How To Stop Stressing & Save Money On Food!

Cooking economy represented by a piggy bank with a chef hat

The Food Marketing Institute has recently reported that 71% of us are cooking at home more often these days. That means more people are sitting in rush hour traffic rummaging through their cupboards and fridge in their minds, trying to figure out what’s for dinner. Naturally, home cooking has fewer calories and more nutritional value than restaurant meals but are you maximizing your savings or adding to your stress when you eat at home?

The average household wastes 14% of the food they buy due to poor planning and wastage. If you spend $100 a week on groceries, 14% is the equivalent of three homemade gourmet lunches.

By planning your meals you only shop for the fresh items you need for the week, therefore reducing waste and worry. Any extra portions can be labelled with the date and frozen right after you make them so they avoid becoming funky experiments in the back of the fridge.

When you plan meals, make sure to include enough foods from each food group, with special attention to fresh vegetables and fruits for every meal as well as snacks. Always keep an eye out for sales on grain products like rice, pasta and couscous and oats so you can stock up and have them as staples for every meal. Frozen fish, frozen vegetables and even frozen fruit are also good to keep on hand for quick entrees, side dishes and smoothies when you haven’t had a chance to buy fresh ingredients.

Meat is definitely the most costly mealtime staple but re-thinking how you use it can be better for your wallet and your waistline. With books like In Defence of Food by Michael Pollan, it’s becoming increasingly popular to think of meat as a condiment for vegetables as opposed to the meal’s focal point. Remember half your plate should be vegetables, a quarter protein and the other quarter should be either a grain or starchy vegetables. Diversify your cooking skills and learn techniques to stretch your food dollar. For instance, braising or slow cooking cheaper cuts of meat is an easy way to save on meat. Or, better yet, swap out meat for lentils and other beans once or twice a week for even greater savings – and health benefits – start with Meatless Monday! Soups, casseroles and salads are all great ways to pepper in a little meat instead of serving it in one big chunk.

The benefits of meal planning are numerous and getting started is surprisingly simple. All you need to do is jot down your meals before you go grocery shopping, know what you have on hand, and write out your shopping list so you buy only what you need.

Here a few tips that will allow you to eat healthy while staying in a budget.

  • Buy produce in season when prices are lowest and nutrient value is peaking. If possible, buy locally grown foods. I often buy my eggs, chicken & pork from Landmans Garden & Bakery, my beef from Speers Farm in Amaranth.
  • Invest in glass of BPA free storage containers such as Rubbermaid’s Produce Saver that “keeps produce fresh and crisp longer.” You can find many different options often on sale at Winners and Canadian Tire.
  • Buy generic and store brand items. They are less expensive yet comparable in quality and nutrient content.
  • Buy in bulk when possible and avoid pre-cut fruits and vegetables as these tend to be more expensive. Select family-size packages of meat or poultry and freeze meal-size portions.
  • Shop sales and do your homework with the weekly circular before shopping. Different food stores put high visibility staples on sale, but have higher prices on other items. Once you know what your meal plan involves you can shop according to the deals relevant to those products.
  • Skip exotic fruits and uncommon color varieties of vegetables (orange vs. green bell peppers) as they have the same nutritional content but are often priced higher.
  • Buy frozen or canned fruits and vegetables that are more economical and require little preparation. Most retain more nutrients than “fresh” produce, as they are harvested and packaged at peak ripeness, compared to “fresh” produce that must be picked early and therefore have less nutrients.
  • Warehouse chains usually have lower cost on staple items like dairy, meat, and eggs.
  • Use water from the tap or purchase a water filtration system. Purchase a stock of refillable BPA free bottles that can be filled each week and then reused. Americans used about 50 billion plastic water bottles last year. However, the recycling rate for plastic is only 23%, which means 38 billion water bottles  more than $1 billion worth of plastic – are wasted each year.
  • Create your own single serving snack packages. This will help you maintain proper portion control while avoiding the premium pricing associated with the excess packaging.
  • Buy canned fish including tuna, salmon, and sardines as they are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to provide a wide range of health benefits. They are easily added to pasta dishes, salads and more.
  • Grow your own fresh herbs for seasoning vegetables, meat and pasta dishes. Basil, parsley, oregano, cilantro, thyme, rosemary and sage are all easy to grow in pots or in the ground.

Check out one of my favourite soup recipes that is taken from Tosca Reno`s Eat Clean Diet, cookbook. It is packed full of healthy nutrient rich black beans and veggies and will warm you up as the days get colder. This is a great one to try out for your Meatless Monday meals 🙂

Maui Black Bean Soup

2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 ribs celery, trimmed & coarsely chopped

1 fat carrot, peeled & chopped

1 red pepper & 1 green pepper, seeded & de-veined, chopped

2 cloves garlic, passed through a garlic press

1 teaspoon dried cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon chilli powder

4 cups low-sodium, gluten-free chicken or vegetable stock

2 x 15 oz cans black beans

1 x 15 oz canned diced tomatoes

Sea salt & fresh ground pepper

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add celery, carrot, onion and bell peppers. Sauté until onion becomes translucent, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and spices. Cook another 2 minutes.

Add stock or cooking liquid of your choice, beans and tomatoes. Bring mixture to a boil and then reduce heat. Cover and let simmer for about 20 minutes. Using a hand held blender, puree soup to desired consistency, let simmer for a further 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot!

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