Category: Healthy Lifestyles

Should I buy organic

 

To wrap up our series on Eating Well on a Budget, we’ll address one of the more common questions I get as a dietitian: is it worth spending more money on organic foods?

The answer is complex and individual. There are so many factors to consider – research, finances, and health concerns to name a few. The answer is a personal choice based on your consideration of all of these factors and how they interact in your own life. In an effort to inform those decisions, we will discuss some of the research surrounding these topics.

What Makes Produce Organic?

 

The USDA allows the use of the term “organic” on produce and products that meet the following criteria:

  • produce or ingredients are “…certified to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest. Prohibited substances include most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.”
  • Do not contain artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors
  • Not grown or handled using genetically modified organisms”1

 

Is Organic Produce Healthier?

 

Food that meets organic criteria also often touts a higher price tag (49% higher, according to Consumer Reports2). So for the budget- and health-conscious consumer, the question is: does eating organic vs. non-organic foods have a significant impact on my health?

The trickiest part about answering that question is that humans are such complicated critters…it is difficult to tease out the health impacts of something like eating organic produce vs. non-organic produce because in most cases, the effects of that decision would be long-term – some even lifelong. That makes research difficult, because over the course of a lifetime there are so many confounding factors that it is darn near impossible to definitively pinpoint a specific cause or even correlational relationship. For example, since organic produce is more expensive, those who eat organically-grown produce regularly might be more likely to have higher incomes than those who don’t. If there is a difference in health outcomes, could it be due to living in less polluted areas or having better health care? I’m not sure that there will ever be a direct, consistent, and documented difference in many of cases, for that reason.

Instead, what often happens is that research tends to produce a lot of conflicting or confusing results. Here are the findings of a just a handful of different research studies:

  • A study of organic vs. non-organically-grown greens found that organically grown spinach had higher concentrations of iron, zinc, and calcium than non-organically grown spinach, but no difference between organically vs. non-organically grown romaine. Non-organic romaine contained higher concentrations of magnesium than organic romaine.3
  • In a review of the nutritional content of organic vs. non-organic produce, organic foods were “nutritionally superior” (based on an assessment of the content of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, nitrates and protein) in 61% of cases, while non-organic produce was “nutritionally superior” in 37% of cases.4
  • The USDA’s report on pesticide testing in 2016 found that more than 99.5% of foods tested “well below” benchmark safety levels established by the Environmental Protection Agency.” 22% of the samples had no detectable pesticide residue.5
  • Meanwhile, other studies have linked intakes of foods with higher pesticide residues with fertility issues. Non-organic produce with lower pesticide levels had no negative effect on fertility.6, 7

 

Just a little research muddies the water a bit, doesn’t it?

 



 

Is Buying Organic Produce Worth It?

In these cases I keep a mental category of recommendations that I call “common sense” recommendations. These recommendations apply to these complicated situations where research makes things less, rather than more, clear. Common sense would tell us that it is probably best for us to eat in the form in which God provided it to us. Common sense tells us that it is probably best to eat foods that was not grown with chemicals designed to kill other life forms.

That being said, these “common sense” recommendations are not wholeheartedly supported by research, as you saw above. They are not, by any means, hard and fast rules and, as mentioned earlier, there are many factors to consider.

One thing we absolutely know for sure is that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables every day is significantly beneficial for cancer prevention, heart health, reducing inflammation, and so many other health conditions.2 Those benefits exist regardless of whether those fruits and vegetables are organic or not. I can say with certainty that eating several servings per day of non-organic produce is much more beneficial than no produce at all! So that’s where it ultimately comes down to personal choice. You need to balance your own personal health goals with your own personal budget. For those who feel that they would like to limit their exposure to pesticide residues but simply find it beyond what their grocery budget allows, there are a few options:

  • Prioritize your purchases: Each year, the Environmental Working Group produces a list of the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen. These are the produce items with the highest and lowest levels of pesticide residue, respectively. If you can’t afford to buy all organically-grown produce, you can prioritize the dirty dozen items as organic to reduce your pesticide exposure.
  • Look for a cropshare or a wonky produce subscription: Small family farms and waste prevention programs have created subscription services to purchase local organic produce. Some of these programs feature fruits and vegetables of unusual size or shape that grocery stores don’t want to sell. These programs offer these items at reduced cost to consumers to prevent food waste. Check out Imperfect Produce to see if they provide these services in your area!
  • Grown your own: This can certainly be a commitment, but the benefits are so delicious! You’ll enjoy fresh, tasty food grown in your own yard, containers, or window boxes. You can even use SNAP/EBT benefits to purchase seeds for growing. If you’re a total newbie, ask Google or a local librarian to help you find info on growing your own crops of delicious (and very low cost) produce.

 



 

You might also like…

Money-Saving Tip: When Good Produce Goes Bad

How to Meal Plan on a Budget (step-by-step walkthrough)

What to do When Your Healthy Plan Falls Through

References

  1. McEvoy, M. “Organic 101: What the USDA Organic Label Really Means.” U. S. Department of Agriculture. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2012/03/22/organic-101-what-usda-organic-label-means.
  2. “Eat the Peach, Not the Pesticide: Our new produce guidelines show you how to make the best choices for your health and for the environment.” Consumer Reportshttps://www.consumerreports.org/cro/health/natural-health/pesticides/index.htm.
  3. Rose, S. B. et al. “Mineral Content of Organic and Conventionally Grown Spinach and Lettuce.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. September 2011. 111:9S. p A45. https://jandonline.org/article/S0002-8223(11)00868-6/pdf.
  4. Benbrook, C. et al. “New Evidence Confirms the Nutritional Superiority of Plant-Based Organic Foods.” The Organic Center. March 2008. https://www.organic-center.org/reportfiles/5367_Nutrient_Content_SSR_FINAL_V2.pdf.
  5. “USDA Releases 2016 Annual Pesticide Data Program Summary.” United States Department of Agriculture. February 2018. https://www.ams.usda.gov/press-release/usda-releases-2016-annual-pesticide-data-program-summary.
  6. Chiu, Y. et al. “Association Between Pesticide Residue Intake and Pregnancy Outcomes Among Women Undergoing Fertility Treatment With Assisted Reproductive Technology.” Journal of the American Medical Association. January 2018. 178:1. p 17-26. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/2659557?alert=1
  7. Chiu, Y. et al. “Fruit and vegetable intake and their pesticide residues in relation to semen quality among men from a fertility clinic. Human Reproduction. June 2015. 30:6. p. 1342-1351. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25824023.

Eating Well on a Budget

Saving money on food

 

So far in this Eating Well on a Budget series, we’ve already covered several ways you can save money on groceries right away – meal planning, buying in bulk, effective couponing, and preventing food wasteToday I’ll share about one of the things I do throughout the year to save money in the future: food preservation. 

This is one of the ways I am able to keep our grocery budget at $100 per week for a family of four. When you preserve delicious in-season produce purchased at rock-bottom prices, you aren’t going to be paying absurdly high prices for sub-par flavorless produce the rest of the year. Each year I spend about $250 on produce to preserve, which would add $4.80 to each week’s budget, though I hope to reduce that by growing a garden next summer. Even without the garden, it’s definitely cheaper than buying fresh (and not as tasty) produce throughout the year.

Start with this post to help you know when to buy the cheapest and most delicious produce en masse. Buy them in boxes from a local farm stand. Start small – you can always adjust the amount next year. Then, decide how you’d like to preserve all that tasty nutrition. We’re going to talk about three easy methods of food preservation: freezing, drying, and canning.

 



 

Freezing

 

how to freeze foods to save money

 

Freezing is the simplest method of food preservation, as it does not require special equipment and takes the least amount of time and preparation. Often, all you need is a freezer bag and a permanent marker. Personally, I choose to freeze berries, jams, corn, and meat. I like the way these foods come out when frozen much better than when they are canned or dried. Applesauce and stock are great frozen as well. For most foods, you can simply place them in a zip-close freezer bag with the date and description written on it until you are ready to use them, though it is much easier if you take a little time to prep them first.

 

  • Berries: Wash berries and remove stem, if there is one. Spread berries one layer thick on baking sheets and freeze for two hours. Remove from sheets and place into labeled freezer bags. Freezing on sheets makes them much easier to separate and use throughout the year.
  • Jams: Prepare according to freezer jam pectin instructions (or try a chia jam recipe like this one – I haven’t done this myself yet, but I plan  to try it…let me know if you have experience with chia jam!) and pour into a labeled freezer-safe container (leave 1” of space for expansion).
  • Corn: Carefully remove corn kernels from cobs with a sharp knife (hold the cob vertically and shave down and away from you). Place kernels in labeled freezer bags.
  • Meat: Place meat in a labeled freezer bag. If you want, you can trim and cut it first, but you don’t need to.
  • Applesauce/stock: Follow the instructions on your favorite applesauce or stock recipe. Pour cooled applesauce/stock into labeled freezer-safe containers (leave 1” of space for expansion).

 

Keep tabs on what’s in your freezer – don’t let perfectly good food sink and sink and sink into the deep-freeze abyss, only to be tossed due to years-old freezerburn. This process is about saving money, not tossing it! Taking quick stock during your budget-driven meal planning is a great way to make sure you’re cycling through things and saving money!

 

Tip: You certainly don’t need one, but a vacuum sealer is a handy tool for freezing, as it removes all of the air from the bags your food is preserved in, saving space and preserving freshness even more!

 



 

Drying/Dehydrating

Also very simple, drying/dehydrating foods can be a great way to preserve nutritious food for meals and snacks 

throughout the year. You can dehydrate some foods in your oven, or you can use a dehydrator. They are about $30-40 online or in most kitchen or home goods stores.

Instructions for dehydration times vary depending on the food and recipe you are using. In general, the steps involve preparing the food you’d like to dehydrate, popping it in your oven or dehydrator, and waiting. It’s pretty much that simple.

For some example recipes, check out how you can make your own banana chips, raisins, beef jerky, or dehydrated meals for backpacking or an emergency kit. The dried food possibilities are pretty endless.

 

Tip: If you’re drying onions or garlic in a dehydrator, place it outside while it’s working. Trust me. Your house will smell like a sulfurous vegetable for days.

 



 

Canning

 

how to can fruit to save money

 

Canning is the most seemingly intimidating method of food preservation, and while it is a little more labor-intensive, it’s typically much easier than most people think! The simplest method is water bath canning, which can be used for high-acid fruits. For water bath canning, all you’ll need are prepared fruit, water or extra-light simple syrup, canning jars with matching rings and lids, a jar lifter, a canning rack,  and a very large stock pot. No pressure gauges, no fancy equipment (though if you can spend a tiny bit on a canning kit like this one it will definitely make it more convenient).

 

Basic steps for water bath canning

These steps are an overview – please check out more detailed instructions before canning to ensure safe results. 🙂

 

  1. While completing remaining steps, heat enough water to boiling in your stock pot to cover all of your canning jars when full.
  2. Place prepared fruit (in most cases, this means removing pits, stems, and peels, but check out the recommendations here) in hot, clean jars, leaving 1/2”-1” space at the top.
  3. Ladle hot syrup over top of fruit, leaving 1/2”-1” space at the top.
  4. Wipe the top rim of the jar with a clean rag to remove any debris or syrup. Place a hot lid on the jar and tighten a ring on top of it.
  5. Place jar gently in stock pot. When all jars are placed in stock pot, cover and bring to a boil. Boil for the recommended processing time for your specific fruit and size of jar.
  6. When processing is complete, gently remove the jars from the pot with your jar lifter. Place on a cooling rack in a non-drafty area and avoiding touching them as they cool. Over the course of the next hour or two, you should hear the satisfying sounds of the jars popping sealed. Congratulations!

 

See? Not so bad! In fact, it’s pretty darn fun, especially if you can with a friend or family member. Many hands makes light work! You can enjoy your home-canned goodies all year round.

You can also can lower-acid foods through a method called pressure canning. This is slightly more involved, but not by a lot. Follow these instructions for safe and simple pressure canning.

Tip: Home-canned fruits and vegetables will ruin you for the store-bought versions. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.

 



 

Related Articles

 

Money-Saving Tip: When Good Produce Goes Bad

3 Easy Steps to get Started Couponing

The Must-Try Meal Planning Hack to Stop Wasting Food and Money

 

Eating Well on a Budget

eating well on a budget

 

While some sales come and go without warning, stores discount certain items on predictable sale cycles. These usually line up with holidays, seasons, or annual events (think back to school, etc). One way to lower your grocery (and overall household) budget is to work with the sale cycles as much as possible. Whenever a food or item is on sale, stock up! Buy as much as you can fit your budget and pantry and will reasonably use in the following year.

Produce, of course, also goes in and out of season. In-season produce is cheaper, more delicious, and more nutritious than out-of-season produce (which is usually picked before it is ripe and transported long distances to get to you). If your budget allows, purchase in-season produce in large volumes to preserve for the rest of the year. Food preservation is much simpler than you might think! Stay tuned, because I’ll be talking more about how to preserve foods to save money and boost nutrition in a future post.

Meanwhile, use this handy list to help guide you to a stockpile of useful items and nutritious foods, all purchased at rock-bottom prices. I’ve saved hundreds of dollars each year (and simultaneously upped the nutrition factor of our food) by following these sale cycles.

Click here for a free printable version of the list.

 



Sale Cycles

January

Food: broccoli*, cabbage*, tangerines/mandarins*, oatmeal, yogurt, chips, soda, Christmas candy

Household: exercise and fitness equipment, supplements, electronics, winter clothes, wrapping paper, Christmas decorations

February

Food: oranges*, kale*, biscuits, cinnamon rolls, canned goods, chocolate

Household: televisions, toothpaste/toothbrush, contraceptives, perfume

March

Food: avocados*, spinach*, frozen foods

Household: cleaning supplies, bleach

April

Food: bananas*, ham, eggs, Easter candy

Household: kitchenware, vacuums, cleaning supplies

 



 

May

Food: condiments, pickles, chips, hamburger patties/hot dogs and buns

Household: sunscreen, towels, paper/plastic plates and utensils

June

Food: strawberries*, watermelon*, milk, yogurt, condiments, pickles, chips, hamburger patties/hot dogs and buns

Household: sunscreen, paper/plastic plates and utensils, tools

July

Food: raspberries*, blackberries*, marionberries*

Household: sunscreen, aloe, paper/plastic plates and utensils, outdoor furniture

August

Food: cherries*, blueberries*, zucchini*, corn*, tomatoes*, cereal, lunch meat, cheese

Household: school/office supplies, clothes (including socks and underwear), tissues, bleach wipes, camping equipment, linens, pillows, towels

September

Food: peaches*, pears*, apples*, green beans*, live herbs

Household: school/office supplies, lawn mowers, barbecues, cellphones

 



 

October

Food: pumpkin (fresh* or canned), acorn or butternut squash*, potatoes (including sweet potatoes)*, candy, baking ingredients

Household: muffin cups, kitchen/baking utensils, tires

November

Food: turkey, boxed stuffing, baking ingredients, gelatin, marshmallows, gravy, broth, canned soup, canned green beans, Halloween candy

Household: toys, aluminum foil, electronics

December

Food: candy, baking ingredients, sweetened condensed milk

Household: wrapping paper, toys, batteries

 

*Produce seasonality varies by location. Click here to find a seasonal produce chart for your state.

 



 

Related Articles

 

3 Easy Steps to get Started Couponing

The Must-Try Meal-Planning Hack to Stop Wasting Food and Money

How to Meal Plan to Save Time and Money (with free printable meal-planning template)

 

Eating Well on a Budget Wellness Tips

use coupons effectively 101

 

Ahhh clipping coupons – a pastime that might conjure images of a raised-in-the-depression housewife from the fifties, snipping up a newspaper to save pennies on bread or canned soup. Today, though, I often hear complaints that clipping coupons is just not worth it, because there is usually a generic product that I still cheaper. I had the same issue for the longest time – why bother with taking the time to hunt out and clip coupons if it just doesn’t bring the cost down enough? I still desperately wanted to bring my grocery budget down as far as possible, so after some research on couponing for beginners I learned that there are some simple yet crucial steps to using coupons effectively.

1. Find Your Coupons

The more coupons you have, the better coupons will work for you. Find your coupons and choose a way to store/organize them that works for you. If you don’t know where to start, try a coupon binder. You’ll need to keep your coupon stash updated to get the best value out of it!

Here’s where you can go to stock your coupon stash:

  • Good Ol’ Sunday Newspaper – This is my personal favorite. Sunday newspapers have a significant chunk of coupons inside, both from grocery stores themselves and from manufacturers. If you really want to go for budget gold, buy an early edition Sunday paper or get your Sunday paper for $1 from the Dollar Store, but you can also subscribe to the Sunday paper only and have it delivered to your home.
  • Coupon Websites – Did you know there are entire websites devoted to printable coupons? There. Are. Tons. I’ll give you just a few that I’ve had success with in the past:
  • Manufacturer’s Websites – This can be a little more hit and miss, depending on the manufacturer, but if there is a specific brand of product you know you want to buy, it never hurts to just pop over to their website and see if they’ve got a nice little discount for you.
  • Valpak/Mailers – Most likely, you already get these coupon packs in the mail, but if you don’t, you can request an envelope full of coupons here.
  • Store Coupon Clubs – Depending on where you shop, your grocery store of choice may offer coupons and/or discounts of their own. Often these are now in the form of an app (like Safeway’s Just for U or Fred Meyer’s self-named coupon app). You can also check out individual store’s websites for printable coupons.

 



 

2. Stack Them Up!

The key to getting the best value is to not just take a coupon and slap it on a product you want to buy. Much of the time, there is a generic option that still ends up cheaper than the brand name with a coupon.

The trick is stacking. In most stores, you can use two coupons on the same item, so long as one is a store coupon and the other is a manufacturer’s coupon. To maximize the value, you can also stack these on top of a sale price (to know for sure, check your grocery store’s website to find their coupon policy, and read the fine print on the coupon). Here’s an example of one such deal:

 

coupons for beginners

Large can of beans:

Original price $1.25

Sale price: 99¢

Manufacturer’s coupon: 50¢ off

Store coupon: 25¢ off

New price: 24¢

You can find these kind of deals by matching up your store’s weekly ad with coupons in your stash, but there are also coupon websites/blogs like The Krazy Coupon Lady where people go to post the deals they find for specific stores so you don’t have to find them for yourself! Why recreate the wheel?



3. Stock Up

Most coupons allow you to purchase more than one item at the discounted price. Whenever you can fit it into your budget, purchase the maximum amount that the coupon allows (provided that you will use the product). You can know for sure how much you can get by reading the coupon. There is usually some text that will say “Limit ___.” Buy as many as are allowed and fit your budget.

Purchasing several products at cheap, stacked coupon prices means you will have a pantry full of items (purchased at rock bottom prices) to use for weeks to come. That’s how to get the best bang for your grocery buck!

So there it is – couponing 101! You can get started couponing with just this little guide, but if you really want to dive in to the depths of coupon discounts, check out The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Couponing by The Krazy Coupon Lady. Give coupon stacking a try – it can be a lot less work (and save you a lot more money) than you might think!



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Eating Well on a Budget Wellness Tips

prevent food waste to save money

 

Wouldn’t you love to know how to keep produce from going bad?

We’ve all experienced the sad breakup – when you look in your produce drawer and see the wilting broccoli you bought two weeks ago looking sadly up at you.

You were going to eat me for snacks, remember? I was going to be good for you!”

But,” you think, “you’re past your snacking prime! And I already have dinner plans that don’t involve you. Tomorrow’s not good either. I don’t know when I’ll get around to eating you.”

You sigh…and if you’re a conflict avoider, you slide the drawer shut to deal with it another day. If you’re a rip-the-Band-Aid-off person, you toss it in the trash right then and there. All your good intentions, all your dreams for your broccoli relationship dashed, and all that good grocery money wasted.

I know you know what I’m talking about.

It is frustrating to see a piece of produce nearing the end of its usable life, knowing that you will not realistically have a chance to eat it before it sees the other side.

Well, I have a solution: catch-alls!

 



 

I’ll tell you how it works. Let’s go back to poor Mr. Broccoli. He’s laying there, wanting to be nutritious, but you know he doesn’t have a chance in the next few days. Right then, you place him in your veggie catch-all container. This is a large plastic container or gallon zipper bag full of all of your previous veggie good-intentions-gone-bad. Then they all go in the freezer to commiserate together. Don’t worry about peeling, chopping, dicing, stemming, or anything right now (unless you have time). Just toss the whole darn thing in the bag and put it in the freezer. Keep a separate container for your fruit catch-alls.

 

food saving hack to save money
Some of your produce may change color when you freeze it – it’s okay, it’s still good!

 

Then, when your catch-all bag is full, put a catch-all on your meal plan for the next week. Catch-alls are meals that you can make with just about any combo of frozen fruits or vegetables past their prime, but not yet covered in fur. Here are some examples:

Veggie Catch-alls: stir fries, soups, curries, breakfast scrambles/frittatas

Fruit Catch-alls: smoothies, compotes (just simmer diced fruit in a pot with some cinnamon – add a little water if they aren’t juicy fruits – until it thickens, serve alone or over ice cream!)

Catch-alls make it so that you don’t necessarily have to do anything with the produce the minute you notice it is on the way out. Often, you don’t have time right then to do much about it, but you can take a second to toss it in the freezer. Then, when you use the catch-all, you have an entire meal’s worth of produce that you don’t have to buy!

Here are a couple of tips to make catch-alls work their very best:

  • If your catch-all meal requires slicing and dicing, take the catch-all bag out to thaw about 30-40 minutes before you need to prep the produce. You don’t want them totally thawed (they’ll be soft and messy to cut), but you don’t want them frozen solid either.
  • There are certain types of produce that work best in certain types of recipes. For example, frozen mushrooms work best when diced small. Greens are best used for green smoothies or for soups after they’ve been frozen (I keep these in a separate container from my veggie catch-all bag for this reason). You’ll learn some of this by trial and error too.
  • If you have a second to peel a banana before putting it in your fruit catch-all bag, do it. Trust me on this one. They are much easier to peel before they’ve been frozen.

To get you started, here are a few recipes for good catch-all recipes. You can exchange the produce in the recipe for whatever you have!

 

VeggieRed Curry Soup

FruitGreen Pumpkin Pie Protein Shake

VeggieSalmon and Red Potato Hash with Dijon Aioli

 

Give it a try – you won’t regret saving all that money and keeping all that food out of the garbage!

 



 

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Eating Well on a Budget Wellness Tips

budget meal planning bulk shopping

 

Last week, I walked you through how I meal plan on a budget of $100 per week for a family of four. I’m going to walk you through my meal-planning process again, this time for a stock-up week. If you haven’t read that first post yet, start there, because I’m not going to explain each step this time. I am going to show you how I stay within budget, even when I need to stock up on more items than I did last week.

 

Besides the amount that I’m buying, the main difference between a “stock-up week” and a “top-off week” is that I make sure to go to a store with an excellently-priced bulk section (Winco) for a stock-up week. Buying items in bulk is not only cheaper, but more customizable, and prevents food and packaging waste. Buying food in bulk allows you to select the exact amount that you need, want, or can afford, and can help make staying within budget much easier. I’ll start with a quick walk-through of the meal-planning process, then I’ll show you how bulk buying makes my $100-per-week grocery budget possible.

 

save money bulk foods

 



 

So here we go! Follow along with my budget-conscious meal planning process this week:

 

Know your budget

If you read last week’s post, you’ll know that my grocery budget last week was $85 for a “top-off week.” Since this week is a stock-up week, my budget will be higher. Today I’m working with a budget of $115. That gets me to an average of…you guessed it! $100 per week.

Utilize food distribution programs, if you can find them.

 

This week, pickin’s were more slim, so I only ended up with a nice little green bell pepper and a bag of chips.

 



 

Shop Your Cupboards/Pantry/Fridge/Freezer

Here’s where I’m at this week:

Need to use up:

  • mozzarella cheese sticks
  • a few random Swiss cheese slices
  • leftover tomato sauce
  • lots of dinner leftovers – I won’t need to buy any lunch stuff for this week
  • salad
  • baby carrots & other snack veggies
  • deli meat

Available:

  • dried grains: pasta, rice, quinoa, oats
  • dried chili beans
  • trail mix
  • lots of canned goods
  • cheese
  • 1 gallon milk
  • potatoes, onions

 

Use a master list

For stock-up weeks, I use a “supermarket staples list” that I modified from a post on Pinterest.

 

meal p

 

This lists all of the things I like to always have in stock (plus a few that I rotate through, like snacks). On stock-up week, I skim through the list and go through my kitchen to make sure I don’t miss anything that we might need or might be out of. Add them to the list!

Take stock and decide what to make

Tonight is our monthly “family fun night,” where we go to a local restaurant/arcade and hang out, so that covers dinner. Since I need to use up tomato sauce and cheese sticks, I’ll make a family favorite – pizza rolls – that uses both of those. We haven’t had fish in a while, and Winco has some really affordable salmon, so I’ll grab some of that and we’ll have steamed broccoli and mashed potatoes with it. Thursday’s a busy evening so I’ll make that a crock pot meal. Maybe a pot roast with some of those baby carrots. Friday I know we will be at a high school football game, so we’ll probably snack at home beforehand and maybe grab some snacks at the game.

That’s okay to do, by the way, just in case any clean-eating policeman ever told you it wasn’t. 

Aaaand for breakfasts I’ll use that lunch meat and extra cheese to make some breakfast sandwiches.

 



 

Make your shopping list (include estimated prices)

After going through my stock-up list and the meals for the week, here’s what my list looks like:

 

affordable healthy food meal plan

 

Click here for a copy of this shopping list/meal planning template.

On a stock-up week, I try to leave a bit of budget room for whatever meat might be on sale that week. Sale meat at Winco can be a heck of a deal, so Winco trips are good opportunities to stock the freezer.

My estimated costs for this grocery trip were only $92.50, so I’ll add ~$23-25 worth of sale meat to the list. If we weren’t going to be eating out of our restaurant budget for two meals this week, I probably wouldn’t be able to do quite so much but in this case it worked out.

 

Shop!

As I was shopping, I had some extra room in the budget, so I tossed in an extra dessert and a few snack foods that I’ll save for next week. We have a part of our pantry where I save up food when I get a good deal or have extra room in the budget. That helps each week be a little easier budget-wise, since I’ve always got odds and ends saved up in there.

 

cheap healthy food for a family of four

 

Here’s my haul, for the grand total of $114.04! I love when it comes out so perfectly. 

If you haven’t already, go check out part 1 of meal planning on a budget – both posts are important to understand the whole picture! And stay tuned for more tips on eating well on a budget!

 

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Eating Well on a Budget Wellness Tips

reduce food waste

 

Today we’re talking about one of the most infuriating things that can happen to you when you’re working hard to stick to a food budget: food waste! You’ve been there – you take all the time to meal plan, budget accordingly, shop carefully, and then…10 days later, your beautiful broccoli is limp and gray, your spinach is slimy, and – do you smell that? Yep, it’s half of a tray of raw chicken leftover from Monday’s meal. To the trash it goes!

Few things are as obnoxious and maddening as tossing beautifully budgeted money and carefully chosen nutritious food into the trash because it made its way to the depths of the fridge and was forgotten. All those good intentions, covered in fuzz…

A few years ago, when we were really focusing on getting our household budget zeroed in (here’s lookin’ at you, Dave Ramsey!), I was working so hard to get our food budget down that I would about lose it if I had to throw food away. Especially – and Heaven forbid – expensive meat! I had to come up with a solution to stop wasting food and money. So I played around with a bunch of different options until I found a flexible fix that actually takes less work than what I was doing before. It is definitely worth a try if you, too, are sick of tossing good money in the trash.

 



 

If you read my meal-planning-on-a-budget post, you may have noticed that there were two dinner plans that might seem a little strange: “scrounge” and “whatever.”

 

budget meal plan

 

These are two days that I schedule into every week’s meal plan as built-in “use up” days. These dinners are specifically set aside for the sole purpose of eating up food that is already in the fridge (in our house, we affectionately refer to them as “Whatever Wednesday” and “Scrounge-It Sunday”).

Use-up days serve a few purposes: 1) it gives the chef(s) in your house a day off, 2) it pleases the free spirits in the family who like to eat what they “feel like” eating, and 3) it gives you the chance to dig things out of the dark corners of the fridge and pantry before they start to become fuzzy.

Because fuzzy food = dollars wasted.

So plan at least 1 (possibly 2) use-up days into your regular routine. Trial-and-error will help you figure out how many is the right amount for your household. Too many and you’ll be short on food, too few and you’ll be tossing fuzzy food (aka money) right in the trash.

 



 

When a use-up day rolls around, we usually approach it one of a few ways:

  1. If we have a lot of leftovers that need using up, we dig into all the corners of the fridge/pantry, pull out all the stuff that needs to go, and put it on the island/bar/table. Then it’s a free for all!
  2. If there’s a variety of leftover options but not so many that we desperately need to eat certain things, then everyone just gets what they want to eat for dinner out of the fridge.
  3. If there isn’t much already made or if I have a hankering to be creative, I will sometimes use leftover ingredients to toss together something easy. This can lead to some interesting combos, but they usually turn out tasty! Chopped-up cheeseburger patty with roasted vegetable garlic pasta, anyone? 🙂

Ultimately, the goal is that your perishable ingredients basically get wiped out every 1-2 weeks. This keeps you from having to toss all that great, paid-for nutrition, and keeps your fridge tidy and fuzz-free!

Sidenote for those with kids:

Depending on how old your kiddos are, use-up days can be a fun opportunity for them to learn and practice nutrition and balanced eating.

  • Ages 4-8: Sort the options into piles based on their food group (fruit, veggies, dairy/dairy alternatives, protein, and grains). Challenge your child to eat one from each for a complete meal! This also helps assuage the inevitable mom-fear that your one child (you know the one) will eat 7 yogurts and nothing else. Sometimes I offer a special use-up day dessert for those who choose something from all 5. This gives them a chance to learn and think about food groups, and you a chance to see what they tend to choose on their own!
  • Ages 9+: You can still challenge your kiddos to hit all five food groups, though they likely won’t need the visual of the sorted groups at this age. You can take advantage of use-up days to host your own cooking show-style challenges using the ingredients that need to be used up. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just throw something together as a family with the ingredients you have. This helps kids enjoy and be creative with food, all while learning to cook!

 



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Eating Well on a Budget Wellness Tips