CHARLOTTE – Grocery prices are on the rise, and shopping for healthy foods may seem like a challenge on any budget. But there are many ways to shop that allow for a healthy diet while also ensuring that quality items remain in the meals. Caroline Garrison, who is a Registered Dietitian with Novant Health Bariatric Solutions in Ballantyne, gives expert advice on maintaining healthy meals while staying within budget: “The key to procuring and preparing healthy food amidst rising food costs is being prepared. Take the extra time each week to get a plan in place. This allows you to prepare healthful, balanced meals while staying on track with your weekly food budget.”
Maintaining healthy meals while staying within budget may take a few extra steps, but the benefits will pay off in the best way. Before heading to the grocery store, make a meal plan for the week and for future pantry stock items. This does not mean that you have to come home and spend hours preparing meals. Meal planning to make the most of your dollar is the goal. The planning process keeps you away from the “grab and go” method of shopping, which will save you a ton on the first trip and each trip after. Being prepared when you go shopping is the key.
Meal planning can be easy. The goal is to plan, not prep. Before heading out to the grocery store, it can be helpful to review what is on sale that week. Each week a typical grocery store will feature one protein on sale. Along with the sale items, review what fruits and vegetables are in season. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are typically more cost-effective and taste better. The goal of a meal plan is to utilize the on-sale protein, fruits, and vegetables to create a meal plan that uses these and other ingredients more than once. That does not mean eating the same thing every meal, but making different meals designed around those ingredients. When the budget allows, it is always a great idea to buy extra on-sale items, especially proteins. Those items can be split up and frozen for future meal planning. Don’t forget that leftovers are a great way to create another meal for a later time. Packing the leftovers and freezing them is a great way to have a meal ready to go to keeps budgets low.
When it comes to non-perishable foods, try to also plan to buy those items when they are on sale as ell. Each family has “staple” items that they use regularly. When the items and others are on sale, make sure to buy a few extras to keep in the pantry. This also applies to meal planning. When a non-perishable item is on sale that you are able to use in more than one recipe or meal, it is a great time to buy those budget-friendly items.
When it comes to eating healthy on a budget, a common misconception is that budget-friendly items are not quality items. That can be the case, but meal planning and shopping sale items, along with reading the labels on food items is the key to “breaking out” of this myth. There are several ways to ensure that you are buying healthy and quality food without overspending. While fresh is always best, there are other options. Using frozen fruit and vegetables can be very budget-friendly as they last longer than fresh items. These items can be bought to stock for future meals. The key to buying frozen fruits and vegetables is to make sure that no added sauces or seasonings have been added.
Budget-friendly non-perishable foods can also fall under this umbrella of “not healthy,” but reading the labels on food items can help you buy better quality products. Items like canned fish are great items to include on a budget-friendly meal plan. When reviewing the label, make sure that the serving size for protein is in the double-digit range. Review the label for sodium per serving, and make sure there is no more than 300 mg max per serving; ideally, you should only intake no more than 2500 mg of sodium daily. Total sugar content is another concern when using non-perishable foods. Make sure the total sugar and the added sugar (there are two lines for this content) are both in the single-digit range.
Meal planning is the key to ensuring that you are able to maintain eating healthy and not sacrifice quality to rising food costs. The key to meal planning is to buy fresh items that are on sale and in season then try to include those ingredients in more than one recipe. When buying non-perishable foods, try to buy when on sale and make sure that you are reading those labels. Healthy and quality foods are budget-friendly when a good plan is set in place. Meal plan, meal plan: it’s the key to success!