Since the colorful USDA MyPlate icon emerged last year, this visual reminder has encouraged Americans to increase their intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. While many people can appreciate both the preventive health benefits and the potential for health care savings of a more nutritious diet, this new plate doesn't have to amount to an increased grocery bill. With a little planning, you can eat your plate on a budget.
Eating healthy on a budget requires weekly food planning, purchasing and preparing so that nutritious and economical meals land on the table at home, in lunches for work and school, and at snack time. Planning is the first step. Knowing what will be cooked in advance can save time and help you avoid eating extra calories, fat and sodium, which can be concerns when eating out.
Start by designating a weekly shopping day, and sit down the day before to plan your meals and snacks for the upcoming week in order to make a grocery list. Focus on foods like dried beans and lentils, whole grains and vegetables as the main ingredients, along with reasonable servings of lean proteins, in recipes such as stews, casseroles and stir-fry dishes. Search the Internet if you need some new recipe ideas or modify some family favorites to better fit MyPlate.
Before hitting the supermarket aisle follow these helpful habits:
- Check sales and coupons, and sign up for any loyalty or membership grocery store card programs.
- Make sure that you go shopping when you are not hungry to avoid impulse buys.
- Give yourself time to shop so you can compare costs and make informed decisions.
- Stick to your list.
- Look high and low for better deals, since many expensive items are placed at eye level.
- Stock up on staples in bulk, such as brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, dried beans and lentils, frozen vegetables, and proteins, like meat, poultry and fish, when items are on sale.
- Buy fruits and vegetables in season, or consider canned and frozen varieties that do not contain added sodium and sugar, when they are more economical, as they also have a high nutritional value.
- Avoid pre-washed, pre-cut, individual servings of produce as it is usually more expensive.
- Buy fresh foods, because instant versions of foods often cost much more. Purchase these in small amounts so food is not thrown away when spoiled.
- Consider less expensive store brands.
After planning and shopping, busy family cooks can prepare meals and ingredients in advance for quick reheating in the evening.
- Double recipes to freeze the extra amounts in meal-size containers for later use.
- Have one meatless meal with beans and lentils each week and plan to use leftovers for lunches or dinners later in the week.
- Leftover vegetables can be incorporated into soups and stews, while overripe fruits make great additions to smoothies and pancakes or be frozen for refreshing snacks.
Reviewed October 2013