Make Meal Planning and Shopping Easier with These Tips
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is hands down one of the most important choices you can make when it comes to getting and staying healthy. Eating whole foods like lean protein, organic fruit and vegetables, and healthy fats like avocado and nuts provide you with critical vitamins and minerals to ensure you feel your best, physically and mentally. From regulated blood sugar levels to sustained energy throughout the day, and even higher-quality, more restorative sleep, your diet plays an integral role in how healthy you are.
Restaurants and food delivery promise convenience and may save time, but they certainly don’t save money. Plus, most restaurants serve food typically high in calories and saturated fat, which can have a tremendous impact on how you feel, even exacerbating symptoms associated with chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
By planning ahead with meal schedules and shopping lists, you can save time and money and invest in your health, feel better, look better, and live longer! Try these time-and-money-saving meal planning and shopping hacks to make healthy eating a breeze.
Keep basic staples on hand
On days you may be too busy to plan ahead or weeks where you have to stretch your dollars, having staples on hand in the kitchen can make life a lot easier. Some items to always have on hand are:
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Stock (chicken or vegetable)
- Brown rice
- Beans and lentils
- Sweetener (Maple syrup or honey are healthy alternatives to refined sugar)
- Coconut milk (for any recipe that calls for cream)
Shop your kitchen first
One of the easiest ways to save time and money on groceries is to inventory your kitchen before meal planning and shopping. Is there frozen ground beef you haven’t used yet or produce that might spoil if not eaten in the next couple of days? Taking an inventory of what you already have on hand will help you plan your meals more wisely, give a better indication of what you need to buy, and ensure no food goes to waste.
Use frozen vegetables and fruits
Frozen vegetables and fruits are a convenient shortcut to getting your daily dose of produce. They can be just as nutritious as fresh, and most times, they’re cheaper, too. Some frozen vegetables even have a longer shelf life than fresh ones!
Some people think that frozen vegetables have less “flavor,” but this isn't true. In fact, many frozen foods are picked at peak ripeness and flash-frozen shortly after harvest for maximum flavor retention (unlike some grocery store veggies). As a bonus, buying them in bulk at warehouse stores like Costco or Sam's Club can save you even more money.
Frozen fruits and vegetables also make great additions to smoothies on days you need a quick breakfast or want to cool off with a refreshing snack during the spring and summer months!
Make enough to freeze for later
If you're making a big pot of soup, stew, or chili, go ahead and make extra every once in a while. Freeze the leftovers in individual portions to reheat and enjoy later on a busy weeknight. You can also freeze items like bread and baked goods if you don't have time to cook them when you get home from work. A couple of reminders:
- Make sure you have enough freezer space before doubling up on your recipe!
- Freeze foods in resealable, air-tight containers so that they stay fresh longer.
If possible, freeze food in portions that will be easy for you to use later on—for example, if you're freezing leftover turkey from Thanksgiving dinner, consider dividing it into 1/2 cup servings instead of saving it as one large portion.
Make a meal plan
Now that you have all the necessary staples on hand, you’ve shopped your pantry, and have all the tips you need to save time and money, it’s time to put together a plan! Shopping without a list can result in overspending, buying more food than you need, and splurging on less healthy options. Here are a couple of tips:
- Don’t plan further than a week ahead.
- Only plan for meals you know you enjoy and won’t overwhelm you—in other words, avoid planning to cook complex recipes that can cause you to change course and order in instead.
- Plan your meals around weekly activities. If you know Wednesday is a busy day, consider reheating leftovers that night or making something simple and fast.
Once you've made a list of everything you need for all your planned meals and snacks, head off to the store with confidence, knowing exactly what will be served at each dinner table this week!
Meal planning and shopping smart save time and money and increase the likelihood that you will make good dietary choices in the coming days. Here are a few more tips to ensure grocery shopping success:
- Buy in bulk
- Use coupons (found online or in your local newspaper)
- Compare prices and brands (for example, Lidl and Aldi are discount grocers that can save you extra money)
- Gain a renewed sense of community and get your steps in by shopping at farmer’s markets for the freshest produce (and gain a sense of community!)
- Improve your health by cutting back on restaurants and takeout