Employee & Community Health

Eating well doesn't need to be spendy

6/21/2018 by Michaeleen Burroughs, RDN, LD

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Eating well doesn't need to be spendy. You can still create great-tasting meals without busting your budget. Here are four tips to get you started:

Plan before you shop

Before you head to the grocery store, take a few minutes to make a plan for the week. Buying just what you need and making fewer trips to the store may help you save on the grocery bill. 

  • What meals do you need to make? This includes lunches to take to work or school, as well as snacks. Mark those meals on your calendar. 
  • Jot down ideas for each meal. Be sure to choose ones you and your family enjoy. Need some help? Check out menu-planning tips from Mayo Clinic and the recipes and What's Cooking interactive tool on ChooseMyPlate.gov
  • Read the store sales flyer to see what's on special that week. Use those foods as building blocks for your meals. 
  • Double-check what you've got on hand in the pantry, fridge and freezer. 
  • Make a list of ingredients you'll need based on the meals you'll be making. 
  • Match coupons to items on your list to avoid stocking your cart with "What will I do with that?" foods. DO use coupons to stock your pantry with staples like diced tomatoes, pasta or peanut butter. For more on couponing, check out save more at the grocery store

Shop smart

  • Stick to your list. If you haven't planned for it, don't pick it up. Those extras can go to waste and run up your bill. 
  • Understand the price tag. The retail price is the price you pay for each item. The unit price tells you how much an item costs per pound, ounce, quart, etc., and can be a big help in comparison shopping. 
  • Look for the store's "house" brands rather than name brands. 
  • Pre-cut fruits and veggies are tempting, but they're also pricey. Buy whole foods and cut them up at home as you need them. 
  • Check out these tips for saving in every aisle.
  • Join your store's loyalty program that offers specials for members. 
  • Think outside the store. Try shopping at a local farmers' market or roadside stand. 

Embrace your inner chef

Cooking at home is a big-time money saver. You don't need to be a pro, and you don't need to go it alone. 

  • If your cooking skills are shaky, the Internet is a trusty resource for how-to videos from making hard-boiled eggs to roasting a turkey. 
  • Ask a family member for tips, cook with a kitchen-savvy friend, take a community-ed cooking class, pick up a basic cookbook and go for it!
  • Keep the menu simple. It will usually cost less and be easier to prepare. 
  • Enlist the family. Divide jobs among family members. Kids love to be in the kitchen! And they'll be more open to the foods they help prepare. 
  • Stretch recipes by adding ingredients like rice to soups or stews, frozen vegetables to favorite pasta dishes or beans to burgers to make more servings. 

Cook once, eat twice (or more)

They're not leftovers, they're "planned overs"!

  • If you've fired up the grill, crock pot or instant cooker to make chicken breasts for one meal, cook extras for chicken sandwiches or tacos the next day. 
  • Bake two pans of lasagna and put one in the freezer. 
  • Double your soup recipe; freeze half in individual containers for easy lunches or quick dinners. 

Michaeleen Burroughs, RDN, LD, has worked at Employee and Community Health (ECH) in Family Medicine for 20 years. She currently helps patients at Mayo Family Clinics Northwest, Southeast and Kasson, and Baldwin Family Medicine and Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (CPAM). Her areas of interest are diabetes and child and adult weight management.