A Mom’s Guide to Healthy Eating on a Budget
In today’s world eating healthy on a budget is a hard enough challenge. There are fast food chains on every corner, and even the grocery store is little help with sales of bakery treats and cheap convenience foods lining the shelves. Not to mention the endless barrage of kid appealing commercials.
With all the hype, buying healthy for your family can be a challenge. Especially since most American families are on such tight budgets. Convenience foods offer time saving value, and fresh fruit and veggie selections are scandalously pricey compared to their canned counterparts. But there are ways to fight back. As a mom on a budget I’m going to share some of my money saving, healthy eating tricks with you.
Finding Fresh deals
It seems that vegetable prices are always on the rise. You overlook the fresh produce section of your grocery thinking that you can’t possibly afford it, or that you’ll get a better deal with the canned or frozen variety. But prices actually vary based on season. Most fruits and colorful veggies are “in season” in the summer, meaning that more places are growing them so they are more readily available and therefore will cost less. Look up what veggies are in season and stock up when the price is low.
You can also look in your area for a Farmer’s Market. These are small marketplaces where local farmers and distributors sell their produce privately. They are often much less than grocery stores and more often locally grown meaning fewer chemicals and preservatives to get them to you.
Final tip, no matter where you buy, when the price is low, stock up and freeze. It takes a little extra time, but several seasonal vegetables can be safely frozen for months and used later for cooking. Spinach, tomatoes, even strawberries and peaches can be cleaned, sliced and stored. Invest in good quality freezer bags and enjoy them year round. I personally love slicing up as many strawberries as I can afford during the summer and then defrosting them in December for pancakes and other holiday treats.
Healthy Eating in Your Own Neighborhood
Forget about the upscale health food stores. Healthy eating does not have mean paying more. It is a myth that health food is more expensive. More and more regular grocery stores are offering healthy alternatives to feed both the calorie and chemical wary customer. Look for generic and store brand varieties of whole grain products such a pasta, bread, and even tortillas. They have less fat, more protein and fiber and will still taste great with the recipes you already use.
More and more stores are also offering the “All Natural” and “Organic” variety of products. Read labels carefully before buying, but look for good deals in this section when you can afford it. Although little science backs up the organic debate as of yet, buying these products will show the stores that we want these products and are willing to buy them, which will in turn increase their availability and eventually drive down the price.
Preservatives, additives, and artificial ingredients are a part of life these days. Unfortunately, these products are low in nutrition and often high in fat and calories. Try making your own dinner mixes instead of buying them in a box. Make large batches of your favorite homemade sauces and soups then freeze the leftovers for another meal.
Using Coupons properly
Coupons are everywhere these days. We get them in the mail, in our Sunday papers, even over the internet. You may think that because these coupons are only for name brands that you won’t get a good deal because generics are always cheaper. This is not always true. There is a secret to coupons that most people don’t know. You can use them with sales.
Collect coupons for your favorite brands from email and local papers. Then scour the store advertisements each week and look for the brands you want on sale. When the sale is on, then go to buy. Even if the sale doesn’t bring the price to less than the generic, the coupon will usually close the gap. Oh, another thing, don’t fret if it doesn’t, just keep going. And inexpensive binder with baseball card separators, or a multi-pocket envelope file will help you keep your coupons organized.
Also, many grocery stores will mail you advertisements for sales that week. If you don’t receive one call your local store to find out how to get on the mailing list. You can also go online for just about any store and look at their sales each week as well. An hour or so of cross referencing each week will save you hundreds.
Eating Healthy with Kids
Yes, it is hard to get kids to eat vegetables. It can take weeks, even years of cajoling, bargaining, and even crying to get them to try something new. Then best advice: don’t give up, and don’t give in. When you make the decision to eat healthier it has to be a family decision. Everybody has to participate and no one gets a reprieve. Working together and setting a good example is the best way to get kids to cooperate.
Let them help with meal planning a shopping. If they’re older let them research healthy alternatives to their favorite recipes on line or in cookbooks. With younger children it is somewhat easier. Start infants and toddlers with healthy foods from the very beginning. Include their favorite baby food veggies in dishes when they start solid food. My own son loves bananas and peaches as much as he loved them when he was on baby food. He even still eats peas and carrots! Remember, it can take several tries for a child of any age to like a new food, and so don’t give up!
Just Don’t Buy It
Take a good hard look at your budget. How much are you spending on that extra bag of chips, or that box of cupcakes? How much more fresh hamburger meat could you buy with that? How many extra boxes of whole grain pasta would you be able to get? It adds up, and quick. While many values can be found in healthy food, many savings can be found in buying less junk.
Buying only healthy food will set up an environment in your home that only provides healthy options. Save chips, cookies and other treats for holidays and special events, and stock up on healthy food that you love. And another tip, if you don’t like it don’t buy it, even if it is healthy. Eating right should not mean torturing yourself with unappetizing fare. That will only make you crave the unhealthy stuff more.
If you still find yourself craving the snacks, try some alternatives that limit your portions like a 100 calorie pack of cookies or chips. Popcorn is a good alternative for the salty snackers. Air pop if you can, or use a very small amount of a lighter oil like sunflower or canola.
Finally, Balance Time with Convince
Time is the biggest reason that people don’t eat a healthy as they should. We are so busy with work, school, and sports that spending hours in front of the stove just isn’t an option, but there are plenty of ways to create a healthful meal that is as quick and convenient as those frozen pizzas. And they taste better too.
Instead of simmering soup or sauce all day on the stove, add a ready made broth and frozen veggies to give it a homemade flavor in minutes.
Use frozen veggies instead of canned. They retain more nutrients and taste a lot fresher. Stock up on frozen from the store or buy fresh and freeze yourself.
Make things ahead. Set aside a day and make several meals at once, then freeze them for quick dinners on busy nights. For stay at home moms, make extra portions than you need at dinner time and you’ll have healthy choices for lunch the next day.
Look for recipes that combine convince foods like a canned sauce with frozen veggies and fresh meat added. Simple changes to a recipe like using fresh or frozen veggies, and whole grain products can be an easy change that makes a big difference.
No matter how tight your budget there are lots of things that can be done to make our lives healthier. A little extra time and effort will go a long way towards living better lives.