Just kidding. Not the end. Believe it or not, I’ve come up with even MORE tips on eating healthy for less.
But before I do, I must confess that I, Fitness Friday Girl, have not been very good about watching the food budget this summer. In the Cooper home, there has been very little cooking going on. Instead, we’ve graced the entrance of many restaurants, ordered lots of take-out, and eaten way too much ice cream. None of which is healthy or cheap. I cringe as I write the following tips, because I realize I have really fallen off the wagon big-time in the last several weeks. So, in my convicted, hypocritical and repentant state, I humbly bring you these cost-saving tips, vowing ever-so-sincerely to be more frugal and healthy in the coming weeks.
1.Plan your meals ahead of time and stick to your list. Check weekend fliers and coupon inserts and plan your meals around those so you can take advantage of grocery store specials and discounts. Don’t forget that seasonal produce is also the least expensive AND best tasting.
2.What items do you purchase every time you shop? It’s worth it to find the cheapest place for those items. For example, the granola bars we love are the most expensive at Kroger (where I do most of my grocery shopping) but very cheap at Target (where I never buy food). I try to remember to pick these up when I’m there and it saves me several dollars every week.
3.Don’t buy prepared or pre-cut foods. Prepared foods may be more convenient, but they can cost twice as much as the raw whole ingredients. Seriously, it isn’t that difficult to cut a melon or mince a clove of garlic.
4.Double batch homemade meals and freeze some for later. I do this all the time—or should I say, used to do this all the time before I fell off the wagon—with soups, chili and lasagna. This eliminates the inconvenience factor when you are in a pinch and are tempted to order take-out. It does not, however, eliminate the ice cream factor.
5.Use leftovers. This helps you stretch your food so you waste less. Sure you can eat leftovers for lunch the next day, but you can use your imagination, too. For example, when I grill peppers or asparagus for dinner, I use leftovers the next morning in an omelet. I made a big tossed salad for dinner on Monday. On Tuesday, I used the left over salad, added chicken and ranch dressing and stuffed it all in a whole wheat tortilla for a yummy wrap.
6.Buy whole poultry with the skin on and cut it up yourself. I know it’s disgusting (says the girl who is a borderline vegetarian!), but you can use the bones, the pieces you don’t cook, along with vegetable scraps to make stock for soup. You can actually save your vegetable scraps in a Ziploc throughout the week and freeze them as you go. That way they stay fresh until you’re ready to use them.
7.If you do buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts, only buy them when they are on sale and stock up. Freeze whatever you will not use immediately.
8.Don’t buy soda or juice. Drink filtered water instead.
9.Speaking of water, don’t buy bottled water. Filter your water at home and put in reusable bottles. That’s better for the environment, too.
10.Buy tea bags and make your own ice tea instead of pre-made tea in cans or bottles.
11.Take snacks with you when you go out to run errands. Especially when you have kids. I can pop a giant batch of popcorn and divide it up between my kids in the car for just a few cents…or I can stop at the gas station and grab three individual-sized bags of popcorn for several dollars. Or worse, I can go through a drive through and spend $15—and feed my kids garbage.
12.Speaking of garbage, eat out as little as possible. At most places, you have no idea what is in the food you are eating (unless you’ve got some wonderful organic restaurants like we have in Louisville). We’ve eaten out a lot this summer (the little voice inside my head screams “hypocrite!”) and it is insanely expensive. Even in family-friendly restaurants, it’s so much more expensive to eat out than it is to cook at home.
Last week we went to a casual sit-down chain restaurant. The children ordered kids’ meals, which included buttered pasta or mac and cheese, a side salad, a drink and a small dessert for around $5. If I served that exact same thing at home, it would cost less than $5 to serve all three of them. Plus, I would have served them whole grain pasta instead of the white kind, real mac and cheese instead of Kraft, and a fresh organic romaine salad instead of iceberg with yucky tomatoes. Oh, and water instead of lemonade or soda. That is, if I hadn’t fallen off the wagon.
Remember, the cheapest foods are often the most highly processed–which means they are full of artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, fillers, salt and sugar. You may feel like you’re getting a better value when you buy processed foods—it literally looks like you’ve purchased more food. But with all that stuff added to it, most cheap food is really not food at all. It’s just gross when you think about it.
Stick to whole ingredients, plan your meals ahead of time, and cook at home. And by all means, if you spotted me in a restaurant this summer with a mouth full of ice cream, please forgive me. I’m crawling back on the wagon right after I finish this post—hoping I’ll burn a few extra calories in the process.
For more tips on eating healthy on the cheap, visit these sites:
What cost saving tips can you share? Leave a comment and let me know.