Tips for Preparing Inexpensive, Healthy Meals
Here are a few tips and tricks for making inexpensive, healthy meals at home.
- Planning takes a little time up front, but in the long run it can save time and money.
- Plan your family’s food budget each month. We budget for house and car payments as well as utilities, why not budget for food?
- Plan when, where, and how frequently you want to go out to eat. Include this in your food budget for the month.
- Plan a week’s worth of meals and snacks. Knowing what you are going to eat after a long, hard day eliminates the need for decision making. This can help reduce the temptation to order in or eat out. Remember when you prepare foods yourself, you control what goes into your food. You control calories, fat, and sodium. Using tools such as Choose My Plate can give you an idea of how much your family needs per week.
- Plan your milk consumption. Studies have shown that increasing the amount of low fat or fat free milk you drink can decrease the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, some types of cardiovascular disease, and decreases your risk of obesity. Replacing your intake of sugar-sweetened beverages (cola, sports drinks, etc.) with milk may be beneficial in the development of children’s lean body mass.
- Plan the use of fresh fruits and vegetables. Since these products have a short shelf life, plan when you intend to use them. Having the fresh produce during the first days of the menu will make sure you use them. This will reduce the amount of waste. Supplement the meals later in the week with frozen or canned vegetables.
- After planning your meals for the week, check to see what you have on hand to avoid over buying. Be sure to look in the freezer as well as the cabinets for food that you have at home.
- Plan what you are going to do with leftovers. For example: Can it be lunch the next day? Can it be frozen and kept for dinner the following week? Freezing leftovers is a great way to get two or three meals out of one.
- Surf the Internet or check the newspaper for coupons. Most supermarkets post weekly coupons and sales on their websites. If a supermarket is having a great sale, such as buy one get one free on a more expensive item that you frequently use, consider buying it and freezing the extra. Most foods, especially meats, freeze well. The Clemson Extension has information on storage guidelines.
- There are many coupon websites available. Some of these coupons are from manufacturers and can be coupled with store sales.
Before Going to the Store
- Pick a time to shop when you are not in a rush. This will allow you to have time to compare prices.
- Do not go when you are hungry. This will allow you to shop from your list rather than your stomach.
- If able, try to shop without children. If they go with you, assign them foods to select. Young children can help pick out the fruits and vegetables. If the children can read, let them help pick cereal that stays within a designated amount of sugar. A good goal to aim for when picking out cereal is 9 grams or less of sugar per serving.
- Make sure you have your list and coupons. If you make your list according to the rows in the grocery store, you will be able to get in and out faster. This means less time for temptations and sticking to your list is easier.
- Try to take your food budget in cash to the store. Leave credit cards and debit cards at home. This will prevent you from spending more than your budget.
At the Store
- Stick to the list. Extras, even if they are inexpensive, can add up.
- Do not go up and down every aisle. This will decrease your temptation to deviate from the list.
- Compare prices of generic and name brand items.
- Try to avoid buying items that are individually packaged. These items are typically more expensive. Try buying the larger packages and portion sizing them out in zip sandwich bags once at home.
- Check the "use by" and "sell by" dates on all products.
- Once you check out, double check the receipt to make sure nothing was scanned twice and that all discounts were applied.
- Quickly and properly store cold and frozen foods.
If Eligible, Find Help
- Apply for an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card from your local Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which was formally known as the Food Stamps Program. In the phone book, look under the U.S. Government pages. The listing should under either the Social Services Department or Human Services Department.
- Consider enrolling your child in the free or reduced school lunch program.
- Enroll in the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program. This is a program that provides supplemental foods for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and their children until age five.
- Enroll preschool age children in the Head Start.
- Visit your local food bank.