It can be a challenge to make healthy, clean eating choices in Hong Kong. It’s always been hard to buy clean food and choose responsibly sourced items from a restaurant menu, though there is some real progress on these fronts. We now have over 100 organic farms in the territory and it feels like a new farm-to-table dining concept opens every week. But in terms of costs, the situation is still wanting. Making sustainable food changes remains an expensive habit. Green Queen has put together 10 handy tips to stick to your clean eating regime without breaking the bank, added nutrition facts and where to shop name-dropping to boot!
1. Eat less. Period.
Sounds too simple to be true- and yet, it is the most obvious way to save $$ and keep fit. We could all afford to eat less. Most restaurants mains are the size of two appropriate portions. Eat half and save the rest for later. Portion your food at home. Only eat when you are actually hungry. If you eat wholesome, nutritious, clean food, you will start to need less of it. Once your body is working better, it is more efficient at getting the nourishment it requires from what it is being fed.
2. Drink more water.
We often misconstrue dehydration as hunger. Drink water as often as you can. Or if you find water boring, soothe yourself with herbal tea. Increasing the amount of water you drink means wasting less money on packaged drinks and takeaway coffees, which can really add up every month. This healthy habit will also help you avoid overeating. Note: avoid distilled water. Drink filtered water and/or mineral water only. Distilled water actually dehydrates you!
3. Use your blender daily.
Grab a blender (any blender, doesn’t have to be fancy, get one second hand off of Asia Expat or Craigslist for less than HKD 200) and make one meal a day a smoothie. Smoothies are super nutritious, easy to consume on the go, don’t require fancy cookery skills, keep in the fridge for up to 3 days and are a great way to use up leftover veggies and fruits. You can bulk up your smoothie with ice cubes and/or bananas, which don’t have to be organic and are inexpensive. They are a great smoothie filler plus they make bitter vegetables (all the rage these days) very easy to swallow. Coconut milk (from a can, around HKD 10, and does not need to be organic) or fresh coconut water is another great way to get nutrients into the blender and improve the taste of whatever you are throwing in there.
4. Eat more soup.
Start all your meals with a bowl of soup. In the summer, opt for chilled soup recipes like gazpacho and avocado cream if you prefer not to eat piping hot food in the high 30s. Bored by purees? You live in Asia, remember! Go for bone broths like a Vietnamese Pho- or indulge in curry soups like Thai coconut cream soup and Malaysian laksas. Soups are extremely nutritious, easy to make, hard to mess up, great for making use of random items in your fridge and they fill your stomach up, meaning you eat less of the rest of the meal. It goes without saying that soups are also very budget-friendly- they are filling, contain a lot of water and if vegetarian don’t require expensive ingredients.
5. Buy organic. Not everything.
Yes, eating organic food is important. Yes pesticides are bad for you. Yes organic fruits & veggies have more nutrients. No, you don’t need to buy everything organic. Use the Environmental Working Group (EWG)’s handy Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen lists to help you navigate what to buy conventional and what to buy organic. Things you don’t really need to worry about: avocados, bananas, coconuts, sweet corn, mangos, papayas, pineapple, sweet potatoes and onions. See a pattern? Most of our beloved local/regional tropical fruits are totally safe to eat- and available at any wet market for a bargain! Items to buy organic or avoid: berries, lettuce/leaves, tomatoes and peppers (especially the sweet/bell variety). If you are a berry lover but can’t bear to drop HKD 80 per punnet of organic blueberries, try Wyman’s frozen wild berry packs available at most Parknshops for approx. HKD 40.
6. Choose frozen & canned fish.
Chilled fish is more expensive to import. If you are unconvinced by claims that local seafood can be clean, then frozen is your best and cheapest bet. A great place to stock up is Wild C. Their catch is from Iceland, which boasts some of the cleanest waters in the world. Their price per 100 grams is the best in town for wild fish- all their fish is wild except for their salmon, which is Arctic farmed salmon, and has won awards for being as close to wild salmon as possible in a farmed environment. If frozen fish doesn’t do it for you, then start adding canned/jarred anchovies, mackerel and sardines to your diet. All three oily fish are high in Omega 3, available sustainably sourced and don’t cost the earth- bonus: they have a long shelf life. Great as a salad topping, or make into fish cakes/burgers.
7. Eat less meat.
Hong Kong is not famous for its cattle. The majority of the meat we eat is imported and there’s no denying it: meat is expensive. Expensive to raise, expensive to transport, expensive to store. Whether you bought it at the grocery store or ordered it at a restaurant, meat is the priciest part of your plate. Buy less of it, try and decrease consumption to once or twice a week, choose the vegetarian option wherever possible (check out Green Monday, a social venture that works with restaurants across the city to offer diners a vegetarian menu option every Monday). Consuming less meat is a huge money saver, you will definitely see a difference at the end of the month. When you do buy meat, source it responsibly. Beef should be grass fed. Poultry should be free roaming. All meat should be antibiotic and hormone free. Three Butchers has a fantastic selection of sustainably raised meats and poultry with very competitive pricing. It is also worth trying local sources like naturally raised Wah Kee pork, available at Homegrown Foods)
8. Become a bean lover.
And no, we don’t mean coffee beans. If you are going to eat less meat, you need a meaty (sorry!) substitute. Beans are your new budget-friendly best friends. Black beans, pinto beans, navy beans, cannellini beans, mung beans…And we haven’t even mentioned their first cousins: chickpeas, lentils, dahl, split peas…There are endless pulses in various colours, sizes and textures. With thousands of recipes online, there is no excuse not to have a go. All are available organic in bulk at very friendly prices, have a long shelf life, and have versatile uses. Black bean burgers, mung bean stew, cannelini bean salad, navy bean nut free cake, pinto beans on toast- there is no end to how creative you can get with beans! Ideally, buy the dried versions and soak and cook them yourself, but organic canned beans will definitely not break the bank if time is of the essence.
9. Choose local.
Even as recently as two years ago, it was a mission and half to find locally grown, organic vegetables. Now there are dozens of options (see Green Queen’s complete list here), some pricier than others. The Vegetable Marketing Organization offers the most wallet-friendly selection of vegetables, download their handy app and order directly from your phone. No fancy marketing, no designer packaging- just locally farmed organic veggies available according to the seasons. The Organic Farm & Hok Tau Potted Organic Vegetable are also great resources for decently priced local organic produce. You can stuff your fridge for under 350 HKD a week, which is pretty reasonable. Based on our research, it is far cheaper to eat local, seasonal organic produce than to buy imported veggies. Plus, seasonal produce is healthier for you because you are eating the fruit/vegetable at its ripest when it boasts the most nutrients. Win-win!
10. Buy in bulk.
Grains, flours, nuts, seeds, superfood powders, spices- all can be bought organic in bulk at a significant discount. i-Detox has a great selection of items that can be ordered in large packaging. Another green girl secret: iHerb.com. The site stocks thousands of pantry items, snacks, powders, teas, condiments and personal care products from mostly US brands at extremely low prices for very reasonable rates and ships to Hong Kong within mere days. It’s easy, fast and very budget-friendly. Just make sure to store things appropriately- transfer to glass jars once opened and keep as much as possible in the freezer/fridge to beat the Hong Kong humidity.
Photo Credits: Daniel E Lee via photopin cc, stijn via photopin cc, Roger Smith via photopin cc, vasta via photopin cc and C_K_M via photopin cc. This post was previously published in Sassy Hong Kong.