Nutrition is a hot topic that has everyone running to Pinterest and recipe books for cheap, easy, and kid-friendly recipes. Families with busy schedules often find themselves having to compromise healthy and inexpensive meals for a quick dinner so they have time to pick up a second shift at work or make those nightly basketball and soccer practices. While a quick stop at McDonald’s or a box of instant macaroni and cheese might seem like the easiest or cheapest option, the dollars add up and the nutrition goes down. Here are six simple rules any family eating on a budget can follow to get the most inexpensive—and yummiest—meals around.
- Plan your menu for the entire week. That’s right, this means getting organized. Avoid impulse purchases by using lists, limiting the number of times you go food shopping, and shopping on a full stomach. Planning your meals ahead of time allows you to buy in bulk, which can really make a positive impact on your grocery bill. Cooking ahead makes it possible to have food easily accessible for lunches and busy days when you don’t have time to throw together a meal. You can print out free menu planning and shopping lists on websites such as Organized Home (organizedhome.com).
- Coupons, coupons, coupons. Can coupon clipping really save that much money? Absolutely! The Internet offers great coupon sites, such as Coupon Mom (couponmom.com), where you have access to hundreds of printable coupons, a searchable database of grocery and drugstore sales, and suggestions for combining sales and coupons for the best price. Another great way to reduce the cost of a grocery bill is to sign up for your grocery store’s discount cards. Some grocery store card systems even allow you to earn points that can be redeemed for discounted or free groceries or gas.
- Go vegetarian at least once a week. Serve a vegetarian protein source at least once a week to cut costs. A mixture of legumes, whole grains, eggs, dairy products, seeds, or nuts is a low-cost way to provide delicious protein. Cookbooks such as Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home by the Moosewood Collective and The One-Dish Vegetarian by Maria Robbins offer recipes for protein-packed meals that can easily be made in 30 minutes for those busy work and school nights.
- Drink water. Take a family challenge to drink water every day and cut out sugary (and expensive) sodas. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children aged one to six should drink no more than one four-ounce glass of juice a day, even 100-percent juice. It is healthy to have your child get used to drinking water and eating fresh fruit, which has more fiber and fewer calories than juice and, when purchased in season, can cost less. Added benefits to water are that it is free, easy to carry in reusable water bottles, and can even improve the quality of your skin and reduce acne, giving you a healthy glow.
- Be creative and have fun. Food and family, what could be better? Try to make eating-for-less an adventure. If you have space, plant a garden in your backyard. If you live in the city, plant herbs in pots or see if you can get a plot in a nearby community garden. For more information on gardening and some helpful tips and practices, visit Organic Gardening (http://www.organicgardeningtips.info/5-organic-best-practices-beginners/). You can also try shopping at international grocers, which often offer discounts on produce as well as lower-priced herbs and seasonings.
- Get help. If you don’t have enough money for food, there are many ways of getting help. The federal government offers several major food assistance programs: Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Child Care Food Program, and the School Meals Program. The best way to find out where to apply is to visit the USDA Food and Nutrition website (fns.usda.gov). If your computer access is limited, call your local health department or social service agencies. Charitable organizations can provide immediate help, with no application process. Contact local religious communities, pregnancy resource centers, and state agencies for more local food assistance. Most important is to remember that you should never be ashamed at asking for help to feed your children. The health and happiness of your children is always top priority.
Stay Healthy, Stay on Budget
Through simple practices such as these, you and your family can save major bucks in the long run, while also maintaing a healthy lifestyle. Just because you are on a budget does not mean you have to sacrifice quality in your meals. Don’t work harder, work smarter—the key to living healthy and saving money is to strategize, plan, and organize your grocery shopping and meals. Once you practice these tips, you’ll find eating well is always within your price range.
Updated by Lindsey Frechau. Original article by Elizabeth Sutton in the 2009/10 issue of
The American Feminist, “Raising Kids on a Shoestring” published by Feminists for Life of America.
Coupon Mom, www.couponmom.com
Organic Gardening, www.organicgardeningtips.info/5-organic-best-practices-beginners
Organized Home, www.organizedhome.com
USDA Food and Nutrition, www.fns.usda.gov
What You Can Do
- Participate in a food drive. If your local school, church, or business is hosting a food drive, clean out your pantry and donate non-perishable goods for families in need. This simple action makes a world of difference from someone who would other wise go hungry.
- Spend a weekend volunteering at food pantry organizations. Help them organize their freezers, clean, or package meals.