I recently got some very exciting news—the part time job that I had been interviewing for finally came through with an offer! I’ve been on the lookout for something part time since beginning grad school this past September. I had been “burning the candle at both ends” by working 40 hours and taking on night classes with tons of reading and assignments. So starting next week, I’ll be in a new work environment, with my hours scaled back to a much more manageable 20 hours per week. The caveat? I’ll also be scaling back on my paycheck. Definitely expect to see some low-budget healthy recipes from me in the future! I’ve always been fairly budget conscious, but I’m really going to have to start thinking thrifty from now on. That being said, I don’t believe in scrimping too much on the important things in life! Which is why I go to the best gym in the world, buy fewer quantity of higher quality clothes and products, and try to use the best (organic, local) ingredients when I cook. To be able to keep my quality of life in check along with my budget, I’m planning on organizing more cheap social activities like potluck dinners, and taking advantage of the deals that are offered daily on sites like Groupon and Eversave.* I’m also planning on preparing lots of meals at home and getting creative with ingredients so I can lower my overall grocery bill without sacrificing great taste.

I know that a lot of people (myself included, until this new job opened up) don’t always have the opportunity to spend lots of hours in the kitchen and planning meals, which is undoubtedly the cheapest way to eat. There are a few strategies for eating on the run that I’ve worked out in the past month or so, while juggling full time work and school. Whole Foods has generally been my go-to spot for cheap and healthy prepared meals. Forget that “whole paycheck” nickname – this grocery store has a lot of really good options if you know where to look. If you’re navigating the world of prepared food items, here are my suggestions:

  • Skip the salad bar. Unless you’re a serious pro with picking out the lightest salad choices, and can effectively steer yourself away from the heavier tantalizing toppings, these salads tend to really add up when it comes time to weigh in. Same goes for the foods in the hot bar.
  • 2 for $5. Whole foods has a whole section of small serving packaged foods that are only $2.50 a piece. There are gourmet salads with dried cranberry, goat cheese, and pecans; mini roasted vegetable or turkey sandwiches; and whole grain pilafs with ingredients like quinoa, kamut, and brown rice. There is a ton to choose from, and mixing and matching these healthy foods in healthy portions is a great way to pick up a quick lunch or dinner for only $5.
  • Prepared foods section. The prepared foods in the glass case at Whole Foods is a total gem. Every week, there are at least one or two prepared foods on sale. The counter staff will let you try samples of their different options, which I’ve always found to be delicious. I personally like to get a grilled marinated chicken breast – today I bought one (on sale) for about $2.20 and paired it with a half-pint of kale salad (mixed with cranberries, walnuts, and tomatoes) which cost me another $2. There’s even a microwave in the dining area to heat this up. You can’t beat a meal of lean protein and fresh greens for $4.20!

Disclaimer: I’m not a secret employee of Whole Foods, and no one bribed me to say any of this. I just love the budget-friendly options that I’ve discovered there.

*Speaking of Groupon, I recently went berserk and ordered 3 of their recent deal—a $60 gift certificate to Studio 9, for just $30. Studio 9 an awesome, yet pricey salon, and I am in love with it, so I jumped at the offer—without reading the fine print, which says only one per customer! If any of you out there are interested in this great deal, please shoot me an email at Jean.Zove@yahoo.com. I’m selling them for the same price I bought ($30). Their services are excellent and this is a great deal!