Eating healthy AND Cheap?

I am considering doing a trip over to Taiwan for a couple of weeks and want to limit the amount of money I spend on outside food, despite how delicious it is. I would have access to modern utilities (microwave, oven, rice cooker).

Last time I was there I found it difficult to find food that was cheap to cook at home and consume. I found most outside food was almost the same price as whatever food that I made, and I was spending roughly 250 TWD a day in food (most of it being outside food).

I started to take action at the time because I felt 250 TWD a day was too much, and started to eat oatmeal for breakfast but found that not to be such a huge savings, considering that Taiwanese breakfast stands are so cheap.

I guess my main question are:

How much is a decent budget for food in Taipei? How can one save money by buying food and preparing it yourself? Should I focus on lentils, brown rice, fresh veggies, and canned goods too maybe?

How does one stay healthy? For example, I had a difficult time finding food items with a reasonable amount of calcium.

For just two weeks? That’s a little tricky - my diet at home is slowly getting better, but that relies on having staples like olive oil and lentils and rice and lots of different spices, as well as herb pots on the balcony. Things like knives and salad spinners and frying pans and all kinds of pots and pans get regular use. It’s difficult to get a kitchen set up for just a couple of weeks: you don’t really want to buy rice, bottles of olive oil, soy sauce, red wine vinegar, and so on, when you’re probably only going to use a little bit of each.

Breakfast: muesli + dried fruit + soy milk? This can sometimes wind up more expensive than breakfast places, but it’s definitely healthier. Oatmeal too, as you know.

Lunch: hmm… I rely on a bread machine for sandwiches. Tortilla shells are readily available at the western super markets, and you can make wraps. Or soups. I have a fair number of fruit smoothies too: most often yogurt + orange juice + frozen blueberries + frozen bananas. For that you’d obviously need a blender.

Lots of fruit: that’d be an obvious choice for you.

I recently discovered lentil and rice salads. Fantastically useful: boil up rice and lentils together, and keep it in the fridge. Take out as much as you want on a given day, and add a different homemade dressing (olive oil + vinegar + something for flavour) and variety of vegetables each time.

Dinner: brown rice, vegetable stir-fries, and so on.

You know the problem: eating cheap in Taiwan is easy. Eating out, healthy and cheap, is (probably?) impossible. I’m not even sure if it’s possible to eat out healthy & expensive. In your situation, because of the start-up costs, I doubt you’ll save money on eating in - but it’ll be healthier, and probably tastier than the cheap food available.

Calcium … well, “Top 10 Foods Highest in Calcium” lists Dried Herbs (kind of a dodge, since you’re likely not having a full tablespoon of dried rosemary with your own serving); Cheese (hey, there’s my excuse for eating too much of that!); Sesame seeds; Tofu (obviously very easy to find here); Almonds (buy some and add them to muesli); Flax seeds (ditto); Yogurt, Milk, and Other Dairy Products (is calcium added to soy milk here?); Green Leafy Vegetables (so stir-fried dishes at home); Brazil Nuts; Herring. I don’t think it’s that hard to get some of those things into your diet.

Good luck!

For just two weeks? That’s a little tricky - my diet at home is slowly getting better, but that relies on having staples like olive oil and lentils and rice and lots of different spices, as well as herb pots on the balcony. Things like knives and salad spinners and frying pans and all kinds of pots and pans get regular use. It’s difficult to get a kitchen set up for just a couple of weeks: you don’t really want to buy rice, bottles of olive oil, soy sauce, red wine vinegar, and so on, when you’re probably only going to use a little bit of each.

Breakfast: muesli + dried fruit + soy milk? This can sometimes wind up more expensive than breakfast places, but it’s definitely healthier. Oatmeal too, as you know.

Lunch: hmm… I rely on a bread machine for sandwiches. Tortilla shells are readily available at the western super markets, and you can make wraps. Or soups. I have a fair number of fruit smoothies too: most often yogurt + orange juice + frozen blueberries + frozen bananas. For that you’d obviously need a blender.

Lots of fruit: that’d be an obvious choice for you.

I recently discovered lentil and rice salads. Fantastically useful: boil up rice and lentils together, and keep it in the fridge. Take out as much as you want on a given day, and add a different homemade dressing (olive oil + vinegar + something for flavour) and variety of vegetables each time.

Dinner: brown rice, vegetable stir-fries, and so on.

You know the problem: eating cheap in Taiwan is easy. Eating out, healthy and cheap, is (probably?) impossible. I’m not even sure if it’s possible to eat out healthy & expensive. In your situation, because of the start-up costs, I doubt you’ll save money on eating in - but it’ll be healthier, and probably tastier than the cheap food available.

Calcium … well, “Top 10 Foods Highest in Calcium” lists Dried Herbs (kind of a dodge, since you’re likely not having a full tablespoon of dried rosemary with your own serving); Cheese (hey, there’s my excuse for eating too much of that!); Sesame seeds; Tofu (obviously very easy to find here); Almonds (buy some and add them to muesli); Flax seeds (ditto); Yogurt, Milk, and Other Dairy Products (is calcium added to soy milk here?); Green Leafy Vegetables (so stir-fried dishes at home); Brazil Nuts; Herring. I don’t think it’s that hard to get some of those things into your diet.

Good luck![/quote]

Wow! Lostinasia, what an amazing answer! Thank you! This is exactly the type of advice and suggestions I was looking for. Thanks a ton!

As for saving money, I recommend the traditional markets (in the mornings) for fresh veggies, tofu, meat, etc. Far cheaper than the supermarkets, and you can usually get some a handful of cilantro thrown in for free. Small packages of lentils are easy to find in the stores as well. It’s not too hard to eat healthy here, you’ve just gotta get creative!

Sardines in a can for calcium. Cheap but possibly a love-hate thing.

If the concern is eating cheaply and you’re only going to be here a couple weeks, it’s going to be hard to beat the prices at local breakfast shops and biandang joints, especially since, as LostinAsia notes, it’s hard to set up a suitable pantry for that short time. You can select the healthier items like leaner meats and places that have lots of veggies, and alternate between those and homemade.

Yes, you can get by on lentils, brown rice, fresh veggies and fruit and canned goods. Add some pasta to that – a bag or two of whole wheat organic spaghetti at Costco is cheap, as is a big jar of Prego (not gourmet, but you won’t need a pantry). You can meet someone like me to slip in together on one card and split a couple items. As Britt says, hit wet markets for cheaper ingredients, but wash them well, as a lot of produce here is made with very heavy pesticide use. Organic leafy greens like bok choy and diguaye (yam leaves?) run around $33-36 per bag at organic stores and Mayful. Costco is cheap for broccoli, among other things. Depending on when you arrive, I might be able to get you some organic oatmeal at a very low price (I tend to get about 20kg in, in late fall). If you’re looking for antioxidants, pick up a $250 tub of blueberries at Costco and add 1/10 of it to your muesli or oatmeal each morning; it may add $25 to your meal, but it’s healthy. They have even cheaper frozen berries.

Doufu is cheap, as is doujiang (the soy milk available cold in supers and hot in markets). There are plentiful doufu dishes at vegetarian self-serve places as well, and those are cheap. Cheese ( a calcium source) is often cheapest at Costco.

This is a very good one, especially in summer. :thumbsup: :thumbsup:

Brown rice, lentils. Olive oil, vinegar, garlic, seasoning. Chopped tomatoes, spring onions, lemon juice, whatever (yesterday I threw in an apple, just 'cos it was there).
Make enough on Day 1, into the fridge, and it’s good for 3 lunches.

About to research this in the “Where to Find…” section as well, but since it was mentioned… Where is a good place to find lentils in bulk? I’ve been looking all over the place but no success.

Thanks!

This is a very good one, especially in summer. :thumbsup: :thumbsup:

Brown rice, lentils. Olive oil, vinegar, garlic, seasoning. Chopped tomatoes, spring onions, lemon juice, whatever (yesterday I threw in an apple, just 'cos it was there).
Make enough on Day 1, into the fridge, and it’s good for 3 lunches.[/quote]

Yea this is excellent. Mulberry vinegar is great to use as the base. Can also sprinkle feta cheese on top. I prefer red onions to spring though.