Make small changes that last with these easy healthy eating tips.

Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where assistant nutrition editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two, and make earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life. 

The start of a new year brings a fresh start—which we all could use after 2020—and a lot of aspirations. Unfortunately, it can also bring a lot of unrealistic expectations on what it takes to be healthy. Diet culture can make us feel like being "successful" means changes are quick and drastic. Think losing 10 pounds in a week, which is neither realistic or healthy. A more sustainable way to pursue healthy habits is by making small, concrete changes to things that you already do. Lucky for us, little steps can take you a long way and they don't have to break the bank. These simple tips will help you clean up your diet while respecting your budget. 

Vegetable Stock with Kitchen Scraps

6 Simple, Budget-Friendly Ways to Clean Up Your Diet 

Try some of these tips that fit your lifestyle and seem realistic to stick with and you'll be on track with healthy habits that last beyond January.

1. Make a Plan

Kick off each week by making a plan to keep you on track for healthy eating all week. Take stock of what you have, noticing things you need to use sooner than later. Then, make a menu plan for the week and create a grocery list for the things you need to execute it. Planning ahead like this helps save you money at the store by only buying things you need and know you'll use. Having a plan also saves you time later in the week since you will already know what to make, rather than trying to brainstorm each day.

2. Carry a Water Bottle 

Dehydration can have a slew of nasty symptoms, from fatigue to dizziness and confusion. Not to mention, not drinking enough water can be a sneaky reason you are not losing weight, if that is your goal. Whether you are staying at home or are out and about, keep a water bottle at your side as often as you can (bonus points if it's reusable). There are tons of health benefits associated with staying hydrated, from clearer skin to a better mood. If you need something to make it more interesting, try adding frozen fruit, lemon or fresh herbs for a flavor boost. Also, having a glass of water before meals or snacks can help you distinguish hunger from what is actually thirst, and also helps meals digest more easily.

3. Get Plenty of Fruits & Veggies 

One of the best ways to boost the nutrients in your diet is by adding vegetables to foods you already eat. Fresh can be expensive and can go bad quickly, so if you are worried about getting through it, choose frozen options. They're often more affordable that lasts for up to nine months. The next time you make pasta, add sautéed peppers and onions to the sauce. Blend spinach or chickpeas into your smoothie. Make an egg scramble with veggies that you've had for a while and are on their way out. Add a side salad to dinner. Trying to include vegetables at every meal is a great way to make sure you are getting through the produce you buy. In a pinch, you can swap fresh for frozen to make it more affordable, without sacrificing nutrition.

4. Load Up in the Morning 

You often hear that "breakfast is the most important meal of the day" and the science is there to back it up. Studies in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and Physiological Behavior have found that eating earlier in the day and eating more of your calories earlier in the day (instead of at dinner) is associated with a decreased risk for obesity and other metabolic conditions. Work fruits and vegetables into your morning meal to give you a nutritional boost to start your day. Mix in vegetables and greens to smoothies, like this delicious Pineapple Green Smoothie. You (or your kids) won't even taste that they're there. A vegetable and egg scramble with whole wheat toast is another one of my favorite go-to budget breakfasts. Whole grains like oatmeal are also super nutritious options that are cheap and will keep you full all morning, and can be made to be savory or sweet.

5. Meatless "Mondays" 

To be clear, this doesn't have to be on Monday and it doesn't have to be only one day a week. Eating less meat has a number of health benefits, saves money and is even better for the environment. Try eating plant-based one day a week with a few easy swaps. Use beans in chilis, stews and tacos in place of meat. Try tofu or seitan in a stir-fry where you would typically use chicken. Eggs are another great high-protein food that is packed with nutrients, and it is one of the most affordable foods at the grocery store. When I'm strapped for time and need something quick, I make a vegetable omelet or veggie and egg scramble.

6. Make it From Scratch 

Contrary to what you may think, making foods from scratch doesn't have to be complicated or time-consuming or expensive. Especially if you are spending more time at home, cooking can help you save money while controlling the ingredients and flavors in your foods. Make your own homemade vegetable stock with leftover kitchen scraps to give a free flavor-boost to soups. Or follow suit with Ina Garten and make your own salad dressing. For everything from breakfast to dinner and everything in between, planning ahead and making foods from scratch will be well worth the time spent. 

Bottom Line 

This new year, scrap the diet mentality and focus on small, concrete changes. Breaking your goals down into bite-sized pieces makes them easier to achieve and more realistic to pursue beyond January. Plus, these affordable suggestions allow being healthy to fit in your budget. Whether it is drinking more water or making something from scratch, these easy tips will allow you to develop healthy eating habits for the upcoming year.