Deciding which foods to serve each week can be hard, especially if you are on a tight budget. There are so many choices at the store that decisions are often based on what we see in front of us, rather than on a plan for making healthier choices. The We Can! program can help you plan your meals before you go to the store.
Creating a healthier food plan depends on what foods are in season, what foods your family likes, and what foods you have at home already. You can also plan around sale items. Not only will you make more informed choices, but you may also be able to save money and time. Also, eating healthier foods in moderate portions and saving leftovers will help trim your budget and waistline by eating fewer calories at one time.
- Make a plan and stick to it. With a little planning, you can get most of your groceries for the week in one trip, which will save a lot of time. And, the fewer trips to the store, the less likely you will be to buy unnecessary items.
- Review store ads and clip coupons for healthier items such as skinless chicken breasts, lean cuts of meat or ground beef, fruit (fresh, frozen, or canned in its own juice), vegetables (fresh, frozen without added fat, or canned without added sodium), whole grain breads and cereals, and low fat or fat free milk and milk products.
- Check your cupboards and refrigerator for items that you can use and then plan to use them.
- Check out heart healthy recipes from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in their Recipe Collections area to help you plan your meals and shopping list.
- To help you prepare your grocery list, you can download the We Can! Grocery List Template and Weekly Meal Planner to help organize your weekly grocery List
- Don't shop hungry. If you shop when you are hungry, you are more likely to buy more than you need and possibly buy less healthy items that appeal to you at that moment.
Grocery Shopping Tips
- Sign up for your grocer's bonus/discount card for additional savings.
- Try store brands. The most costly brands are typically placed at eye level. Store brands that may be cheaper and are just as good are often placed higher or lower on the shelf.
- Comparison shop for healthier brands. Read the Nutrition Facts Label. Learn how to find serving sizes and the per serving amounts of calories, fat, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, sugars, protein, fiber, and vitamins and minerals.
- Use the unit price and the Nutrition Facts Label to compare similar foods. The unit price tells you the cost per ounce, pound, or pint, so you'll know which brand and size are best to buy. Look for it on the shelf sticker below the product. Then, read the Nutrition Facts Label to be sure that you are getting the healthiest option at the lowest cost.
No matter what the form - fresh, frozen, canned, dried, juice - all varieties of fruits and vegetables count toward your daily recommendation. Choose fruits without added sugar or syrups and vegetables without added salt, butter, or cream sauces. Although 100% fruit or vegetable juice counts towards your daily recommendation, the majority of the total daily amount of fruit and vegetables should come from whole fruits and vegetables to help you get enough fiber. Visit Fruits and Veggies More Matters for more information.
- Buy in-season fruits and vegetables. Use local farmer's markets when possible - the foods are fresher and usually cost the same, if not less, because you are buying direct from the farmer.
- Buy milk (low fat or fat free) in the largest containers you can handle before it spoils (gallon or + gallon). Milk sold at convenience stores usually costs more than at supermarkets. Fat-free dry milk is an inexpensive back-up choice for using milk in recipes.
- Buy a whole chicken and cut it up into parts instead of buying pre-cut chicken--for example, breast, wings, thighs and legs). Remove the skin before cooking or serving.
- Stock up on sale items of healthier foods that you may be able to use in a timely manner. Buy canned, frozen, or packaged foods in bulk for quality and value, but serve appropriate portions within estimated calorie needs. Buy produce, lean meats, and low fat or fat free milk and milk products in bulk amounts that you can eat before they spoil (refer to We Can! Portion Distortion for more information on appropriate portion sizes.
- Use your food budget wisely. If you spend $7 on lunch 5 days a week for a year, you will spend a total of $1,820. You can save money and calories by bringing a healthier brown bag lunch from home.
Saving Money (and Calories) on Healthy Meals and Snacks.
- Assemble snacks at home in small baggies using foods such as nuts and seeds, dried whole grain cereal, low fat cheese, dried fruit, fresh vegetables and fruits, rather than buying less healthy, more expensive prepackaged and processed snacks. Serve water, or low fat or fat free milk instead of calorically sweetened beverages.
- Cook once, eat twice. Serve moderate portions of meals, avoid seconds, and freeze leftovers to enjoy later. This will help you save money and calories!
- Do "batch cooking" when the food budget and time allow. Cook large amounts of spaghetti sauce, divide it into family-size portions and freeze promptly for later in the month.
- Consider a co-op program with friends-buy in bulk and share! It doesn't make sense to buy 10 quarts of strawberries at a warehouse club if you only can eat a pint of them before they go bad. Many seniors have moved to smaller quarters, so there's really no place to store 48 rolls of toilet paper, no matter how much cheaper it is! But what about gathering your friends or neighbors and suggesting a mini co-op? Decide ahead of time on the shopping list, and note, next to each item, the initials of each person who wants a portion. Once every week or so, take turns making the "big shop" and then meet to split the bill and the goods.
- Consider a meal exchange. It really takes no more effort to make spaghetti sauce for 10, versus for 2 - the same goes for most other main dishes. Decide with your friends on a regular date to meet and swap main dishes - each should be frozen, easy to re-heat, and a serving size of two people. Suggest that each person bring at least two dishes to swap. You'll get to try new dishes, spend less time in the kitchen, and get to enjoy your friends' company - and, by being able to buy larger sized items, because you're making more servings, you'll save on the per-serving costs.
For more information on nutrition, please visit SeniorNavigator's Aging Well: Healthy Choices Solution Center sponsored by Anthem. A place to help you make healthy lifestyle choices at any stage of your life!
Source: Some of this article was adapted from "My Money-Saving Tips: A Healthier You" Based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, December 2006 as part of the We Can! program.