Are you having a tough time making ends meet during these tough economic times? Do you find your money isn’t stretching far enough at the grocery store? One of the easiest traps to fall into when money is tight is to eat unhealthy foods. But before you switch to a diet of macaroni and cheese, potatoes chips, and fast food burgers… STOP. If you follow these guidelines, you can still buy healthy foods and stay within your budget.
The key is planning. For most of us, life these days can be so hectic that it’s easier to call in for pizza or cook prepackaged convenience foods. However, not only are they usually more expensive to buy, they are typically less healthy for you than foods you cook yourself.
Start by picking the recipes for the week that you would like to make. Deciding what you are serving ahead of time can keep you from choosing something less healthy but easier to cook.
If you are short on time, you may want to select meals that can be prepared partially or fully in advance. Some people do an entire weeks worth of cooking in one day, storing the meals in the refrigerator or freezer. If you can’t prepare in advance, consider at least doing some of the prep work such as chopping vegetables and cleaning poultry ahead of time.
Planning meals in advance also saves you time and money at the grocery store. Use your meal plans to create your shopping list. When planning for the week, you can also see what is on special at the store and try to build meals around those items. Buying items that are on special can save you quite a bit of money.
To save as much as possible, limit your shopping to what is on your list. Try to avoid impulse buys. This will most likely be the hardest change to make, but if you avoid buying on impulse, you will most likely avoid buying items that are unhealthy and add considerable costs to your grocery bill.
Fruits and Vegetables:
There seems to be a popular myth that fresh produce is expensive. But if you buy fruits and vegetables that are in season, they are actually quite affordable. Buying fruits and vegetables by the bag instead of individually also tends to be cheaper.
Protein can be a little more difficult to buy on a budget. You will probably have to pass on the filet minion and lobster, but you can still find healthy sources of protein for a low price.
First off, look for unprepared sources of meat. If you select cleaned and marinated chicken out of the butcher’s case, you will most likely pay more than if you clean and marinate it yourself. Also, you will usually pay more for boneless skinless chicken breast, than if you buy bone in with skin. Meats that require more preparation tend to be less expensive.
Also, meat isn’t your only option for protein. Consider replacing meat with beans or eggs for a healthy, less expensive alternative.
The same rules from protein also apply to grains. Buying less processed grains is the least expensive and healthiest option. For example, when buying rice, choose plain white or brown rice over the packaged mixes. Buying in bulk is also a less expensive option. Oatmeal in bulk is much cheaper than buying the individual packets.
One of the biggest cost savings in the beverage category is to stop buying bottled water. Installing a filter on your tap water can give you clean drinking water for pennies.
Also, for the coffee drinker who spends $3.00-$4.00 a day at the local coffee shop, start brewing your own at home. Not only does it save you a bundle every week, you can control the amount of fat and sugar you are adding to your cup. A cup at home with a low fat creamer can be much lower in fat than a latte or specialty coffee drink.
When cooking your food, pay attention to how you are preparing it. You may not need as much oil as you’ve been using, for example. Try to cook with as many vegetables as possible and be sure to drain the grease when you cook your meat and poultry.
As you can see, hard economic times don’t mean you have to eat less well. Following these steps does require a little more time and effort, but the payoff can be considerable. Not only will you be saving money at the checkout, you will be eating healthier too!