There was a time when I thought you couldn't eat very healthy on a slim budget. Money had been extremely tight and it seemed cheaper to buy items that were what I deemed "not so healthy." I remember having conversations with a friend about how it was so expensive to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. Quite frankly, meat was not too cheap either. Surely there had to be some way to incorporate healthier choices with limited mone y.
Months later, even though our finances had improved, we were still working with a narrow grocery budget. Still, I decided to try and plan a whole foods style menu for one week. I wanted to see if I could get all that was needed without going over our allotted grocery amount. Imagine my surprise when not only did I not go over the specified amount, but I actually had about $25.00 left over! Oh happy day! I COULD buy healthy items to feed my family for an entire week on a tight budget! Are you wondering how I did it? Let me share with you a few things that made eating healthy on a budget a reality in our home.
The foundation of eating healthy on a budget is planning. There's just no way around it. Sometimes you have to know a day ahead of time what you are making for dinner the next night. For example, if you plan to cook a pot of pinto beans for dinner tomorrow, then you would need to soak the beans overnight (unless you use the quick soak method). Maybe you want to have a roast for lunch. You'll need to plan to thaw the roast out and get it in the crock pot so it will be done in time. As you can see, planning is essential.
My planning process involves four primary steps. They are the following:
Look at sales flyers
Consider the pantry
Create a meal plan
Make a grocery list
These easy steps go a long way in helping me provide healthier foods for my family.
Look at Sales Flyers
The first thing I do each week is look at sales flyers for the local stores. I circle all the good deals. Then, I check my coupons to see if I have any that match items in the flyers. I base the purchase of most fruits and vegetables on what's for sale that week.
Consider the Pantry
Next, I think about what I already have in my pantry. This is an important step because it allows me to utilize what I already have. In The Art of Couponing, Lindy Abbott talked about stocking up on sale items. That is what builds your stock of food. For example, one time a local store had an all-natural, hormone and antibiotic free, lean ground turkey for $0.99 a package. I could NOT pass that up! I bought five packages (which is what our budget would allow at the time) and put them in the freezer. Sometimes stores will have excellent deals that can save you a ton of money and help stock your pantry.
Create a Meal Plan
Once I've checked the sales flyers and my pantry, I create a meal plan. I typically map out breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack options. I don't always write down everything as we have certain standard choices like fresh fruit for snacks or eggs and oatmeal for breakfast. However, I always write down the dinner plans as they vary from week to week. Some may find it helpful to literally write down what they'll have each day. For me, I find it works best to simply make a list of all the meals. Then I choose which one sounds good on any given day. I don't have a fancy meal planner sheet; just good old notebook paper works for me. However, some prefer forms to fill out. The Homeschool Mom has a great detailed menu planner you can check out.
Make a Grocery List
Finally, it's time to make the grocery list. My list is fairly specific. However, I don't always write down items that are purchased regularly because I know to buy them. I also include how much is needed of certain things. This is important with produce. If you buy more than what you need of fresh fruits and vegetables, then some could get wasted. That means you paid for something that didn't get used. In other areas such as canned goods and meat, I still usually write down how many I need. However, if those items are on sale for a good price, I'll try to purchase extra to stock the pantry or freezer.
In the frugal healthy eating journey, balance is crucial for my family. We still order pizza sometimes. And yes, we are known to grace the drive-through of McDonald's. Still, general healthy eating is the goal. With that goal in mind, I have learned that with some planning, healthy eating is indeed possible on a tight budget.