The good news is, more and more restaurants, supermarkets and food suppliers have responded to the eating healthier trends. Eating healthy is not only for hippies. It is not just a ‘thing’; it is how everyone should eat. Eating healthier contributes to a longer and better quality of life.
I am a little frugal so I have acquired some tips along the way.
1. Plan Dinners for a week at a time
Make a meal plan and buy just what you need for those dinners. Do not try to shop for a lengthier period as that will naturally cause you to buy more items that you might not use. This strategy requires you to think of your upcoming week and any activities planned. For example, If you have an event where food will be served, you might not need to make dinner that night.
You can meal prep on whatever paper or book you have at home, but you might find a planner like this convenient for this purpose.
2. Find recipes with few ingredients
In many cases, recipes call for way too many ingredients. It is ok to splurge once in a while and turn dinner into a five-star marvel, but in most cases, you want something basic yet satisfying. In some recipes, some ingredients can be omitted with no discernible difference. This has led to the invention of the ‘5 ingredient or less’ recipes.
3. Keep an inventory of recipes that make good leftovers
If you and your family are not picky eaters then pat yourself on the back; life is just easier for you. If you are like me, then you know what I mean when I say some foods have that ‘next day taste.’ My husband never seems to acknowledge this taste I refer to so he will eat any leftovers.
There are some foods though that make great leftovers. Foods that are cooked in a sauce seems to do better when re-heated. I think this is a personal thing, but you can view these recipes and decide.
Once you have an inventory of recipes, you can then plan to cook for more than one dinner at a time. Preparing meals for multiple days will save you money and time. If you only have a couple of recipes on your weekly dinner plan, your shopping just got a whole lot easier and cheaper.
If you want to take this strategy further and cook only once per week, you might want to try an official meal planning recipe book.
I am not a fan of leftovers, especially those that span several days, but I do find that using a high-quality glass container that is airtight makes a big difference. I have a set at home like this one, and will only use these to store leftover food.
4. Plan your meals around grocery store sales
One year I had an extended time off from work, so I decided to be an extreme couponer. That was not a strategy I found that worked well for me as I spent an entire day going from store to store to save a few bucks per store. It is hard work to chase coupons, especially from multiple places, so I have revisited another strategy.
I view one or two store sales brochures; then I find recipes around the sale with the highest savings. If salmon is half off at one store, then I shop at that store and plan to make a couple of salmon meals that week. While at it, I buy the fruit on sale or anything else I can use in my dinner that week.
So to sum it up, I dont plan dinners first and then hunt sales at different stores. I view the brochures first and plan dinners around the store that will save me the most money. Then I take advantage of other savings they have that week.
5. Eat one meatless meal per week
If you are vegan or vegetarian, then this certainly doesn’t apply to you. For the rest of us, you can save a lot by making at least one meal meatless. Salmon is an excellent source of omega 3’s and more nutrients but it is also pricier than other meat options.
Using beans and lentils can replace meats, and they have that umami flavor that tastes a little meaty. A well-seasoned pot of lentils, vegetables or grains can be pretty good with the right seasonings. For other inspiration, you can search online or check out this book of meatless recipes. You can read my post here about the natural seasons I use every day.
6. Cater your recipes to what is in season
In supermarkets and grocery stores, you can get many fruits or vegetables whether or not they are in season for your local area. This convenience is thanks to transportation options, that allow for moving foods between long-distance areas.
However, if you kept tabs on what foods are in-season for your area, you can tailor your meal planning around that for instant savings. Foods remain in season for several weeks to several months, so you are able to switch it up a bit. Overall you should come out ahead.
For example, in New England, where I live, butternut squash is a typical fall item. Roasted butternut squash is quick and easy to make. All you need is a squash, a little honey or maple syrup (optional), some salt, and pepper or any seasonings of your choice. Bake at 400 F for around 20 minutes and voila, a healthy and tasty side.
7. Ditch the garnish
When you do your meal plans for the week, ignore ingredients whose only purpose is to serve as a garnish. They are indeed pretty, but it is one extra food item you need to buy, and you are not on a cooking show. I have the personal experience of just writing down the ingredients for purchase without focusing too much on the recipe. Then when it is time to make the meal I realize I bought an entire bundle of parsley only to use one sprig as garnish.
8. Keep tabs on what you have at home
When you overshop, you lose track of what is already in your cupboards. You might buy something you already have, or worse, you might not use it as it goes bad before you have a chance to. If your cupboards and fridge are stacked with a lot of items and you are not sure what is in there, now is the time to clean it out, throw away old food and make plans to use what is not expired.
Once this is cleared out, then it’s up to you to keep your cupboards and fridge with food you will use in a week.
9. Do not overshop
You might not be guilty of this; after all, you are on a budget. But, you can overshop even when money is tight. Overshopping happens when you don’t have a plan, so you pick up food without a strategy.
This tip is especially appropriate for perishables. Dont buy a ton of fruit or vegetables you will not eat during the week. It might be better to buy fruit every couple of days than for the whole week. You can step out during lunchtime, or make a quick grocery run after work to get a bag of fruit or veggie. This way, you consume what you buy and then you quickly replenish it.
Do not buy items just because it is on sale. Also, do not buy food you have never tried just because ‘it looks good.’ It is not a hard-fast rule, to never overshop as in some cases it can save you money in the long run.
10. Learn what food items can be frozen
Some foods freeze well, and there isn’t any loss in quality and taste. You can buy a larger quantity of these items if it is cheaper and freeze some of it. If you do this, chose staple items you know you will use. Milk and cheese freeze well. You can take up buy one get one offers for these types of foods and immediately store the extras in the freezer.
Here is a great article explaining foods that freeze well to use as a guide.
11. Make your own drink
Making homemade lemonade or limeade is considerably cheaper than buying juice, and it is more wholesome. Even the healthiest of brands cannot be better than what you can make at home. The quality of fruit deteriorates with time, and most brands pasteurize drinks, which breaks down the natural vitamin C from the fruit. When you make juice at home, it is a lot fresher than what you buy at the store.
I grew up on homemade juice as the store-bought ones were just too expensive. Looking back, I remember how bad I felt that my mom couldn’t afford ‘high quality’ juices, with little knowledge that I was getting the better option.
It is even better if you skip the juice altogether. You can add a splash of lemon juice in water and add a little basil with zero sugar. A glass pitcher like this one with a cover will be invaluable to store your homemade drink in the fridge.
12. Leave the credit cards at home
Credit cards are an excellent tool, for large purchases and such. But, for everyday routine purchases, it contributes to overspending. If you have a well-planned grocery list, you can estimate how much it will cost and bring just enough cash to cover it with a small buffer. Dont be ashamed to shop with your calculator in hand. Use the calculator app on your phone if you dont want to seem frugal to other shoppers.
I have done that. I am decent at doing math in my head, so usually, I have an approximate running total in my head. You’d be surprised how discipline you’ll get if you follow this strategy.
13. Leave the little ones at home
Kids are so sweet and adorable, but if you have someone to watch your kids at home, then dont bring them grocery shopping. Not only will they keep asking you to buy things they probably will throw away after one bite, but they will distract you from shopping.
Shopping needs to include strategies with the tips we already discussed, and you need some focus to get it right. Your grocery shopping will also be quicker without kids. I have abandoned my shopping list in frustration, all because I had a 3-year-old with me.
14. Shop on a full stomach
If you have never heard this before, then this tip might shock you. You should also be able to relate. When you are hungry you buy more items, often items you will not find delicious when you are full.
You should plan to shop right after you have eaten your dinner. If you must bring your kids with you to do grocery shopping, then make sure they are also full as they will ask for fewer items as well.
15. Keep snacks with high fiber
High fiber snacks can fill you up and reduce endless snacking. If you find yourself visiting the vending machine at work around 2 pm and again an hour later, it’s time to invest in meaningful snacks.
Filling snacks also reduce your portions which causes you to need less food overall. When your body gets very hungry, you eat more and your body stores the excess as fat. While this tip is taken from my post about losing weight, it can also help you to save money.
I like these fig based snacks. You can also eat greek yogurt with at least 2% milkfat. No-fat might have less fat, but it doesn’t keep you full for long.
Getting everything on a routine is the key to most things in life. Eating healthy should work out cheaper than not. I find a lot of junk food quite expensive, and when you eat them, you dont feel satisfied. Adding a couple of snacks with high fiber can prevent those meaningless snacking.