Wednesday, October 15

Quick frugal tip: Meal substitution

We're all stressed out and many of us are upset and fearful about the economy. Which means, like me, you're probably extra tired.

There's no problem with that, but I can tell you (and I think we can all agree I'm an expert) that fatigue and depression make it hard to do day-to-day chores. For me, one of the first things to go is food.

When you're upset and feeling powerless, it's easy to give in to convenience. You know you shouldn't -- that you could quickly fix yourself something cheaply. But it suddenly seems like too much work.

About 6 years ago, I was at my lowest point, physically. I left the house maybe twice a week. Everything exhausted me and I spent a lot of the day sleeping. Getting to the grocery store a mile away (without a car) was miraculous.

So I invested in Slim-Fast shakes. Not the greatest tasting, but it meant I didn't have to worry about two of my three meals for the day. When I have to figure all meals out, I get anxious and that tires me out further.

I have since abandoned the practice in favor of a healthy cereal, Kashi Go Lean Crunch. But, upon hearing about Tim's sugary cereal, our trainer Elston recently recommended a healthy meal substitution.

GNC Pro Performance has a whey protein shake. The chocolate is actually pretty tasty. If you use chilled water, it tastes kind of like a thin chocolate shake. Otherwise, it just tastes like hot chocolate that's cooled off.

I like it because it's fast and easy. I was running late for my training session. So I opted for it instead of my cereal. It took me about a minute to make and about 40 seconds to drink. Great for when you're pressed for time. And I got 20 grams of protein from that drink, with almost no sugar.

If I were going to substitute it for an entree, I would probably use two scoops, since there's only 130 calories in each serving. (Don't forget: Calories are units of energy, not just things to avoid.) Then I'd have some fruit or something else to round out the meal.

Obviously, the GNC stuff is just one of many brands you can try. I like it because it's low in sugar, so I don't crash an hour later. I have also tried Glucerna, though I wasn't crazy about the taste.

Most of meal-replacement shakes (at least the ones I've tried) have tastes you have to get used to. By the third or fourth time, you're usually pretty accustomed to their version of chocolate. The GNC stuff probably would have been good on the first try, but we were using too much water, which dilutes the taste.

My (sugar-conscious) favorites are the Zone bars, followed by Cliff. Zone makes a mean mint chocolate bar. It's almost like candy, but with a good balance on sugar. There are also protein bars, as well. My favorite (that don't have a ton of sugar, anyway) are the Zone bars, particularly the mint chocolate.

For some of you, a 260-calorie breakfast is too small. That's fine. The 130-calorie one I had only lasted me around 90 minutes -- long enough to get to the training session, through it and back home. Just because I mention calories doesn't mean I'm advocating you strip your diet down.

In fact, I really loathe programs like Jenny Craig, though a couple of friends have seen terrific results from it. They'd have to. Why? Because if you follow the program instructions, you live on 1200 calories a day.

Think that doesn't sound so bad? The average 160 lb person burns that lying in bed all day.

So, yeah... Not healthy! Most regular-sized people who want to lose a little weight should, as far as I can tell from my dealings with those-in-the-know, shoot for no fewer than 1500 calories.

If you're one of those normal-sized people who eats like a normal person, you might not be crazy about replacing a meal. But these things can still be useful from a frugal standpoint. That's because these make good snacks.

Most of the time, when you're considering what to eat, you're already hungry. If it's dinner, you're probably tired from the day. Like shopping when you're hungry, it's a no-no to try to decide meals while you're stomach's rumbling.

Instead, have a shake or bar or whatever. This will stop the immediacy of the hunger and probably up your energy a bit. Then you can do a more realistic assessment of plausible homemade food.

And starting with a shake or bar means you won't be fainting from hunger when the meal's ready. This will help you eat a more sensibly sized portion, which will leave leftovers. That helps you stretch your food dollar, meaning you can spend less at the grocery store.

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Blogger Naturally Frugal said...

Have you ever thought about grocery delivery? I know Safeway delivers for as low as $7, so you can just do your shopping online without having to make a trip to the store. Just a thought!

October 15, 2008 at 11:56 AM

Blogger Abby said...

Naturally frugal,

Thanks for the comment. I have considered this option, but there are a couple major detracters:

1. Our area isn't included in some of the delivery zones. No idea why, since we live in a pretty populated area of the city.

2. Often you get a lower rate if you buy more, which encourages you to buy things you don't need.

3. I like to be able to pick out my own produce/meat/cheeses. Sometimes when I get to the store, the produce I thought I wanted so much just doesn't look up to snuff. You don't get that choice with delivery.

4. You have to know you need it in advance. We're sometimes a bit off-the-cuff when it comes to food.

5. The specials vary so much, it's often worth it to make one trip a week to each store that has a noteworthy sale. But that means hefty delivery fees if you do it online.

October 15, 2008 at 2:48 PM

Blogger Shtinkykat said...

The biggest issue I have with these meal substitutions is that it's usually sweet. I don't have a sweet tooth (luckily) and I crave salty foods. Do you know of any meal subsitutions that are salty (vs. sweet)?

October 16, 2008 at 2:21 AM

Blogger Abby said...

Lucky you! I am jealous!

Obviously, most of the shakes are going to be sweetish, though if anyone has tried a non-chocolate flavor that wasn't too sweet, let us know.

Clif/Luna bars are really the only thing that come to mind. They have a lot of different flavors that don't sound too sweet: peanut butter, vanilla almond, etc.

And, looking at the site, there's a line that sort of fits your needs: Mojo. Check it out:

Beyond that, I'd go in somewhere like Super Supplements (if you have those) or GNC. They'd know of something low on the "sweet" scale and would be less likely to push you to a diet shake, which would have a ton of sugar in it.

October 16, 2008 at 11:07 AM

Blogger Shevy said...

For breakfast I drink Bolthouse Protein Drinks. It's fast, always ready and keeps me from crashing later at work and making really dumb expensive food choices at that point.

I drink 1/2 a big bottle per day and it makes a huge difference to me and my ability to function.

October 16, 2008 at 3:26 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you checked out Walmart for off-brand versions of these meal substitutions? I don't know for sure if they have them but we were buying protein powder for our son at GNC and I found a version of it that's actually better for 1/3 of the price I was paying.

October 16, 2008 at 4:14 PM


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