Eating healthier on a budget is doable! Here are my a few favorite tips from Kim Kirrcher, registered dietician to several major grocery chains, including her how-to guide to make it happen in your home. It’s important to remember to serve balanced meals that include at least three food groups (the five to choose from are fruits, vegetable, grains, dairy and protein), as well as use “extras” wisely. Involve the kids early, too this helps establish healthier eating habits that will last a lifetime. From setting the table, to helping pick out foods at the store (with some guidelines, of course) to actually making the meal, it’s worth the extra time and potential mess you will see the benefits at the table when it comes to trying new foods. Studies show that kids who are involved and learn about healthier eating at an early age are less likely to be overweight adults.
1. Make meals at home. Making meals at home enables an overall cost savings, not to mention the gas to drive to a restaurant, the time spent waiting, and perhaps a tip depending on the chosen restaurant. There can be a “health savings,” too, because you control the type of cooking, what is added to the dish, and are able to add important foods like fruits and vegetables. Choosing to eat out means the dish is made “as is” so you don’t always have the option of choosing fat free or 1% milk, reduced sodium broth, or how much fat/oil (or what kind) is used to cook the foods in. This can make eating out an expensive choice when it comes to how much nutrition is achieved per calorie. An omelet sautéed in an unmeasured amount of butter versus at home in a nonstick pan and/or with nonstick cooking spray can “cost” hundreds of calories and numerous fat grams without added nutrition.
2. Plan around family favorites. If there is one fruit or vegetable the whole family enjoys, make sure to stock up when it is on sale, and suddenly meal or snack time is economical, easy to get the family to eat, and nutritious, too. Additionally, if you know there’s something the kids can be counted on to like, food will be eaten not thrown away. What if their favorite is macaroni and cheese? Make it with 1% milk instead of 2% or whole, and add broccoli for a veggie boost. Every food can fit into a healthful diet it just takes some compromise and planning. Make a list and plan ahead so you can choose healthier sides or partners to a high fat favorite and your overall meal can be nicely balanced. Additionally, take it one step further and find several recipes that use some similar ingredients so nothing goes to waste. As an example, if you love cilantro, and you buy that giant bunch, get ready for both Mexican- and Asian- inspired meals that highlight this fresh favorite.
3. Casseroles! Not only is time and cooking energy saved because it’s both one dish to clean up and one dish to heat up with a balanced meal tucked neatly inside the pan, this is a great way to portion proteins that can be a more expensive component to meals, as well as enable the addition of budget-friendly yet nutrition-packed legumes (black beans, pinto beans, etc.). Casseroles are also a great way to make “leftovers” into a fresh meal with a new taste for the family. From leftover chicken or meat, to rice or noodles, simply find a recipe for a casserole using the ingredient you have on hand and dinner can be ready in a snap.
4. Measure! Too often, we simply pour that olive oil into the pan, and keep adding more during the cooking process. This is expensive both on the wallet and in calories. Any fat (even the good ones like olive oil) are more than 100 calories per tablespoon so you don’t need to add half a bottle. Purchase a good set of measuring spoons and cups so you are truly monitoring the steps where ingredients can “disappear” with no true taste or health benefit to the final dish. Olive oil is a healthy fat in a portioned amount. Same is true for nuts. A snack of nuts in a proper portion is budget friendly, loaded with nutrition, tasty, and satisfying. Eating the whole jar in one sitting is costly to the calorie and monetary budget.
5. Shop seasonally. Buy fruits and veggies currently in season, and you can save money, keep the taste buds interested, and also enjoy a great nutritional boost and colorful meal all year round. Remember: stock up the freezer with seasonal favorites, and you can make soups, smoothies and other tasty favorites year-round on a budget if you plan ahead. Just remember to date and label the freezer packages to keep it easy to make meals later on. Check out the link below to the Produce for Better Health Foundation for more ideas on saving money (and recipes) with fruits and veggies.
Save $5 off a future purchase of $25 or more at Save-A-Lot by signing up for their Smart Shopper Club:
Article compiled by: Kim Kirchherr, MS, RD, LDN, CDE
Dietitian for the SUPERVALU family of stores, including Acme®, Albertsons®, Cub Foods®, Farm Fresh®, Jewel-Osco®, Save-A-Lot, Shaw’s/Star Market, Shop n Save®, and Shoppers Food & Pharmacy®