I saw an article the other day about how much food gets wasted every year worldwide and it reminded me why I bother to put time and energy into planning out meals and groceries. In all honesty, there have been a varying range of reasons over the years. During my time in college and the few following graduation the primary reason for planning ahead was budget. And then for a while there, the focus of the carefully organized lists was less about the numbers on the receipt and more about the numbers on the scale. Not until recently have I begun to find myself more concerned with resourcefulness and not wasting any food. Whatever your reason is for wanting to plan meals ahead of time, here are some helpful tips that have been useful for me. Hopefully these ideas can get you started with planning healthy meals on a budget.
Always, always have a plan
Even when I have the best intentions, going to the store without a list usually proves to be stressful and sometimes not very successful. At best, I will end up with enough ingredients to make a couple of meals and end up having to do another shopping trip later in the week to get more. At worst, I will spend way over budget and end up with a lot of random things that don’t fit together and sometimes food may go to waste because I never got a chance to use it. So the key for me is to always plan ahead so that I have all of the ingredients I need for the meals I will be making that week and that everything I purchased will be used.
Pick a day, any day
Having a specific day and time scheduled each week to plan out your meals and do your grocery shopping makes getting into the habit of meal planning a lot easier. For my fiance and I, Saturday afternoon works best since we are both off work. We each come up with a few ideas that sound good for the next week and I put a list of ingredients together. Sometimes we even go to the store together which helps the shopping go a little quicker.
Don’t let it go to waste
One of the pitfalls I have come across when trying to convert to a healthier lifestyle was spending a lot on healthy food and then watching it go to waste because of improper planning(see tip #1!). It is always a huge bummer and confidence deflator to throw out food. One way I combat this is to plan meals for each week that use similar ingredients. For example, if I know I will need sweet potatoes for my favorite quinoa masala burgers one night, I will pick another meal that uses them such as Sweet Potato Tacos. This tip is especially important for food items that perish more quickly such as produce or tofu (once the package is opened).
Keep a list of meal and recipe ideas
Having an archive of recipes and meal ideas is a really great way to combat the age-old question of “what should we have for dinner?” Over the years I have used many different tools to collect recipes. I used to keep excel spreadsheet with recipe links organized by meal type. For a while I also email myself links to recipes that looked good and keep them in a recipe folder. Pinterest of course lends itself to this task and it’s really easy to go back and browse the pictures for inspiration. I’m sure there are a gazillion smart phone apps at this point that can help with keeping track of good meal ideas. The main idea here is whenever you come across a recipe that sounds good, save it for future reference.
Eat your leftovers!
One of the most important factors to eating healthy on a budget with a busy lifestyle is to make extra and eat leftovers. I live about 22 miles from work so bringing my lunch is the key to avoiding eating out for lunch everyday which can get expensive, both on checkbook and the scale. So each night when I make dinner I always make enough to pack a lunch for the next day. And some meals such as soups or casseroles can make enough to eat for lunch or dinner a multiple times throughout the week. If there is leftover soup that I know will not get eaten within a few days I pop the rest in the freezer in individual serving sizes which can be a great lunch later on if I didn’t have anything packed ahead of time.