The Food Marketing Institute has recently reported that 71% of us are cooking at home more often these days. That means more people are sitting in rush hour traffic rummaging through their cupboards and fridge in their minds, trying to figure out what's for dinner. The average household wastes 14% of the food they buy due to poor planning and wastage. If you spend $100 a week on groceries, 14% is the equivalent of three homemade gourmet lunches. Naturally, home cooking has fewer calories and more nutritional value than restaurant meals but are you maximizing your savings or adding to your stress when you eat at home?
By planning meals you only shop for the items you need each week,
thus reducing waste, worry and money!
When you plan meals, make sure to include foods from each food group, with special attention to:
Include fresh vegetables and fruits at every meal, including snacks. Aim for 7-8 servings of veggies & 1-3 servings of fruit daily! Frozen veggies are fantastic for quick side dishes and frozen fruit is great for smoothies, esp. if you haven’t had time to buy fresh, or it isn’t in season.
Watch for sales of whole-grain products like brown rice, whole grain pasta, couscous and oats so you have them on-hand for quick meals. Grains are excellent sources of fiber and are inexpensive. Opt for 1-2 servings each day, paired with plenty of non-starchy veggies so you don’t spike your blood sugar and feel crappy after you eat them.
Keep frozen fish on hand for quick entrees. Costco has a wonderful selection of individually frozen fish that is quick to thaw and cook. Paired with a quick sauce of herbs, garlic & olive oil, fish can be super tasty, even for the most discriminating eaters.
Meat is definitely one of the more costly mealtime staples but re-thinking how you use it can make for a happy wallet and waistline! With books like In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan, it's becoming increasingly popular to think of meat as a condiment for vegetables as opposed to the meal's focal point. Diversify your cooking skills and learn techniques to stretch your food dollar. For instance, braising or slow cooking cheaper cuts of meat is an easy way to save on meat. (And it’s great, because you can walk away while it cooks – so more time to do other things! YAY!) Swap out meat for lentils and other beans once or twice a week for even greater savings & health benefits. Soups, casseroles and salads are all great ways to pepper in a little meat instead of serving it in one big chunk.
Meal planning has myriad benefits & getting started is surprisingly simple. Before you go shopping, just take note of what you have on hand, jot down your meals and make a shopping list so you only buy what you need. It takes a few minutes but is well worth it for saving money and simplifying meals.
As we leave tax season, with money on our minds, here a few more tips to eat healthy while managing your food budget:
Buy produce in season when prices are lowest and nutrient value is peaking. If possible, buy locally grown foods.
Invest in proper storage containers such as SnapLock glass containers to keep produce fresh and crisp longer. Glass has the added advantage of allowing you to quickly see what you have on hand, when you open the fridge.
Buy generic and store brand items. They are less expensive yet comparable in quality and nutrient content.
Buy in bulk when possible and avoid pre-cut fruits and vegetables. Select family-size packages of meat or poultry and freeze meal-size portions.
Shop sales and do your homework with the weekly circular before shopping. Different food stores put high visibility staples on sale, but have higher prices on other items.
Buy organic for items that are highly sprayed or that go bad easily (as they tend to be highly sprayed!). You can see a list of “The Dirty Dozen” here: https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty_dozen_list.php and the “Clean 15” here: https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/clean_fifteen_list.php
Always buy organic for corn, soy, wheat & canola, as they tend to be very heavily modified (meaning we’ve tampered with their genes so they’re not used properly in the body).
Frozen fruits and vegetables are often more economical and retain retain more nutrients than “fresh” produce, as they are harvested and packaged at peak ripeness, compared to “fresh” produce that must be picked before it ripens so it doesn't go bad during shipping.
Use water from the tap or purchase a water filtration system. Use re-fillable glass or stainless steel bottles that can be filled at home and reused. This saves money and helps reduce waste in our landfills and pollution in our air. And it’s easy!
Use rubber bands to keep track of how many bottles you should drink each day (e.g. if you need 4 bottles, wrap 4 rubber bands around the bottle and move them up/down as you drink a bottle).
There’s no need to buy bottles, just wash out a 16 or 20-oz condiment bottle and re-use it. They’re great because they’re leak-proof & easily fit in your bag or car’s cupholder.
Create your own single serving snack packages. This will help you maintain proper portion control while avoiding the premium pricing associated with the excess packaging. And it’s a great way to include your kids so they learn to make healthy choices and pack their own lunch/snacks.
Buy canned fish including tuna, salmon and sardines. They’re great sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which provide a wide range of health benefits. They’re easily added to pasta, salads and more.
Grow your own fresh herbs for seasoning vegetables, meat and pasta dishes. Basil, parsley, oregano, cilantro, thyme, rosemary and sage are all easy to grow in pots or in the ground.
To avoid funky experiments in the back of the fridge, label extra portions with the date and freeze right after you make them. This is a great time-saver when you’re busy, because you can pull it out, thaw it and quickly heat it for a fast, no need-to-prep (and do a lot of cleaning!) again meal.