How can we eat healthy on a tight budget?
Healthy meals are vital to shaping our physical bodies and also play a key role in shaping our minds. Considering that 90% of all brain development occurs between birth and age five, it is especially important for children to receive healthy meals and snacks throughout the day to aid in forming strong brain connections and healthy bodies. Making healthy food choices on a budget can seem difficult. Processed foods and pre-packaged meals, appear more affordable and quicker to prepare, but are often less nutritious. You can feed your family nutritious food on a budget. Here are a few tips:
- Use what you already have in your kitchen to reduce food waste. Be sure to check your freezer, refrigerator and cabinets. If a healthy meal from the ingredients on hand doesn’t seem obvious, look for healthy recipes online by using your ingredients as search terms.
- Create a list of meals you‘ll cook for the entire week. Don’t forget to plan for lunches – Americans spend an average of $1,000 eating out for lunch each year. Keep your weekly schedule in mind; some days may be busier than others and some meals may take longer to prepare. Adjust your meal chart so leftovers and quick recipes fall on your hectic days.
- Take stock of what you have on hand, then make your grocery list from your menu. Try sorting your grocery list by food groups for an easy, speedy and thorough shopping trip. Don’t shop off-list. If paper and pencil isn’t your style, there are many grocery list apps to download on your phone.
- Being Creative doesn’t mean complicated. Delicious meals don’t require difficult recipes. Keep the meals as simple as possible to reduce cost and cook time. Use herbs and spices to change flavors.
Save while you shop
- Before heading to the store, check the sales flyers for markdowns. Flyers are usually located at the entrance of the store, on websites, on apps, and in local newspapers. Coupons are also great for discounts and can be found online and in newspapers. If a store runs out of a particular sales item, request a rain check to reserve the sales price once the item has been restocked. Compare the sales cost per unit to the bargain brands to be sure you’re saving the most money. There is usually a price per ounce in smaller print above or below the retail price. Be sure you’re purchasing sales items you will actually use; spending money on a sales item isn’t a savings if you throw out the item unused.
- Become a member of your store’s loyalty program to receive exclusive specials and discounts.
- Look for generic brand products which are often less expensive than the name brand. You can usually find the highest priced items at eye level, so check up and down for a more savings.
- Always check expiration or “best by” dates and reach for items from the back of the shelf, especially for dairy, meat, or produce. Stores usually stock their freshest items in the back, leaving their older items in the front. Increase the longevity of your purchase by choosing the freshest items.
- Shop at your local farmers market for fresh, local and in-season produce at competitive prices.
Save by the food group
Fruits and Vegetables
- Shop for seasonal produce to satisfy both your taste buds and your wallet. In-season fruits and vegetables usually cost less and are more flavorful.
- Stocking up on frozen vegetables and fruits is an excellent way to save. Frozen produce is just as healthy as fresh. Check the nutrition facts and ingredients to be sure no salt or sugar has been added.
- Canned fruits and vegetables are another low-cost healthy option. Fruits should be canned in 100% fruit juice and vegetables labeled “no salt added” or “low-sodium.”
- At least half of your purchased grains should be whole grains such as oatmeal, whole wheat bread, brown rice, or whole grain pasta.
- Rice and pasta are tasty low-cost whole grain options.
- Choose to buy in bulk where possible; bulk bins are often less expensive and allow you to try smaller portions of new grains like quinoa, farro, or spelt.
- Reduce red meat consumption and increase the frequency fish is on the menu, particularly fish high in omega 3 fatty acids, which are good for your heart (like salmon, sardines, or albacore tuna). Seafood doesn’t have to be pricey. Canned salmon, tuna, and sardines last longer and are less expensive. Choose fish that is packed in water rather than oil.
- To reduce meat expenses, buy in bulk and when on sale and freeze what you won’t use immediately.
- Canned and dried beans and peas are great low cost meat alternatives that are high in protein and fiber and low in cholesterol and fat.
- “Low fat” or “fat free” milk and “low fat” and “reduced fat” cheese provide calcium with fewer calories than non-reduced fat dairy products.
- Purchase a large-sized plain yogurt instead of the flavored individuals and create your own flavors by mixing fruits and granola. This will save dollars and sugar intake as flavored yogurt can contain large amounts of sugar.
- Purchase blocks of cheese and shred it at home instead of buying pre-shredded cheese for another simple way to save.
All hands in the kitchen
Make cooking a family activity by dividing duties. Children love to help in the kitchen and, with their assistance, you can get more done. Ask children to read from a recipe or help them measure ingredients. They’ll be helping you, and also developing their language, math, and motor skills and learning how to prepare healthy meals.
Other helpful tips
- Eat before you grocery shop to avoid impulse purchases. When you go to the store hungry, you’re more likely to buy things you don’t need.
- Avoid restaurants and fast food. The meals are usually over-portioned and overpriced.
- Growing a garden is a great way to save that helps keep families active and allows you to know exactly where your food comes from. Additionally, children who garden are five times more likely to eat the fruits and vegetables that come from their own garden. No room for a garden? Herbs can be grown indoors and still encourage children to practice gardening and cooking.
Visit abcquality.org to learn more about child care and development, search for a child care provider and learn about the state’s voluntary quality rating system. ABC Quality is administered by the SC Department of Social Services’ Division of Early Care and Education.
By ABC Quality Team on October 3, 2017