We have all been there – that terrible place where there are still several days before payday but the refrigerator and pantry are empty! Or maybe you make the choice to buy a house and now need to save a down payment but can’t seem to get started saving.
Setting up a budget shines a light on where we spend money vs where we should spend money. Whatever your reason for starting a budget remember that healthy eating on a tight budget is possible.
Don’t set yourself up for failure before you get started. Even a tight budget needs a little “wiggle” room. For me that usually means the food budget. It’s the one monthly expense I have the most control over. Take a hard look at how often you eat out instead of fixing a meal at home. I’m not a wonderful cook so I will opt to eat out as often as possible. So that’s the area I can adjust in my budget and save if I plan ahead for one extra home cooked meal each week.
No two weeks are even the same at our house so the monthly budget may be divided unequally between weeks. This way I can take advantage of sales, coupons or local discounts that may only be available for certain days.
The farmer’s market in my area has wonderful produce all summer long. That means I can prepare healthy meals a little easier with fresh vegetables and fruits. The cost is usually less and I can buy in a larger quantity from the farm so I can stretch my cost over more than one week and actually be under budget for the month. Do the chopping and slicing of produce yourself. Buying produce already cut and packaged is almost always more expensive.
This is my downfall when it comes to meal preparation. I have great difficulty knowing how to prepare the same type of vegetable more than one way. I have two sisters – both are fabulous cooks – I missed that gene apparently! They can fix the same kind of vegetable for a week and we never have the same dish twice. When I ask how to know what seasoning or spice to use, they usually tell me to just try one and see how it tastes. Then either adjust, start over or keep the basic recipe. I have learned more from trial and error than I would probably like to admit. My husband is very good about trying my experiments over and over again without complaints.
Buying vegetables already cut, seasoned or in a sauce is very convenient and easy to find in the frozen food section of just about every grocery store. These packages are usually a lot more expensive that if you buy the ingredients separately and put it all together yourself.
Being creative keeps me from getting bored with cooking since it isn’t my favorite thing to do. By actually preparing each part of the meal from start to finish I know exactly what I’m eating and that my budget is staying on track too. A win on all levels.
I love to snack – there’s no other way to say it! If I could snack all day instead of eating three main meals and stay healthy. I probably would. Thankfully, it’s not really hard to find healthy snacks today. To find snacks that are nutritious and stay within my budget is the difficult part. Nuts, seeds and popcorn are all great for snacking if you don’t cover them with salts and seasonings. I try to order nuts in bulk so the cost is lower and then repackage them in snack sizes so we can pull them out of the pantry and go when in a hurry.
Snacks go to my office every day. When I need a break I have a healthy snack ready to eat. Running to the convenience store down the street or for some of us hitting the vending machine at the office usually ends with a snack that is loaded with sugar and preservatives. Sometimes that is the only choice – just don’t let sometimes become every day or both your health and budget will suffer.
Choose Wisely When Eating Out
Today’s hectic lifestyle can lead us to eating out more often. If your kids or grand kids are involved in after school activities, you know how hard it is to sit down to a family meal each day. Stopping to grab a bite between games or practices not only is hard on the budget – it can be hard on your physical well-being.
Take a look at the activities on your calendar for the upcoming week and then plan some “take along” snacks and “on the go” meals. This can help stretch your food budget to include a meal out as well. Check out the fast food establishments and restaurants that are on your route before, between or after activities for the week. Most of these will have at least some calorie, nutrient and pricing information for their most popular items listed on their websites. Having this knowledge ahead of time helps to steer you to the best choice for a meal that fits your nutrition and budget needs.
Healthy eating on a tight budget can be achieved with some preplanning. It may sound like a lot of work to do all the prep ahead and spend some time planning out a few meals for the week. It does pay off by keeping your family healthy and your budget intact as you speed your way through the week.