Do you think it’s expensive to buy healthy foods at the grocery store? You’re not alone. Sixty-two percent of shoppers believe healthy food is too expensive to buy. But in fact, one study showed that serving fruits and vegetables for snacks can save you money! That’s because snack-size portions of produce (an apple or banana, for example) cost about 2 cents less on average than snack-size portions of processed foods like crackers, chips, or donuts.
LiveWell Frederick is here to help share the good news that healthy eating can be affordable. And healthy eating begins with a game plan you can put into action at the grocery store. It can be hard, especially when you’re busy, to make huge changes all at once. We encourage you to take small steps and begin implementing a few of the tips we’ve gathered every week. Within a month, you’ll be on your way to victory—supplying your family with more nutritious meals and snacks, and likely saving some hard-earned dollars as well.
Design Your Game Plan: A Grocery List & Menu
- First, take “inventory.”
Check your pantry, cupboards, freezer, and refrigerator. Don’t let anything, especially fresh ingredients, go to waste. Make a list of items you have on hand—especially items that are fresh and should be factored into meals soon. Did you know that approximately one-third of all food produced worldwide goes to waste? That’s 1.3 billion tons of food. Once you’ve purchased food, if you end up throwing it away, it’s like throwing your money away, so this is certainly something all families should work hard to avoid.
- Map out your meals.
Once you’ve taken stock of items on hand, plan out your meals. Planning one week at a time is a good goal. There is a super handy Grocery Game Plan Worksheet on the S. Department of Agriculture’s ChooseMyPlate.gov website that we highly recommend! As you meal plan, make a list of groceries you’ll need to purchase to create your meals. Seeing your meals planned out a week at a time can help you balance your meals nutritionally. For example, vary the types of protein on your menu throughout the week—you might plan to have eggs one day, then chicken another day, or seafood, beans, or lean meat other days.
Keep the big picture of all five food groups in mind, too—if you have grains, vegetables, and protein in one meal (chicken stir fry), be sure to include dairy and fruit (yogurt and fruit parfaits) in the next meal. It can be challenging to plan at first, but after a few weeks, it will come more naturally to you, and you’ll see and taste the benefits!
- Whip up some new recipes.
Incorporating a new recipe or two every week keeps you from falling into the rut of making the same meals week in and week out. Try a few new dishes to keep mealtime fun, healthy, and affordable by incorporating pantry ingredients you already have on hand and more healthy, nutritious ingredients.
- Look for inspiration.
There are lots of tools to help you design your grocery game plan. You can search for recipes by ingredients with the user-friendly online tool, What’s Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl. For example, have cornmeal in your pantry? Just type “cornmeal” into the search bar and you’ll find a yummy recipe for Chicken Fiesta Taco Bake.
Also, there’s a handy little cookbook packed with plenty of powerful tips called Meeting Your MyPlate Goals on a Budget. For example, it includes lots of delicious recipes for dishes featuring potatoes—the most affordable source of potassium at just 19 cents per serving! Potassium is also a nutrient in which most Americans are lacking, and it’s essential to lowering blood pressure among other healthy functions. You can learn how to whip up basic mashed potatoes—in the microwave or a quick and easy potato casserole. Additional money-saving, nutritional recipes include themed rice bowls, meals including affordable eggs, and much more.
- Schedule wisely, and love your leftovers.
Think about your work and family schedule every day of the week as you plan meals. Try new recipes when you know you’ll have time to cook or on your days off. Plug easy meals into busy nights. Maybe once a week you’d like to make double the amount of servings you need, so you have an easy, home-cooked leftover meal to heat up on a busy night a few days later. This can save you time and cut down on the number of different ingredients you need to buy at the grocery store.
For additional grocery store ideas and advice, see Tips for Every Aisle. This helpful guide breaks down every area of the grocery store and provides nutritional and money-saving tips. For example, if you have space in your freezer, buy frozen vegetables because they contain as many nutrients as fresh veggies and may cost less. Also, skip the cookie and chip aisles entirely to save shopping time, money, and calories. If you don’t put unhealthy items in your cart, you won’t bring them into your home and your or your family’s bodies.
Making healthy, intentional choices at the grocery store is key. Pulling together a grocery game plan and menu will help you and your family meet many goals—with health and nutrition, budgeting, and organization for a healthier, happier home.