Your freezer is your friend.
You don’t need a lot of dough to eat healthy, high-quality meals. You just need to plan ahead and choose your ingredients wisely.
A set menu
The drive-through might be tempting after a long day. But a home-cooked meal probably will be healthier ― and it also can be less time-consuming and less expensive.
The key is meal planning, says Kimberly Young, a North Idaho-based registered dietician who works with the Panhandle Health District.
“What I like to do is plan maybe three meals a week,” she says, “and then I’ll have enough for leftovers. That way, you really make your resources go as far as they can.””
Plan three oversized dinners a week, and you have the luxury of simply reheating dinner on the other four evenings. And with leftovers in the fridge or freezer, you’re ready for hectic days when mealtimes are rushed.
Meal planning also enables you to draw up an itemized shopping list.
“Having your grocery list ahead of time and sticking to that list is going to help you stay on budget,” Young says. It also helps you avoid those long, meandering shopping trips.
- Plan your meals in advance.
- Choose leftovers over fast food.
- Keep in mind: Organic is nice but not essential.
- Buy in bulk and freeze in meal-size portions.
- Choose nutrient-dense foods such as beans and oatmeal to get more bang for the buck.
Dinner date with density
When planning your menu, Young says it’s wise to incorporate lots of “nutrient-dense” ingredients to get the most bang for your buck.
“Any fruits and vegetables are going to be nutrient-dense and low in calories. Beans go a long way,” she says. “Oatmeal is going to be packed with nutrients, too. The same goes for whole-wheat bread and whole-wheat tortillas, which aren’t usually more expensive than their white counterparts.”
Buy as many of those items as you can in bulk to save money as well as prep time.
“One thing I do is buy the family packs of chicken when they’re on sale and freeze them in meal-size portions,” Young says. “I also like to buy frozen broccoli and take out just the portion I need for that evening.
“If you buy fruits and vegetables in bulk and freeze them, or if you can buy vegetables and fruit that are already frozen, it helps you save money because they don’t spoil as quickly.”
And all the buzz over organic? There are plenty of good reasons to want to buy it, and some supermarkets offer budget-friendly lines of organics. But if you can’t justify their higher price, don’t sweat it. A salad made with non-organic veggies is still way better than a greasy fast-food burger.
“Paying attention to what you’re buying, and knowing that you can eat healthy on a budget, is important,” Young says. “What you’re really doing is saving money by investing in yourself.”