For some, eating healthy can sound like the food budget is going out the window. Nutritious, whole foods that support your body’s function don’t have to break the bank. In fact, if you plan ahead and follow a few basic guidelines, you will find that healthy eating can be quite economic, without lacking flavorful food.
Here are a few tips for how to approach preparing weekly meals, as well as recipes to get you started.
The most effective guideline when it comes to sticking to any meal plan is to plan ahead. Waiting until half an hour before a meal is a recipe for last-minute food purchases (like take out or fast food). It may satisfy the hunger, but won’t provide the nutritional benefit or help you adhere to a budget. Map it out- this will help guide meal time, and will also prevent you from overbuying ingredients if you incorporate the same components into several days.
Make a list
When you get to the store, don’t wing it. Have your list ready and avoid picking up items that you don’t need for your meals. It’s one thing if you remember you are running low on an item and need to restock, but impulse snacks and foods that may fill a craving can derail your whole plan.
Buy in bulk
A great cost cutting practice is to buy in bulk. This doesn’t mean everything has to come from a warehouse store where it’ll take you a year to eat it all, or have it spoil before you can. Buy in bulk when it makes sense- grains, beans, and other dry ingredients are much less expensive in larger quantities. Frozen fruits and veggies can be less expensive in large quantities as well, and are picked at their peak ripeness. Buying frozen also helps avoid food spoiling before you can use it.
Shop the perimeter
Next time you shop, look at the layout of the store. You’ll likely notice that the produce and whole foods are all placed along the perimeter of the store. Processed foods are usually packed into the middle aisles. For optimal nutritional fill, shop the perimeter, filling your cart with fresh produce, proteins, breads, etc.
Buy whole foods
This doesn’t just mean fresh produce- whole foods mean unprocessed items. Instead of buying a bag of shredded cheese, buy a block and shred it yourself. Bagged salad is more processed than a head of lettuce that requires washing and cutting. Instead of pre-sliced fruits and vegetables, buy them in their natural state and take care of the prep yourself. This cuts down on unnecessary additives and packaging as well as reduces the cost of the item.
Grains, rice, and beans can all be bought in larger quantities and stored, take hardly any time to prepare, and will be healthier and more cost effective than buying already prepared options or those in “steam bags” or small portions.
Go generic and get creative
An easy way to cut cost is to purchase the store brand (generic) of items. Most often, the product is exactly the same, but provides a significant savings. In response to increased demand for organic, simple foods, some stores have also developed their own in-house lines that are competitive with larger brands. This passes the savings to the consumer and makes nutritious foods more accessible.
Preparing in advance with the goal to eat inexpensively does require a little creativity. Re-frame how you look at food. Protein doesn’t have to be an expensive cut of meat, it can be ground turkey (which is leaner than beef and less expensive). Protein can also come in the form of soy products, eggs, or even some vegetables. Try these ways to add flavor to recipes without piling on calories. What foods can be utilized at different meals instead of always approaching them as “breakfast” or “dinner” foods?
Check for coupons/sales
When cutting costs, don’t forget to also check into store loyalty programs, digital coupons, and special days at the store that offer unique savings (on Wednesday’s at Sprouts for example, you can layer the previous week’s savings with the upcoming week’s deals).
Try these low-cost recipes
Parmesan Barley Bowl With Egg
Food bowls are a great way to structure any meal because they provide a visual frame to piece together the ingredients. You can work in half the bowl with vegetables or fruits, add a grain or bean for a quarter of the dish, add a protein to top it all off. This variety includes barley, which will help keep you full for longer while also providing protein and fiber. Broccoli and cauliflower and the egg are all additional sources of protein, making this a great dish for lunch, keeping you full until dinner. The vegetables also provides essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber, helping your body run efficiently.
Open-faced sandwiches can be incorporated into any meal. Opting for just one slice of bread cuts the calories and leaves room to showcase other ingredients while also including whole grains from the bread. For breakfast, use a nut butter (low sodium peanut butter or almond butter, for example), topped with sliced fruits on whole grain bread (but also check that the bread isn’t loaded with sugar!). For lunch, top whole grain bread with sliced avocado to incorporate healthy fats into your day. Top it with pickled onions (learn about the beefits and how to make fermented and pickled foods) and sesame seeds (which contain polyunsaturated fatty acids and Omega-6). For a light dinner, you can spread home made hummus on toast, topped with vegetables, herbs, sliced turkey or chicken, and a light vinaigrette. The possibilities are endless. Some tasty ingredients to try are: sliced hard-boiled eggs (or scrambled), thinly sliced cucumbers, bell peppers, slivers of radish, pumpkin seeds, grilled veggies, tuna, any variety of lettuce, and much more!
White Bean Chile With Chicken
What we love about this recipe is that you can use any chicken you have on hand. So, if you prepare boiled or grilled chicken early in the week and make chicken lettuce wraps, the second day make a salad with chicken and grilled veggies. Then this recipe can be used towards the end of the week with what’s left of the chicken. Substitute ground turkey if you’d like, or instead of a meat, add a second different variety of bean to keep it vegetarian. This recipe freezes well, so you can make a large portion and save part of it for another week to save time.
Italian Wedding Soup
Italian wedding soup is delicious, simple, and contains several healthy elements. The spinach provides vitamin K, folate, and vitamin C. You can buy frozen spinach, allowing you to portion out only what you need and keep it on hand for other recipes (like smoothies, healthy casserole, a frittata, and more!). The recipe we shared is best modified for both nutritional value and cost if you prepare the turkey meatballs on your own. Try this healthy recipe rather than buying pre-made meatballs (avoid processed foods when you can!). You can make extra meatballs and use them for other recipes too. Try substituting barley or brown rice for the acini di pepe to get the benefits of whole grains as well.
Take some time before starting the week to plan and shop for a full week of food. You’ll find that avoiding the last minute scramble for meal ideas can help keep you on track eating well and will also help maintain a food budget. Do you have any best practices that keep the variety alive and healthy for mealtime? What about budget-saving ideas? Share them in the comments below!