eat really fresh meat at a decent price. I can buy 3 pounds of wild-caught salmon at CostCo for $17.99 (that’s about a month’s worth of fish). I’ve also teamed up with a local farm to get frozen meat delivered once a month. It’s still a bit more expensive than conventional meats, but it’s worth the extra money to feel healthy and know I’m not eating meat that’s been treated with unknown chemicals and antibiotics.

2. I will spend hours cooking my meals…but I’ll cook for the entire week.

Time is a precious commodity for me. And the last thing I want to do on a Wednesday night after work is come home starving and prepare a 3-course meal. So I do all of my cooking on the weekends. It still takes a few hours to cut up the vegetable and cook a chuck roast, but once I’m done, I’ll have dinner for days and won’t have to worry about cooking during the week when I’m really rushed.

3. I will still buy ready-to-eat meals…but only if they’re all-natural.

Even though I try making all of my meals for myself and in-advance, there are just times when I need someone else to cook for me. But eating well and conveniently are not mutually exclusive; there are plenty of products and companies that make all-natural eating almost as instant as a packet of ramen.

I recently tried ready-to-go meals delivered by Power Supply – a DC-based company that makes all-natural meals using fresh, local ingredients. And, like ramen, only need 2 minutes in the microwave. Yes, it’s more expensive than a $1 packet of noodles, but their meals let me maintain my healthy lifestyle while saving me time. I simply place an order online and have all my meals for the week delivered to a nearby gym. Convenient and healthy.

power supply meal

Plus, local pasture-raised pulled pork with a cabbage coconut cole-slaw dressing a sounds a lot more appealing than ramen with “beef flavor” … right? 🙂

What do you do to eat well while sticking to a budget?

Original image: Slacktory.com

Disclaimer: Power Supply graciously provided me with a sample of their food. And it was incredible.

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4 thoughts on “The Ramen Paradox: Can You Really Save Money and Eat Healthy?

  1. Debt Blag

    I have never eaten more healthily in my life since I got serious about being frugal. Some of it has been by accident, but it seems that the two are more complementary than they are in conflict.

    A big part of it is that saving money with food takes a lot of planning, and since you’re not making imulse decisions because of cost, it’s not too hard to also not make impulse decision because of health.

    Another part of saving money with food is that I get to choose exactly what goes into it, since I’m making more of it, so I don’t have the sodium, preservatives, and who knows what else, that goes into prepared foods.

    Finally, I totally cut out meat and dairy from foods I make at home because they were just too expensive and spoiled too quick for me to take advantage of bulk buys.

    Reply
    1. Stephanie Halligan Post author

      I totally agree – eating frugal and well are more related than people think! Rock on for changing so much in your life 🙂

      Reply
  2. Agatha

    I read this book by a Buddhist monk that said why not buy higher quality foods and just eat less? I liked that idea and it has worked well for my own life.
    I eat less quantity of food now than I used to but the food is so much more yummy.

    Reply
    1. Stephanie Halligan Post author

      That’s a great idea! I unfortunately have no self control, so I buy a 5-pound bag of baby carrots and go to town 🙂

      Reply

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