How to Save Money and Time While Eating Healthfully; Grocery Saving Tips- Without Coupons!
With a family of six, I have tried a variety of methods for shopping and cooking meals in an effort to eat healthfully without breaking the bank. I have also read my share of suggestions from other Moms and have come up with my own methods that make a lot of sense (cents) for me.
The parent’s job of shopping and cooking food will evolve over time, schedules change; nutritional needs may change as well as the predictable change in seasons, no heavy meals on a hot and humid summer day, thank you very much. Food that works for toddlers most certainly will not work for teenagers, and finding a balance can be a struggle when you have children of different ages and varying needs.
If I didn’t have children I would be happy to plan my meals bit by bit, day by day. I think of it as part of the European leisurely way of life. I imagine myself strolling through the food market wearing my straw hat with a black ribbon, a basket hung on my arm on a warm sunny day in a quaint French town. I would choose the freshest items, bread and perhaps pastries and plan my meals accordingly. But this image will have to remain a dream as I sit at my kitchen table with my iPad looking for a recipe to use up my extra potatoes.
Here is what really works:
Plan meals ahead. It doesn’t have to be that hard, just write down some of your favorite meals, ask some other family members about what they would like to eat and make your list accordingly. Rework the list each week and aim to plan as far ahead as possible. Planning ahead avoids waste, saves trips to the store and gives you a better picture of how healthfully you will be eating and if anything can be changed. It lets you think ahead and make better choices about saving money and eating right, and best of all, relieves stress since everything has been thought out ahead of time.
Use up what you have. After you have cooked all of your meals you may have some food items left over. Try and use this food in new and creative ways. I seem to always end up with potatoes so this morning I made a potato soup. The challenge of using up what you have can be fun! The potato soup was a big hit, by the way.
Stop buying cold breakfast cereals, cold cereals are generally low in nutrition, filled with sugar and are expensive. Give kids some good alternatives and they might even forget they ever liked cocoa puffs. Some alternative breakfast foods can include:
Crock pot Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal...Dellicous!!!
Night before, spray sides of crockpot with cooking oil then place two apples, cored, peeled and sliced at the bottom, pour 1/3 cup honey, 1/2 tsp salt, two cup old fashioned oats, 2 cups milk, 2 cups water cook overnight on low. Enjoy in the morning!
For a little more texture and health benefits, steel cut oats can be used instead of old fashioned oats.
Make ahead freezer waffles, pancakes, French toast, breakfast bars or muffins.
Night before crockpot steel cut oats, crockpot apple cinnamon oatmeal – if you have not tried this recipe then you don’t know what you are missing!
Morning of, oatmeal, Wheatina, farina, grits, eggs and toast all take a few minutes to make but are worth it in nutrition and cost in the long run. Toast and English muffins with toppings are also good. Fruit and yogurt are always easy, healthy and quick and if you have more time you could whip up a smoothy in the blender. Popovers are fun too! Think outside the (cereal) box.
I used to shop every Sunday in order to make my kid’s lunches for school, it was expensive and time consuming. Each morning I would get up and become the ‘lunch chef’ putting together and packing meals and hoping I didn’t run out of something. Now I have most items pre-packaged and many are frozen. Here are some better ways that I have discovered to send your kids off to school with a healthy lunch that saves time and money for “the chef.”
- Use up leftovers from last night’s dinner and pack them in containers or a thermos.
- Buy some baggies and portion out things like corn chips, pretzels, air popped popcorn and trail mix ahead of time and stop buying pre-made snack bags, they are overpriced and limited in nutritional value. Invite kids to participate in the bagging process.
- Make your own portion size snacks like muffins or granola bars and freeze them.
- Freeze ahead ham & cheese and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches to save time during the rushed mornings. Freezing the sandwiches with ham prevents me from worrying about buying cold cuts each week and using them up without waste. The sandwiches thaw out during the morning and stay fresh until lunch time.
The school lunches that are served in the cafeteria that I have seen would easily fail any basic nutritional test, so I avoid them. Most of it is carnival food like hotdogs, tater tots and sugared up yogurt. It is funny how the menu that gets sent home seems to make the meals sound like a gourmet sandwich shop, but nothing could be further from the truth. The school lunches today are appalling for anyone with any nutritional knowledge, it is sad to see and all the more reason that I make my children’s lunch.
Use less meat, meat is often the most expensive part of the meal and when you have a lot of mouths to feed it is just impractical to serve steak or even salmon very often. I used to serve larger portions of meat and never seemed to have enough anyway. Now I use less meat in more intelligent ways like in chili, or sausages chopped up with pasta. Chopped turkey meat and chicken seem to be the most economical and can be used in a wide variety of ways.
Buy in bulk, when possible. I have found chicken breasts in 5 pound packs that I have broken up and frozen or even used to make freeze ahead crock pot meals. In the past I was always intimidated by the huge packs of meat. The former vegetarian in me is afraid of meat, I must admit, but I eventually took the plunge and bought poultry in large packs. I also buy bulk size chopped meat, cook it right away and freeze it in meal size portions.
More ways to save time and money on groceries
Find out which store sells your items for the lowest price and then stock up, better yet keep a notepad handy and jot down the prices of items you use most often. You might be surprised at both the range of prices from store to store as well as where you can get the best prices. I bake a lot of bread and use whole wheat flour, after keeping an eye on the price of whole wheat flour I found a range of $3.00 difference in prices and I found the lowest price on flour in the grocery section of Target.
Stocking up also prevents trips to the store, saving both time and gas. I was never a person to stock up. I always leaned towards buying less; after all less is more…well not in every case. If there are things that you use regularly, buy ahead and better yet, if it is on sale, buy more. Conversely, steer away from sales on items that you don't really need. Stores are designed to encourage impulse buying, so make a shopping list and stick to it!
This issue might only apply to larger families, but I have found that when something is new and tasty, kids will eat it up right away, this leaves nothing for the next day. It is hard to listen to kids say “Mom, there is nothing to eat” after shopping and cooking. If I make 12 blueberry muffins or 24 muffins it makes no difference they will be gone the same day. My remedy is to limit my children’s portions on “hot” items and even write the serving number on the item itself. For instance, I might label the raisins with a note saying “one scoop of raisins per day.” Other times I need to keep the food out of site. Freezing some of the muffins or any other “hot” item has limited the gorging and allowed us to enjoy the homemade muffins on another day and of course for school lunches as well.
Raising kids is a journey with many challenges. Cooking healthy food and saving money are challenges in and of themselves, and what makes it even more difficult is that our culture and present day advertising lean towards unhealthy and more expensive choices like cold cereals that fill a whole grocery store isle and where the emphasis on food is only about taste and the amount of time it takes to prepare. Striking a balance, in life and in the kitchen, is always what I aim for. Shopping 'cost effectively' and eating right can work with a little planning, some thought, patience and a lot of love.
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© 2014 Tracy Lynn Conway