In this article you'll find some practical tips to save money and eat healthy, while trying new recipes and having fun.
Eating is a basic activity needed for survival. So, shouldn’t it be the easiest task of all? And yet, from when we are babies it is actually one of the most complicated. Once we have learnt how to eat, it’s already time for us to learn which foods are best for us and how to prepare them. Unfortunately, this is not such an intuitive concept since we are surrounded by readily available foods that are not those which provide the best fuel for our bodies. These kinds of foods are mostly a bunch of empty calories that provide a quick energy burst, contain poor nutrition, and make us feel hungry again one or two hours later. Nutritious foods that give our bodies what they need to thrive are not always visible in today’s world, and in our conception are not so easy to prepare.
The Coronavirus pandemic may be thought of in many ways, but one positive thing I have seen come out of it: it’s made us more comfortable in preparing food at home. Many of us have rediscovered the passion for cooking and have been experimenting with new recipes and ingredients. This can be a good time to establish a new family routine around food that involves planning and a few basic organizational skills. Let’s give up on the regular take-away and brush up on some cooking skills that can become easy habits!
The key to cut down on your food budget is to buy only what you need, and in order to know that, you need to plan your weekly menu first.
An easy way to plan a menu for the week is to think about what makes a balanced plate including wholegrains, proteins, vegetables and/or fruit in each meal. Then think broadly about a balanced week and try to alternate the source of proteins and carbohydrates. With meat being one of the most expensive items in your basket, try to reduce it, and instead add pulses or other plant-based proteins to your dishes a few times a week. Beans and lentils are vegetarian sources of protein and iron and they cost you less. You can even commit to buying one new healthy food you haven’t tried before, every week.
Think about your meals by first going through your refrigerator, freezer and pantry. Write down what you have and start meal planning from there. Then make two lists: your menu and your grocery list. Make sure to write in the grocery list only what you are missing in order to save time and money at the supermarket. Do this once a week (I prefer to prepare my meal plan during the weekend) so then you avoid the midweek confusion of what do we make today? which ends up in a takeaway delivery or a last-minute run to the supermarket.
The best moment to go to the supermarket is when you are calm and not hungry. This way you have a higher chance of buying only what’s on your list. Be aware that you’ll be nudged with good deals and family pack sales - but don’t get carried away because if you buy too much, you’ll have more work to do to organize the food and a greater chance of wasting food that goes bad. Instead be flexible on veggies and if you wrote cauliflower on your menu but the green beans look better and are on special, go for it!
If you feel like you might get carried away at the supermarket, a good way to optimize time and money is to shop online. A lot of my clients tell me that it is easier for them to stick to their food list when online shopping, because they are not visually overwhelmed as they would be walking between supermarket shelves, and they can just search directly for what they need to put in the basket.
Something else you can do to motivate yourself and progress through the food routine is to make your kitchen a place where you can work efficiently and with pleasure. Take some time to go through 3 steps: remove, clean and reorganize.
Start from one corner and take everything out of the cupboard and get everything in sight. Then wipe and disinfect all the surfaces (especially your fridge). While the surfaces are drying check all the foods one by one, how it looks and its expiry date. Throw away what is expired and put in a bag to give away what you never use (both foods or coffee mugs and containers). If you really can’t give away one of your coffee mugs even though you never use it and it’s just taking up space, put it in a box and store it away.
Now it’s time to put the things you’ll keep back in an organized manner. My cereals are close to pasta and mix of dried soups, my seeds are close to nuts and my canned foods are all on the same shelf, tomato sauce close to diced tomatoes and tuna close to corn. Do what works for you by putting foods that you usually use together, close to each other. Do the same in the fridge keeping the foods that you want to use first in the front of the refrigerator.
I would advise you to go through this process before you start planning your meals for the first time, so that you can take notes if you are overstocked with any food and get ideas for meals while reorganizing. You will realize that when you reorganize you get a boost of energy that will help you to keep up on your food routine!
Don’t trash leftovers. They can usually last about 3 days in the refrigerator (besides few items like rice and chicken). Try to be flexible about your menu to avoid food waste and for example you can use leftovers from Monday and Tuesday to reinvent a new dish on Wednesday. This way you are boosting your cooking skills, saving money and reducing food waste. For example, you can use leftover pasta/rice and vegetables, add eggs and make an omelette. You can chop leftover meat cuts to include in a wrap with vegetables, cheese and beans.
If you don’t want to use them this week you can freeze leftovers right after dinner each night and include them in the meal planning of another week within the next month.
If you have never been a cooking guru and this is the first time you are actually trying to cut down on takeaway and eat healthier, stick to recipes that don’t take too much time and are easy. You can plan so at least one of the meals is either a cold dish like tuna, egg, chickpeas or cereal salad, or a soup that you can easily reheat. This way you can prepare these meals ahead (for example on a Sunday evening) and refrigerate them in sealed containers ready for your lunches. You can also wash and cut veggies ready for your recipes and prepare a fruit salad for a few snacks. For more elaborate dishes, a slow cooker or a pressure cooker are two good options to save time.
You’ll be amazed at how much time you can save on weekdays evening just with some organisation right after grocery shopping.
Babies should be accustomed to eat the same food as the rest of the family by 12 months of age. Thus, if you have a toddler, avoid all those kids’ foods like yoghurts or frozen pre-fried chicken nuggets. They are not healthy options for a child and usually quite expensive. Simply get your kids used to eating the same meals as you from when first weaning, by blending or chopping up their portion to suit their motor skills. Remember not to add any salt to their portions. If you are interested about children nutrition check the related articles in the blog here.
Last but not least are some fitness tips to stay healthy when time and money is tight. The concept of energy balance (calories in vs calories out) should be kept always in mind especially when there is a change of lifestyle like what’s happening with the Coronavirus pandemic. If time and money are a problem, you can consider the shortest workout you could do at home or wherever you are. For example, 10 minutes workout while your pasta is boiling or turn on upbeat music and dance while cleaning. Other free activities could be walking or cycling to work instead of taking the car, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Avoid setting goals that after a week will seem like insurmountable mountains, but start small and you will see that it will be much easier to progress.
If having a good food routine is a goal that is important to you, start from here by implementing a few changes in your everyday life. You’ll soon find yourself with more money in your pocket, less food in the trash and a better sense of self care.