Want to offer your children healthy, wholesome food options? Parents are growing in their awareness of the health benefits of whole grains, organic produce, and lean meats. Healthier eating has been shown to reduce illness, tooth decay, and childhood obesity. Yet a trip down the grocery aisle can produce a bad case of sticker shock. Grocery prices have skyrocketed over the last several years. Yet, incomes aren’t growing at the same rate as our kids’ shoe sizes. More than ever, families are looking for ways to cut back and save a few pennies. Are healthy eating choices possible on a budget? Absolutely.
Buy in season – Tomatoes in the middle of winter or butternut squash in mid-summer aren’t going to carry the best value, either in quality or in price. Instead, buy fresh produce when it’s in season. Experiment with new vegetable recipes to see what your family prefers. There are seasons for meat and poultry as well. Fish usually goes on sale during late winter/early spring, whole chickens and roasts in winter, and BBQ cuts during summer. Build your menus based on what’s fresh and on sale.
Cook from scratch – Whole grain baking mixes can cost a pretty penny, but you can easily make your own pancakes, quick breads, scones, and muffins from whole wheat flour and leavening. Avoid purchasing convenience items which are usually more expensive and full of additives and preservatives.
Check your cart – Make sure you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck by surveying the contents of your cart. Does everything have nutritional value? If not, rethink that purchase. Cheese puffs, even the “organic” ones are generally more expensive than a block of cheese. (And they’re junk food.) Cheese sticks, fresh fruit, whole grain crackers and breads make great afterschool snacks.
Grow your own – If you’ve got room for a few pots or even a small garden plot in your backyard, you can easily grow your own organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs for a fraction of the cost. Try a couple plants and add to your garden as you become more experienced. Zucchini, radishes, peas and tomatoes are easy for first-time gardeners. Kids are also more apt to try a new food if they’ve had a hand in growing it.
Plan ahead —Meal planning and shopping from a grocery list will help avoid impulse buys and a last-minute trip through the golden arches, neither of which are budget-friendly. Loss leaders are seasonal items that the grocer offers “at a loss” in order to attract customers. Watch for these and grab them when you can.
Don’t diss the coupon — You’d be surprised how many all-natural or organic brands run money-saving campaigns. Clip coupons for items you feel good about feeding your family and then wait patiently for a sale.
Build your pantry – Stock up on food items at a great price in order to build a healthy pantry to cook from. If it’s an item that you know fits your family’s diet, buy a lot of it when it goes on sale. Over time, you’ll have a surplus in your cupboards so that you won’t need to pay full price when you next want to serve that item.
Go meatless — Meat can be expensive. By opting for meatless meals two to three times per week, you can greatly reduce your spending and maintain healthy eating. Beans and rice provide a complex carbohydrate as well as plenty of fiber. Pasta with red sauce and plenty of steamed vegetables and a whole grain roll can fill hungry tummies for just pennies.
Choose wisely — In a perfect world, no additive, preservative, or non-organic morsel would pass your child’s lips. But, sometimes our budgets aren’t perfect. So, make the most of what you have. The following “dirty dozen” produce items are generally considered “must have” as organics: Apples, Cherries, Grapes – imported, Nectarines, Peaches, Pears, Raspberries, Strawberries, Bell Peppers, Celery, Potatoes, Spinach. If only some organic produce will fit the bill, these would be the ones to choose.
You may not be able to provide the perfect healthful meal every time, but it’s worth a try. With a little know-how and some savvy shopping, good – and cheap – eats will be easy to come by.
Jessica Fisher is a wife, mother, and freelance writer. She regularly writes about fun, frugality, and the pursuit of a clean house at www.lifeasmom.com and posts delicious ways to act your wage at www.goodcheapeats.com.