Planning! Planning! Planning!
Did I mention planning? Whether you are an avid couponer, a Flipp app user, or you go old school and check through the paper flyers, you need to plan. Overspending and wasting food are important factors in being able to stay on a budget AND eat healthy.
© healthy eating image via Shutterstock
Research recipes that your family will eat
This is paramount: ‘Build it and they will come’ is not a philosophy often embraced by picky five year olds. Cooking meals that the family will not eat is a waste of time and money, to say nothing of food. Ideally, if the kids are old enough, get them involved in the choices and even the production side of things. But, first and foremost, make sure you have a roster of healthy recipes to choose from when doing your meal planning: it’s the only way to ensure that all your savings don’t go out with the weekly garbage.
Plan your meals
With family approved recipes in hand, check your preferred store flyer each week and plan a week’s worth of meals based on what’s on sale and in season, to get the maximum healthful bang for your buck. Ultimately, cooking from scratch is always healthier and usually cheaper than pre-packaged food, so make sure your week day choices are manageable, what with swim practice, soccer, homework and so on! The meal plans can also be lunch time saviours when the leftovers go into a thermos and off to school with your little ones! Leftover chicken? Make soup. There’s always a way to use up extras so you’re skipping the waste and upping the healthy.
Batch cook and freeze
While you are planning your weekly menu, try and add in a recipe or two that can be batch cooked. If you’re making chilli because ground beef and kidney beans are both on sale, make sure you add a bit more to the recipe and freeze portions for those nights when you just can’t get to the kitchen in time. It will save you an unhealthy trip to the local burger joint or a desperate call for pizza.
Haul out the slow cooker
Thanks to the slow cook process (hence the name), you can buy a cheaper cut of meat that is still very healthy but might be on the tougher side if you try to whip it in the pan or the oven for a quick dinner. The slow cooking eliminates the toughness and you can enjoy meat more often.
Buy in bulk
For dry goods and basically anything that doesn’t spoil, consider getting a good quantity of them when they’re on sale and storing them in your pantry. For this, you will need a well organized pantry, to avoid over-buying. But grains, legumes and beans can help make a moderately filling meal both more satisfying and healthy. Think beef chilli, heavy on the beans. Or a Moroccan couscous loaded with chickpeas and low on the chicken or lamb.
Even fresh and in season fruits and vegetables can be purchased and frozen, for use at a later date. Ultimately, the peas you buy in the frozen aisle, because of the flash freezing process that is used these days, are just as healthy as fresh, so don’t hesitate.
TIP: Frozen chopped onions have been a lifesaver many times in my home! No crying, just cooking!
If your store has a points system, collect them. Food is a necessity of life, so you can reap the rewards of purchases that you have to make and put those points towards buying the ingredients for an epic batch cooking extravaganza!
Ultimately, you can make healthy choices even within the range of things you would normally buy and within your budget. Instead of white pasta, get whole wheat. Brown rice instead of white. Whole grain bread instead of white. Greek yogurt instead of the sugary pre-mixed yogurts (add a little honey, or unsweetened jam to stretch the taste for little ones!) These days, many of the options are there, at the right price. Often times, it is our habits and preferences that get in the way so don’t be dramatic and try and change your family’s eating habits all at once. You can do it gradually, introducing new and interesting things for a reasonable price and a boost to their immune systems.
What’s your best technique for eating well and healthy on a budget?