For cheap easy healthy meals, shop with a meal plan, a budget and a list
If you have more condiments than ingredients in the fridge, healthy weekly meal planning might be daunting. Trust me, it’s worth it. Healthy food is good for your health AND your budget.
Grocery stores are full of healthy food choices for budget cooking. They are also full of junk food, tempting displays meant to make you buy more. I like grocery stores!
I also know that when I go grocery shopping, I need a meal plan, a budget, and a list. That way, I come home with healthy food, and (mostly) leave the junk food at the store.
Some day, I would like to be Super Mom with a perfect seven day healthy meal plan. I would buy only what was on my list, virtuously avoiding the chips and ice cream. Ahem.
In this fantasy of mine, I am also a size 6, with toned abs and perfect hair. Hey, why not!
In reality, menus change. The healthy vegetarian meals I plan ahead of time might not work out after all. I might be tempted by crisp greens in the produce section, or lured by a sale on artichoke hearts. The cauliflower I wanted might be covered in brown spots. How will I know until I get there?
I need a flexible shopping method, one that takes real life into account, so that I can shop once a week, not forget anything that I need, and still change my healthy meal plans without wasting food.
A flexible menu plan suits my family better than a rigid meal plan. Instead of a weeks worth of healthy vegetarian meals set in stone, I choose from the roster of meals I have mentioned in Home Cooked Fast Food . Because I cook regular meals, I can simply keep the non-perishable ingredients in stock, putting them on the list when I’m low, or stocking up when they’re on sale.
I treat long lasting vegetables the same way. Vegetables like carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and celery are in many of the recipes I use, so I buy them as staples, replacing them as I run low, rather than buying them for a specific purpose.
Maintenance grocery shopping is an important concept. Think of your food storage as your own personal grocery store, where you keep staples in stock, use the oldest first, and eliminate foods you don’t use.
Stock ingredients account for most of my grocery list, with a few extras for specific recipes. This means that I mostly shop to maintain my food supply. I buy leafy greens and other short-lived foods only when I have a specific recipe in mind.
I make my list on a white board (dry erase board) attached to my fridge, when I notice I’m running low, or I make plans for a specific dish. Other family members have been trained to write on the list as they use the last of something.
The running list is my very best shopping friend. If you don’t yet have a white board, buy one next time you go shopping. And pick up some dry erase markers. It’s much more reliable than your memory on shopping day, I promise. Keep the marker with the board, and put it up on your fridge. Some attach with magnets, some with two-sided tape.
When you are cooking, write down items immediately as you use the last of them. Otherwise you will forget that you need them. Oh yes, you will.
A running list helps me remember everything I need so I can get it all in one trip. Since most of us will buy more than we meant to every time we go into a grocery store, this will save us money, as well as time. One shopping per week means one opportunity to buy (or resist) junk food.
Take a last look through the fridge before you go – to fill in all the food you forgot you were out of! (Or that someone finished off and didn’t write down)
Eat before you shop. I know we’ve all heard this, and it’s true: you have less will power when you’re hungry. Shop hungry and you’ll come home with all kinds of junk that’s only good for morale. Heck, I’m bad enough when I’m not hungry.
“You can only have one treat.” That’s what my mother used to say to me as kid in the grocery store with her. Though I’ve been shopping alone for some time, I still use that phrase to keep the impulse buys to a minimum. It means if I give in and buy ice cream, I can’t have chips too. And since I’m only shopping once a week, it keeps my junk food habit in check…usually.
The produce section is the one place to impulse buy. Until you get there, you can’t know what fruits and veggies are fresh and cheap. A sale on apples can motivate me to make apple pie, and nice fat yams can have me planning a meal around them. I keep my sanity by only planning two or three specific meals around these produce section finds.
Work from one side of the store to the other. You can waste a lot of time running down one item after another. Instead of following your list around the store, simply start at one end of the store and get what’s on your list as you work from one end to the other.
As you shop, note the price of the items you buy. If you are on a budget, it helps to keep a running total. Knowing the price of things will also help you decide how good a sale is, and whether a food is a luxury or a staple.