A healthy diet is essential for dancers because of the extreme stress and demands that we put on our bodies every day. With the right food choices, we can decrease or prevent injury, improve strength and stamina, decrease inflammation and muscle soreness and increase our focus and concentration by keeping our energy level stable throughout the day. Food is one of the most important tools that a dancer’s body needs! Here are some tips for dancers who want to shop for healthy food on a budget.
Before heading to the store:
• Peruse store flyers for sales and coupons. Then make a meal plan for the week and, after that, a shopping list.
• Know what is in season (as this will usually be cheaper and will be of higher quality). Try new foods each week to add variety and an array of vitamins and minerals in your diet.
• Save money by cooking your own meals and making your own snacks. Make bigger batches of recipes and freeze for convenience.
• If you live with a roommate, share costs on large items and buy in bulk.
• If you eat meat daily, exchange one or two meals for a vegetarian option (e.g. substitute chicken on salad with beans or lentils).
At the store, start on the inside aisles:
• Bean and lentils: dried is cheapest but if buying canned beans, look for organic and BPA-free linings and rinse before eating.
• Avoid packaged cereal and opt for whole grains (e.g. brown rice, quinoa, steel cut oats, rolled oats, whole grain breads, wraps and pastas). I recommend making your own muesli.
• Making your own bars is always best, but if time is an issue look for ones with minimal ingredients (e.g. Lara and Nakd Bars).
• When buying nuts and seeds for trail mixes, salads or soup, note that peanuts or peanut butter, flaxseed, sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds are the most economical.
• The middle of the shelf (eye level) usually has the highest prices.
Outside perimeter of the store:
• Incorporate fruit and veggies as much as possible! I recommend eating a leafy green a day and incorporating berries in your diet. To cut costs, buy onions, avocados, yams and sweet potatoes in bulk.
• Meat and alternatives: for turkey, chicken, fish/seafood and eggs, buying bigger packages and freezing the excess is cost-effective. If you can’t afford fresh fish, buy canned.
• Frozen berries, when fresh are not in season, and frozen peas can be economical.
In general, buying organic is best but can be more expensive. Look at the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen list (ewg.org/foodnews) for info on what produce has less pesticide residue. Taking the time to make a meal plan and prepare your snacks will directly impact the way you train and function during rehearsal, class and in performance.