So, you’ve decided to clean up your eating habits, but you want to avoid taking a big hit to your pocketbook. Here are four tips to help you stretch your food dollars AND shrink your waistline.
Plan Your Menu in Advance
Plan every meal that you and your family will eat for the entire week with an eye towards excluding unhealthful processed foods which are often expensive for the little bit of good stuff you get. Write up your grocery list from this menu, so you won’t be tempted by other foods at the store. Your menu should include “planned-overs.”
For example, if large packages of chicken breasts are on sale, buy more chicken than you can use for one dinner, and bake all the chicken breasts on Sunday night. Serve some of the breasts with vegetables for dinner and then plan on using the leftover cooked chicken meat for chicken salad as Tuesday night’s dinner.
Get Friendly with Your Freezer
Invest in a used, second refrigerator/freezer or a small, separate deep freeze and use it every chance you get. Cook double portions of nutritious casseroles or marinara sauce on the weekends and freeze in smaller portions to have ready to go for dinners. Don’t forget to stock up on frozen vegetables when they’re on sale. Large bags are usually relatively inexpensive and frozen vegetables can be nutritionally superior to fresh.
Yes, you read that right. Fresh vegetables may have been hanging around in your grocery store for a long time, losing nutrients all the while. Frozen vegetables were picked at their peak and then blanched before freezing which slows down vitamin loss and helps retain the color and texture. Also, a large bag of frozen vegetables is convenient because you can take out only the amount you need with no washing, chopping, or waste.
Pad Your Proteins
It’s not news that proteins, especially beef and seafood, are expensive. Most of us already eat way too much protein, so one way to save money is to cut back on the amount of animal proteins that you purchase and consume. Do you really need a full pound of lean ground beef in your spaghetti sauce?
You can pad a smaller amount of ground beef with grated carrots or legumes like kidney beans, chickpeas, or black beans. Legumes are CHEAP, especially in dried form, and they are wonderful sources of fiber, protein, and complex carbs.
As for fish, many grocery stores have very good prices on plain, flash frozen fish filets. Just let the fish thaw overnight in the refrigerator – not on the counter, please! – and, by baking the fish in a marinara sauce with lots of vegetables, you can have a healthy and tasty fish dinner at a low cost.
Know What You’re Getting (and What You’re Not) with Organic Foods
Organic foods command a premium price, but they are not nutritionally superior to conventionally produced foods. It’s also important to remember that organic baked goods made with “all-natural” ingredients can be just as unhealthful as the usual packaged cookies or cakes.
For example, your body reacts to the carbs and calories in honey, the same way it reacts to white sugar. That means sweet treats should be limited whether they’re organic and made with natural ingredients or not. One way to tame your sweet tooth is to choose a small piece of fresh fruit as a snack or dessert or enjoy a small portion of one of these reduced sugar desserts.
Eating right doesn’t have to break the bank — you just need to do some advance planning. And, as always, portion control is key. If you are eating more than you should, then that means you’re spending more on food than you need to.
Ellen Stokes, MS, RD, LD is an award-winning video producer, director, and writer in addition to being a registered dietitian. Ellen writes and creates videos about nutrition education, food safety, menu planning, grocery shopping, and healthful cooking on a budget. Ellen has worked with organizations and companies including WebMD, the Partnership for Food Safety Education, and the University of Georgia Food Science Department. Ellen formerly worked for CNN as a writer and producer and teaches food safety and nutrition for Georgia State University. Check her out on Twitter @EllenS_RD.