How to Upgrade Your Plate Without Breaking the Bank

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This year did you make a promise to yourself that you were going to eat healthier?

It’s not like you don’t try, you do, but there is so much conflicting information about what’s healthy and what’s not, and superfoods seem so expensive!

But what if I told you that you can eat healthier without going broke, and that you don’t need to be a master chef to do it?

Let’s go over a few easy ways to make simple swaps and easy upgrades with everyday items so that you can satisfy your cravings while providing your body with the vital energy it needs.

Improve the Quality of Your Ingredients

You can still eat the food that you love and have it taste nearly the same, but know that you are doing better for your body by upgrading basic ingredients.

Think about a typical breakfast hash. Your basic ingredients are potatoes, eggs and toast. Instead of using a plain old beige potato, mix it up by using a variety with colorful skins, which have a different nutrient profile and a ton of antioxidants.

And while you’re at it, why not sneak some other veggies in?

If you slice up carrots and zucchini small enough, their flavor and texture blends right into the hash giving you a way bigger nutritional bang for your breakfast buck without compromising a classic experience.

You can also upgrade your ingredients by going organic.

And I know, upon your first trip to Whole Foods that last sentence might scare you from ever actually reaching the cash register, however, eating organic doesn’t have to be a death sentence for your bank account.

First of all, when you do your best to eat fresh, local and seasonal, the cost of organic usually goes way down because it doesn’t have to travel as far to get to you.

And second, doing your homework can help you make the most informed decisions about which foods are worth the organic splurge when items do have a huge price gap. An easy resource to help you make these decisions is the Environmental Working Group’s annual list of The Clean 15 and The Dirty Dozen.

Getting back to our breakfast hash, let’s consider your eggs. Cage eggs are definitely cheaper than the organic, pastured variety, but this is one area worth the splurge. When you pay the premium for your eggs, you are not only ensuring you are buying a product that came from a chicken that lived outside of a dirty, overcrowded cage, but one that also boasts a better and more balanced nutritional profile.

Lastly is your toast. And how good is toast with butter? It’s like the ultimate comfort food. But it doesn’t have to be a nutritional drag on your plate. If you want to make your toast work a little harder for you then go for a sprouted grain and seed variety.

Why? Because sprouting is like alchemy! It transforms something that is in a dormant form, and activates it, making a whole new range of vitamins and minerals available. The sprouting process also makes the proteins easier for your body to break down. This makes your toast tastier, and doesn’t leaving you feeling bloated afterward.

Now, I’ve framed this example around a classic breakfast but this can be done with any meal. Just put a little thought into sneaky swaps and you’ll be feeling great in no time!

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Add Fresh Ingredients to Convenience Food

In an ideal world we would all be eating freshly cooked, homemade meals every time we had a bite to eat, but that just isn’t realistic for most people.

So, instead of stressing ourselves out about it, let’s explore ways that we can freshen up typical convenience foods.

The key to getting started is to have healthy things on hand. Having sturdy vegetables in your crisper that won’t go off quickly is a great practice. So is having superfoods in your pantry so that you can add them to a dish in a pinch.

So let’s look at a classic convenience meal: canned soup.

When you are buying any pre-packaged food be sure to read over the ingredients list. If you can’t pronounce something on there, or recognize that it’s full of fillers, texturizers and preservatives, then look a little further down the aisle for something with ingredients that you recognize.

When you start with a quality product you are already ahead of the game!

But, if you want to really amp it up then it’s time to add some extras. If you want to make your ready made soup a little more delicious and nutritious add some fresh vegetables.

Carrots, celery, yams and even some finely chopped kale are easy to sneak into your soup without changing too much of the flavour. Or, you can make them the star of the show. It’s really up to you.

And back to our breakfast example, who doesn’t love pancakes?

Whether you’ve perfected a super healthy protein pancake or are just using a box of Bisquick, you can make it more nutritious with a few simple add ons.

Classic pancakes with syrup use refined flour and white sugar making them delicious but wreaking havoc on your blood sugar levels. This will have you buzzing after breakfast but crashing soon after.

To slow down the sugar rush, add fats, protein and fibre.

You can top your pancakes, waffles or french toast, or any other quick (but often sugary) meal with hemp seeds, cacao nibs, chia seeds, nuts or berries! This will make it so incredibly hearty and delicious, while also providing you with a huge nutritional upgrade that can be done on any budget.

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What Are You Cooking With?

You can take the healthiest ingredients in the world and cook them in a terrible oil and it really drags down their ability to do good for you.

So what oils are you cooking with?

Extra virgin olive oil is great on a salad or heated at low temperatures but if you are sauteing away, consider an oil that has a higher smoke point such as coconut or avocado oil.

Don’t enjoy everything tasting like coconut? Then choose a brand that has been slightly more refined to take away the flavour.

Removing poor quality oils from the cooking process, or replacing perfectly good ones that turn rancid on high heat, with one that hold under high temperatures, reduces your likelihood of causing your body any unnecessary oxidative stress.

What’s the state of your cookware?

In case you missed the memo, Teflon is out. It turns out that it is highly toxic, especially once its been scratched up. It releases toxins at high temperatures making it extremely carcinogenic.

Similarly, aluminum can act as a neurotoxin and is present in high levels in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s.

So, instead choose stainless steel and cast iron cookware. These options are safe to cook with, and if you need a boost to your iron levels, cooking in cast iron can help!

What are you seasoning with?

Herbs and spices can add so much flavour to a dish, and a lot of nutrition too!

Instead of bringing flavours together using iodized table salt, consider pink himalayan rock salt, which has a better balance of minerals and contains beneficial trace minerals too.

You can also sneak herbs and spices into dishes for therapeutic benefit. A less obvious spice to do this with is turmeric. In large quantities its flavour can be as overpowering as its bright yellow hue, but when sprinkled in, it is barely detectable to the palate, but provides your body with the multitude of benefits it’s known for. These include being highly anti-inflammatory and great for your gut, blood and brain. Combined with black pepper, it is absorbed even better!

Some special herbs and spices:

  • Cayenne pepper: warming, good for the heart, breaks down the protein in egg whites

  • Cinnamon: high in the trace mineral chromium, an excellent blood sugar balancer

  • Ginger: anti-inflammatory, reduces nausea

  • Cilantro: chelates heavy metals, protects the liver

  • Parsley: cleanses the kidneys, cleans the blood

Eat Up!

No matter where you are on your dietary journey, there are always little things you can do to upgrade your plate.

Whether you are simply adding a new colored food to your buddha bowl, or trading out Aunt Jemima for a high quality maple syrup on your waffles, there is always room for improvement.

So next time you go grocery shopping, buy something new. There are a lot of vegetables just waiting to sneak their way into your next meal.

Let me know how your upgrades go in the comments below!

And if you need help starting a healthier routine, head over here for some tips.