Keep it Cheap

Whether you’re actively looking to lose weight or want to maintain a healthy weight, making choices with a ‘food budget’ in mind offers a useful self-check throughout the day. And with the holiday season rapidly approaching, replacing expensive foods with cheap ones or eating more cheap ones, dressed up with some cheap additions, counterbalances holidays indulgences.

One strategy, of course, is to eat a lot more non-starchy vegetables. But here are some other options you might not have considered to enhance a meal, snack, or dessert, without busting your budget but still feel satisfied.

Condiments
In the weight-loss stage of my lifestyle change, I relied heavily on condiments to make pre-packaged entrées feel less ‘boxed’. Fat-free condiments were a god-send. I tried not to go hog-wild with higher calorie stuff, like BBQ sauce and ketchup, but along with various mustards, hot sauces, hot peppers, pickles, salsa, and marinades, I was able to dress up a lot of otherwise ordinary entrées or seemingly puny servings.

A great addition on salads, easily seed a pepper by spliting it in half.

A great addition on salads, easily seed a pepper by spliting it in half.

Having pretzels with mustard seemed more satisfying than out of the tiny bag. Sometimes I’d exchange a yogurt for slices of fat free cheese and have those, too. I jazzed up my salads with banana peppers, didn’t measure the fat-free dressing I put on my salads and added tomatoes (even though they were discouraged in my plan), and filled it out with as many non-starchy vegetables as I wanted. If I wasn’t using my extra fat for the main meal, I’d add sunflower seeds to my salad.

Herbs & Spices
Herbs and spices were also great additions. From Italian to Mexican, Cajun to Creole, Asian to Middle Eastern, spice mixes transformed ordinary vegetables, pasta, potatoes, beans, and faux meat into something much more interesting. With chili, I’d sauté a batch of spicy vegetables, topped with fresh cilantro and fat free sour cream. For pizza night, I’d sauté a bunch of veggies in an Italian seasoning mix and top it with roasted garlic.

A great marinade transforms ordinary tofu into something delectable.

A great marinade transforms ordinary tofu into something delectable.

The Sweet Stuff
At dessert time, I allowed myself to eat as much fat free Cool Whip as I wanted on my brownie and topped it with a Maraschino cherry. I figured that if I’d been eating probably 4,000 calories a day and was now at 1,800, trading off these few calories for sticking to a plan was worth it. Since I make desserts now, instead of topping them, I just add in all the cheap stuff. I use far more spices and extracts now than ever before. It’s amazing the difference, say, almond extract, makes in a cake or cookies.

Even now that I have reached a healthy weight, the strategies I implemented really influenced the way I prepare food. I use a lot more herbs and spices now than before I started my plan. I more readily turn to an extra-big salad or vegetables to supplement a meal. I have vegan whipped cream to top desserts if I’m feeling like I need something a bit more decadent, but not expensive. Salsa topped jicama is still a favorite of mine, as are refried bean squares (essentially refried beans baked with salsa, seasonings, and a bit of Daiya cheese). These little inexpensive touches are what allow me to occasionally indulge without feeling guilty or paying the price on the scale.

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