Dietitian says people can still eat healthy while budgets being strained

Posted 25 August 2022 at 2:16 pm

By Anna O’Keefe, RD, CDN – Clinical Dietitian at Orleans Community Health

Anna O’Keefe

MEDINA – Inflation has hit American households hard with the increasing prices of housing, gasoline, and just about everything in between.

This includes one of, if not the most essential goods for your home, FOOD! For most of us, our largest bill outside of our housing expenses is our grocery bill. Despite it being such a high cost, it is also the one we can have the most control over.

It can be stressful seeing our food costs go up each and every week and feeling powerless. Utilizing coupons, shopping the sales, buying in bulk are all great places to start on saving, but the most impactful savings can begin right inside of the home without inconveniencing our already busy lives!

Plan and Prep

The terms ‘meal planning’ and ‘meal prepping’ can seem daunting to people that are new to this concept. Meal planning is simply deciding what you are going to eat in a designated time frame. Going to the grocery store with a plan of attack will ensure you know exactly what your household needs. It will also decrease food waste on items you have good intentions on using but instead might sit there, completely forgotten in the back of your fridge.

Meal prepping is the act of getting the food of that meal ready for a later time frame (ex. cutting produce ahead of time, marinating meat, rinsing rice). Working ahead of schedule and having some of the ingredients ready for the meal make it easier to execute the meal at a later time. Another benefit from meal prepping is it makes meal execution less daunting. When some of the work is already done, it is harder to say, “Let’s just get takeout!” after the long, hectic days that so many of us live. When you go to cook your meals, you will be so thankful for your past self.

Cook Once, Eat Twice

Repeat after me: Leftovers are your friend. The whole process of putting food on the table (shop, cook, clean, repeat) can be exhausting. Putting emphasis on always having a plan for leftovers can reduce the burden of cooking while also saving cash. Whether you like to save leftovers for lunch the next day, have leftovers for dinner, or store leftovers in the freezer for a meal long down the road; these are all great options!

You can save food in your refrigerator for about 3 days, and food in the freezer for up to 6 months! If this seems boring to you, repurpose your leftovers! Get creative and find ways to liven them up. Look at your leftovers as separate ingredients, what could you do with that cooked chicken? Add it as a pizza topping, put it in a wrap, put it on top of leafy greens for a salad. If you are having trouble, try to look at the meal you made as separate ingredients instead of one single entity. Turn your leftovers into a new and exciting adventure for your taste buds, you will waste less food and your wallet will thank you.

The freezer is your friend

Freezers are magic. No, really! They are the only thing that can freeze time. Freezers tend to be underrated and underutilized and they create an abundance of additional ways to save money! Storing food items that may be close to expiration (produce, proteins, grains) is a great way to ensure you are not wasting your already-paid-for food.

Another option is to buy foods already frozen (ie. fruits, vegetables, meats) to make a longer shelf life and therefore decrease food waste. Whole foods that are frozen have comparable if not healthier nutrients than their shelf counterparts. Fresh produce is picked, packed, and transported and can lose nutrients while frozen produce is flash frozen and can retain the majority of their nutrition. Buying things like frozen fruits and vegetables are a great way to always have produce on hand and lower that bill at the checkout. I said it before and I will say it again, freezers are magical!

Complete Inventory Often

Do you have a fridge, freezer, and/or pantry? Probably! In that case, an inventory should be done often to ensure you are rotating through what needs to be eaten and only buying things you actually need. A great way to reduce your grocery bill is to use items that you already have.

So many of us forget to check these areas and use a “start fresh” approach to meal planning when we likely have some things to use at home. Use those canned beans, that frozen meat, the lettuce that’s a day away from wilting. If you always keep a running inventory in your head it will force you to use the food items you have, save space, and cut your grocery bill costs. Maybe even get you more creative in the kitchen! Buy what you need, not what you already have.

Reduce your discretionary purchases

Discretionary purchases when it comes to food can be viewed through the lens of the ‘fun’ food. Things like snacks, desserts, convenience items, and specialty items all fall in this category. These purchases are definitely pleasurable, but likely NOT worth it for the wallet or the health. There is a time and a place for these purchases, of course! But they should not take up a good sum of the grocery bill. Try limiting these food items as much as possible to ensure you are not overindulging on things that do not particularly fit in your budget or add to the lifestyle you are trying to lead.

Food is one of the top categories of our budget and thankfully one we can impact the most. As an essential good of everyday life, get creative and take back control of your grocery bill. Taking these suggestions into account and reevaluating how you currently manage your meals can expand your budget, amplify your time, and ultimately improve your quality of life in this tight economic market we are living in today. Start those grocery savings today, your wallet will thank you!