Save Money, Gain Health With These Food Budget Tips!
How many tons of food do we buy over the course of our lives? Does anything affect our health more directly than the food we eat?
We spend a lot of our money on meals these days, at grocery stores, markets, and restaurants. Combine high costs with our busy schedules, and what the heck to do about dinner have become something of an American crisis. Taking charge of your diet and your food budget is an essential step toward both physical and financial health. The good news is that there's no need to sacrifice your budget, time, or health to eat well. Here are a few ways to get started.
Making a meal plan and sticking to that to organize your shopping is one of the best ways to save money on food. Imagine how much time you could save if you only went to the grocery store once a week. Now, imagine how much money you'd save by avoiding all those little extras that wind up in the cart every single time you walk through the supermarket door.
Planning out your meals can help you to stick to your grocery budget and even lower it. It takes the stress out of the "What's for dinner?" question and can prevent unplanned restaurant meals: Americans now spend more money at restaurants than at grocery stores, and controlling your restaurant spending can save you a lot. Eat out or order out when you want to, not because there's nothing else available. It also helps you to use what's on sale at your local store. Many stores put new sales into effect on Wednesdays, so that's probably the best day to plan and to shop. Check your local ads or your favorite store's website to be sure. If stores in your neighborhood advertise sale items online, build those sale items into your plan and watch the savings add up.
But Not Too Far Ahead
Careful planning will allow you to avoid food waste and save money. Americans throw out 133 billion pounds of food every year. With millions of people hungry, some of them in our neighborhoods, that's just not right. It's also an awful lot of money down the garbage disposal. Plan approximately a week ahead to make sure the food you purchase doesn't spoil before you get around to cooking it. Plan meals with delicate produce at the beginning of your cycle.
Eat What Is in Season
Fruits and veggies tend to be cheaper when they are in season. You'll find cheap apples in the late summer or early fall, tomatoes at the peak of summer, berries in the spring, and citrus over the winter months. Check when your favorite produce is in season.
You can also find great deals on produce at your local farmer's market, particularly when an item is in season. You can support a local farmer, grab some inexpensive produce, and feed your family high-quality fruits and veggies. Since we need at least five servings of fruit and vegetables every day, produce is a great place to save money on food.
Planning ahead undoubtedly saves money, but it can also save you time. Plan meals so that you only cook an item a couple of days a week instead of every day. Cook a double batch of pasta, rice, beans, or ground beef. You can use part of it in lunches and part of it for dinner one night, saving time and reducing energy consumption as well.
You can also use one large cut of meat, which tends to be cheaper, over the course of a week. For example, a large pork roast cooked in a slow cooker can be made into pork medallions, barbecue pulled pork sandwiches, and tacos.
You might consider prepping several meals at one time. That way, much of the work is already done when morning rolls around, and it's time to grab lunch for work, or you're in a hurry to get dinner on the table. It also saves cleanup time: the kitchen only gets messy once instead of three times a day, seven days a week.
Keep a Cheat Meal Handy
When nothing can go right, and there's barely enough time in the day to eat a meal, let alone prepare one, a cheat meal will come in handy. You can throw together freezer meals for this purpose, or even a healthy frozen pizza. It'll save you from the drive-through lane at your local fast food joint, which is not very cost effective or healthy. You save money and feed your family healthier home-cooked food.
Your Freezer is Your Friend
If you've tried keeping a cheat meal in your freezer and found that it works for you, consider having several. A quick online search will turn up hundreds of recipes for tasty meals that can be stored in the freezer and warmed up to provide a quick, healthy, delicious meal. Find some that your family likes, prepare them in bulk, and freeze portions for later use. Be sure to label your containers clearly!
Meatless meals are a wonderful way to provide your family a healthy, wholesome meal on a shoestring budget. Beans and legumes are high in protein and fiber, making them perfect meat substitutes. They're also remarkably inexpensive. A salad or veggie stir-fry is simple to prepare and satisfies many nutritional requirements.
Grow Your Food
While there are a lot of barriers to growing your food, there are some produce items that are ridiculously simple and require tiny space. Leafy greens and many herbs are perfect options for the beginning gardener. You can even grow them in pots on a window ledge. Since these items also spoil quickly and can be expensive, there's little to lose in giving it a shot.
Bulk Can Be Best... but Not Always
Buying in bulk can be an excellent way to save money. However, it's important that you are sure you can use all of the items you plan to buy. You should also double check to make sure an item isn't cheaper per ounce in a standard size. Buying huge quantities doesn't always equate to the best deal. The calculator on your phone males it easy to figure out which package is cheaper.
Have you ever found a great new recipe, made it, and then forgot all about it or had to go searching for it again? What a pain! Consider creating a kitchen helper binder to help you keep track of your favorite recipes, meal plans and the shopping lists that go with them for reuse later, or even to track the prices of your favorite items at the stores around you.
Get the Family Involved
You may be the primary cook in your family, but everyone who eats can play a part in planning meals. Ask the family what they like and what they don't; if you're making a plan and debating between options, ask what people would like. Getting your family talking about food is a great way to start discussing nutrition and food prices. If your kids are old enough and willing, having them help in the kitchen can turn a mundane chore into a family bonding session and an opportunity to teach valuable life skills. Everyone should know how to cook!
Keeping your family and your bank account healthy don't have to be mutually exclusive. These ideas are a place to start, but a little research will turn up hundreds more. Food has a significant impact on our time, our budget, and our health, and that makes it too important to take casually... so start planning and enjoy the difference!