In a tough economic environment, eating well on a budget can be challenging. With a few key skills and strategies from TOPS Club Inc. (Take Off Pounds Sensibly), the nonprofit weight-loss support organization, it can be relatively easy to create flavorful, well-balanced meals without busting the budget.Eat In More and Out Less: The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service found that spending on food away from home accounted for nearly half of every American food dollar, or $565 billion, in 2008. While they require more planning, home-cooked meals are an excellent way to minimize your grocery bill and they are typically healthier than the options you may find when dining out. According to Katie Clark, M.P.H., R.D., C.D.E., Assistant Clinical Professor of Nutrition at the University of California - San Francisco and nutrition expert for TOPS, "Eating at home is a great way to save money and create nutritious meals; because you control exactly what goes into your food, you are more likely to avoid excess calories as well." To save money while cooking at home, try some of these tips: Make at least one meal meatless. Choose recipes that utilize eggs or dried beans - like pinto or northern beans - as the main protein. Double your recipes and freeze leftovers or extra amounts of meat, bread, and cooked vegetables. Bring to work for lunch or use the excess ingredients as inspiration for future meals. Eat dinner as a family, or consider having a weekly potluck with neighbors to reduce the cost per person of your meals. Clip coupons, avoiding "new food" coupon gimmicks that often are low in nutritional value. Subscribe to a healthy cooking magazine, or peruse recipe books for healthy ideas. Plan Meals for the Week in Advance: A meal planning chart or simple shopping list for the week are great tools for the budget-minded, health-conscious consumer. Knowing what you already have in the pantry and what you intend to make ahead of time reduces impulse spending, saves time, and improves the nutritional value of your meal. Take part of one day a week to plan the upcoming week's menu. Search "meal planning charts" on the Internet for a variety of templates and convenient shopping tools. Read the supermarket circulars in your local newspaper, or look online for weekly specials that can help guide your meal planning. Post meal plans on the refrigerator door where the entire family can see it and refer back to it throughout the week. This also helps avoid the dreaded question, "What's for dinner?" Only Shop Once a Week: This makes it easier to avoid unnecessary purchases and encourages you to stick to your weekly menu. Have a snack before you visit the grocery store. Shopping on an empty stomach can lead to impulse buying. "Shop the perimeter," remembering that the least healthy and most overpriced packaged foods are concentrated in the middle aisles. If fresh fruits and vegetables are cost-prohibitive, try the frozen or canned versions. Frozen produce is often flash frozen at the source, locking in nutrients. Rinse canned vegetables before cooking to reduce the sodium content. Buy generics, which are often less expensive than name-brand items.
********** Published: November 6, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 29