The challenge to eating healthy includes the costs of ingredients, and the timing in which they should be consumed. Setting up a routine, learning where to obtain healthy, affordable ingredients, and how to use them, and how to minimize food waste can solve that challenge.
The first step is to plan your meals at least a week in advance. If you know what you want to eat—proteins, vegetables and fruits—you can find ways to obtain and store them economically.
Secondly, when you shop, you can take advantage of discounts and sales, and direct sourcing from farmers (available in many areas), and even consider food that may be available for free.
The last step is to minimize food waste. This is your opportunity to save significantly by being creative in the kitchen, while keeping meals interesting. If you plan your meals to cook your perishables first, and then use bulk items or frozen ingredients later—setting aside at least one meal a week to cook with leftovers—you’ll have ingredients that work in a variety of recipes.
As with any plan, this can be tailored to fit your own needs, and may not work for everyone.
Planning your meals:
- Make a weekly meal planning list to start. As you learn your preferences, you can expand it to a monthly list.
- Plan meals that use all your perishables first, with bulk or frozen items to follow.
- Check your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer: See if you already have the items.
- Cross off junk food. Alternatives include fruit, smoothies, tea with honey, baked or dehydrated veggies.
- Fruits and vegetables: Root vegetables can last a long time if stored properly. For perishables, buy frozen, or freeze fruits and vegetables that won’t be used in time.
- Proteins: Plant protein can be a healthy alternative to meat that helps to reduce frequency and costs. Cheaper cuts of meat can slow cook. Scramble egg whites with added turmeric and mustard for color can substitute for whole eggs.
- Prepared proteins: Cooked tofu, rotisserie chicken or pulled meats can have multiple uses in salads, sandwiches, tacos, and sautés.
- Other ideas for planning your meals.
Managing your purchases:
- AARP Discounts: Sign up for your store’s discount card, and get their newsletter.
- Sales: Many grocery stores start new sales on a specific day of the week. Ask them.
- Alternative sources: Consider ethnic grocery stores, and chef food supply stores in your area. The latter’s prices for bulk (which includes refrigerated items) may be better.
- Check the EWG watch list (produce recommended to buy organic)
- Buy from a certified farmer’s market if one is available in your area.
- Buy from a CSA farmer (they may deliver in your area).
- Buy produce that is in season for the best prices and quality.
- Buy in bulk:
- Cooking dried beans in bulk means no extra salt in the beans.
- Tip for storing bulk grains: Freeze them to keep out bugs.
- Organic steel cut oats are cheaper in bulk. They cook wonderfully in a slow or pressure cooker, and are a useful ingredient for baking and snacks.
- Check the backyard: You and your neighbors may have fruit trees. Often oranges, lemons, apples, avocados, and other produce is left on the ground.
- Grow your own: If you can grow your own food, do.
- Here are some other ideas for managing your purchases.
Managing Food Waste:
- Use all the veggies: Cut up and freeze what you won’t use before it would spoil. Freeze the leavings, as well (the bits left after you cut up perishables). Use the leavings in later meals or for stock.
- Use all the fruit: Frozen fruit is great for smoothies. If you buy fresh berries or bananas, freeze what you can’t eat when they are ripe. Tip for bananas: Peel when perfectly ripe, cut in thirds, store in a freezer safe container for smoothies.
- For vegetables that won’t freeze, like lettuce, use those up first.
- Dehydrate: Drying food can make it last. Link to tips.
- Leftovers: Prepare and store your leftovers, and then pick one night per week to make a meal of your leftovers.
- Here are some other ideas for using all your food.