A common complaint about eating healthy is that healthier food is pricey than processed alternatives. Another complaint is that in order to eat healthfully you have to slave away in the kitchen for each meal.
Well, here are a few tips that will help keep your food costs down and allow you to eat healthfully without spending hours in the kitchen. All it takes is some pre-planning.
Let’s get started!
Create a Menu
Planning your meals (at least dinner) for the week should top on your priority list. And I’ll be honest with you, it takes such little time that you’ll be embarrassed that you haven’t done this sooner!
When you begin to plan your dinners, take a look in your pantry and freezer first! If you have ingredients for spaghetti, add that to your list. Do you have lean ground turkey or beef in the freezer? Maybe have tacos, make a meatloaf, hamburgers or a baked ziti with meat (with the pasta and sauce in the pantry). Also think about how much you can make. Is there enough to make 2 pans of ziti so you can freeze one for later? Chili, enchiladas, casseroles of any kind is great to double batch.
Not only will this cut out extraneous spending at the supermarket by purchasing what you already have, it will help you in a number of ways. For example:
- You can incorporate one or two of those recipes that you ripped out of Cooking Light and set aside for “when you had time to experiment”.
- Looking at your week will allow you to identify nights where you’re at kids’ sports, dance recitals or when you or your husband has to work late and dinner can be a little, shall we say casual. (Breakfast for dinner, anyone?)
- You can have ‘leftover night’ where you bring out the past few nights leftovers, freshen what needs freshening and everyone can have what they want.
- Most importantly, knowing what you will be serving or making will allow you to create your shopping list so that when you do your weekly shopping, you know exactly what to get.
Shop in Season
The best way to save money on fresh fruits and veggies is to shop when they are in season. Sure you can buy sweet corn in November but if you wait until June or July, that sweet corn will be from less than 60 miles away, be super sweet and less expensive.
If you are not able to find the veggies you need for a recipe or fruit for a smoothie, consider the frozen food aisle. One of the benefits of frozen fruits or veggies is that they are usually frozen right after being picked.
Buy in Bulk
The next time you need beans for Taco Tuesday or to add to soup, consider buying the beans in bulk. They take a bit of prep time (usually soaking overnight and/or boiling them until they soften) but they retain a nice consistency without being mushy like canned beans. From a price comparison, a pound of pinto beans costs about $1.79 for about 16 servings (1/2 c per serving). A can of refried beans will run you about $1.99 or more and provide 2.5 servings.
Lentils, beans, legumes, rice (brown, white, Arborio, etc.) can all be bought in bulk which will allow you to season as you like. Recipes are usually on the package and I promise you that it’s quick and easy to do.
Eating out often will make it harder to stick to a healthy eating plan. Cooking at home can be blessedly simple (toss a steak on the bbq or boil pasta and add sauce) or you can be more elaborate with recipes and 3 or 4 course dinners. There’s really no right or wrong way with this. In the time it takes to have a pizza delivered or to drive down to the local café for a meal you can make a simple, tasty and nutritious dinner with your family done with dessert AND have cleaned the dishes.
If you need help with this cooking thing, check out Cooking Light Magazine for quick and healthy meals. Even if you commit to cooking 3 times a week, it will help not only your bottom line, but your bottom. (Ok, I could NOT resist!)
Eating proper portions will reduce the amount of food you consume which will reduce the amount of food you need to buy! The only caveat to this is fruits and veggies. Eat these as often as you are hungry. In season, of course!
Think Outside the Snack Box
My kids’ (and my) favorite snack is popcorn. Put 1 tablespoon canola oil in a big pot, heat the oil and then add about 1/3 cup or more popcorn kernels. Cover, swirl so the kernels don’t burn and in a few minutes you have hot popcorn. I like spicy so I add cayenne pepper and salt to my bowl and the kids like salt.
You can also make your own sweet snack mix for the kids by adding nuts (almonds, soy, shelled sunflower seeds or pistachios), some semi-sweet chocolate chips and shredded coconut. To go savory, add nuts, small pretzels and a good dose of garlic powder, season salt and pepper.
I know it may seem like a lot to start with but even with a busy schedule I have found that these tips really work. You can eat healthfully without spending a fortune on food.
Now go run!