Tips for Eating Well and Economically
By Steve Baldwin
As the price of gas has climbed, so has the price of food. And when it costs more to eat well, our health suffers the consequences.
Let’s face it: It’s often easier, and seemingly cheaper, to just “drive thru” and buy low-nutrition food. But with a little planning, you can eat in a healthy manner while keeping more of your hard- earned dollars where they belong – in your wallet.
I’ve put the following tips in order from the beginning of the food-buying process to the end. Take them as a group or just pick one and give it a try.
Before shopping, see what you have on hand, and use it. Letting food sit past the expiration date is a big money waster. You may have a complete meal or two sitting in your cupboard and not realize it.
Based on the food you have on hand, make a weekly menu. This step takes time, but it works. At first, try writing your menu for one meal during the week – for instance, dinners on weeknights. Involve the whole family in the process. What do your kids or spouse want to eat this week? If your family helps write the menu, they will be more likely to welcome it.
Consider one to two meatless meals each week. Meat tends to be expensive compared to other protein foods such as nuts, beans and tofu. Try veggie quesadillas with no-fat refried beans, cheese and salsa. Whip up a vegetable stir-fry with chopped vegetables, extra- firm tofu and a little soy sauce. For a twist on a traditional favorite, try peanut butter and jelly on toaster waffles or wrapped in a whole-wheat tortilla.
Make a shopping list and stick to it. Using your menu as a guide, make a detailed list of the items you need. Having a list in the store helps reduce those “Ummm, that looks good” impulse buys.
Use coupons for the items you already buy. The Sunday newspaper is still a good source for grocery coupons, and be sure to check the Web site of the store you normally shop at for deals on the items you need. Try to resist buying an item solely because you have a coupon for it. If you end up not using the item, it is money wasted.
Have a snack before you go to the store. Grocery shopping on an empty stomach is a dangerous proposition – everything looks that much yummier. Nosh on an apple, banana or a few baby carrots before you hit the aisles.
Park far away from the store entrance and enjoy the extra walk. OK, this one is not about saving money and you’ve heard it a thousand times. But every step you take is part of the active lifestyle you’re aiming for.
Use a loyalty card, but don’t be too loyal. Chain-specific loyalty cards can land you some good deals, but no one will know if you use more than one. Read the weekly store advertisements and look for the best deals.
Shop at large discount stores only for the items you will use. Warehouse-sized stores may offer good pricing, but again, if you don’t use the items, it’s money wasted. You may want to share large- volume items with a friend or neighbor so you can both save.
Try a store’s signature brand. Store brands usually cost less but often will be the same quality as national brands. Why pay more if you don’t need to?
Along with fresh fruits and vegetables, try frozen and canned. All are similar in nutritional value, but frozen and canned are often less expensive than fresh. Buy fresh produce in season and keep an eye out for good deals. Buying direct from local farmers at farmer’s markets can lead to money savings, too.
All it takes is a little planning and effort to make your food dollars go further. You’ll likely be eating healthier, too – something you’ll be thankful for now and in years to come.
Steve Baldwin, M.S., R.D., is a nutrition network project director with the Hawthorne School District’s Nutrition Network Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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