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Friday, July 31, 2009

20 NEW or IMPROVED Tips to Eating Healthy on a Budget

Eating healthy on a budget does not have to be super expensive. I realize everyone has their own budget and it may not be the same as mine. I do compare my food allowance to what the USDA believes people would need to spend to get all of the foods required according to the food guide pyramid. On the following table, they give weekly amounts that would be spent according to gender, age and the month (due to price fluctuations). I try to keep our food budget below their Thrifty Food Plan

I was trying to bake my own bread, but that didn't work out. I started gaining weight and found myself spending way too much time working at it. I still try to cook everything from as close to scratch as possible. This is actually pretty simple when you try to just have a protein, veggies and some type of carb (brown rice, whole grain pasta, quinoa, etc). I started looking at my previous tips and I have been using those and some new tips to work on my food budget. Here are my 20 NEW and IMPROVED tips.

1. Plan your meals for the week. I have said this before, but this is one of the best tips I can give. Plan your breakfast, snacks, lunch, dinners and desserts ahead. I can't say I do this every time, but I do pretty well. I always rotate the same foods during the day every day and dinners are pretty simple.

2. Make a list and stick to it! Try not to deviate from your list unless you realize you forgot an absolute essential or you find meat for a particularly good price.

3. Shop bi-weekly. Stay out of the store as much as possible. Learn what you need to get you through for two weeks and stay away until your next trip. You may run out of staples while you are learning what you really need. If this happens, make note for next time. I kept running out of cheese, milk and eggs. I started buying more eggs and milk and decided to use less cheese.

4. Keep track of what you need prior to your shopping trip. I kept notes in the beginning of what I seemed to use the most of and then I did some math. I eat approx. 5-6 egg whites per day for breakfast. I multiplied this by 14 added a few for my husband and now I purchase around 6-7 dozen eggs per trip. Seems like a lot, but eggs are an item I can't live without! I get lots of protein from them with very little fat.

5. Know your store’s prices. Check circulars and keep a price book. I know that I can almost always find coffee cheaper at Dollar General. I keep DG's price with me to know if I am getting the best deal - sometimes it's not. My friend at work told me that every other week Kroger had sales on milk and dairy products. I started doing my shopping during that particular week, but Kroger now has it on sale all the time.

6. Coupons. Coupons are a tip that I have had to rethink. I can't use them very often because I try not to buy too many convenience foods although my husband lives for them so I do buy some. Plus, you don't find coupons for staples like eggs, milk, meat, fruits and veggies. However, they can be used on most toiletries especially if you are particular about a certain brand name. Just don't buy something you wouldn't normally buy just because you have a coupon unless you are getting it practically free. If you do, try giving it to a food pantry or homeless shelter.

7. Buy meat on sale. Buy lean meats and buy them when they are cheapest (you will know this if you keep a price book). If you are able, stock up. Even if you are on food stamps, this is a good idea. Purchase what you can in meat and freeze it if you have room.

8. Plan meals around the meat you have available and not the other way around. This can be very easy and healthy if you always have lean meats on hand. If you don't have a particularly lean meat, cut it up and use it in a casserole or another dish that is mainly veggies and a whole grain. Your meal does not have to focus solely on meat all the time which brings me to the next tip.

9. Try a vegetarian dish each week. My husband is an extremely picky eater so this tip is more difficult than I had originally hoped, but he will eat some eggplant dishes. If your husband will eat something different, try substituting meat whenever possible.

10. Stay out of the aisles! I have said this before, but AGAIN stay out of the aisles. There are very few items we need down the middle aisles. Pasta, beans, cereal, rice, tuna, oats, coffee, tea and frozen vegetables are some good examples of what you can actually use down an aisle. Other than that, get in and get out. It is way too tempting to pick up things you don’t need and that are unhealthy for you.

11. Do some prep work each week. When you get home from the grocery, do some prep work. Cut up veggies, throw some meat in the crock pot or oven and separate into portion sizes. This makes preparing food through the week MUCH easier. I do this with chicken – I cook it up, shred it and put it into baggies or containers in 3 oz servings. Through the week, I grab one out of the freezer and throw it in my cooler. Throw it in the microwave and add to a salad or brown rice. Super convenient and you don’t let your chicken go bad as quickly.

12. Carry a cooler. This is a trick of body builders and fitness/figure competitors. It’s very sensible. Plan your meals out and pack accordingly each day. If your meats, veggies, and complex carbs are already cooked and waiting in portion size containers in the fridge or freezer, it is just as easy to pack your daily meals as is it to go out and buy something. Plus, it keeps your metabolism going all day and you never get so hungry that you break down and grab a candy bar out of the vending machine.

13. Don't buy convenience foods. Easier said than done...I have mentioned that my husband is a picky eater. I often have to buy him certain foods and buy myself others. He is not as interested in making sure he eats healthy. This is when generic foods and coupons come in handy. How can I get away with this and maintain a budget? I'll explain at the bottom.

14. Do not go to the store with an empty stomach! I am sure you have heard that a million times, but it is so true. Everything just looks so good when you are hungry!! Plus, I get irritable when I am hungry and this can cause me to rush through a store and not worry about my budget as much.

15. Share with a friend. If you buy something in bulk, how about splitting it with a friend or family member? I have brought large quantities of food home and realized I would never be able to eat it before it went bad. Now, my mother and I plan on buying the large quantity items that we both eat and splitting the cost. Form your own little co-op with neighbors. You might make some new friends.

16. EAT LESS! This has always been my issue. I just like to eat big portions, but this is bad for your health and bad for your budget. Plan out your meals so that there is JUST enough for you to all eat one serving at a time and maybe enough to have for lunch the next day. I have found that I waste a lot less food this way and eat smaller portions.

17. Freeze half portions. I like good grainy whole wheat bread. My husband does not. So, I take half of my loaf and freeze it. I use the other half one week and I extend the life of the other half. If you don’t like bread from the freezer, maybe you are thawing it incorrectly. Take it out and let it thaw on it’s own. Do not try to microwave it. It will make it hard. You just have to think ahead when you run out of the other loaf.

18. Do not waste. I used to throw away leftovers every single week. I was careless with my money and the fact that I am incredibly fortunate to have access to lots of food. Now, I look in my fridge and determine what I have that needs to be used and I USE it! Americans throw away entirely too much food. If you need help with this, check out the Use-It-Up Cookbook by Lois Willand at the library. This book has great suggestions for using up any food. There are other books that go by the same name - they are not the same!

19. Barter. We don't hear this word very much anymore, but why not barter your services with someone who has a garden. I have been known to clean out someone's garden (who couldn't do it on their own) in exchange for fresh vegetables. Maybe you have a friend or family member who has a garden full of surplus veggies who could use your help. Ask!

20. Farmer's Market. Go to the Farmer's Market whenever possible. You are getting the best possible produce grown locally. It is less expensive because it has traveled a shorter distance and you are supporting your local economy.

Note**I said I would explain how I make my husband's and my eating preferences work for our budget. I generally eat the same foods over and over every day. For a two week period, I need - 1 loaf of high fiber bread, oats, eggs, fruit, baby spinach and other salad, vegetables, chicken, tuna or whatever lean meat was on sale, cottage cheese, brown rice, and sometimes yogurt. It seems like a lot, but oats last awhile and I know how much I need of everything else so they don't go to waste. I just buy my husband a few of his favorite foods as cheaply as possible. It can be done. Thankfully, my child is happy with whatever either of us eat and we all eat the same things for dinner.

I hope this helps you with your grocery budget. It is a monthly struggle, but I am feeling good about it and I hope you will too. Happy shopping!

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