Whether you’re a single gal in the city or a suburban mom with several mouths to feed, keeping the pantry stocked with inexpensive, truly healthy foods can be a challenge and it’s one that most of us face at least three times a day! How can you come out a winner and still fill those bodies with nutrients at a reasonable price? Here are a few pointers that have helped me (and many of my patients) keep my food budget on track throughout the child-rearing years and far beyond.
Take a meat-break.
Many of us, myself included, grew up with meat-centric meals. Although quality-sourced animal foods offer some valuable nutrients, I believe most of us could get by on a lot less meat, opting instead for smaller portions or some meatless meals. Not only does less meat on the plate make more room for gut-friendly plants, but eating fewer animal products is also easier on the earth and your wallet everybody wins. Consider joining the Meatless Mondays movement, and when you do eat animal products, opt for smaller amounts of those that have been humanely treated and pasture-raised; look for meats free of hormones and antibiotics, preferably organic or fresh from the farmers market. Re-think your plate so that meat and poultry are more of a side dish and plants are the main attraction.
Build a better, hot budget friendly breakfast fast.
When my kids were young, oatmeal and buckwheat pancakes were two of our inexpensive yet nutritious breakfast staples. To save precious minutes in the morning, fill small reusable bowls individually with various ingredients: fresh or frozen blueberries, strawberries, and apple chunks; chopped nuts; crushed flaxseeds; etc. Store in the fridge. At breakfast time, set out the bowl buffet of toppings and the cinnamon shaker, then let everyone top their own oats or buckwheat pancakes. Another time-saver: Before bed, pre-mix the dry ingredients in one bowl, mix the wet ingredients in another, store both overnight in the fridge, and combine in the a.m. Better yet, premake batches of buckwheat pancakes and store in the freezer until needed.
Extend your luncheon mileage.
When I was growing up, canned fish was a bit of a luxury and it still is! A small can of salmon, sardines, or skipjack tuna provides a powerful protein boost. Delicious add-ins offer plenty of color and nutrients to the mix. To get more out of your canned fish and really turn it into a filling salad, put more into it: Add flavor, color, and crunch with chopped celery, fennel, spinach, apple, carrot, red onion, peppers, pickles, cucumber, scallions, and even brown rice.
Think outside the supermarket.
In other words, shop around to find the best bargains and stretch your budget and always shop with a list or shopping app. Keep your eyes open and know the prices of your most frequently bought items so you can take advantage when deals pop up. Whenever possible, buy items in bulk and on sale particularly when it comes to staple items for the pantry. Shop at a variety of outlets from corner stores, small green grocers, and farmers markets to supermarkets and discounters such as Trader Joe’s, Costco, and Aldi. Check out stores like TJ Maxx and Home Goods, which often sell small quantities of organic spices, olive oils, nuts, and seeds for considerably less than retail.
Go for the bowl.
Fill up the family with budget-stretching noodle bowls, bean soups, and pureed vegetable soups and stews. Black bean soup, winter squash soup, cauliflower soup, and bean-based meat-free chili on top of a small sweet potato (yum!) are among my favorite big nutrition, low-cost filler-uppers. The more veggies and beans you add in, the bigger the nutritional and budgetary benefit don’t hold back!
About the Author: Kathie Swift, MS, RDN, maintains a private nutrition practice and is the author of The Inside Tract: Your Good Guide to Great Digestive Health and The Swift Diet: Lose the Weight and Get Rid of the Bloat. Learn more at kathieswift.com.