Some of the greatest myths that seem to roll around in our heads when it comes to eating a healthy nutritional meal are:
- Eating healthy is expensive and time consuming.
- Boxed, canned, and prepackaged foods are cheaper and faster.
- Nutritional foods are lacking in exciting flavors.
- Eating healthy does not satisfy your appetite.
The processed food industry has been built on the idea that making home cooked meals is old-fashioned, time consuming, and expensive. Their solution? Boxed, canned, frozen and highly processed prepackaged food.
The result? Obesity, diabetes and other health related issues continue to rise. The good news is that you can create quick, healthy, and affordable meals at home and reduce or eliminate your consumption of processed food in your diet.
Let’s compare two dietary staples: Top Ramen Noodles and plain brown rice.
Top Ramen Noodles are a popular and inexpensive meal for the budget conscious. They are easy to prepare and have a long, long shelf life. That’s of course because they are well-preserved.
Whether you use a microwave or a stove top, Ramen takes about the same amount of time to prepare and cook: About 4-8 minutes depending on your preferred method.
In comparison, brown rice takes about a minute to prepare. Simply add rice to a pot of water, stir it a little, add a cover and bring the water to a boil. Once the water begins to boil turn it down to simmer for 35 to 45 minutes depending on the type of rice.
This obviously isn’t as fast as Ramen Noodles, but it’s real food and you can make many days worth at one time.
Changing Your Perspective
Since the 1950’s ready made meals, especially frozen varieties, have deeply influenced the way generations that followed think of mealtimes. It is a hugely profitable industry that correctly assumes consumers are short on time. Admittedly, time is precious. And people today are busier than ever.
So if time is a big factor, analyze how you look at your time.
For instance, say you want to jazz up your brown rice. Add about 5 minutes of preparation to saute some garlic and onions.
The point is you can create a healthy meal for less than a buck that tastes good and has some nutritional value.
When it comes to a quick, nutritious, and satisfying meal rice is a great choice. And for people on a budget, it’s just about the same price as its low cost competitor, Top Ramen Noodles.
The Phenomenal Benefits of Brown Rice
Brown Rice vs Top Ramen Noodles: Top Ramen is by far one of the cheapest meals on the market, a favorite of budget conscious college students and families alike.
Top Ramen Noodles contain 30% fat, and almost 50% of that is saturated. According to the American Heart Association, too much saturated fat can raise your cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease. One serving of Ramen gives you almost half of your daily allowance of saturated fat.
In addition the salt content is way up there. The FDA recommends people with high blood pressure, kidney disease, or heart problems should keep their daily sodium intake to 1500 mg or lower. The maximum daily intake should be no more than 2300 mg. The sodium content of one package of Ramen is 1731 mg!
But the news isn’t all bad. Lovers of Ramen can take comfort in the fact that one pack of Top Ramen Noodles contains 9 grams of protein. But this might not outweigh the high fat and sodium content.
The main reason people eat Ramen noodles is it’s cheap, 13-20 cents a pack on average, and quick. As with rice, other ingredients can be added to liven up your Ramen. Again, the goal is to create inexpensive and nutritious meals for people on tight budgets.
The Challenge of Creating Healthy Meals on a Budget
Now let’s see how practical it can be to make a nutritious meal, that’s not full of preservatives, and keep it around the same price as a serving of Ramen.
One package of Top Ramen isn’t a meal, it’s a snack. In this example I’m looking at it as a snack item or as the featured portion of the meal.
Brown Rice vs Ramen:
First up is brown rice. The best way to buy brown rice, or any type of grain, is in bulk. I’ve purchased it for .72 cents a pound. One pound of brown rice will make about 6 cups of cooked rice. That is about .12 cents per cup of cooked rice.
A cup of brown rice is pretty boring by itself, but it contains a great amount of nutritional value; 5 grams of protein, 3.5 grams of fiber, and a little less than 2 grams of fat per cup. In addition it contains a wide range of micro-nutrients.
Rice is extremely versatile. You can enhance it by mixing in a wide variety of foods, spices, and herbs.
If you want to keep the cost down you can simply add a little salt, pepper, garlic, and scallions. Toss in a few chopped almonds, cashew, and or peanuts and you’ve got a pretty tasty meal.
Depending on what you add to your brown rice the cost per meal will vary. However, for a buck you can turn this into a real nutritional powerhouse with plenty of mouth watering flavor.
Simple Meals That Cost a Buck or Less
To really make this a winning dish simply cook up a pound of rice (2 cups dry rice) that will provide 6 cups of cooked rice, add one chicken breast, 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, a few scallions, and toast up a half cup of peanuts.
In this example I’ve broken down the cost per serving.
1 Cup Cooked Brown Rice – .12 cents
2 oz Chicken Breast – .25 cents
1/2 oz Chopped Peanuts – 25. cents
1 Clove Garlic – .05 cents
1 Scallion – .05 cents
Salt and Pepper to taste.
There are several ways you can cook this meal. You can toast the rice in olive oil, add in water or chicken broth (home made is free), simmer.
While the rice cooks prepare your other ingredients. Saute your garlic, chicken breast, and scallion in a pan. If you have a toaster oven you can even toast the peanuts.
It’s a meal for less than a buck per serving. While that does exceed the Ramen budget it’s a much better result.
So, for high school, college students or people who are super busy and lacking time to cook at home, consider cooking that wonderful little grain, brown rice. It requires a few minutes of your time to prepare and with a little planning you can create a weeks worth of great tasting, high protein, nutritional meals for a buck.
The best way to create your meals on a budget is to stock up on inexpensive foods that are packed with nutrition and cost pennies per serving.
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