Since the New Year I’ve been talking to a lot of people about making healthier choices with their food. A lot of the time I hear complaints about how expensive healthy food is. I get that most people have to stick to a budget. Here are 4 suggestions for how to choose healthier options without breaking the bank.
1. Plan ahead and work from recipes
No impulse shopping. Spend some time BEFORE going to the supermarket, planning your meals and snacks for the week. Work from recipes and make a list. Stick to the list and avoid purchasing items that aren’t on it.
Be realistic about how much food your family will eat. Don’t overcook. If you’re cooking for 3, don’t make a meal with 6 servings unless you are going to eat it twice. It’s fairly simple to divide recipes in half or two-thirds to adjust the recipe sizes for your family.
Plan to use up the leftovers quickly: either use them right away for packed lunches or have leftover night once a week. Any food that spoils or that you have to throw away is food you shouldn’t have purchased in the first place.
2. Shop alone.
DON’T take small kids to the grocery store routinely. It is much harder to stick to a list and avoid impulse buys or treat buys when you have impulsive people with you!
When your kids are bigger, it’s great to start teaching them about meal planning and grocery shopping. You can even split the list and get shopping done in double-time, but be sure to check their cart before you hit the checkout. Don’t let them sneak extra items into the cart!
Grocery shopping on a budget is a very important skill to teach your children. Discipline in the snack aisle is tough when you’re a kid 🙂 Sometimes when you’re a grownup too!
3. Buy store-brand.
Brand-name grocery items are NOT necessarily worth the upcharge for the name. Gradually start comparison-shopping and ask yourself if the brands you’ve always used are really worth the name-brand price.
Pick just one or two brands to start, and see if there is a less expensive store brand available. Read labels to make sure there aren’t artificial ingredients in the store brand item. Check for partially-hydrogenated oils, added sugars and artificial sweeteners, and high-fructose corn syrup. These ingredients are often added because they are cheap and extend shelf life. They are NOT worth the discounted price, it’s best to avoid them.
4. Avoid money traps.
Make sure the measures you take to save money actually DO save you money. Take clipping coupons, for example. I used to do it, until I realized how much time it was costing me. How much is your time worth? Also, you don’t save money by paying 50 cents less for a jar of jelly you wouldn’t have bought in the first place if you hadn’t had a coupon.
Be careful of buying in bulk. Make sure the per-ounce price (which should be listed on the shelf tag) is actually lower in the bulk-size package. Sometimes it isn’t. Also, make sure your family will actually USE all that food before it spoils or goes bad. See #1 above: any food you have to throw away because it spoiled is food you shouldn’t have bought in the first place.
One place where it is good to buy in bulk is when the supermarket has sales on meats and fish. Keeping your freezer full actually decreases your energy cost because it takes less electricity to keep a full freezer cold than it does a half-full one.
Wrap each piece individually and freeze with the date written on it. Use the oldest frozen items first. Thaw frozen items in the refrigerator, not in the microwave or on the counter. Give it two or three days in the fridge to thaw completely. Put it in a Ziploc bag to keep it from leaking as it thaws. Yes, I speak from experience!
Making small changes in how you plan your meals and do your shopping can help find space in your budget for more fresh items. Try it for a month or two and track your food expenses. Then start considering where you can gradually start adding healthier choices in your menus.
QUESTION: Do you spend too much money on food? What is the one thing you think you should do to improve this?