Tips, tricks and hacks for eating well on a dancer’s budget

We all know how integral healthy eating plays into our overall well-being and performance, but for many dancers, spending $7-11 on a pound of supposedly “grass fed” beef is just not feasible.

The common misconception is that eating healthy has to be expensive, and while some healthy foods can be expensive (especially pre-prepared foods), in reality it’s easy to eat well on a tight budget if you know what to do. Here is a list of five hacks from nutrition experts to eat well for less.

farmers market#1. Shop at local farmer’s markets or discount food stores.

Depending on the area you live, local farmer’s markets are always great options for finding great deals on fresh produce that has had a shorter farm-to-table time span. Not only is the freshness of the produce better than grocery store offerings, but the prices can be cheaper as well due to cutting the cost of having a middle man for transportation.

Shopping at discount stores such as Aldi, Walmart, Trader Joe’s and multi-cultural markets (Asian, Halal, Latin stores) can provide all products (ranging from produce to packaged) at reasonable prices for a limited budget. We found a pint of Greek yogurt for $1.99 at Aldi (vs. $3.69 at other stores) and two-pound bags of frozen fruit for $2 and change at Walmart and Aldi (vs. $3-4 at other stores). Amazon grocery delivery and Thrive Market online grocery delivery are places to get discount healthy foods delivered right to your door.

#2. Buy universally cheap foods. (They’re healthier anyway.)

Stock your pantry with cheap staple foods that are versatile when cooking. Many are available in bulk bins for extra savings. Examples include rice, beans (dried is cheaper than canned), pasta, oatmeal, dried or frozen fruits and veggies, bananas, apples, cabbage, carrots, whole wheat bread, peanut butter, raisins and eggs. Notice there is not a lot of animal products in the list? These plant-based foods are not only cheaper but have been shown to be healthier anyway. Contrary to popular belief, most healthy foods (as listed above) can be extremely inexpensive. Animal products, especially seafood and red meats, have a higher price tag per pound and longevity per meal. For example, one pound of dried black beans is $1.15 at Walmart, and one pound of chicken breast ranges from $3-4. The chicken breast package has about five 3-ounce servings in it (although most people eat more than a 3-ounce serving), whereas the pound of beans yields about 6 cups cooked or 12 servings. Thus, a serving of beans costs about 10 cents versus 60 to 80 cents per serving of chicken. Eating cheaper but still protein- and iron-rich beans, rice, lentils, chickpeas and oats allows for wiggle room in the budget left for fresh spinach or strawberries.

#3. Stock up on frozen foods.

Frozen foods such as fruit and vegetables, pre-made meals and some breakfast items like whole grain waffles can be just as healthy as fresh foods. Not all frozen foods are created equal, however, because some pre-made meals can be high in sodium and saturated fat. Check your labels, and focus on fruits and vegetables that can be a kitchen staple to add an extra dose of nutrients to any home cooked meals. Frozen fruit and veggies can be a healthy choice because when harvested, they are immediately frozen, which locks in the peak nutrients of the products. Sometimes fresh fruits and veggies might be shipped across seas or across nations to your local supermarket, where they could be days (or weeks) old, resulting in potentially fewer nutrients than nature intended. Frozen foods can save time, money, provide more nutrients and result in less food waste.

#4. Planning and preparation is everything!  

Without some foods already ready to go at home, it’s way too easy to stop by an overpriced café on a hungry walk home from rehearsals. A kitchen stocked with inexpensive healthy food is great, but you have to have some things pre-prepared so you make your inexpensive choices easy. Go ahead and make a big pot of rice or quinoa at the beginning of the week, and put it in the fridge to add to side dishes, wraps and salads. Dried beans are so easy with a slow cooker or Instapot. Cook them ahead of time or put dried beans in slow cooker, cover with 2 inches of water or broth, toss in some veggies and roll out the door. They will be ready when you return, and your kitchen will smell good. Also, go ahead and pre-wash your greens so that salads only take five minutes to compile.

#5. Make a grocery list of all of the items you need, even if it’s a quick note on a scrap of paper. 

It is worth your time and money to plan ahead. Another amazing tool you can use on the grocery apps is the in-store pick-up option. Just send your shopping list to the store, where an employee gathers all of the items, and all you have to do is pick up. Usually, there is a small fee charged for this service; however, because groceries on demand is an emerging concept, there are usually specialty coupons for in-store pick-up that are offered in exchange for using the service. It’s worth checking your local grocery stores to see if the option is available because it could indirectly save you some money in the long run!

More expensive Less expensive (and possibly healthier)
Cold pressed juice from boutique store Eating a piece of fresh fruit (anyway, the skin has phytonutrients)
Pumpkin spiced Frappuccino from café Coffee at home sprinkled with cinnamon
Animal-based proteins Plant-based proteins (beans, peas, lentils)
Bacon and eggs for breakfast Bulk bin oats with banana, cinnamon and pumpkin seeds
Pre-made sports bars Blend up dates/dried fruit, seeds, nuts, coco powder, and make your own
Pre-made sports beverage Water mixed with orange juice and ¼ teaspoon of salt.
Pre-made meal from café or restaurant Frozen meal from brands like Amy’s, Engine2 and Dr. Praeger’s.
Fresh fruit and veggies Frozen fruit and veggies
Name brands Store brands or brandless items

By Emily C. Harrison MS, RDN, LDN of Nutrition for Great Performances, and co-authored by Marisa Crespo, nutrition and dietetics intern, for Dance Informa.

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