About 2 years ago I developed and held a class called “Cooking Healthy on a Budget”. It encompassed three things that I am very passionate about, eating healthy, cooking, and staying within my budget.

I have found that many people have the misconception that they can’t afford to eat healthy because it’s too expensive. On the contrary, if you compare the cost of buying prepackaged prepared meals vs. keeping a pantry of healthy ingredients and purchasing fresh ingredients, you will find that you are spending less money cooking healthy. The only thing it’s going to cost you a little more of is time.

The information I handed out stated the importance of eating healthy, healthy eating goals, and using spices for medicinal purposes, but the key ingredient (pardon the pun) to achieving a healthier lifestyle is simply to get back into the kitchen. Starting with fresh, healthy ingredients and making a healthy dinner takes a bit more time than taking a tray out of a package and throwing it in the oven, but the rewards are certainly worth it. (Increased energy, more stable moods, better sleep, less stress and greater ability to focus are just a few benefits of eating healthier.) It always comes down to the fact that we find the time for the things we put as a priority in our lives. I have also found chopping vegetables and such very therapeutic, especially when I learned how to do it properly.

The second tip in eating healthy I shared was to shop mostly from the outer walls of the store where you will find produce, dairy and frozen items. (But not the lunchmeat counter as lunchmeat is full of nitrates and other chemicals as well as loaded with sodium!) The outer walls of the store are where you will find your “whole foods”, defined as “food with little or no refining or processing and containing no artificial additives or preservatives.” In other words, they are still in their “natural” state. The inner aisles of the store are where they market most of the processed foods.

The third tip is to read and compare labels when shopping, both “nutrition” and “ingredients”. The first ingredient listed is the highest % ingredient it contains. You may be surprised how many things contain added ingredients like sugar, high fructose corn syrup (extremely processed item!) and high amounts of sodium. (Ex. Ketchup, BBQ sauce and bread). Women are supposed to eat only 100 calories from sugar a day, men 150. “Reduced Fat” does not necessarily mean it’s “low fat”, it’s just 25% less fat than the original. For a muffin that’s still a lot of fat! Sometimes “fat free” is also, well, taste-free. To make up for that, food makers tend to pour other ingredients, especially sugar, flour, thickeners and salt into the products which can also add calories. Also, there is a big difference between “low sodium” and “reduced sodium”, just like fat. Finally, when looking at the label, if you can’t pronounce the ingredient you shouldn’t be eating it!

When I first started really reading labels on items, I really became discouraged because I felt like there was nothing available to eat! Even something as simple as BBQ sauce, which my family loves, contained high fructose corn syrup as the first ingredient. It doesn’t matter which one you choose either, they all have it somewhere at the top of the list. This is also where “getting back into the kitchen” can come into play. I decided to go online to “Pinterest” to see if there were any easy recipes available for BBQ sauce. Of course, there was a ton of them, so I scrolled through to choose one that was easy and good. I found one, tried it, and have made it many times since.  


Homemade BBQ Sauce

Prep Time: 5 mins.

Cook Time: 25 mins.


  • 1 (15oz.) can tomato sauce
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • 3 Tbsp. Worcestershire
  • 2 tsp. liquid smoke (optional)
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp. ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp. onion powder
  • ½ tsp salt


Whisk all ingredients together in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer (uncovered) for 20 min, or until the sauce has slightly thickened.

Use the sauce immediately or refrigerate in a sealed container for up to a week. Freezes well too!

I don’t enjoy things that are spicy so I did not put in the liquid smoke. I do like a little bit of siracha sauce in it, though, as it adds flavor as well as a little kick. Sometimes I will also substitute Tamari (a low sodium soy sauce) for the Worcestershire and make sure to have “no salt added” tomato sauce if I want to reduce the amount of sodium. The honey and molasses have a lower glycemic load (the effect on blood sugar and insulin levels) and less processing than such things as high fructose corn syrup.

Cooking from scratch allows us to focus on our health goals such as reducing the amount of sugar or salt in our diet. Taking baby steps toward goals is best for achieving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle for the rest of our lives.

There’s so much more I could share but it would probably become overwhelming. Following these easy steps, however, will lead to a healthier, happier life with more money to put in the entertainment or vacation section of our budget rather than spent on groceries!


To your health!

Written and provided by Family Strengthening Network Family Advocate Jackie Southwick.