It's the beginning of the New Year, and resolutions abound for many. Losing weight, exercising more frequently and eating more healthfully are common goals.
This January, consider the following strategies from TOPS Club Inc. (Take Off Pounds Sensibly), the nonprofit weight-loss support organization, to create flavorful, nutritious meals that won't hurt the wallet.
Eat in more and out less
While they require more planning, home-cooked meals are an excellent way to minimize the grocery bill, and they are typically healthier than the options found when dining out.
* Double or triple recipes and freeze leftovers in individual containers to eat throughout the week.
* Make at least one meal a week meatless. Choose recipes that utilize beans (canned or dried) and grains, which add a boost of nutrition.
|A meal planning chart or simple shopping list for the week are great tools for the budget-minded, health-conscious consumer. Knowing what is already in the pantry and what will be made ahead of time reduces impulse spending, saves time and improves the nutritional value of the meal.|
* Take part of one day a week to plan the upcoming week's menu. Search "meal planning charts" online for a variety of templates and convenient shopping tools.
* Include meals that will "stretch" more expensive food items, like stews, casseroles and stir-fries.
* In addition to reviewing weekly store circulars in advance for sales, check the back of grocery receipt for additional coupons. Also check online for coupons, simply by searching for products that needed in specific recipes and visiting the manufacturers' websites.
|In addition to shopping at grocery stores, consider local markets, dollar stores and shopping online, if available in the neighborhood.|
For the best deals at the market, look for reduced produce or end-of-the-day specials. Many online grocery services offer discounted or free shipping if a shopper spends a minimum amount, and the shopper will be more inclined to stick to their list and avoid splurging on unnecessary purchases.
Some other suggestions include:
* Only shop once a week. This makes it easier to avoid unnecessary purchases and encourages individuals to buy only what they need for the weekly menu.
* Have a snack before visiting the grocery store. Shopping on an empty stomach can lead to impulse buying.
* Shop alone to prevent family members' impulse selections from ending up in the shopping cart.
* "Shop the perimeter" of the store, remembering that the least healthy and most overpriced packaged foods are concentrated in the middle aisles.
* Look high and low (literally) on store shelves to find generic items from store brands, which are often less expensive than, but identical to, name-brand items, which are placed at eye level on shelves.
* Buying "economy" or "family size" containers is sometimes a better buy -- if a family truly eats all of the food in the package. If it spoils and has to be thrown away, it may just be a waste of money.
Select large packages of meat, poultry and fish, and place them in separate freezer bags at home for each meal. Non-perishable items like canned food, cereal, soup and nuts are a good choice.
* Avoid purchasing "convenience" foods, like single-serving snacks, pre-cut fruits and vegetables and instant rice. Buy a larger-sized container and portion out snacks, cut produce at home and spend a few minutes cooking the rice. These efforts may take a bit of extra time up front but will ultimately save dollars.
* If fresh fruits and vegetables are cost-prohibitive, try the frozen or canned versions made with "100% juice" and "low sodium," respectively. Frozen produce is often flash-frozen at the source, locking in nutrients. Rinse canned vegetables before cooking to further reduce the sodium content.