Healthy Food on a Budget HOW TO SAVE MONEY AND EAT HEALTHY MEALS Most of us are trying to save money any way we can right now. As living on a budget becomes more important, it is helpful to look at how to stretch your food dollars and still eat a healthy diet. Fortunately, there are many creative ways to do this. It takes a little knowledge, time, and planning, but it is possible to enjoy healthy food on any budget. Overall, the more you focus on purchasing local, unprocessed food and preparing meals at home, the healthier it is and the more money you will save. You can save money and still enjoy healthy, delicious food Making smart choices saves money. Evaluate how you spend your money on food. What unnecessary items do you purchase? Do you eat out often? The first way to save money on food is to limit or cut out unnecessary food spending. Some specific ways to do this: Cut the junk: Evaluate how much money you are spending on items such as soda (regular or diet), juice, packages of cookies, crackers, prepackaged meals, processed foods, etc. Limit or cut out completely these unhealthy foods. Your wallet and your body will thank you. Eat out less: Even just reducing your meals out by 1 or 2 times per week can save you about $15 - $25 per week. This is an easy way to save money and even have some extra to spend on higher quality foods. Stick to your grocery list: The more prepared you are when you get to the store the less impulse purchases you will make. So write out a grocery list and stick to it! Shop the perimeter of the store first: This way you will fill your cart with healthy whole foods like fresh produce and meat, leaving less room for the "junk food fillers" and thus saving money. Cook large portions ahead: It saves time to cook once and eat multiple times. One idea is to make a big pot of soup at the beginning of the week or whenever you go food shopping. When you don't feel like cooking, help yourself to a hearty bowlful along with a green salad. This makes a nutritious lunch or dinner anytime. Purchasing the healthiest food possible When eating on a budget it is still important to think about the quality/purity of the food you purchase. How foods are grown or raised has an impact on their quality and also impact your health. Organically grown food reduces the potential health and environmental hazards posed by pesticides, GMOs, irradiation and additives. An investment in your food now, could save you money on health bills later. Here are a few ways to stretch your money when purchasing high quality, organic foods: Buy the highest quality possible for the foods you eat the most. This way you reduce your exposure to things such as pesticides, herbicides, and antibiotics, while increasing the nutritional value of your food. Organic foods have higher levels of antioxidants and various vitamins and minerals such as: vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, and iron. Use excess food money to buy higher quality food. If possible, focus on purchasing organic/grass- fed/free-range sources of meat & dairy, because of the possible higher concentration of antibiotics and hormones that could be passed on to you. Educate yourself. When you know which produce has the most chemical residue (and which has the least) you can choose to buy certain things organic or from local farmers who do not use chemicals, and others conventional. Eating well on a food budget tip #1: Shop wisely The conventional grocery store is not the only place to buy food. Many options are available that you may not be aware of. Some of these "new" venues may offer a significantly cheaper way to purchase food. Search out these types of stores and markets in your area and compare prices. It can save you a lot of money. Discount stores: Warehouse or club stores like Costco and Sam's offer great bargains. Just be sure to only purchase what you will use. Seasonal produce is often cheaper at these stores, as are foods such as boneless, skinless chicken breast and reduced fat cheese. Due to the very large portions you will need to carefully plan how you will use all of the food. It is helpful to freeze in smaller, more manageable packages. Search out Farmers' Markets: Many cities, as well as small towns, host weekly Farmers' Markets. Local farmers bring their wares to specific locations, typically open-air street markets, and sell fresh food directly to you, often for less than you'd pay in the grocery store or supermarket. If you go towards the end of the market, some venders may sell their remaining perishable items at a discount. Bonus: you are supporting your local economy, the environment, and it's a great opportunity to socialize and get to know like-minded people in your neighborhood who might want to join a CSA (community supported agriculture) group or start a buying club with you. Ethnic markets and corner stores are worth looking into. Many of them feature an impressive, affordable selection of fruits and vegetables, as well as some other products. Purchase generic/store brands: When you shop at conventional grocery stores, compare the unit prices on items. Often the store brand or the generic brand will be cheaper than the name brand for the same quality. Also, join the savings clubs to save some additional money. Eating well on a food budget tip #2: Find cheaper protein options There are a number of ways to stretch your food dollars, such as always comparing prices to find the best deal and clipping coupons for healthy foods you like and would buy anyway. Two of most effective ways to save money on food are buying in bulk and learning how to purchase protein in the most affordable way. Protein: how to save money and have high quality protein in your diet Protein is a vital part of a healthy diet. Whether it is from meat or vegetarian sources, our body relies on protein for many of its functions. As we know, meat can be quite expensive. But, most of us in the U.S. consume more animal protein than we need, so with a few adjustments we can save money AND have plenty of protein in our diet. Purchase less expensive cuts of meat and practice portion control. Not only do you save money on the cut of meat, but you can also stretch the meat for more meals when you make tasty things such as casseroles, sauces, soups, stews, and stir-fries. It is easy to add extra vegetables, beans and whole grains to create delicious, hearty, and filling meals. You also get plenty of protein and save money. Experiment with vegetarian sources of protein. Veggie proteins, such as beans, are quite inexpensive, highly nutritious, easy to prepare, and taste great. Stock up on dried and/or canned beans and lentils. You'll not only save money, but calories too! Other great sources of less expensive high quality protein are nuts and seeds, as well as eggs. Try going meatless once a week: i.e. "Meatless Mondays." Canned fish and chicken are a great option for things like sandwiches, enchiladas, casseroles, and salads. These items last for a long time on the shelf so can be bought ahead. They are great to have on hand for great tasting, quick, easy, and healthy meals. Eating well on a food budget tip #3: Buy in bulk Doing things in bulk saves time and money. Buying in bulk is almost always cheaper. There are many items that can be bought in bulk - grains, dairy products, and meat, for example. You can freeze perishable items, such as meat, milk, and bread, in smaller portions to use, as they are needed. It is always a good idea to buy non- perishable items, such as dried beans, grains, and canned foods, in bulk. Shop for produce in season and buy by the bag. When produce is in season it is at its cheapest, as well as its best flavor and nutritional value. It's cheaper to purchase produce by the bag, not by the piece, and will fill more lunch bags and cover more meals. Some easy examples: apples, oranges, grapefruit, potatoes, and onions. Check the freezer aisle. Look for the largest packages of vegetables in the frozen foods section. These are great for stir-fries and soups. Frozen and fresh veggies are equally nutritious, still taste good, and often the largest frozen bags will be cheaper. Ethnic markets and corner stores are worth looking into. Many of them feature an impressive, affordable selection of fruits and vegetables, as well as some other products. Buy all your grains in bulk (including cereals) and store them in airtight containers. Examples are whole grain brown rice, millet, barley and rolled oats. Brown Rice can be a little more expensive than white rice, but the higher nutritional value is well worth it. Whole grains are an excellent source of nutrients, including protein! Bulk protein comes in many forms. Meat is often sold in larger packages/portions at a lower price. Split packages up into meal size portions and freeze for later use. Tip: buy a whole chicken & have the butcher cut it up for you. Dried legumes (beans) and peas can easily be bought in bulk packages or bulk bins at grocery stores. Canned beans can be bought in flats at warehouse stores. Also look for two for one specials on dairy, which you can keep good by freezing. Eating well on a food budget tip #4: Stretch your dollar when you cook Preparing large portions of food to use over multiple meals saves time and energy. When cooking, it's also important to think about how to incorporate leftovers into new meals. Finally presentation has a big effect on the appeal of a meal, so a little effort put in, makes a huge difference. Save money by cooking in bulk It's ideal to pick one or two days a week to cook something that can be used for multiple days and meals. Some easy ideas for cooking in bulk: Cook once and eat multiple times. Cook a large meal at the beginning of the week. It is easy to double a recipe so that you have extra to use later in the week for quick lunches or dinners when you don't feel like cooking. You can also freeze half for another day. Add a green salad or other side dish and you have a delicious easy meal. One-pot dishes, such as soups, stews, or casseroles, are especially good because they generally save preparation time, money, and dishwashing. Plus they make great leftovers. You can even cook one pot of oatmeal and heat up a serving size each morning. Rolled or steel cut oats are nutritious, very inexpensive and you can add anything you like such as seasonal fresh fruit and nuts or seeds to create a wonderful breakfast. This is also much cheaper and more nutritious than dry cereal or the flavored packets of instant oatmeal, which are usually packed with sugar. Make new meals from previous ones Another key to saving money on food is to make sure you are not wasting anything. All leftovers can be used for another meal. Once you have a few easy recipes to use for leftovers, it becomes second nature to do. These meals can be some of the yummiest of the week! Some ideas: Soups, stews, or stir-fries: These meals are ideal for using leftovers. Create a base with broth or a sauce, and add any leftovers you have, such as whole grains, veggies, and meat. A small amount of meat is perfect to add flavor and substance. Be sure to cut it into small pieces. You can be very creative with herbs and spices to create unique flavors that will please your palate. Another way to add a lot of flavor is to sauté an onion at the beginning. Be sure to allow the food to come to a boil or cook at a high heat. This way you will be sure that the leftovers are sterilized. Everything burritos: Most leftovers make very tasty burritos! Simply put everything into a tortilla shell (try to get whole grain!) with a little low-fat cheese and enjoy. Example: Cut up leftover meat into small pieces and add to a can of beans. Add any leftover grains and veggies. Experiment with combinations: Try something totally new! You may be surprised how many foods with different flavors go well together. For example, try making a large green salad and adding cooked whole grains and veggies on the top, as well as cut up pieces of any meat from another meal. Add your favorite healthy dressing and you have a wonderful new meal. Food presentation: Make meals look festive and inviting Remember that presentation makes a huge difference in the appeal of a meal. Eating on a budget can still be elegant, romantic, fun and of course tasty! Some easy ways to spice up the table: Colorful meals: Using small amounts of contrasting colors, pleases our eyes. Add some bright green herbs or some yellow frozen corn to the to a dish of black beans or lentils and save some to sprinkle on top for a garnish. Cut some orange carrots and red tomatoes or peppers on a dark green leafy salad. Inviting table setting: There are many creative ways to set your table so that it is inviting and beautiful. Have fun with it! Place a candle or some flowers you picked in the center of the table. Use a colorful tablecloth or place mats. Fold colorful napkins at each place setting. Involve the kids: Invite children to set the table. Let them decorate it in their own unique way. You can have your cake and eat it too: Dessert can be affordable, healthy, and delicious Cutting out junk does not mean that you cut out all desserts. We all enjoy sweet treats, so it is important to know how to include scrumptious, healthy and affordable desserts in your menu. Try picking one day each week for a special sweet treat. On other days find ways to shift your thinking about what dessert can be. For example, fresh fruit is sweet, juicy, healthy, and makes a wonderful dessert. Popsicles: Freeze your own 100% fruit juice popsicles. If you don't have a Popsicle tray you can use an ice-cube tray and freeze with small plastic spoons as handles. Home baked items: For healthier baked goods it is much more affordable to make your own. It's also a great way to spend time with family or friends. Oatmeal cookies with rolled oats (whole grains!) are a good example of a healthier baked option. In addition you can always reduce the amount of sugar recipes call for. Yogurt: Buy a large container of plain yogurt and you can make each serving unique by adding a little sweetener such as honey and cut up pieces of fresh in season fruit. Making your own frozen yogurt is fun, too! Frozen treats: There are many delicious frozen treats such as fruit, yogurt, and smoothies. Try freezing grapes, bananas (cut into pieces before freezing), peaches (cut into pieces before freezing), or berries. For an amazing dessert pour a little dark chocolate sauce over the frozen fruit. Yummy! Chocolate: Many of us have chocolate cravings. Dark chocolate is actually quite high in anti-oxidants so enjoy the occasional square of dark chocolate (70% or higher is best) as a wonderful treat.