Adopting healthy eating choices is probably one of the single most important things you can do to manage pain, no matter the condition you suffer from.

Fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats like those found in nuts and olive oils contain powerful micronutrients that work to reduce pain-causing inflammation and help you feel better.

It all sounds good in theory, but finding the time and energy to cook these meals is one of the biggest challenges to healthy eating. Eating only whole foods can be costly, too, especially if buying organic produce and specialty ingredients. And if you’ve come home from a long day at work, or are suffering from a bad pain day, finding the energy to cook nutritious meals can seem like an impossible task.

But here are a few ways to help your healthy eating efforts, from reducing costs to just making it easier.

1. Buy in bulk

Consider that a canister of name-brand oats can cost anywhere from $3 to $5 for just over a pound while an entire pound of oats purchased in bulk can cost less than one dollar. Buying in bulk saves money.

Other items available for purchase in bulk include nuts, dried fruit, even flour and other grains like quinoa. Save big money on healthy snack items like trail mix by buying the nuts in bulk and making your own.

You might even make your own granola, taking oats, a comforting winter breakfast, into the summer with the addition of yogurt and fruit.

To make granola, try this recipe from Elizabeth Rider:

Combine two cups of oatmeal with a ½ cup of chopped, raw nuts with about two or three tablespoons of honey or maple syrup. Add two tablespoons of coconut oil and one ½ teaspoon of vanilla or almond extract. Also include ¼ cup of raw seeds like sunflower seeds and ½ cup of dried, chopped fruit if you’d like. For extra oomph, sprinkle a little cinnamon on top. Mix it all together, lay on a cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes at 300 degrees.

2. Find inspiration in ethnic cuisine

Many delicious, healthy recipes inspired by Japanese, Indian, and European cooking center on vegetables—which tend to cost less to make than meat—and spices. It’s easy to forget the aromatic flavors that spices can impart on foods, transforming a simple plate of vegetables from flavorless to fantastic.

Consider healthy, easy, incredibly affordable miso soup. Miso is a fermented soybean paste available in the refrigerated section of most health food stores. It offers profound health benefits, including reducing inflammation, which is essential for those living with chronic pain, and preventing cancer, according to MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Making miso soup is very easy and once you get the hang of it, you don’t even need a recipe. It basically involves heating water, adding spices like ginger, vegetables, and any noodles you desire until they’re cooked. For extra anti-inflammatory benefit, try adding seaweed, which is packed with antioxidants and iodine, an important nutrient that could help diminish fatigue, depression, or any difficulties losing weight, according to Greatist.

Once the soup is cooked and ready to eat, remove the pot from the heat and add miso in the amount recommended on the package. Heating miso destroys its active probiotics, so add it in near the end of cooking, and never to boiling water.

To get started, try this miso recipe from Whole Foods that includes garlic, ginger, bok choy, carrots, and tofu.

Another benefit to using spices like ginger, turmeric, and garlic is that these flavor enhancers offer many benefits to chronic pain patients. All offer potent anti-inflammatory compounds that help reduce pain.

Exotic spices impart fun flavor and powerful nutrients to healthy cooking.

Turmeric in particular is not frequently used in U.S.-style cooking, but has been found to put ulcerative colitis in remission, and potentially help to relieve arthritis pain and prevent heart disease, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Turmeric also works to lower blood sugar, making it potentially effective for those with diabetes.

Turmeric is used mostly in Indian cooking, giving curry its signature yellow color. Eating Well offers a collection of dishes with turmeric to get you started experimenting with this colorful, healthy spice. It’s available in powdered form in the grocery store, but most grocery stores also carry the root, usually alongside ginger.

3. Cook in a crockpot

Slow-cooked meals combine ease of cooking with healthy ingredients. Recipes made in a crockpot also frequently yield many servings, reducing the amount of cooking needed overall.

For those with chronic pain who find chopping vegetables difficult because of pain or fatigue, this feature is essential and a great tool for healthy eating. No sautéing or keeping an eye on the stove necessary—simply add the vegetables, turn the crockpot on and, a few hours later, voila, a healthy, delicious meal.

Foods cooked in crockpots tend to be more flavorful because of the slow cooking process. They enable you to buy less expensive cuts of meat because virtually any meat will become tender after hours spent marinating in savory juices and flavors.

Options for meals include vegetable and chickpea curry or butternut squash parsnip soup. If neither of those sound good to you, check out Cooking Light’s list of 100 slow-cooker healthy eating recipes.

4. Money-saving grocery shopping tips

Food costs continue to rise and searching for healthy recipes sometimes turns up fancy-sounding and expensive ingredients. Even if money isn’t an issue, maybe those fancy ingredients scare you away from healthy eating.

Eating nourishing food is about feeling good. If it doesn’t feel good, try something different. Plenty of recipes feature ordinary, everyday ingredients that don’t require a visit to a specialty store. Buying frozen vegetables is often less expensive than buying fresh. Plus, you don’t have to worry about fresh produce going bad, sending money straight into the trashcan.

While fresh vegetables are preferable, frozen is a good alternative, and much better than canned. Basing meals around staples such as vegetables, beans, and rice is a wonderful way to eat healthy while cutting costs. This way of eating is much more affordable than including meat on the plate every night, and healthier, too.

Using fresh spices like ginger, garlic, and lemon is a healthy way to add delicious flavor while keeping costs down and nutrients high.

What is your favorite tip for eating healthy and fast on a budget?

Image by Janine via Flickr

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