The average household wastes 14% of the food they buy due to poor planning and wastage. If you spend $250 a week on groceries (the average family of four), 14% is the equivalent of three gourmet lunches.
By planning your meals you only shop for the fresh items you need for the week, thus reducing wastage and worry. Any extra portions can be labelled with the date and frozen right after you make them so they avoid becoming funky experiments in the back of the fridge.
When you plan meals, make sure to include enough foods from each food group, with special attention to fresh vegetables and fruits for every meal as well as snacks. Always keep an eye out for sales on grain products like rice, pasta, couscous and oats so you can stock up and have them as staples for every meal. Frozen fish, frozen vegetables and even frozen fruit are also good to keep on hand for quick entrees, side dishes and smoothies when you haven't had a chance to buy fresh ingredients.
Meat is definitely the most costly mealtime staple but re-thinking how you use it can be better for your wallet and your waistline. With books like In Defence of Food by Micheal Pollan, it's becoming increasingly popular to think of meat as a condiment for vegetables as opposed to the meal's focal point. Diversify your cooking skills and learn techniques to stretch your food dollar. For instance, braising or slow cooking cheaper cuts of meat is an easy way to save on meat. Or, better yet, swap out meat for lentils and other beans once or twice a week for even greater savings – and health benefits. Soups, casseroles and salads are all great ways to pepper in a little meat instead of serving it in one big chunk.
The benefits of meal planning are numerous and getting started is surprisingly simple. All you need to do is jot down your meals before you go grocery shopping, know what you have on hand, and write out your shopping list so you buy only what you need.
At the beginning of the year, when money and budgeting is on our minds, here a few tips that allow us to eat healthy while managing our food budget:
- Buy produce in season when prices are lowest and nutrient value is peaking. If possible, buy locally grown foods.
- Invest in proper storage containers, or save old jars from peanut butter or spaghetti sauce (these are free).
- Buy generic and store brand items. They are less expensive yet comparable in quality and nutrient content.
- Buy in bulk when possible and avoid pre-cut fruits and vegetables. Select family-size packages of meat or poultry and freeze meal-size portions.
- Shop sales and do your homework with the weekly flyers before shopping. Different food stores put high visibility staples on sale, but have higher prices on other items.
- Buy frozen fruits and vegetables that are more economical and require little preparation. Most retain more nutrients than “fresh” produce, as they are harvested and packaged at peak ripeness, compared to “fresh” produce that must be picked early and therefore have less nutrients.
- Warehouse chains usually have lower cost on staple items like dairy, meat, and eggs.
- Use water from the tap or purchase a water filtration system. Purchase a stock of refillable bottles that can be filled each week and then reused.
- Create your own single serving snack packages. This will help you maintain proper portion control while avoiding the premium pricing associated with the excess packaging.
- Buy canned fish including tuna, salmon, and sardines as they are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to provide a wide range of health benefits. They are easily added to pasta dishes, salads and more.
So, take a few moments at the beginning of your week and plan out your meals and snacks. You will save money by avoiding impulse buys and purchasing ready-made meals.
Let me know what time and money saving tips you have. Post in the comments below.
In good health,
Cheryl Wahl, RHN
Certified Professional Cancer Coach