Many people assume healthy eating requires time-intensive kitchen prep and cooking from scratch with pricey ingredients. In actuality, eating healthy doesn’t have to mean draining your bank account or spending countless hours in the kitchen. Eating a nutritious diet can fit into your busy schedule and your budget!
Where does this advice come from?
More than 150 years ago, people relied primarily on fresh foods. Milk was delivered from dairy to doorstep and kept on ice (also delivered to homes) in a wood icebox. Other time-consuming food preparation methods included drying, smoking and curing to help keep foods from spoiling, but they altered the quality of the food and were difficult to do correctly. The widespread adoption of canned and frozen foods in the early 1900s provided a convenient method of preventing food spoilage while sealing in nutrition, freshness, quality and flavor, and decreasing food waste. Canned and frozen foods also helped bring the cost of food down dramatically from 60 percent of income spent on food in 1914 to 35 percent of income spent on food in 1937. By 2008, Americans were spending just 6.8 percent of their income on food.
Despite the many benefits of frozen and canned foods, a “fresh is best” mantra and “shop the perimeter of the store” was spread, leading to a lot of confusion. Now, most consumers don’t realize that frozen and canned foods are on par nutritionally, and sometimes even superior to, fresh foods. Though fresh foods have a place in the diet, some are exposed to excessive heat and light during transport and while sitting on store shelves. This exposure and delayed consumption can lead some nutrients to break down, such as vitamin C and the B vitamin riboflavin as well as certain antioxidants (plant-based compounds that are important for good health). Vitamin C is also destroyed by exposure to air, water and heat. Those fresh tomatoes from the farmer’s market may actually have less vitamin C than their frozen and canned counterparts.
Build a Balanced Diet and Save Money at the Same Time
Build a balanced diet and save your hard-earned cash at the same time by making food buying and preparation easy:
• Shop your cabinets, freezer and refrigerator before the grocery store
Before you head out to the grocery store, take inventory of what you have at home (keep expiration dates in mind). Plan your next meal around food that will spoil soon or expire.
• Make mealtime easy
There are two methods of meal preparation I use to prevent pre-meal munching on less than nutritious snack foods: fast and slow. Fast means being able to put a meal on the table in 10 minutes or less. I rely on protein-rich frozen meals as a cost-effective solution. Here’s the equation for making a meal for less than $3:
Frozen entrée + fruit and vegetable + dairy or calcium and vitamin D fortified dairy substitute = A balanced plate. LEAN CUISINE® is my go-to brand because they have revamped their offerings with new varieties and more ethnic options than before for an affordable price— from high-protein to GMO-free, gluten free and meals made with organic ingredients. Learn more about balancing your plate, a nutritional program developed by Nestlé, and maximizing your budget by clicking here.
My other method of meal preparation is slow: a slow cooker (crock pot). If you have a few minutes in the morning, toss your protein, vegetables, grains (or starchy vegetables such as potatoes) and seasonings in your slow cooker and you’ll come home to dinner ready when you are! Make extra so you have leftovers to freeze for later.
• Buy only what you need
When it comes to fresh food, buy only what you need and can use before food will spoil. If you are tempted by lower-cost bulk foods or items at warehouse clubs, remember you are saving money only if you can use it before it goes bad.
• Savvy saves on the protein
When I was a kid and we went out to dinner (rarely!) I would get full very quickly. Knowing I’d never finish what I was served, my dad told me to eat the protein first since it is the most expensive part of every meal. Now I save on protein and use the perfect portion for each meal by buying canned tuna and chicken, frozen individual chicken breasts and fish, as well as frozen entrees.
• FIFO: first in, first out
In a college food service class I learned about the first in, first out method of food inventory. FIFO means putting the food you just bought with a longer expiration date in the back so foods nearest to their expiration dates are in the front of your cabinet and refrigerator to be used first.
• Repurpose food
Think about all of the food you throw out and if some of it can be used in different dishes. For instance:
1. Use your stale bread for croutons or as the base of an egg strata.
2. Repurpose vegetable scraps to make a stock.
3. Freeze extra fruit (make sure the surface is dry) for later use in a smoothie.
4. Wash, cut and dry extra vegetables and freeze them in a zip-top plastic bag.
5. Donate extra food to food banks.
Eating a healthy diet and saving money at the same time can be easy with the right tools and techniques! No longer do you need to only focus on the perimeter of the store. For great nutrition value at a great price that will help you save time, shop the frozen section and aisles of your grocery store. Pick up high-quality frozen meals, frozen veggies and fruits as well as canned produce, fish and chicken. When you do this you’ll never have to wonder what’s for dinner again.