By Samantha Delaney, CHES, Training and Development Consultant

Many of us are monitoring our budget, especially with the holiday season upon us. We often hear that healthy eating comes with a high cost, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The key to creating simple, healthy, budget-friendly meals is planning. Start by taking a close look at what your household needs. Be realistic. Do you order takeout once a week? Heat something from the freezer? Keep that in mind when determining how many meals you need to plan. Once you have an idea of the week ahead, try these simple steps to eat healthy on a budget:

Get organized
A large piece of the puzzle is to get organized before you even start cooking. Where do you keep your meal ideas or recipes? Try websites like Pinterest, email folders, or a recipe box. Make sure these ideas are easily accessible. Then set aside time each week to plan your meals. Start by looking at what you need to use up in your refrigerator and pantry and plan around those ingredients to eliminate waste. To keep things simple, consider one sheet pan dinner, one crock pot meal, and one salad.

Understand the psychology of the grocery store
Have you ever traveled and realized that most grocery stores are set up in the same way? That is—to make money. We often see impulse items such as fresh flowers and bakery up front, enticing us to grab them. Everyday items like bread, dairy, and meat are hidden in the back corners, forcing us to walk through the entire store in hopes that we might pick up a few extra items along the way. Kid foods are in brightly colored packaging right at their eye level. The solution? Write a specific grocery list (i.e., 100% whole wheat bread) and stick to it.

Try the reuse and recycle method
To make things a bit easier on busy nights, try prepping when you can. If you are chopping an onion for one meal and know you will need more later in the week, chop extra to store in the fridge. Plan two meals using the same ingredient in different ways. For example, roast extra sweet potato to serve with honey Dijon chicken and then add to sweet potato ground beef enchiladas later in the week. Try to get some preparation done before the workweek.

Eat local or grow your own
Purchasing seasonal local produce can save you a ton of money. Food that is grown locally doesn’t need to travel as far, making it a more affordable option. Additionally, it’s often grown in abundance, which helps reduce the cost. (Think about the price of strawberries in the spring/early summer). As a bonus, seasonal fruit and vegetables have a higher number of nutrients and tend to taste better. However, if fresh produce tends to go to waste, consider buying frozen produce, which is typically frozen during peak season. Try growing expensive items such as fresh herbs on the windowsill for a pop of flavor and a few extra nutrients!

You don’t need to cook each meal seven days a week to live a healthy lifestyle. Be realistic with yourself and plan, plan, plan! Also keep in mind that your Assistance Program is here to provide additional support.

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Healthy Eating on a Budget – Insights Newsletter