There are many ways to save money on the foods that you eat. The three main steps are planning before you shop, purchasing the items at the best price, and preparing meals that stretch your food dollars. Plan, plan, plan! Before you head to the grocery store, plan your meals for the week. Include meals like stews, casseroles, or sitr-fries, which “stretch” expensive items into more portions. Check to see what foods you already have and make a list for what you need to buy. Get the best price Check the local newspaper, online, and at the store for sales and coupons. Ask about a loyalty card for extra savings at stores where you shop. Look for specials or sales on meat and seafood—often the most expensive items on your list. Compare and contrast Locate the “Unit Price” on the shelf directly below the product. Use it to compare different brands and different sizes of the same brand to determine which is more economical. Buy in bulk It is almost always cheaper to buy foods in bulk. Smart choices are family packs of chicken, steak, or fish and larger bags of potatoes and frozen vegetables. Before you shop, remember to check if you have enough freezer space.
Buy in season
Buying fruits and vegetables in season can lower the cost and add to the freshness! If you are not going to use them all right away, buy some that still need time to ripen. Convenience costs… go back to the basics Convenience foods like frozen dinners, pre-cut vegetables, and instant rice, oatmeal, or grits will cost you more than if you were to make them from scratch yourself. Take the time to prepare your own—and save! Easy on your wallet certain foods are typically low-cost options all year round. Try beans for a less expensive protein food. For vegetables, buy carrots, greens, or potatoes. As for fruits, apples and bananas are good choices. Cook once…eat all week! Prepare a large batch of favorite recipes on your day off (double or triple the recipe). Freeze in individual containers. Use them throughout the week and you won’t have to spend money on take-out meals. Get your creative juices flowing Spice up your leftovers—use them in new ways. For example, try leftover chicken in a stir-fry or over a garden salad, or to make chicken chili. Remember, Eating out Restaurants can be expensive. Save money by getting the early bird special, going out for lunch instead of dinner, or looking for “2 for 1” deals. Stick to water instead of ordering other beverages, which add to the bill.
How to Build a Healthy Meal A healthy meal starts with more vegetables and fruits and smaller portions of protein and grains. Think about how you can adjust the portions on your plate to get more of what you need without too many calories. And don’t forget dairy—make it the beverage with your meal or add fat-free or low-fat dairy products to your plate. Make half your plate veggies and fruits Vegetables and fruits are full of nutrients and may help to promote good health. Choose red, orange, and dark-green vegetables such as tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and broccoli. Add lean protein Choose protein foods, such aslean beef and pork, or chicken, turkey, beans, or tofu. Twice a week, make seafood the protein on your plate. Include whole grains Aim to make at least half your grains whole grains. Look for the words “100% whole grain” or “100% whole wheat” on the food label. Whole grains provide more nutrients, like fiber, than refined grains. Don’t forget the dairy Pair your meal with a cup of fat-free or low-fat milk. They provide the same amount of calcium and other essential nutrients as whole milk, but less fat and calories. Don’t drink milk? Try soymilk (soy beverage) as your beverage or include Avoid extra fat Using heavy gravies or sauces will add fat and calories to otherwise healthy choices. For example, steamed broccoli is great, but avoid topping it with cheese sauce. Try other options, like a sprinkling of low-fat parmesan cheese or a squeeze of lemon. Take your time Savor your food. Eat slowly, enjoy the taste and textures, and pay attention to how you feel. Be mindful. Eating very quickly may cause you to eat too much. Use a smaller plate Use a smaller plate at meals to help with portion control. That way you can finish your entire plate and feel satisfied without overeating.
Take control of your food Eat at home
More often so you know exactly what you are eating. If you eat out, check and compare the nutrition information. Choose healthier options such as baked instead of fried. Try new foods Keep it interesting by picking out new foods you’ve never tried before, like mango, lentils, or kale. You may find a new favorite! Trade fun and tasty recipes with friends or find them online. Satisfy your sweet tooth in a healthy way Indulge in a naturally sweet dessert dish—fruit! Serve a fresh fruit cocktail or a fruit parfait made with yogurt. For a hot dessert, bake apples and top with cinnamon.
Cook More Often at Home.
Over the last few decades, Americans have been eating out more and cooking at home less often. When you cook at home, you can often make better choices about what and how much you eat and drink than you do when eating out. Cooking can also be a fun activity and a way for you to spend time with family and friends. When cooking remember to Focus on Foods You Need, Eat Fewer Empty Calories, and Decrease Portion Sizes. Many recipes include calorie content per serving. Compare calorie content and choose meals that fit within your daily calorie needs. If cooking for a family, you may each have different calorie needs. You can still cook the same nutritious foods, but vary the portion sizes. For example, an active adolescent male can still eat the same foods as his five-year-old sister, he will just eat more. Get started cooking more often at home: If you don’t usually cook, start gradually.
Make it a goal to cook once a week and work up to cooking more often.
A healthy meal starts with more vegetables and fruits and smaller portions of protein and grains. Think about how you can adjust the portions on your plate to get more of what you need without too many calories. And don’t forget dairy – make it the beverage with your meal or add fat-free or low-fat dairy products to your plate. You don’t have to eat from every food group at each meal, but thinking about the food groups can help you build a healthy meal. Planning ahead can help you make better food choices. Keep healthy staples on hand, such as dried fruit, whole wheat pasta, “no-salt-added” canned vegetables, and frozen seafood. Look for ways to make your favorite recipes healthier. For example, use the low-fat or reduced-fat version of dairy products like cheese and milk or replace sour-cream with low-fat or fat-free yogurt. Also use spices and herbs to add more flavor instead of adding salt or fat. To help manage how much you eat, start by putting a small portion of food on your plate, and only eat seconds if still hungry. Concerned about cooking more often at home? Here are some common “stumbling blocks” and ideas to help you overcome these barriers: “I’m tired of being the only one that cooks”:
Make cooking a family event.
Get your children involved with the prep work. This will help to teach them about healthy eating, and it also serves as a way for you to spend time with your children. Have an occasional potluck. Invite friends over and have everyone bring their favorite healthy dish. “I don’t have time to cook a big meal every night; it is easier to just order out”: Cooking does take time, but there are several things that you can do to make it easier to cook at home. Try prepping dishes the night before, or the morning of; prepping the salad or the side dish can help save time after work. Also try cooking a big meal on Sunday and then eating it as leftovers and freezing extras. Buying frozen or canned fruits and vegetables can also save prep time. “My family prefers to eat out; when I cook at home, they complain”: Changing a family pattern is difficult at first. Start by eating one more meal at home each week than you normally do. You may save calories and money! To mix things up, try a new recipe.
Focus on foods you need
Building a healthier plate can help you meet your nutrient needs and maintain your weight. Foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean protein foods contain the nutrients you need without too many calories. When making food choices, use your Daily Food Plan. Focus on the 5 food groups. Most of what you eat and drink each day should fit within one or more of the 5 food groups. To move to a healthier weight, you need to make smart choices from every food group. Smart choices are the foods with low amounts of solid fats or added sugars: such as, fat-free (skim) milk instead of whole milk, unsweetened applesauce instead of sweetened applesauce, and 95% lean ground beef instead of regular (75% lean) ground beef. Also think about how the food was prepared. For example, choose skinless baked chicken instead of fried chicken and choose fresh fruit instead of a fruit pastry. You can learn more about making smart choices within the food groups by going to the Food Groups section.
Focusing on the foods you need can help you eat a healthy diet and manage weight. Does it matter how much carbohydrate, protein, and fat you eat? Carbohydrate, protein, and fat are components of foods and drinks that provide calories. “Calories” matter when it comes to body weight, not the calorie source. You should not select a diet that avoids or severely limits carbohydrates, protein, or fat. Similarly, you should not select a diet that avoids any of the 5 food groups. There are choices within each food group that provide the nutrients you need, without too many calories. Get Started focusing on the foods you need: Start with breakfast.
Eat a breakfast that helps you meet your food group needs. People who skip breakfast often weigh more. Eating a nutrient-dense breakfast may help you lose weight and keep it off. Have healthy snacks available at home and bring healthy snacks to eat when on-the-go, such as carrot and celery sticks with peanut butter or whole grain crackers and low-fat cheese. When preparing meals, include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, and lean protein foods. These foods provide nutrients with fewer calories. Check the sample meal patterns on SuperTracker for ideas about how to include all food groups throughout the day. To feel satisfied with fewer calories, replace high-calorie foods with lower calorie foods. You can eat larger portions of these foods for fewer calories. For example, follow the advice to “make half your plate fruits and vegetables.” Concerned about focusing on the foods you need? Here are some common “stumbling blocks” and ideas to help you overcome these barriers: “I don’t like many vegetables.” or “I don’t eat fruit”: Explore the wide range of different vegetables that are available and choose some you’re willing to try.
If you’re not fond of cooked vegetables, experiment with salads and raw vegetables. Or, try mixed dishes that include vegetables, like stir-fries, chili con carne, vegetable soups, or pasta with marinara sauce. When eating out, choose a vegetable (other than french fries) as a side dish. For fruits, try adding fruit to salads, making fruit smoothies, or snacking on dried fruit. “I don’t/can’t drink milk”: You don’t need to drink milk, but you do need the nutrients it provides. You can get these nutrients from yogurt, from fortified soymilk (soy beverage), or from low-fat cheese. Milk or other foods from the Dairy Group can also be incorporated into lots of foods and drinks including lattes, puddings, and soups.
Try some new ways to include milk or other foods from the Dairy Group in your meals and snacks. “My family members don’t like these foods. I’m worried about spending the time and money preparing them if they don’t get eaten”: Be patient when introducing new foods to your family. It may take more than a few tries before the new food is accepted. Also, be a good role model. If you like the food and you show that you like it, your family is more likely to like it too. Also, encourage family members to pick out a new food to try. If you have leftovers, portion them out and freeze them for another day. “Fruits and vegetables are too expensive”: It is possible to fit vegetables and fruits into any budget. Buy fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season; they are easy to get, have more flavor, and are usually less expensive. You can also try canned or frozen. For canned items, choose fruit canned in 100% fruit juice and vegetables with “low sodium” or “no salt added” on the label. And don’t forget to check the local newspaper, online, and at the store for sales, coupons, and specials that will cut food costs.