January 13, 2014

How To Stay Healthy On A Budget

The teaching profession has a lot of great perks...but the salary is not usually one of them. Through the years, I've learned some tips and tricks that helped me stretch my teacher's salary, all while working around my busy teaching schedule. During this series, I will be sharing them with you! 

This week's tip....

How to stay healthy on a budget.


Losing weight or getting healthy is at the top of many of our New Year's Resolution Lists this year. Maybe you fall into that category...or maybe you're just looking for some easy ways to incorporate a few more healthy habits into your daily life.

Being a teacher can make living healthy seem like an impossible task. We picture trying to fit going to the gym into our crowded schedule and making our moderate salary stretch to cover buying healthy foods...and we just give up.

Living a healthier life doesn't have to be for the rich or those lucky few who actually get a *real* lunch break. I've put together a list of a few simple ways you can incorporate healthy habits into your school year without busting the budget:

1. Drink more water. It really doesn't get much cheaper than this, folks. We all know that drinking more water has been found to help your health in numerous ways. (Here's just a few.) Grab a large, reusable water bottle and fill it with ice each morning. Leave it on your desk and you will have a cold refreshing drink at your fingertips all day. This is especially good for those of you who love to sip your soft drink all day. Replace that can with this water bottle and you'll not only save calories, but you'll save money too. Need some more flavor than water provides? Take a cue from my hubby and add a low-cal, sugar-free powered drink packet to your bottle of water. {Picture Source}

2. Get a few extra minutes of sleep. I know, I know. This is soooo hard to do. Why don't we just take baby steps, m'kay? Try going to bed 5 or 10 minutes earlier to start. If this just won't work at night (because you just can't miss this week's new episode of Downton Abbey. #LoveThatShow), then maybe try to iron your clothes or pack your lunch the night before so you can wake up a few minutes later. Getting a good night's sleep is crucial to your body's ability to stay healthy. I tend to lay awake thinking about things when I should be sleeping. So for me, this would mean I would need to just start 'winding down' before I go to bed so that I am more relaxed by the time my head hits the pillow. {Picture Source}

3. Eat oatmeal for breakfast. It is much cheaper than cereal and way healthier than a frozen waffle. To give it some flavor, throw cut-up fruit on top or sprinkle in a little brown sugar. We actually eat a lot of oatmeal around these parts and to make it a quick-and-easy meal in the morning, we just throw two fist-fulls of oatmeal into a bowl, add just enough water to cover the oats and throw it in the microwave for 2 minutes. Mmmm, I am getting hungry just thinking about it! {Picture Source}

4. Eat a lot of in-season or frozen produce. Buying fresh produce is great for your body, but it can take a huge chunk out of the budget. To keep costs down, but still get your vitamins, choose produce that is in-season. I used to buy most produce when it was under $1 per pound. Since prices have risen lately, that number is slightly higher now. That might mean you eat a larger amount of apple-recipes in the fall, slice and freeze sweet potatoes like crazy in the winter (so you can enjoy those sweet potato fries in the spring!), and save those strawberries for a summer-time treat. {Picture Source}

Another great way to save money and still get high-quality produce is to purchase frozen fruits and veggies. Often, these are cheaper than their fresh counterparts and some have even suggested that they are healthier since they are frozen directly after being picked- locking in nutrients- instead of sitting on trucks and store shelves before making it to your dinner plate. {Picture Source}

That reminds me- try freezing fresh fruits and veggies. Some frozen u-pick July blueberries will taste great in October over that oatmeal you're going to start eating ;) A few things we've frozen are corn, sweet potatoes, peppers, blue berries, strawberries, peaches, green beans, peas, and carrots.We will often just spread them over a cookie sheet to freeze them quickly, then transfer them to a freezer bag. (This keeps them from sticking to each other in the bag.) {Picture Source} 

5. Cook freezer meals (and help avoid those fast food runs). Oh, I remember those days when I would call the hubby on my way home from work and say 'Quiznos okay for dinner?' or the weekly 'Let's meet at the Mexican restaurant.' By the time 5 o'clock rolled around, I couldn't even fathom how I'd have the energy to pick out a meal, make it, eat it, and clean it up....so fast food it was! After a while, my budget- and my thighs- started protesting this little habit and I had to find a new solution: Freezer cooking. I've shared why I love this before, along with some easy freezer recipes that we've really enjoyed, so I'll just let you re-read those posts if you're interested. I'll just sum it up by saying that the 2nd best feeling in the world is coming home exhausted after a long day to a dinner that simply has to be put in the oven. (And in case you're wondering, the best feeling in the world is that moment you drive out of the school parking lot on the last day of school... you know the one: where the sun is shining brightly and the birds are whistling a Disney song as you put on your blinker.) {Picture Source}

6. Start an after-school aerobics class at your school. One of the schools I worked for actually did this and I thought it was a great idea! They just wheeled one of those tv-on-a-cart things into the gym at 4 pm every day and did a 30-minute dvd workout together. It was more fun than doing it alone and the accountability was great. Some teachers even organized an unofficial 'Biggest Loser' challenge with weigh-ins at the nurse's office each week. {Picture Source}

7. Grab a buddy and go for a walk.  Not interested in the dvd aerobics class in the school gym? Just find a friend or two and take a walk each day before you head home. It could be around the school grounds, the track out back, the neighborhood around your school, or just make a loop of the halls. You might be surprised to find that eight trips to and from the office might just equal a mile. My mom takes a walk around the neighborhood each day on her (one and only) break from work- wish I had her genes! {Picture Source}

8. Fit a few little exercises into your daily routine. Our day is made up of a million little routines. Add a few 30 second exercises into these routines to help you burn those extra calories. Do 25 leg squats before you pick the kids up from art. Do 30 sit ups every morning before you take your shower. Do 10 push ups before you leave your room for the night. Get your kids involved too- the entire class could do 15 jumping jacks before they can line up for recess. {Picture Source}

9. Run with your kids. Have your kids run one lap around the playground or field before they go to recess...but don't forget to go with them! It won't burn that double mocha latte any quicker if you just watch. ;) Bonus: We all have one or two kids who usually just choose to sit or lay around during recess. This routine will give them at least a minute or two of movement. {Picture Source}

10. Stock your desk with healthy snacks. Hello, my name is Kaitlin and I am a snacker. If it's sweet or crunchy, I will eat it (unless it's not supposed to be crunchy...like crusty raisins or something). My choice in snacks at school was usually to raid the candy prize box (Hello, my name is Kaitlin and I steal candy from small children.) The only way to combat this was to remember to keep my drawers stocked with healthier options like almonds, granola bars, apples, or oranges. {Picture Source}

11. Bring your lunch to school- but make sure it's packed with healthy options. Grab a piece of fruit or a bag of carrot sticks to go along with that sandwich. Here are some ideas for freezer lunches you can make ahead of time and just throw in your bag in the morning. They'll be thawed by lunch. Or grab a bag of granola and a container of yogurt for an easy, no-fuss meal. {Picture Source}

12. Try eating Greek yogurt. It's so much healthier than regular yogurt. If you have a hard time stomaching plain yogurt (like my husband), try the dessert-like flavors and gradually work your way over to the less sugary kinds. Adding granola or a handful of berries can really improve the texture as well. You could also freeze the yogurt in popsicle molds- or just freeze those Go-Gurt syle yogurt tubes- for a sweet and healthy snack. {Picture Source}

13. Eat healthier grains. Sub brown rice for white, wheat noodles for regular ones, and wheat bread for white. This one might take a bit of getting using to. To help with the rice and noodles, start by just mixing the two types together and gradually work toward a dish that is 100% whole grains. While not always the most affordable option, quinoa- while it tastes like a grain- is actually a HUGE source of protein. {Picture Source}

14. When you eat out, ask for a take-out box as soon as your food comes. Put half of your dinner in the box right away and eat the rest. You still have the option to eat what's in the box if you find you're still hungry...but you may be surprised to realize that you are full instead. Bonus: You will also have some great leftovers to take to school for lunch tomorrow! {Picture Source}

15. Limit portion sizes when you are dishing up your plate. It's easy to think you are hungry enough to eat all that mac-n-cheese when scooping it out, but take smaller portions anyway. You can always go back for seconds...then again, you might not ;) To make this easier to stomach (get it? heehee), try using smaller plates to give the illusion that you're dishing up enough food. {Picture Source}

16. Take the stairs or the long way. Usually, we teachers are all about being efficient and using every minute of our day wisely. However, if you have two options for walking somewhere (ex: to pick your kids up from art), pick the longer way. Every little bit helps. (Unless you are extremely late picking your kids up. In that case, just kick off those shoes and run. We do not want to make our resource teachers mad, amIright?) {Picture Source}

17. Swap out a non-water drink with tea (the healthy kind, for all you sweet-toothed southerners!). My mom often mixes apple spiced tea with green tea to get the healthy benefits with a bit of yummy flavor too. Put this in a thermos before you leave for work and you'll have a cozy, warm drink to enjoy all day. {Picture Source}

18. Sub beans for meat. Beans are chock-full of lean protein and other key nutrients and many traditionally meat-filled meals can be made with them. For example, sub lentils or black beans for half of your ground beef when making taco meat. When you cook them both in taco seasoning, it will all taste the same. Another fix is to toss them into a casserole or soup in place of a portion of the meat. {Picture Source}

Remember, you don't have to start all these new habits at the same time. Just take it one step at a time. Becoming healthy is not about going super-healthy-crazy for a month or two. It's about slowly creating a lifestyle that you can not only live with, but enjoy.

Now, if you will excuse me, I need to get off the couch, go throw my Swiss Cake Roll wrapper away, and start taking some of my own advice. *Ahem*

What little things do you do to stay healthy?

Find more great budget tips for teachers here and check out some of our other New Year's Goals.

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