Eat Healthy On A Budget: 5 Meal Planning Strategies From The Experts
When trying to balance a tight budget, food is one of the first areas most people look at. After all, there are thousands of items in the grocery store and millions of different ways to assemble a healthy meal. Eating beans and chicken instead of red meat or buying store brand items instead of name brands can make a big difference. This is especially true for low-income Americans, who spent 32.6% of their income on food in 2016, according to the USDA.
If you want to reduce your food expenses, it’s time to get shopping savvy. These 5 tricks will help you make the most of your money at the store while enjoying delicious meals at home.
Pick Low-Price Proteins
Ounce for ounce, protein is typically the most expensive part of our diets, but it doesn’t have to be. By picking inexpensive proteins such as beans, eggs, and even chicken, you can feel full without emptying your wallet.
Dry beans are especially inexpensive and can pack a bigger nutritional punch – for about 30 cents a serving, black beans provide fiber, calcium, folic acid, and potassium, plus some power-house antioxidants. Or go with lentils for an even lower cost – 12 cents a serving – and more protein per pound than beef.
Stick To The List
Your shopping list is your best friend, as is a strong familiarity with your local grocery store. Make a point of creating an orderly list before you head to the store, assembling the list based on each item’s location in the store. When your grocery list is organized efficiently, you don’t end up wandering up and down the aisles, missing important ingredients, and picking up things you don’t need.
Mind Midday Meals
Midday meals, from lunch in the office cafeteria to that afternoon coffee stop, can really do a number on your budget. That’s why, if you’re trying to save on food costs, this is a good place to start. First, make a point to pack your own lunch. If you cook large portions for dinner, for example, you can pack leftovers for lunch for a few days.
As for all those coffee breaks, take advantage of the break room coffee pot or make iced coffee at home and bring it to work for an afternoon pick me up. The old wisdom that buying coffee can break your budget really does apply, whether it’s a $2 coffee cart cup or dropping $7 at Starbucks. Imagine what you could do with that money if you saved it up!
Pick Produce Carefully
Fruits and vegetables are essential parts of a healthy – and delicious – diet, but many people struggle in the produce section because they were raised on canned or frozen veggies. It’s time to calm the confusion.
First, it’s important to decide whether eating organic produce is important to you. Organic produce is often a lot more expensive than conventional counterparts, so shop wisely. One way to get the most bang for your buck while also protecting the environment is to skip grocery store produce and support local farmers by going to area farmer’s markets.
Another option is to eat conventionally grown produce when exposure is low and organic only for products with high pesticide exposure levels. Many popular items like apples, grapes, kale, and cherries are exposed to large amounts of pesticides. If you buy conventional versions of these, make sure to wash them extra well and discard skins or outer leaves if possible.
Put Your Phone To Work
Finally, say goodbye to old school couponing – you’ll have a hard time finding them anyway. Today’s extreme couponing experts use apps to save money. Some apps offer rebates on purchases and may even reward you for simply scanning receipts. Plus, many have signup bonuses, and you can often double up the savings on certain items through a mix of apps.
Once you hit a certain savings level on each app, you can then cash out for gift cards to your favorite stores. If you aren’t using grocery apps, you’re wasting money.
With a little effort, it’s easy to turn a tight grocery budget into delicious meals – in fact, when you focus on saving, you may find you leave the store with more food than in the past, but have spent less. After a few trips, you’ll feel like a grocery genius.