SummaryPatricia Purcell shares her 9 best practices to eat healthy for her family, with beginner and advanced tips for keeping it on budget.
Not so long ago, worry over fat, sugar, and cholesterol content was assumed to be strictly a problem for the elderly and infirm. Housewives happily learned to substitute the convenience of prepared, processed foods for many previously homemade foods, justifying the extra cost by using manufacturer coupons.
As a twenty-first century, health conscious mom, I know better. Despite my busy, homeschooling life, I have learned how to prepare delicious, yet nutritionally sound food without ruining the budget.
A little extra work initially pays off when I can put quality meals on the table night after night. With just a bit of planning, anyone can do the same. Here is how I manage.
1. Make Healthy Choices
Much is known today about how diet affects long term health. Research shows that choosing lean meats, whole grains, low fat dairy, and plenty of fruits and vegetables is beneficial.
My family tries to follow the Mediterranean Diet as much as possible. That’s not to say that we never splurge on a good burger, it’s just that for the most part we watch what we eat. Keeping good foods on hand helps us to do that.
2. Set a Budget
My husband and I decided a while back to set our spending limit for groceries each month and stick to it. We make one monthly trip to a warehouse store to really stock up, followed by weekly trips to the grocery store for a few perishable items. When we hit our spending limit, we stop buying and use up what we already have.
3. Shop Carefully
We don’t set foot in the store without a strategy. Alluring displays and flash ‘sales’ make having a plan necessary. We find it helps to do the following:
- Stick to the list. If an item is not on your grocery list don’t buy it. Nothing ruins a budget faster than unexpected add-ons.
- Keep tabs as you go. Tally up each item as you add it to the cart to avoid sticker shock at check out.
- Use coupons with care. Many manufacturers’ coupons are for just the sort of nutritionally questionable foods that health conscious parents try to avoid. Use coupons only if they are for something that your family will actually use.
- Buy store brand. Many name brand foods, such as baking items, grains, and dairy products, have nearly identical store brand counterparts. The packaging may be simpler, but the product inside is the same, and at a fraction of the cost.
- Be wary of sales. Always take a moment to do the math yourself. Make sure also, that your family will actually be able to consume the product before it goes bad. That super sale on ripe bananas might not actually be such a good deal.
4. Plan Ahead
Keep the pantry stocked. Nothing kills a budget (and diet) faster than an empty larder and emptier stomachs.
It is too easy to give into the temptation of a quick dinner out if there is nothing easy to prepare on hand.
5. Make a meal plan
With an abundance of ingredients on hand, the next step is to actually use them. I have a small whiteboard hanging on my fridge.
On it I jot down projected menus for two week periods. I’m able to change meals easily if the day turns out to be too busy for much cooking, or if we’re out of a needed ingredient (with hungry kids foraging, this happens).
It also serves as a reminder for me to pull frozen meats out to thaw before I need them.
6. Pre-prep food when possible
It takes very little extra work to chop two onions instead of one, or sauté a bit of extra meat. By prepping a little extra food when you’re cooking anyway, you can give yourself a head start on a future meal. Just be sure to properly store the prepped food so that it stays fresh until you need it.
7. Make Your Appliances Work for You
Even though I make most of our meals from scratch, I find modern kitchen technology immensely helpful. My slow cooker and bread machine are both used several times a week, and save me hours of time.
I love the feeling of putting dinner on to cook before I’ve had my morning coffee! Several years ago, we also invested in a chest freezer to make our once a month stock up trips more manageable.
8. Have Some Last Minute Meals on Hand
Despite the best laid plans, we all have those days when nothing goes our way. Whether an appointment goes too long, traffic gets in your way, or it’s just a night when you need to be in three places at once, sometimes a quick dinner is called for. Not to worry, you can plan for that! Some of our family favorites include:
- Stuffed Potatoes. Bake the potatoes ahead of time, then let the family select toppings such as broccoli, shredded cheese, or crumbled turkey bacon to make their meals.
- Tacos. By pre-chopping the veggies and cooking the meat, these can be on the table in no time.
- Breakfast for Dinner. My hubby doesn’t get this concept, so whenever he’s away on business the kids and I treat ourselves to quick and easy waffles or pancakes for dinner along with some orange juice and fruit. Yum!
- Use up Your Leftovers. This is perhaps the ultimate quick meal…because you’ve already cooked it. Your budget will be happy with this idea too!
9. Be Ready for Those Snack Attacks
Keep fresh fruit, veggies, and yogurt in sight. You might just encourage your kids to make a healthy choice.
Offer ‘treats’ like smoothies made with…fruit and yogurt.
Make homemade treats healthier. Experiment with adding wheat flour to cookies and reducing the sugar. Your family may not even notice.
With a little planning it is easy, even with a strict budget, to keep healthy food on hand, and delicious meals on the table!