My husband and I got married at a very young age. I was 19-going-on-30 and he had just turned 20. He worked full-time, me part-time. We were also in college. Most of our food choices revolved around the fact that neither one of us could cook. We ate out most nights. If we didn’t, Patio frozen bean and cheese burritos were, like, 30 cents apiece. Do I need to tell you that we were broke?
Fast forward over 10 years and we’re still together, and healthier than ever. Over time, our jobs changed or evolved and eventually we were making enough between us that the quality of our food was allowed to improve. The fitter we became, the better we ate, the more healthy we became, which is a truly beautiful cycle. Despite this, quality foods take a huge chunk of our budget and we find ourselves doing just that: budgeting.
Here are some tips and tricks to make your Fit Life food budget just as trim as you’d love to be!
Make a shopping list always. The more organized you are in your trip to the store, the less likely you are to fill your cart with foods you don’t need (or need to eat). My previous article, Meal Prep 101, addressed this point as well. Make that meal plan, then jot down the ingredients you need. The fewer trips to the store the better!
Don’t go to the store hungry. People tend to shop more impulsively while hungry according to research published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Not only do we buy more, we tend towards higher-calorie options, our body’s way of saying something’s missing. Consider a trip to the store after a meal. My husband and I tend to grocery shop on Fridays because we get off work at noon. We treat ourselves to lunch out and then hit the store. I always spend less when I’m full.
Buy in bulk. Sometimes that Sam’s Club membership is worth having. Consider items that you might buy frequently or that might have a long shelf life: think dried pasta or canned items. Meat can be cheaper buying in bulk. Stock your freezer and thaw out only what you need for a particular dish. I don’t recommend buying fresh items like vegetables or fruit unless you intend to use them quickly. Waste not, want not.
Buy canned items. Canned items have a bad reputation these days because of BPA, but many companies are being consumer-conscious of how they package their products. Also, always take into consideration the sources of the information being splashed across headlines. There is often not enough scientific evidence to actually condemn foods, especially not for small studies that have not be replicated, but they often make their way into the media regardless. Personally, I used canned beans frequently. I rinse them to remove excess sodium before use.
Buy in season. One of the best ways to do this is to hit up your local farmer’s market. Not only are you buying the freshest of foods, you are supporting your local economy and you’re reducing your carbon footprint. The less distance your food has to travel, the better! In season foods tend to have more flavor and better texture than foods grown in synthetic conditions and transported from foreign countries.
Buy plant-based foods, since we’ve just covered of buying in season. Although you don’t necessarily have to be a strict vegetarian, opting for plant-based meals is a sure way to better health and a Fit Life. Budget-wise, check your local sales papers. What costs more? A pound of meat or a pound of vegetables? Taking a look at my local Brookshire Brother’s sales ad, you could buy fresh ground beef chuck for $2.99/lb (although I hope you’re steering clear of red meat as much as possible). For this price (and from the same sales ad), you could also get sweet yellow onions (.98/lb), green cabbage (.44/lb), and large navel oranges (.98/lb). That’s $2.40 for 3 lbs of food and you’ve got change left over! Consider dried beans. OMG, a 1 lb bag of lentils is $1! Beans are an excellent source of plant-based protein and fiber. They pack a powerhouse punch in nutrition and value. Some dried beans need to be soaked and cooked for long periods of time (which is a struggle for me, so thank goodness for Crock Pots), but I often buy lentils, which are quick-cooking. A cup of lentils cooks in a speedy 20 minutes.
Buy items that can be used in multiple dishes. When you plan your meals, a fun money-saving trick is to decide on a theme for the week. For example, if I had a craving for Mexican food, I might decide to make Mexican quinoa casserole, taco soup and black bean enchiladas. Every dish has avocado, black beans, fire-roasted tomatoes and a hint of cheese. I use lots of quinoa in place of rice, like in Mexican dishes, so I keep that regularly on hand. Be on the lookout for further articles on fun themed dishes!
Cook at home. Cooking at home is a fantastic way to charge of your budget and your health. When you create a dish at home from scratch, you are controlling the ingredients that go into your food from beginning to finish. You could name precisely each element of your food, right down to seasoning measurements. Take a moment to imagine how much you spend on a plate of mediocre pasta at a chain restaurant, then imagine how much it would cost you to replicate the same dish at home. The difference is astounding when you consider a 1 lb box of whole grain pasta costs $1, and you probably forked over at least $10 plus a tip at the restaurant.
Cut back on sugary drinks. Here’s an example of how this can work out well for your wallet. Years ago, I worked retail in the mall. I worked 40 hours a week, meaning that I was in the mall five days a week. When life punched me in the face and took my money, I had to figure out how to make ends meet and cut corners. I took a hard look into where my money was going and my daily drinks were the first thing to go. At the time, I loved sweet tea from Chick-Fil-A. Everyday at the beginning of my shift, I would get a medium drink for about $1.50. I calculated $1.50 five times a week, 52 weeks a year and found I was spending almost $400 on water, tea bags and sugar! That was a huge eye-opener for me. For all those who make a daily Starbucks run, no wonder you’re broke. That’s an even bigger $5 wallop in the wallet. I love them as much as the next person, but save them as a treat and you will and your waistline will appreciate them even more!
Wealth is universally sought by everyone in America. Very few of us can say that money is no object, so keep up the hard work until you achieve that dream. Make wise investments in the foods you eat with the money you do actually have to improve your quality of life. Looking down the road, you will save money on healthcare as well. Health is a wealth all of its own.